Baños (de Agua Santa) is a small city in the Andean highlands of Ecuador under the smoke of volcano Tungurahua. Its name, which is Spanish for "Baths (of sacred water)," comes from the famous hydrothermal springs in the area. It's equally popular with foreigners as with Ecuadorians and is known as the adventure capital of Ecuador. The streets are lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour agents. Although it seems a bit touristy and artificial, lots of people love it and it's definitely worth a visit. It's an important hub for outdoor sports and jungle tours.
The small bus terminal (terminal terrestre) is on the north edge of town and is within walking distance to the center and most hotels.
There are frequent connections to Baños from Quito's southern Quitumbe terminal (3½ hours, $4.25), Riobamba (2 hours, $2) and Guayaquil (5½ hours, $7). The closest bigger town is Ambato (1 hour, $1.10 from Terminal Mayorista, $2.20 from main terminal) and buses go frequently between the two towns.
There are reports of scams on the Amazonas bus company, whereby passengers are ditched in the southern districts of Quito. When ditched passengers then buy another ticket with another company, they are told they have to return to Quito and argue for a refund.
Easy, just walk. Nowhere is more than a 15-minute walk from where you start and usually even less. It is relatively flat in the city centre.
Also check out the mountain biking section should you wish to explore further afield.
There are plenty of taxis around should you need one. For most places in town a ride should cost you less than $1.
Motorcycles can be rented for $15/hr for a 250cc off-road style bike. They will not ask for a license but will hold onto your passport. The agency near Hotel Passiflora has good quality Honda bikes maintained just as well. Be sure to take photos of the bike before you drive it away.
- Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water (Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa). This neo-Gothic style church is named after the vision of the Virgin Mary seen near the appropriately named waterfalls and is therefore a place of pilgrimage for those who come to thank the Virgin for many miracles and to ask for her blessing. It was built with many volcanic rocks and the inside is lined with paintings depicting the Virgin's miracles, including saving the church from several volcanic eruptions.
- Cascada de La Virgen. This is the main waterfall near the city center which empties near the thermal baths.
- Manto de la novia (Ruta de las Cascadas). This dynamic waterfall sometimes features two distinct chutes and has a cable car ride available.
- Pailon de diablo (Ruta de las Cascadas). This is the most impressive of the falls in the area with an option to hike to the source for a closer look.
There are dozens of travel agencies offering rafting, climbing to Cotopaxi, mountain bike rental, multiple day trekking, jungle tours, etc.
Casa del Arbol
Swing towards the mountains in the famous Casa del Arbol. Entrance costs $1. There are 2 swings with 2 more in construction. To get there, either hike (3 hr) or take a bus ($1 - 30 min). The bus generally comes back 1½ hr after it left you at the Casa del Arbol. In high season, the wait lines for the swings can grow quite big.
Baños is not just well-known for its adventures, but also for healing.
The best massage studios are all on the same street, within 50 m of each other. They are all $20/hour. Try Xu Jing Casa de Salud for an excellent massage from a wise old Chinese woman. Corner of Luis A. Martínez and Eloy Alfaro, across from Casa Hood.
Bioethika Center for Healing, an Ayurvedic clinic at Luis A. Martinez and Thomas Haflants, next to the Libreria Cafe, offers many kinds of Ayurvedic treatments including Ayurvedic massages.
1 Termas de la Virgen, ☎ . Right next to the waterfalls, this public set of pools holds the heated water bubbling up from inside the earth. $2 entry fee and they will keep your stuff behind the counter in a plastic bin. It is hygienic: they require you to change and shower before entering the pools. Nice view of the waterfall, and they channel some of that water for a rustic cold shower after your hot dip. $2.
Around Baños there are several easy trails. The tourist office (calle T. Halflants at the park) can provide simple maps.
On some trails you can find many signs on the way, though the indicated distances seem to be quite contradictory. Head up to the statue of the Virgin Mary which overlooks the town for nice views, but be warned, it's a heart-pumping hike!
2 Tungurahua, ☎ (for Ricardo Robalino - the operator of the refugio). With its crater at 5023 m (16,480 ft) this active volcano provides strenuous hikes just south of Baños. You can hike up from the center of Baños (1800 m, 5900 ft) or take a taxi to the ranger station of Sangay National Park (2800 m, 9200 ft) and start from there. From the center go towards Termas el Salado. On the road that leads to the baths, take the first right to find the marked start of the trail. The first part of the unmarked but mostly obvious trail takes you up to the hamlet of Pondoa (2400 m, 7900 ft) which has a small restaurant. There follow the paved road that later turns into a dirt track up to the ranger station where you need to register (free). A steep and unmarked but obvious trail goes from there to the refugio at 3800 m (12,500 ft) where you could stay overnight ($5 per person) to enjoy the clearer views in the early morning. This hut has a basic kitchen, water access, and a few thin mats to sleep on. This is where you need to turn around unless you brought a guide. It is forbidden to go any further on your own because of the quickly changing weather conditions and the trail that is hard to follow in foggy conditions. $5 if you stay overnight at the refugio.
