If you look at a map of Ecuador, you will see that there are numerous towns called Baños, which is a little confusing. The town I’m talking about, and the Baños that most travel books and blogs will be talking about is Baños de Agua Santa which is located just south of Ambato. It is best known for its hot springs and adventure activity, and after the Quilotoa Loop hike, it was the perfect place to chill out and have some fun in for a few days.
Getting To Baños From Latacunga:
From the Latacunga bus station you need to take a bus to Ambato. From Ambato hop on a bus that’s going to Puyo and tell the driver you want to get off at Baños – you’ll be dropped off at the bus terminal. Altogether it should cost $5.50.
Where’s Good To Stay?
This town is set up for the backpackers and travellers who flock here to take advantage of the good weather and beautiful surroundings, so there are numerous hotels and hostels available. In the low-season there’s no need to book as you’ll be able to find somewhere with a room easily enough. We stayed in the Hostal D’Mathias; it was really close to the bus terminal, less than a 10-minute walk from the town centre, and the owners of the hostel also own Expediciones Amazonicas, a tour company that organise all the different adventure activities that can be done in and around the town. If you book through the hostel you get a discount on the activities – we saved $10 on our rafting.
Where’s Good To Eat and/or Drink?
Just like with the hostels, there are numerous places to eat and drink. My favourite places were:
- Casa Hood: this restaurant does all varieties of food including Asian and Italian. I would definitely recommend getting a dessert – the apple pie and the brownie are delicious!
- Kichua Restaurant: this is a tiny restaurant just off the main square that has a meat and a vegetarian menu. We got the chicken sandwiches for lunch – they took a while to make but they were worth it!
- Comics Burgers: this almost hole-in-the-wall caught my attention because of the name and multitude of DC and Marvel stickers covering the walls. The burgers, hotdogs and chips all have their own unique names based off superhero characters which adds a nice touch to it. When we went I had been craving a hotdog all day (ever since we watched a documentary on hotdogs…) and was happy with what I got. AJ got the burger which was tasty too. Great place for good fast food!
- Coffee and Honey: not only does this place do GOOD coffee, but it makes said coffee however you please. There are a variety of ways to order your coffee – filter, drip, cafetiere, any many more. The black tea is very good too, and I would highly recommend their banana and chocolate chip muffins. The interior walls are covered in numerous cute and funny pictures and murals, and the staff are really friendly. I’m just sad that I never had a chance to get a proper breakfast there as I saw some customers having it and it looked delicious!
What’s There To Do?
- MUCH. Baños is known as an adventure activity town and it lives up to its reputation. There’s rafting, canyoning, ziplining, bungee-jumping, mountain-biking down the side of a volcano, and hiking, along with chances to visit waterfalls, hot springs, and a swing at the edge of steep drop. Because of time constraints we weren’t able to do everything, but we feel like we got the most out of our time in Baños. Here’s a breakdown of the activities we managed to do over three days:
- Wander Around The Town: Baños is a very pretty town, and there’s lots of beautiful scenery to see, namely the church in the town square which is a lovely example of gothic architecture, and the central plaza, which is full of trees and fountains. There’s also a lot of wonderful street art to be found as well, adding colourful excitement to every turn of a corner.
- Visit the ‘Treehouse and Swing At The End Of The World’: This is one of the big attractions in Baños, and it one of the first things we read about when looking at what we could do in Ecuador. The tree house and swing are located in a site that also has mini ziplines, a café-restaurant, a short hiking trail, a second set of new swings and plenty of green spaces to relax in. At only $1pp to enter, it’s really good value. You can reach the site by either hiking for about 3 hours, taking a taxi, or taking the local bus which runs during the day. The bus cost $1pp each way, and leaves at regular intervals from the corner of Rocafuerte and Pastaza streets (There’s no sign or bus stop or anything, just wait at the corner and a bus will turn up, usually about a half hour before it’s meant to leave). The great thing about taking the bus is that it’s cheap and saves you walking for hours. The bad thing about the bus is that you will arrive at the swing along with everyone else on the bus, so you won’t get a lot of time on the swing to yourself, especially if some people decide to hog it (in my case it was two Australian girls who wouldn’t get off it for ages until they had the perfect photos). I would recommend going as early as possible to avoid crowds and the fog that rolls in nearly every evening and night.
