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New Year’s Eve is so hit or miss. You can’t just have an pretty good New Year’s Eve, can you? You’re either in your own personal sequel to The Hangover, sipping liquid silver and snorting pure gold in a stretch limo chartered by Kanye, or sobbing in the fetal position alone in a corner, confident in the knowledge that everyone on planet earth is having more fun than you.

Um, no, I actually have never once been accused of using hyperbole in my writing. Why would you even ask that? Anyway, you know what I mean. New Year’s Eve is the one holiday sure to put a knot in my stomach, wondering if its going to be one of the good years or one of the bad ones.

New Year's Eve in Ecuador

This was one of the good years.

While not a single flake of pure gold was snorted, we rang in the New Year filled with all kinds of warm fuzzies. The mountain town of Baños was the perfect location — lively enough to party all night, laid back enough that I wore my Keds, and absolutely bursting with fascinating tradition.

We arrived in Ecuador on the 21st of December, and already the country was gearing up to welcome 2014. In each city we visited, we found families and communities hard at work on various sized effigies made of paper mache, straw, newspaper, and brightly colored paint. We soon learned that these beautiful creations wouldn’t last long — on December 31st, they’d be ceremonially burned in a a raucous street party sure to strike fear in the hearts of fire safety code inspectors everywhere. While the execution is pure party, the symbolism goes much deeper — the burning represents a spiritual cleansing of the ills and evils of the año viejo.

Masks in Ecuador

NYE in Banos

New Year's Eve in Ecuador

We excitedly purchased masks of our own as soon as we reached Baños. The price of getting in on the fun? A whopping $2.50 each. While Anders went for the devious sailor look, I chose to ring in 2014 as a stoned cow. It was a far cry from the little black dress and stilettos of New Year’s Eve past, I’d say.

New Year's Eve in Ecuador
New Year's Eve masks in Ecuador

On December 31st we woke up to beautiful weather and decided to go for a bike ride that brought us far out of town. When we hitched a lift back into Baños, we stumbled upon yet another special Ecuadorian New Year tradition — one I regret to say I don’t have a single photo of. Several times along the road, our truck — and every other vehicle on the road — was stopped by a merry band of cross-dressers demanding donations. We were baffled and our inquiries with locals were met with a shrug and a simple, “it’s tradition.”

A bit of research revealed a slightly more nuanced explanation — in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, it is tradition for some Ecuadorian men to dress as female vuidas, or widows, of the past year. They represent the wives of the effigies being burned later in the evening. Quirkily charming in theory, but in practice the human toll booths they create by blocking the streets with wild dance parties are basically to raise beer money for the wild night ahead.

New Year masks in Ecuador

New Year's Eve Effigies in Ecuador

Festivities started early when the big night finally arrived. As soon as the sun set we hit the streets, dodging homemade fireworks, frisky vuidas, and costumed children trick-or-treating for spare change. It was complete sensory overload — and I loved it. Luckily our hostel was very centrally located and so we popped back a few times in the earlier hours to escape the madness for a moment and have a quiet drink in the bar.

But in the final hour before midnight, all bets were off.

New Year's Eve Masks in Ecuador

New Year's Eve in Banos, Ecuador

New Year's Eve in Banos, Ecuador

New Year's Eve in Banos, Ecuador

Burning Effigies for New Years Eve in Ecuador

As the clock raced towards midnight, firecrackers started popping off by the second and smoke filled the air as the throbbing crowd cheered for their beautiful creations burning in the streets. Reluctantly, we popped off our masks and sacrificed them to the flames. We stopped for a moment to watch them burn before returning to dance party happening all around us.

Pure elation — and a little bit of booze — coursed through my veins. There was nowhere else I would have rather been in that moment.

New Year's Eve in Ecuador

New Year's Eve in Banos

New Year's Eve in Ecuador

Burning Effigies for New Years Eve in Ecuador

Eventually, we followed the natural progression off the street and into Baños’ small nightlclub district, where locals and travelers danced the night away side by side (and, amazingly, sans cover charge!) While it was the perfect end to the evening, I’ll always remember the New Year’s Eve in Ecuador out on the streets, at the world’s best block party.