Several agencies rent out mountain bikes ($5 a day or $1.25 an hour). But make sure that you or someone with experience checks out the bikes and ensures that they are safe to use. Especially check if the gear is clean and oiled enough - bikes look really good, but are sometimes not maintained like they should be. Also be sure to understand who has to pay for damage to the bike should it occur.
A popular ride is the 61 km, mostly downhill, to Puyo. The first 18 km to Rio Verde is strewn with impressive waterfalls, some reached by mini cable cars across the valley. Rio Verde's Pailón del Diablo is the most dramatic. The frequent tunnels on this road mostly have bike bypasses and the only one you need to go through is the first one. There are good signs indicating where to go all the way to Puyo. From Rio Verde or Puyo there are frequent buses back to Baños, some of which will put you bike on the roof. It is also fairly easy to hitchhike your way back on a pick-up truck.
You can also sometimes include a small bungee-style jump off a bridge some 30 minutes from Baños.
Many companies organize rafting trips to the nearby Pastaza river. The rapids range from class II to IV, depending on the recent rainfall. A half-day trip costs about $30–35 and you are best off going with a respected, well-known organizer. The water is not too cold but beware of sunburn where the wet suit doesn't cover. In June 2009, a French tourist drowned when the boat capsized. Be careful!
ATVs and dirt bikes
ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and motocross bikes abound in the town and you can easily rent one for a couple of hours or days. The hills surrounding the town provide good views of the town and the volcano and climbing to the antenna or to the cross are both good options. You can also drive down to Puyo if you don't feel like biking.
Many kinds of tours are organized to the Amazon jungle from day trips to the edge to two week adventures deep in the jungle. You will get to meet natives in their villages, swim under a waterfall and see at least some small wild animals like frogs, fish and spiders. You can usually also bundle the tour with rafting if you want. The tours around Puyo have a price range of about $35-50 per day, but no matter how much you pay, you'll probably end up on the same bus, eat the same food and stay at the same place, so shop around a bit before booking.
Several tour operators offer bridge jumping. There are two bridges this is done from, one is much higher than the other. Although the operators are not covered by any kind of liability insurance, the rigging equipment is of high quality and done professionally.
Several tour operators offer ziplining.
3 Parque Aventura San Martin, ☎ . Well-run set of cables with competent guides and good name-brand gear. The zipline trip goes once into a crevasse between two rocks at a mild incline, followed by a climb, a rope bridge, and a zipline back to nearly the start point. It's about 10 minutes out of town, and takes 15-20 min to complete the circuit. $20+$5 for some photos and a video.
Dozens of tour operators offer rappelling down waterfalls (canyoning).
For reliable, affordable, and fun outdoor activities check out MTS Adventure between Av. 16 de Diciembre and Luis A. Martinez near the church. Canyoning, rafting, canopying, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, hiking, etc. Guides are knowledgeable and fun.
There are a lot of different places to buy handicrafts, there are a lot of small business in front of the church in the middle of the town.
- Alto Caribe (back side of the block the church is on). Astonishingly good South American fusion for a low price. Healthy preparation and warm staff. $3.50-7.
- Casa Hood, Martinez & Eloy Alfaro, ☎ . Perhaps the most recommended restaurant in Banos, Casa Hood serves up an eclectic array of dishes that are all outstanding, including many vegetarian options. The atmosphere here is very relaxed and the many bookshelves full of books and games make it feel like a living room. Any of the books can be traded for your own and the games are open for anyone to play. $5-8.
- 1 Mercado Central (one block east from Parque Palomino Flores). During the day you can find affordable meals inside Baños' market. $1.50.
- Napolitano Pizzeria Restaurante, 12 de Noviembre & Martinez. A laid-back Italian restaurant with outstanding lasagna. Also has a pool table in the back room.
- Pancho's Snack Bar, Rocafuerte & Maldonado, ☎ . The confusing mix of cultures inside these doors make the place a hit. Enjoy your superhamburguesa between the shrine to Che Guevara and the pictures of John Wayne.
Sugar cane taffy (Melcocha)
Melcocha is Ecuador's hallmark candy and the majority of it is made in Baños. The abundance of sugar cane in the area makes this version of taffy a local specialty. It is a naturally sweet taffy made from boiled raw cane syrup. In store fronts that sell it you are likely to see it being made by pulling it and beating it against sturdy door frames.
Sugar cane juice (Jugo de Caña)
Sugar cane is also popular in a less worked form as chewable cane pulp sticks or squeezed juice.