- Visit the Bellavista at Night on a Chiva: The chivas are these trucks that have been converted into large open buses and are covered in flashing neon lights and speakers which blast party music as the bus drives through the town (and everyone judges you). It’s actually a lot of fun as long as you’re willing to get into the party spirit. At the Bellavista viewpoint you can look out over the entire town and if you’re lucky, see the top of the volcano. The fog was too thick for us to see the volcano, but we were able to see the town really well and admire how pretty it looks lit up. You’ll also get a short talk from your guide and a hot drink to warm you up. There’s also plenty of food stalls around if you get peckish. The chiva costs $5pp for the night tour and will collect you and drop you off at your hotel, or if you see it driving along the street and feel like hopping on, most will pull over and let you on if you flag them down.
- Go Rafting Along the River Pastaza: This was the activity we were most excited for when planning our trip to Baños. We’d been rafting in Arequipa (which was my first time), and were eager to do more. I’ll be honest, the rafting in Baños beat the rafting in Arequipa hands down, but I’m really glad that my first time was in Arequipa as the river Pastaza was much rougher, and our guide was crazy and determined to get us out of the boat, to the point that he ended up pushing us out at one point, and rocking the boat at others so we’d fall out. It was brilliant fun! At one point we got to stop and had a chance to jump off a bridge that ran over a calm part of the river. Naturally I was curious and so myself and one other guy from the raft decided to go for it after watching another group go through with it. From the bank, it didn’t look that bad, but once we were up there OH BOY. The fall felt like it was forever, and my heart was going 90 miles an hour, but I’m really glad I did it. Would I do it again? Um, no, mainly because I ended up getting a LOT of water stuck in both my ears and was in pretty bad pain for the rest of the day until I finally managed to get drops to help clear it up. Even after that it was several weeks before my hearing and the feeling in my ears went completely back to normal. I was the only one this happened to, and I have bad problems with my ears getting waterlogged even just from being in a swimming pool, so I probably should have realised something like that would happen. Still, I don’t regret it in the slightest, it was an amazing experience and the rafting as a whole was fantastic! Normally the rafting can cost between $25-$35, but we paid $20 when we booked through our hostel, which included all the equipment, a CD with all the photos from the day on it, and a really tasty and filling lunch afterwards, so great value for money!
- Go Visit the Piscina de la Virgin Thermal Baths: There are a number of thermal baths to be found around Baños, but the most scenic and popular with the locals are the Piscina de la Virgin baths. They’re outdoors by a cliff and are right beside a waterfall, which is lovely to watch when you’re relaxing in the warm water. There are three main pools, one absolutely freezing, one the temperature of a nice warm bath, and one absolutely boiling, and on the level below there’s a small bath which contains the hottest water with a plunge pool beside it. There’s also a small spa area where you can get massages, facials and body scrubs. The cold pool just contains clear water, but the other two contain the water from the ground which is full of minerals – this is why the water looks yellow and smells a little metallic. The middle, warm pool is the nicest to go in, and we spent the most time there just swimming lazily from one side to the other, floating in place, or sitting along the edge of the pool submerged up to our necks. We tried the third and hottest pool – it was like being burned every time you moved! Once we were in and submerged we sat as still as possible and tried to enjoy the intense heat relaxing our muscles. You’re only supposed to stay in there for 5 minutes, but we couldn’t even last that; afterwards we ran straight into the shower of freezing water next to the pool, an excellent way to get the circulation going! Afterwards we decided to try a full body sugar scrub ($10pp), which was a really nice and relaxing way to end our time at the baths. It costs $2pp to enter the Piscina de la Virgin, and you must wear a swim hat in the pools; if you don’t have one you can rent one for $1 from the front desk. I would definitely recommend visiting these baths, and taking a little time to relax and unwind in the soothing warmth of the waters.
- Travel the Route of the Waterfalls: We had read about people cycling and hiking along this route out from Baños towards Puyo, but as we were pushed for time we decided to take one of the tour buses that run that route throughout the day. The tour is really interesting – along the way your guide will point out areas of interest and lots of different waterfalls and attractions. We had the chance to do a zipline superman style, and saw a rock that looks like the face of Jesus. The tour ends with a hike to El Pailon del Diabolo which runs into the Rio Verde, and where you can see another face formed in the rocks. The last waterfall is seriously impressive, and you get right up close to it. The tour costs $6pp, and it costs $1.50pp to enter the park to visit El Pailon del Diabolo. I would recommend doing the tour on the bus rather than solo on a bicycle or hiking as you get the benefit of the guide and the interesting information they can provide but also, the route is all on the main road which seemed slightly dangerous for cyclists and walkers and, to be honest, not that enjoyable a journey.
This small town has a lot to offer every kind of visitor from the rough-and-ready backpacker to the luxury traveller. If you’re looking for adventure, for a chance to relax, to party on a bus, hike along a volcano, or swing over the edge of the world, Baños is the perfect place to visit.