Listed in our guidebook as a kayak company (gasp!) we went to San Gil partly because of them. Arriving at their office, we were given a rundown of the few river sections available in the dry season. Wanting to put us on the Class II/Class III river before letting us go down anything more technical, we signed up to follow a river raft the following day. Unfortunately the equipment was very old and in poor shape. 2/3 of Danny’s warner paddle blade was missing, leaving him rather vulnerable upside down in the river. The equipment had seen better days and I wouldn’t want to be running a Class IV with any of it. Essentially we functioned as the safety boaters for the raft trip, but the river was more 2 than 3 so it turned out to be an extremely easy run. Disappointed we went back to the office to try to repeat the run that afternoon, but they were not inclined to offer us any discount, even without a guide. Their next trip was two days later, but we declined to go with them again partly because of their refusal to let us do the run again on our own at a discount, but mostly because of the poor quality of the rental kayak equipment.
After “mountain biking” with several companies in Mexico only to ride flat gravel paths we were convinced there was little commercial mountain biking to be found in Mexico. Although we had been in real bike shops in Mexico, none of the tours turned out to be real mountain biking. And then we met Ursula. Taking what we figured might be our last stab at mountain biking in Mexico, we headed to Los Pinguinos in San Cristobal de las Casas. The modern equipment, covered in dirt told us that this trip would be different. As we fitted our gear (helmets and bike gloves!) Ursula explained the trail to us and cautioned us that no cameras would be allowed. Sensing our disappointment Ursula explained that many of the local villages believe that cameras steal their souls and since her trips go to villages that no other tours go to, it was important for her to respect their wishes and customs.
The trek itself was a mixture of single track and dirt roads and some very challenging uphills. We road through a cloud forest and a few small indigenous villages where the paved roads don’t go. It was a great way to explore the area and get out of touristy San Cristobal. Very highly recommend mountain biking with Los Pinguinos.
Although other companies had cheaper volcano boarding in Leon, the thought of going with 30 other people was, well not what we wanted. We arrived at Va Pues around 5pm and immediately negotiated a sandboarding trip for the next day. With tourism down, they were more than happy to negotiate the price and in the end we paid $3 per person more than the larger tours, and ours ended up being private. Our guide, Wilbur was excellent and on our hike to the volcano he explained the geology of the area, pointing out recent lava fields in the distance. Relaxed and flexible, Wilbur didn’t hesitate to add an additional hike into the crater at our request. Patient, intelligent and fluent in English, we had a great time with Wilbur and Va Pues. Although we took a sandboarding tour, the company offers tours out of Leon and Granada, Nicaragua.
The proprietor of Casa de Clara, Clara, runs a no-nonsense one day tour of the ruins surrounding Trujillo. Our small group of three piled into Clara’s tiny, VW Beetle and spent the day touring around Huaca del Luna, Chan-Chan and the Temple of the Rainbows. What her car lacked in safety and aestetics Clara more than made up for in archeologic knowledge and local background. At each site it was clear that Clara is a regular on the Trujillo archeological circuit, not only did she know the sites, but she also knew every security guard and tour guide on the property. She navigated our group around the crowds and gave us a much more thorough tour than the other groups seemed to get. Her English is very good, but don’t expect a relaxing tour, there’s a lot to see in one day and only so much time to see it in. The price including all entrance fees and transportation for the one day Trujillo ruins tour was 60 soles. Other tour agencies in Trujillo offer tours from 30-40 soles, which do not include entrance fees (about 20 soles total for students depending on which sites you go to). We did not book our tour in advance and it ran from approximately 11am – 6pm, including a lunch break, but since its a semi-private or private tour the time is up to you.
Over 5 months on the road and this is the first review we have written for a hostal. Princess Maria was simply a breath of fresh air. The cheapest of all of our accommodations in Ecuador (about $6 each) we had only intended to stay in Banos one night but quickly extended our stay. The owners were always present ready to supply any and all visitors with whatever kind of information that might be needed or just to hang out and practice some Spanish.
Aside from being a cheap hostalling option, Princess Maria provided us with everything we needed for our stay in Banos. We had a private room with a private bathroom and all the hot water we wanted, which wasn’t much thanks to the nearby hot spring. There was a kitchen where we cooked ourselves a nice meal as well as free Wifi internet. The hostal is well decorated with a TV common room as well.
Usually we skip the hostal and go to the small hotel around the corner. If more hostals were like Princess Maria we wouldn’t go anywhere else….ever.