Where else in the world can you wake up with a view of a waterfall outside your window, walk outside ten minutes to the start of a trail head, paraglide over an active volcano, rappel down a waterfall, mountain bike, hike to stunning waterfalls, soak in natural hot springs, eat delicious local vegetarian food made by expatriates, and get a massage all in one day?
Baños de Agua Santa (or just Baños for short) is the town of adventure, and my favorite region that we visited during our 16 days in Ecuador. Sitting at around 6,000′ (2,000 m) altitude in the basin between mountains and waterfalls, this town is known for fun. We stayed at Hostal Llanovientos, which we found on Booking.com for $37 a night. Our window opened up to the mountains with La Cascada Virgen (Virgin Waterfall) as our backdrop and a lovely breeze that smelled of maracuya (passion fruit). The staff was unbelievably kind and went out of their way to ensure we were enjoying ourselves each time we left and re-entered the premises. Our room was small and we had two double beds, but who needs more space when you wake up to a giant mountain and waterfall each day? Also, you won’t be spending much time in your room here because there’s too much to do outdoors! Mid-day naps are a must because of all the play time. 🙂
Baños is a backpacker town, so food caters to foreigners which means lots of variety, excellent vegetarian cuisine, and CHEAP! (We are not vegetarians but needed a break from chicken and beef, which was about the only thing Ecuador served in most towns.) We felt extremely safe and enjoyed meeting other backpackers and travelers our age. All of the reputable restaurants use bottled or filtered water to prepare their meals and in the jugos (juices).
TIP: Unless you love sugary drinks, always ask for the jugo “sin azucar” which means without sugar. Ecuadorians love their sugar and add heaps of it into their fruit juices that are already naturally sweet.
We stayed three nights in Baños and could have easily spent another two because there is so much to do. It’s almost like the Ecuadorian equivalent of Moab, Utah; hippy, fun, adventurous, casual and filled with awesome travelers.
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN BANOS:
(check marks are next to the activities that we participated in. Sadly we could not do all ten because of time limitations.)
- Hike La Ruta De Las Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls) ✔
We were lucky to have a car, as the waterfall route is about a 20-minute drive outside of town and a bit tricky to find because of the lack of signage. (If you don’t have a car, there are plenty of bus tours that depart from the center of town and can be arranged through any tour agency.) We visited the famous Pailon del Diablo and continued on to the second waterfall. We began the hike around 10:00 AM and we were the only people on the trails. We even saw a snake! Baños is about a 1.5-hour drive from the Amazon so we were able to see some really neat bugs and birds of the jungle.
(Click on each photo below to enlarge it and see description):
- Canyon & Rappel down a Waterfall
- Bungee Swing Off the San Francisco Bridge ✔
Walk up to a 300′ (100 m) bridge, pay a guy a $20 bill, get strapped into a harness, pray to the Universe you make it out alive, and free fall. This is not exactly a bungee, as you plunge head-first into the river below. Though you are on a bungee cable, you merely swing back and forth once you hit resistance. You are then slowly lowered down to the ground where another guy escorts you back up to the top of the bridge. From harness to jump to ground all happens within the span of ten minutes. Watching Sasha take the plunge and getting it on video on our GoPro nearly gave me a heart attack!
- Paraglide Around Tungurahura, an Active Volcano
For $60, you can visit any activity agency in Baños and book a paragliding tour that will last around 25 minutes. The winds are perfect in this town, and you will likely see the active Tungurahura Volcano from the air! While driving from Baños to Otavalo, we were so lucky that “the mountain was out” as we would call it in Seattle. I am so used to the vista of Mt. Rainier at 14,000′, so seeing Tungurahua Volcano at 16,000′ was absolutely breathtaking!
- Take a Hike from the Town ✔
Baños is a small town that sits inside a basin surrounded by mountains. There are several hiking trails that start right from the center of town so you can strap up your boots, exit your hostel, and go straight up the mountain. We did a loop that started with a vertical hill and ended with a huge staircase! The views were awesome and of course, there was a swing…Ecuadorians love their swings.
Feeling very much like a kid again. Why is swinging so much fun?!