Yes — New Year’s Eve 2013 was a spectacular hit.

New Year in Ecuador

Where in the world have you spent New Year’s Eve?

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36 Comments...
  • Lela
    February 13 2014

    This is completely insane and wonderful. The only ‘unusual’ place I have spent the New Year is Bangkok and I was too scared to ‘do it big’ at the time haha.

    xo,
    Lela / http://www.lelalondon.com
    Lela recently posted..What I Wore – Leather Studded Kiss In The Sand

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Oh, I love Bangkok! I think a major holiday can be a little overwhelming in a big city though, definitely. What did you end up doing?

  • Jamie
    February 13 2014

    So awesome. I had no idea this tradition existed! You capture it so well with these photos.

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Thanks Jamie! I was pretty nervous about taking out my camera throughout the night but I couldn’t help myself from doing one lap around town with it!

  • Mel
    February 13 2014

    What an experience! I would trade it my LBD and heels for some lively New Years traditions in South America in a heart beat. Was the burning of the effigies a Banos thing, or celebrated across Ecuador?
    Mel recently posted..An Olympic Tale

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      It is celebrated across Ecuador, Mel! Actually Montanita, the beach town we started out in, is the most famous place to witness this tradition. However, everything was booked there and what was left was sky high… so we ended up in Banos. Couldn’t be happier about it!

  • Jade
    February 13 2014

    This sounds amazing! Seeing crazy little cultural traditions like burning straw men in paper mache masks are the best kinds of discoveries while travelling.
    I spent New Years in Lima four years ago and it was decidedly less festive- no one even joined us in a countdown! You picked a great place!
    Jade recently posted..It’s the people you meet…

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Aw, that’s a bummer! I’m definitely glad we stumbled on Banos!

  • Emily
    February 13 2014

    Wow – who knew Banos had such a crazy New Years Eve? A few years ago we spent New Years in Abu Dhabi and while there was a coordinated fireworks spectacle over the 5+ star hotels and resorts, we preferred wandering the streets watching the locals go nuts with noise makers and streamers.
    Emily recently posted..Catedral de Sal: Going Underground to get Closer to Heaven

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      That sounds awesome… and a little scary. I was nervous with all the homemade fireworks going on in Banos. Apparently they run PSAs all over TV that time of year showing amputees injured in accidents previous years :/

  • Carl Parkes
    February 14 2014

    It was 1979. I had hooked up with Bill Dalton in Singapore…it’s a very long story.

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Sounds like a good one! 😉

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    February 14 2014

    looks like you guys had a ton of fun! In India, they celebrate NYE a few months before and build these giant paper mache monsters that they tear down and burn at the end of the night. It’s so fun learning new traditions!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..… But Seriously, Where is the “Fort” in Fort Kochi?

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      That sounds strangely similar to Ecuador’s tradition… halfway across the world! That’s awesome.

  • Jen
    February 14 2014

    I love hearing about how other parts of the world celebrate New Years and other holidays throughout the year. A few years ago I made a decision to try and get to a new city every year for New Years. Banos certainly sounds like a fun place to experience it and I will be squirrelling this info away for the future.
    Jen recently posted..Fun Fact Friday #2

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      That’s an awesome tradition, Jen! Where have you made it to thus far? I’ve done Thailand, Canada, The Bahamas, and now Ecuador!

      • Jen
        February 14 2014

        So far I have made it to Singapore, London, Auckland and Melbourne. Maybe Canada somewhere this year.
        Jen recently posted..Berlin in Pictures

  • J in Beijing
    February 14 2014

    What a fantastic new year! Very unique – like you say, you’ll always remember it. One of my favourite NYEs was on a beach in Busan in South Korea. It was freezing but we drank lots of soju to keep warm. At midnight we all set fireworks off on the beach and there was also a fire works display on a boat out on the water. It was so much fun and probably one of my best NYEs ever. There are actually a ton of fire works going off around my apartment in Beijing right now- it’s Lantern Festival (the end of the Chinese New Year period). I like getting to celebrate New Year twice a year here haha!
    J in Beijing recently posted..Mandalay to Bagan by Boat

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Nice! I was in Thailand for Chinese New Year once and loved observing the celebrations… though I’m sure it pales in comparison to what you’re seeing!

