With a free afternoon in Baños and with good weather, my girlfriend and I were pondering what to do with ourselves as we walked past the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa along 16 de Diciembre. We didn't really have to think for much longer as a few metres past the impressive church we were accosted by a rather interesting character, a man who looked more at home as a New York pimp than a tour seller on the streets of Baños.
Normally I would walk past street sellers of any nature without giving them a second glance (the cold hearted man I am!), but as our afternoon was free we thought we would listen to this mans sales pitch. After describing the two tours that Chiva La Aventurera had to offer us, including viewing a selection of rather lovely photos, we decided as we had nothing better to do we would partake in one of the tours.
Chiva La Aventurera offers two tours, the Cascade Tour (starting at 3pm), taking in numerous waterfalls surrounding Baños, including the mightily impressive El Pailon del Diablo, and the Volcano Tour (starting at 9pm) where apparently you are guaranteed to see molten lava spurting out of the top of Tungurahua Volcano. Costing $8 for the three hour Cascade Tour I thought was a reasonable price. Sadly it seems Chiva La Aventurera are able to offer this price due to a total lack of professionalism and incompetency.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the transport, a converted truck with brightly coloured wooden seats lining the back, identical to most other tour transport in Baños. Unfortunately there was a lot wrong with the actual tour. We were supposed to start at 3pm, but the tour finally got under way at at 3.40pm as we were all made to wait for a group of people to finish eating. To me, to wait and be so late leaving highlights that Chiva La Aventurera is far more concerned about getting money from its guests than providing a professional tour. I wish we hadn't waited for this group of people as throughout the tour they treated it like their own personal experience, making everyone else wait for them when they decided they needed extra time to do something. Restlessness and irritation from other tourists was obvious, but the driver and tour guide didn't bother saying a single word to them. I also felt let down by the quality of the guide. His wise words of wisdom throughout the tour were very basic, even in his native Spanish language. When he tried to explain things in English his vocabulary was little more than the words 'volcano' and 'waterfall'.
The places visited on the Cascade Tour was actually very interesting, scenic, and enjoyable. You are first taken to a viewpoint for Tungurahua and then on to the first set of waterfalls Cascade Ines Maria. After this you visit a cable-car ride spanning across a huge gully with the raging Rio Pastaza far, far below. It's billed as the longest cable-car ride in Ecuador and I would also say it must be the scariest as well. The cable-car is little more than a glorified basket! Saying this though, for $1 (not included in the tour price) it is well worth testing it out as you get an excellent opportunity for taking pictures up and down Rio Pastaza and also of some other nearby waterfalls.
The tour finally finishes at El Pailon del Diablo, easily the best waterfalls viewable on the Cascade Tour. It takes 20 minutes to walk down the steep paths to the the wooden bridge where the waterfall can be viewed from. For another $1 (also not included in the price) you can get even close by venturing up some slippery steps. Although I didn't fancy doing this, from the returning people on my tour you certainly get a good soaking. Another Chiva La Aventurera gave ample time at each of these attractions they offered nothing extra than if you were to visit each of these yourself. If I had the choice again I think renting a bike in Baños (around $5 for the day) would be more rewarding.
After viewing El Pailon del Diablo it was time to return back to Baños. Due to the late start time it was obvious the driver was trying to make up time on the return journey by driving quite recklessly and at irresponsible speeds. When you consider that you are only sitting in a wooden seat with no seat belt had we had an accident I wouldn't have rated many people's chance of survival. We finally arrived back in to Baños still 40 minutes late and i was more than happy to depart.
Don't get me wrong, the sights witnessed during the Cascade Tour were easily worth the $8 and were highly impressive and extremely entertaining. I would recommend seeing them to anybody interested. I feel though that you would get more satisfaction either renting a bike and taking a leisurely bike ride to see the attractions or try another tour company other than Chiva La Aventurera. For me, professionalism and competency are highly important when offering customer satisfaction, something in which this tour group was severely lacking in. The dare-devil speeds and poor driving was just the icing on the cake. I suppose you could say it was completely my fault for choosing to take the tour from somebody off the street rather than go into one of the many tour agencies located in Baños.
If you want to disregard my experiences as a one-off, or you find yourself with no alternatives other than using Chiva La Aventurera then their offices are located on Pedro Vicente Maldonado and Oriente. You can also call them on (2) 742258 or (2) 096239174.