08 Mar What to See and Do in Baños, Ecuador
A number of people, both Ecuadorians and North American friends, recommended we visit Baños while in Ecuador. Although touted for its adventure sports – which is not necessarily high on our lists – and though we didn’t especially love how tourist-centered the town itself seems to be, we found the natural beauty of this area to be well worth the trip.
Baños at sunset from our hotel window
Where is Baños?
It should be noted that there is more than one town in Ecuador called Baños (the name refers to hot spring or natural baths). The full name is Baños de Agua Santa. It’s located near Ambato, in the mountains, but also not far from the Amazon. To get to Baños, we took a nice 4-hour bus ride from the Quitumbe station in Quito, which was $4.50 each. Baños to Cuenca is about another 7-8 hours by bus via Riobamba.
Where to Stay in Baños
There are plenty of backpacker hostels in the center of town – read reviews to gage noise and party level. Despite the prevalence of backpackers, it was nice to see that there was a balanced mix of Ecuadorian and foreign tourists anywhere you go. The outskirts of town are a bit quieter (except for vehicles, soccer matches, roosters, and barking dogs, which are everywhere). There are also a number of hotels or hostels located away from town, which would require private transportation or an extra effort to get taxis.
We stayed at Hosteleria Llanovientos. It’s $25 per night with private hot water bathroom and an amazing view. It is quite a bit uphill on the edge of town and, as mentioned before, it’s not as quiet as you’d think. But we thought it was a great value. Click here to check availability and prices for Hosteleria Llanovientos.
Things to do in Baños
Ruta de las Cascadas:
In my humble opinion, the “Route of the Waterfalls” should absolutely not be missed. From Baños to Puyo, the total distance is about 60 kilometers going downhill – though I don’t know too many people who have made it all the way to Puyo. There are a few ways to do see this magnificent, picturesque valley:
- Rent a bicycle ($6 for the day). This is a great option for seeing everything on your own time. You will be riding next to vehicles for some of the way, which can be nerve-wracking, but drivers there are pretty used to paying attention to bikers. Plus, it’s downhill almost the whole way and you can pay $2 at the last waterfall to get trucked back into town.
- Take a chiva ($5). This is the most straight-forward and affordable way to see everything if you’re not comfortable biking. A chiva is like an open-air safari vehicle that will take you up and back on the route. Be aware that the driver will dictate the schedule, choose which stops to make, and determine the volume of the music ( which is often pretty loud). You can find out departure times from your hotel but don’t be surprised if the start time is delayed until seats are full. Ours left from near the Baños bus station around 10:30 am, made three stops (a cable car, a zip line, and Pailon del Diablo), returning around 1:15pm.
- Take a taxi (about $20). If you want to do something specific along the route, like go to a zipline and come back, or you don’t want the hassle of waiting around for a chiva, then paying extra for a direct taxi ride might suit you.
- Take a bus Now that we have a better sense of how the buses in Ecuador work, you could probably hop on a bus going to Puyo and ask to be let off somewhere along the route. It might be a challenge if you wanted to see more than one or two spots, since they are pretty spread out, and you’d be counting on being able to flag down a bus driver mid-route. But I’m sure it would be cheap (less than $1).
- Drive yourself Of course if you have your own transportation, you can drive the route just like anyone else and pull over whenever you can. You’ll see a lot more in less time.
The top attractions along Ruta de las Cascadas are:
- Cable cars over the gorge $1
- Ziplines over the gorge $10-$15 (The most scenic is at El Manto de la Novia waterfall, which was closed when we went.)
- Pailón del Diablo waterfall park $1.50
Suspension bridge above Pailón del Diablo
Whatever you do, don’t head home until you’ve reached Pailón del Diablo (the Devil’s caldron). It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings and totally worth the small park entrance fee. We got the waterfall via the tiny town of Rio Verde, making a right before crossing the bridge in town. From this end, we approached the waterfall from above and got to cross the epic suspension bridge. It appeared that the other entrance, below the waterfall, would require you to continue past the bridge in Rio Verde and loop back down to some sort of eco resort.
Pailón del Diablo waterfall
Visit the waterfall and baths in town
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen such an impressive waterfall so close into town. This is literally on the edge of Baños so it’s an easy, flat walk from the centro. The municipal baths (termales) next door are heated by the nearby volcano and contain high mineral content that’s believed to have restorative health benefits. Entry to the pool is just a few dollars, but getting up close to the waterfall is free.
There are a number of hikes you can do from town. We took the stairs up to the huge statue of the Virgen overlooking the city (see point on the map to the right). It was quite a climb and had amazing views of Baños as well as the next valley over. Beyond the statue, you can take a left at the fork to loop back down into town, or continue across the ridge. Another popular hike is up to Casa de Arbol (famous for its epic tree swing; round trip taxi would be $15).
Horses grazing on the hiking trail
Outdoor adventure tours
Whether it’s white water rafting, bridge jumping (puenting), canyoning, zip lines, horse back rides, mountain biking, paragliding, rappelling – they’re all available in and around Baños through different tour operators. Prices fall around $20-$30, depending. Although we didn’t try it ourselves, we heard a lot of people talk about the series of six zip lines (known as “canopy” in Ecuador) for about $25.
Walk around town
Of course, we have to include this simple tip because it’s usually our number one activity wherever we go. We strongly suggest checking out the San Francisco bridge near the bus park, exploring the parks and market, and finding a shop that’s making the local taffy (melcocha).
Here’s an interactive map we put together of some of the places we’ve described in this post:
Where to Eat in Baños
We were surprised by how many international restaurants can be found in Baños – French, Italian, Swiss, Caribbean, Mexican, etc. Many of these come highly recommended and were frequented by both Ecuadorians and foreigners. In fact, when we wanted something affordable and local for dinner, it was a bit hard to find.
If you’re up for it, the set lunch and breakfasts at the Mercado is the best deal ($2.50 for soup, rice, veg, meat, and juice), but it closes around 5pm. You can also get fresh juice or smoothies (batidos) at the market, or pick up some fresh produce.
Our one “splurge” (read: meal for more than $5 each) was at Sativa, a Jamaican-style vegetarian restaurant. Though it took a while for the owner/farmer/chef to make everything on his own, the portions were very generous and extremely fresh.
So that’s our round up of things to see and do in Baños. If you have any questions or feel we’ve missed something important, please add your two cents in the comments section below!
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