Baños de Agua Santa, mostly commonly referred to as Baños, is one of the most visited destinations for tourists and Ecuadorians alike. Its popularity is well-deserved for the amount of adventure activities concentrated within the region (heck I’ve already been there four times!). Situated on the border between the Andes mountains and the jungle, the climate is pleasant and the nature stunning. Read on to learn more about the town and what adventures can’t be missed if you make it to Baños.
After two years in Ecuador I’ve visited Baños many times. Downtown Baños itself is a small standard Ecuadorian town – you’ve got your parks, your main cathedral, a market, street vendors. Given the huge rise in tourism over the years, the downtown is flooded with tourist agencies and a variety of restaurants that are catered to the tourist crowd. The town is nice and gorgeously nestled in the Andes Mountains, giving beautiful views everywhere you turn. The real wonder of Baños, however, lies in the outdoor adventures.
What to do: Adrenaline-Packed Activities for the Adventurers at Heart
Jump off the Bridge (Puenting)
I’d say the bridge jump is an adventure not-to-be missed in Baños. Just a few blocks from the terminal, you’ll find a bridge overlooking the ridges of mountains. For adventure in Ecuador its on the pricier side ($20) but totally worth it!! Note that you are not bungee jumping off the bridge – the cord is tight and you won’t really bounce on the drop down.
Waterfall Bike Route
This is probably my fave activity in Baños. In town you can rent a bike for just $5 for the whole day! When you rent the bike they will give you a map to show where you head out of town and pass 7 waterfalls!! The best part is the whole ride is downhill. Once you get to the second-to-last (and best; see below) waterfall, there are trucks where you pay $2 to carry yourself and the bike back to town. Along the way you can stop as much as you’d like to see the other waterfalls, take cable cars over the river, take a zipline and of course have some snacks. The ride is fully along the river and is a mix between bike paths and shared roads. Have no fear – this is a popular activity and cars are used to sharing the roads.
Pailon de Diablo
The Pailon de Diablo is the name of the largest waterfall in Baños and trust me it is breathtaking! You can visit here by doing the bike route, driving, or taking a tour route from town on one of the infamous Chivas (an open-air “party bus” that blasts obnoxious music). Once you arrive you will go through a small parking lot where there is a restaurant and some artisan vendors and hike down to the waterfall about 20 minutes. The cost is $2 to enter. Forewarning the waterfall has a very strong current and you will get wet so bring a poncho or water resistant gear. Take a walk down the infamous stairs or crawl your way through to get closer and closer to the waterfall until you are behind it! So cool! There is also a bridge that goes over the river which makes you feel like you are in the jungle. Note that you can also enter the waterfall from the other side of the road and pay a separate entrance fee. It is a different perspective and totally awesome because you are actually closer to the waterfall and higher up, but I prefer the first option (which is more popular as well).
Casa de Arbol (Swing at the Edge of the World)
If you have heard of Baños then you have heard of this swing. Casa de Arbol is a tree house that has two swings that face the Tungaragua Volcano. The volcano was active semi-recently and brought much damage to the surrounding area, but has been calm in recent years. The swing literally goes over a cliff – on your right side you have rolling green mountains, and on your left the volcano. If you’ve been in the Andes you know that the climate is cold, rain is normal, and fog drops easily and quickly. Out of the four times I’ve been I’ve seen the volcano once. Still totally worth it, but be sure to ask your hostal which direction the swing is and notice how cloudy it is! And, if you can, save the swing for a clear day! To enter the Casa de Arbol park is $1. To get there take a bus from town (45 minutes – 1 hour) or take a taxi ($20 roundtrip). The swing is close to town, but you have to go uuuuup a mountain so even driving it takes at least 20 minutes. There is also the option to hike either the whole way there, or just coming back. I’ve only ever hiked back, but be prepared for a super uphill hike if you choose this option. It is really pretty as you pass through farms, forests, small towns, and a really beautiful overlook of the town where there is a great (but expensive) restaurant.
Rafting, Canyoning, Extreme Water Sports, Etc.
Another popular option is to adventure in all of the rivers and waterfalls that are bountiful in the town. Whether you choose rafting, canyoning, or a mixed-water sport day trip, you will not be disappointed. Usually the packages include a guide, gear, transportation and a lunch. Never pay more than $50 for a full-day trip.
Jungle Day Trip
Once you are in Banos you are just about 90 minutes from the jungle. I’d like to note that the jungle is HUGE and so diverse – most of it you need to enter by canoe but also there are towns and civilization in the jungle as well. If you’d like to just go for a day, this is a great option. If you want a more remote experience, book a separate tour. From Baños you will go to Puyo where a tour will take you to a private Amazonian village where you can learn about their customs and culture, canoe down a river, try local beverages, go to a gorgeous overlook with a Tarzan swing, hang in hammocks, hike through the jungle to a waterfall, and more! Full day will last 10-12 hours. Guide, gear, transportation and lunch included for $50.
Cool down @ the Hot Springs
After a day of adventure nothing is better than relaxing hot springs!! Our favorite place is the Piscinas de la Virgen which sits just on the edge of town. Entry is $2-$3 depending on the time of day, and you must bring your own hair cap or rent one for $1. They change the water out late afternoon, so be sure to go during the day or at night. What’s the big deal with the springs? They are volcanic water that is filled with healing properties! Most springs are like public pools, so if you can avoid a visit during feriados (federal holidays) or you will feel like a packed sardine! There are many you can visit and some are fancier than others, but this one sits on the edge of downtown and backs up to a waterfall.
Travel tips: DOn’t be surprised by….
You’re on the edge of the Sierra and the jungle so be prepared. It will likely rain at least once a day and cool temperatures are common.
Booking tours last minute
If you’ve been traveling South America, I’m sure you’ve noticed that booking way in advance is not necessary. We arrive to town at 5pm and booked a jungle tour for the next morning at 7am. No problem whatsoever.
The massage studios
There are tons of massage places downtown which you may be interested in. Just be warned, I had a friend get a massage and it turned into a spiritual cleansing ceremony where she got an egg cracked on her head and smoke blown in her face. Your choice.
I’ll be honest that the food isn’t anything to write home about. Given the tourist vibes of the town, you’ll have a good diversity of restaurants. My personal favorite is Casa Hood, which has a great variety of healthy and ethnic foods and yummy curries (which is actually a really nice treat once you’ve lived in Ecuador for some time). We also always stop for ceviche de chocho (the ceviche of the sierra that is made with seafood and a type of bean chocho and tostados).
Where to stay
We have now stayed numerous times at Hostel Chimenea and always loved it. Nothing fancy, but its clean, has good vibes, and is super affordable even for private rooms. Plus the cafe for breakfast is on the top floor with great views of the city! We’ve also stayed at Great Hostels Backpackers and liked it, especially the lounge area, but found everything to be really damp, so we we decided not to go back.