  • Steve
    February 14 2014

    That looked a great way of seeing in the new year. This year I am hoping to be in Budapest to celebrate the new year. I hope that i have as good a time as you guys did.
    Steve recently posted..Photo of the Week – Winter Olympics

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Fingers crossed for you — I’m sure you’ll make it happen! Best of luck getting to Budapest 🙂

  • Millie
    February 14 2014

    Hey Alex!

    I know what you mean about NYE – it’s supposed to be this fantastic night out, and we’re therefore disappointed with anything less than the best NYE we’ve ever had!

    I have been reading your blog for about a year now, and hungrily reading all your diving posts. I’m happy to say that this week I finished my open water certificate! I’m in Queensland, Australia and for my last two dives we went to Julian Rocks, which is a marine reserve. There was so much to see, and now I feel like my world has suddenly got a whole lot bigger!

    Question, did it take quite a few dives for you to feel completely at ease with the equipment, depth, and general skills of diving?

    Thanks for writing such an inspiring blog!

    Millie

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Wow, congratulations Millie! I’m so happy for you! That sounds fantastic. Really proud 🙂 And yes, comfort in diving definitely comes with experience. I didn’t feel like a very comfortable diver until I spent a summer in Cayman and dove with regularity. It will come!

  • Michael
    February 14 2014

    Interesting. A slightly different tradition in Montañita. There were a few masks there but not as many as these pictures show. There were mostly enormous paper mache characters that were later burned into a huge fire pit or shoved with tons of fireworks which we did. We bought one of Barney and blew him up to pieces. Good times!
    Michael recently posted..Australia For Beginners – What You Need to Know Before Travelling

    • Alex
      February 14 2014

      Interesting to hear about the differences. Originally I was heartbroken not to spend NYE by the beach… but in the end I have no complaints about how things went! It was a great experience all around (and maybe I’ll do Montañita another year!)

  • Chad Thomson
    February 14 2014

    Love your blog!
    Chad Thomson recently posted..Top 10 European Wonders Part 1

    • Alex
      February 16 2014

      Thanks Chad! Welcome to wanderland 🙂

  • becky hutner
    February 18 2014

    i’m so glad new year’s worked out for you alex — i know you were agonizing about it! your ecuadorian street party is making me feel like i need to amp things up for next year. quiet get togethers in friends’ apartments are just not cutting it! (no offense, quiet friends!)
    becky hutner recently posted..Fashion ‘Round the World: What people wore in Jan ’14

    • Alex
      February 19 2014

      One of my best NYE’s was a super quiet, laid back one…. but okay, it was on a boat in the Bahamas 🙂 But I do think low key with friends can be just what you need sometimes.

  • Louise
    February 20 2014

    Wow.. sounds amazing!

    I’ve celebrated NYE in Gran Canaria (Spain), the Philippines and New Zealand so far.. and of course here in Denmark where I live 😉

    • Alex
      February 20 2014

      Those sound like some great destinations! I can only imagine where I’ll be next year!

  • Franca
    January 2 2015

    That is probably the most unusual way to celebrate the new year I’ve ever heard. The most exotic and different one I ever experienced is when we were in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, it surely was interesting but nothing compared to your experience in Banos 🙂
    Franca recently posted..A Vegan View of Christmas in Puglia

    • Alex
      January 2 2015

      It was ever so special, Franca. Absolutely loved it and still cherish the memory a year later 🙂

  • Ashley Parks
    September 15 2016

    I know it has been a bit since you posted this, but do you have any suggestions for how to travel from quito to Banos? I am planning a big trip to South America and have Banos tentatively planned between Peru and Barbados. I would love any suggestions you have on budget friendly travel methods! Thanks, love all the posts!

    • Alex
      September 17 2016

      Hey Ashley, I took the public bus and I think it’s the only option — it was when I was there. It’s not the most fun journey ever but I LOVED Baños! Enjoy!

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