Exploring Ecuador’s central highlands; Baños, Alausi, Guaranda, Salinas de Guaranda

Wondering at the gateway to the Amazon

Soon enough we were off to Baños de Agua Santa, or Baños, as it’s more commonly known. The area around the small town has to be the jewel in Ecuador’s jewel-encrusted crown! This tourist-happy town is the gateway to the Amazon. The town itself isn’t a bomb of excitement, and in peak season it can feel garish and overcrowded with backpackers and tour operators trying to lure you into the den of mountain-biking, rafting, hiking, bungee jumping and partying. Having said that, nobody leaves without some great stories and a big whopping smile across their face! Luckily for us, it was low season, and we were able to hang out and do our thing. You can sometimes see the nearby Volcan Tungurahua erupting.  Saw it erupting in 1999, no such luck this time!

Around Baños.

We had seen and done so much in the last few months that all we wanted to do was chill out! We found a great place to stay called Hostal Leon.  It was super-clean, run by friendly people, close to the market and had a little kitchen upstairs on the balcony overlooking the town.  What more could we ask for? We enjoyed a lovely few days here relaxing, cooking, eating, going for walks and visiting natural hot water pools.  The infamous swing at the end of the world at the ‘Treehouse’ was, although touristy, a spectacle to behold! Close to the centre of town and overlooking the beautiful area of Baños it truly makes you feel like you are on top of the world. We’d done most of the ‘tourist stuff’ over the years, so this time it was all about rest and relaxation.


Yep, the place that marks the ‘marriage proposal’ spot!

Baños holds a very special place in my heart. It was July 1999, and I had only just met Alex. A week later he took me to Banos where he asked me to marry him.  The gal who was supposedly never going to get married turned around and said, “I will, one day!” That day came in April of 2002, and I have never looked back!

We were most definitely getting closer to Quito, but we still had a couple of things to do and tick off the bucket list! Next was Alausi. A small town in Chimborazo province in Ecuador’s Andes. Apart from its quaint architecture and old colonial houses, its real


claim to fame is that it’s the starting-off point for the Nariz del Diablo, or Devil’s Nose train ride. The engineering work is amongst the most audacious of projects realised in the Andean mountain range, and the switchbacks are mind-boggling! Sadly, the Devil’s Nose was the tomb of many Jamaican slaves contracted to dynamite the mountain. This would be my fourth attempt at riding this train since 1999; mudslides, broken engines and the likes had always stopped me.  On our last attempt in 2007 (and my first with Alex) we even got to sit on the rooftop, and the train actually took off … only to have to turn around half an hour later due to both a landslide and a damaged engine!

Finally, fourth time lucky!

These days there are no rides on the top!  It’s all closed up and it’s a very formal and safety conscious affair. The ride, although spectacular, I must admit was a little anti-climactic. Not sure if it was because we had seen and done so much in the last months or if taking out that ‘rough and rugged’ wind blowing through my hair option on the rooftop took the edge off for me.  Alack and alas, impressive it was.

A visit to the Alausi archives.

We also met some great people in this tiny town, and Isabel ended up inviting us to where she worked, a place where they kept all the
archives and history of the town.  This was
really amazing, and a golden opportunity. Alex and I sat in a small room and flicked through archives and photos that were hundreds of years old.

We’d heard about another place called Guaranda, in the central Ecuadorian Andes, known for having one of the best Carnavals in Ecuador. We were a tad early for the big event but got to see a lot of the pre-Carnaval stuff, including amazing parades, street parties, outdoor concerts and people bombing each other with water.  We got to meet the Taita (Father) Carnaval and the Mayor, who welcomed the ‘gringos’ with open arms.  The vibe was great and it was fun to be a part of the hubbub.  We found a cosy colonial place to stay, close to the town centre, Hostal de las Flores.  It had a great staff, a kitchen, a local market around the corner and a huge open outdoor market  (which sold just about everything!) just up the hill. We went for walks in the spectacular countryside surrounding the town, made friends with the locals and generally had a fantastic time.  We did not want to leave!Chilli flavoured chocolate!It was in Guaranda that we heard about Salinas de Guaranda only 30 kilometres away. Beautiful, quaint, small, gorgeous windswept Salinas, as its called by the locals. It’s only a short ride away from Guaranda on the back of a pickup, and oh what views.  We stayed at a cosy place called La Minga Hostal and spent the next few days chilling out and sampling its country famous chocolates and cheeses. In fact, what makes chilli flavoured chocolate!this place so special is its all-embracing community spirit and the creativity and productivity of the several cooperative businesses which call the little townhome.Ombi

Note :Veryitchyfeet has been on the road now for almost 22 months, and in the last year I have not been writing on this blog nearly as much as I would like to. If you are interested in seeing where we have been and what we have been up to, please take a look at our public page on Facebook.  As it is a public page you do not have to have an account with FB to view it.  If you do have an account with FB, however, and you would like to continue to follow us, just ‘like it’!Veryitchyfeet.comNext: Watch this space!
There isn’t a Carnaval without a devil, or two or three!
Ticket to ride!






Alausi, Ecuador
The humans and animals of Alausi.
Romanesco broccoli, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
The famous bridge at Baños.
Bungee jumping off  Baños bridge.


The thermal waters of Baños.
Baños street art.
Devil’s nose Train Ride. The most difficult in the world, Ecuador
Vicente the Ecuadorian who speaks excellent ‘Strayan!  He lived in Perth!

‘Cuys’ (guinea pigs) for sale at the market in Guaranda … to eat!
‘Ecuador, land of traditions’. Guaranda.
The mayor gets soaked as part of Carnaval festivities.
Carnaval procession in Guaranda.
With the mayor (L) and Father Carnaval (R) during celebrations, Guaranda.

The Central square, Salinas de Guaranda.

Market Day, Salinas de Guaranda Ecuador










The landscape around Salinas de Guaranda.

Travel info & Tips

How to get there to Salinas de Guaranda: Picks up leave frequently from Guaranda Red Square (Plaza Roja)

Stay: at Hostal La Minga

Taste: Chocolate, Local produce, mature cheeses.

Walk around town and enjoy the landscape and the produce.


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Photo Credits: ©Alex Benavides & Ombretta Zanetti Photography for very itchy feet.


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We passionately share more than 30 years of travel know-how, exploration and detours with you. We want to motivate you to experience this amazingly diverse world we live in and show you how to do it! You can subscribe to our blog as well as follow us on FacebookTwitterYouTube and Instagram. Check out our Travel Resources to help you on your amazing journey.

One Life! Live It!
Alex & Ombi

Alex & Ombi

Ombretta (Ombi) Zanetti is a co-founder of veryitchyfeet.com. She has been travelling the world since 1989 and since 1999 with her partner, Alex, who hails from Ecuador. They both like to venture to the lesser known places. Ombi shares her passion for different cultures through her travel stories and Alex through his lens. Come take a detour or two with them!

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