- Take a Soak in Las Piscinas De La Virgen (pools of the virgin) ✔
This town was named after the hot springs (“baths”) and are exactly what an adventurer needs after a long day of hiking, biking, swimming, rappelling, or just to calm down the adrenaline from the day’s activities!How Much Does It Cost To Visit Las Piscinas De La Virgen?Entrance Fee: $2.00 during daytime / $3.00 during evening
Note: Do not wear lotions or perfumes as it will make the water greasy and others won’t appreciate it
Closes: 9:30 PMThere are two baths – one on each side of town. We only went to La Virgen, which is just below the huge waterfall. We went two of the three nights we were there and loved it! They require that you wear a head cap (which I appreciate to avoid hairs floating around in the pools…gross) that costs $.50 per cap. They are rentals so you must return them when you leave. They close at 9:30 PM and get very busy in the evening.There are four pools – two on the first floor and two on the second floor. Two are cold pools, one is warm and the other is scalding hot. All of the baths are exposed to the outdoors so it’s lovely when it rains. The trick is to submerge yourself into the cold pool for one whole minute first before entering the hot pools. This is a great place to people-watch and meet other travelers. This is a popular vacation spot for Ecuadorians from other towns. There are private showers with constantly flowing warm water and changing rooms attached to your own private shower (the door closes and locks!) so you can take a shower after you’re finished. Bring your own soap and shampoo.
- Get a Massage ✔
There are massage establishments on literally every corner and they all stand outside yelling “masaje, masaje!” You should not pay more than $20 for one hour, so make sure you negotiate if someone tries to make you pay more. If you want more pressure, say “más presión por favor”. It is customary to tip $1 – $2)
- Fly Superman Style on a Zip Line Across the Rainforest ✔
This was one of the highlights for us during our time in Baños!Company Name: Puntzan Canopy– they received the highest reviews on Trip Advisor and had the longest cable ride (nearly one minute long!)
Cost: $20 per person!
Number of Cables: 6We were very lucky to be the only people who showed up at the time (the beauty of visiting during off season was that we could just walk up to an activity and go immediately rather than making advance reservations!). We had a private tour all to ourselves for the same price! The entire tour took only one hour for six cables and some light hiking, but normally during high tourist season they said it can take around three hours. Lucky us! For a few of the cables, you get to go Superman style belly-down so you can see the views below. On this particular one, we got to go tandem and hold hands! As you can see, I’m much higher than Sasha because he is so much heavier than me. 🙂
- Fly Into the Clouds at La Casa Del Arbol (Swing at the End of the World) ✔In 2014, a photographer happened to take the perfect shot at the perfect time while the Tungurahua Volcano was erupting in the background. This photo appeared in National Geographic and put Baños on the world map. Now this town is synonymous with the Swing at the End of the World, which was just as fun as it looks in all the photos.How Do You Get To The Swing At The End Of The World?The drive is up a windy, dusty, one-lane road and parking is $1 if you’re driving your own vehicle. Entry is also $1 per person. This is a little peaceful piece of Earth that feels as if you are on top of the world.TIP: wear bright colors so that you stand out in the photos against the backdrop of the mountain – note that we did not do this and I wish we did, which is why I’m giving the tip. 🙂
- EAT! ✔
Sasha and I are pretty healthy eaters, and relatively picky about the foods we put in our bodies; not picky in the sense that we are averse to trying new things; picky in that we seek good, healthy, organic, local, from-scratch food. And let’s face it, this can be tough to find in a foreign country. Luckily, Ecuador is known for their endless varieties of fresh fruits, and Baños had no shortage of incredible restaurants! Here are my recommendations:WHERE TO EAT IN BANOS
- Pappardelle Ristorante – order the vegetable ravioli bolognese
- Cafe Good & Books – excellent for brekkie. $3 per person will get you: fresh juice, choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate, pan (fresh bread) with butter and marmalade (usually fresa (strawberry)), 2 eggs cooked by your choice (scrambled, fried or boiled), and cheese
- Cafe Hood – organic food with great vegetarian options
- Casa Hood – very similar name and food as Cafe Hood, but different ambiance. The eggplant chickpea curry with arroz integral (brown rice) is fantastic and filling
- Honey Coffee & Tea – excellent cafe with adorable atmosphere and great, positive vibes. Order the chocolate chai and come here to catch up on email correspondence or work (if you work remotely whilst traveling). Their Wi-Fi was good
I promise you will find no shortage of fun, outdoorsy and adventurous things to do in Banos!