- Bar Cafe Jack Rock, Eloy Alfaro 541 & Ambato, ☎ . Rock and roll bar with an always-busy foosball table.
- Discoteca The Trebol, Av. Montalvo & 16 de Diciembre, ☎ .
- Leprechaun Bar, Eloy Alfaro (between Oriente and Espejo), ☎ . This is the happening place for travellers and hip people in Baños to hang out. By the front bar there is a large dance floor with the DJ playing a variety of music. Upstairs is a smaller dance floor. But the real gem of the place is the back yard, which has another bar, a stage for occasional live music, and a large fire pit that the staff keeps roaring all night long on weekends. Be sure to try the signature "Flaming Bob Marley" shot.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a guest:|
|Budget||Under $10 per night|
|Mid-range||$10-25 per night|
|Splurge||Over $25 per night|
- El Marques Posada, Pasaje V. Ibarra y Av. Montalvo, ☎ . At the foot of the magnificent Cascada de la Virgin, El Marques Posada is a sociable and welcoming hostel decorated with warm colours and boasting incredible views of Baños from the roof terrace.
- Erupción Hostel, Maldonado y Eugenio Espejo (Half a block south from the south east corner of the bus terminal). An economic option if you want to pitch a tent in town. The place has a shared outdoor kitchen, hot showers, a pizza oven running on wood, and a large turtle that might walk into your tent at some point. The staff consists solely of short-term volunteers that do not care too much about the guests. (The owners also run another hostel & restaurant at the corner of Ambato and Thomas Halflants that does not offer camping.) $3 camping, $8 dorm, $24 private room.
- Hostal El Recreo (Across the highway from the center of town, turn off the main road at the Amazonas bus stop and follow the signs). Chill family-run hostel, walking distance from the center. 3-bed dorms, Wi-Fi, kitchen, TV, clean, and the owners are very friendly. dorm $7.
- Hostal Princesa María, Rocafuerte y Mera, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A bit of a walk from the main strip, but a friendly budget option with free internet and wifi, kitchen, DVD player and good hot showers. dorm $8.
- [dead link]Hostel Transilvania, 16 de Diciembre y Oriente, ☎ . Big bright rooms and a great, relaxed atmosphere. Run by two backpackers who know exactly what budget travelers need and want. Tons of free amenities, gorgeous views and a their own fantastic restaurant next door.
- 1 Illuchi Camping (across Puente San Francisco (where the bungee is) after 100 m (300 ft) go through a gate on your left and follow the trail up.). Camping area with a great view and great vibe just outside of Baños. Has a fully equipped kitchen and hot showers. No WiFi. $2 camping.
- La Chimenea, Luis A Martinez & Rafael Vieira (Coming from the bus station, continue 4 blocks along Calle Maldonado and turn left onto Calle Martinez. From there, you'll find La Chimenea around six blocks along and on your right.), ☎ . Check-out: 12:00. Really nice place, very good value. Lovely roof-top terrace and cafe. Friendly, relaxed, and helpful staff. Every room is clean and modern, with hot water and balcony. No TVs. Internet computers in lobby (free). Swimming pool and jacuzzi (temporarily out of service as of April 2011). Steam baths available for rent. Information about the area. $7.50-8.50 per person.
- Plantas y Blanco, Martinez y 12 de Noviembre, ☎ . Opened by French owner Michel Leseigneur, this is one of the old favourites in Baños with it's great location in the centre of town. $6-9 dorm, $10-12 per person for a private room.
- , Calle Oriente 905 y 12 de Noviembre, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A Spanish teacher rents out several rooms in his centrally located apartment. There is a communal kitchen, bathroom with hot water, a living area and free Wi-Fi in this well-lit, clean apartment. $12 per person.
- [dead link]Hostería Miramelindo, Via Baños-Puyo Km. 15 Parroquia Rio Verde, ☎ . $30.
- La Floresta Hospedaje, Montalvo y Thomas Halflants, Banos, ☎ . Hotel with large airy rooms, spotlessly clean, helpful English speaking staff, a pleasant garden and excellent breakfast. $72-119 for a room.
- [dead link]Luna Runtun, Caserio Runtun Km. 6, ☎ . This adventure spa is located on a ridge high above the city and features swimming pools filled with volcanically heated water.
- Samari, Av. de las Amazonas Vía a Puyo Km. 1, ☎ . This all-inclusive spa resort is the most expensive accommodation in the city.
- Mayra's Spanish School, Montalvo and 16 de Diciembre, ☎ . Mayra's Spanish School was established in 1998 and is officially recognized by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Ecuador. The school is centrally located in Baños with modern facilities, including comfortable classrooms, a library, bathrooms and kitchen. Lessons are available mornings, afternoons, evenings or weekends. Also rents out rooms and apartments. $150 for a week with 20 hr of classes.