Located in the heart of Ecuador, Baños is the adventure capital of this magical country and should be on everyone’s itinerary. And for good reason: there are a ton of rad activities to do here. Want to be in the water? No problem. Rather fly through the air? You’re covered. More of stay-close-to-the-ground person? It’s all possible in Baños, and much more.
Even though Baños is trampled on by thousands upon thousands of travelers each year since becoming a hot spot, there’s still lots of opportunities to sit back and relax for those of you who would rather be adventuring in hot springs and restaurants.
Surrounded by lush jungle-like greenery, thundering waterfalls, and loads of trails for the hiker, biker or off-roader, it’s always Rad Season in Baños. The town itself isn’t really captivating or full of things to do and see, so a lot of the magic happens outside of the city center. However, with a steady flow of backpackers there’s some good nightlife in town and usually a party happening.
To feed your wanderlust and to help you navigate the many things to do and see in Baños, we’ve created this city guide, so keep on reading.
There’s a slew of places to stay in this small town of about 15,000 residents. From eco-friendly lodges like La Casa Verde, chill backpacker hangouts such as Los Pinos, high-end hotels like Samari Spa Resort, and villas that seem to be teetering on the edge of paradise, you’ll have no problem finding a place to rest your head.
On a Budget: There are plenty of affordable and cozy hostels starting around $5.00 (USD), and many around the still super cheap $10.00 mark. Consider Couchsurfing if you want to get the insiders scoop and save some coin while you’re at it.
Due to its popularity, there are an array of international eateries to sample in Baños. While we suggest eating local Ecuadorian cuisine, you should have no problem eating something more familiar if you find yourself homesick.
Be sure to chomp down on the delicious traditional toffee – melcocha – made in Baños. Candy shops line the downtown streets and merchants stand near the entrance of their shops as they pull, twist, and shape the toffee. It’s fun to watch and even more fun to eat. Pretty sure I ate toffee every day there. While you’re at it, seek out a local cafe and sip on an Ecuadorian coffee to accompany your toffee.
Places to check out: Casa Hood and Alto Caribe.
On a Budget: Eating out isn’t necessarily cheap in Baños due to its popularity and abundance of international restaurants, but you’ve still got options.
One of the cheapest and best places to eat, which goes for many cities across South America, is in the market, or mercado. Great for fresh, local produce, as well as cheap fully-loaded plates of local food whipped up daily by the many food stalls. Consider feasting on a ‘set almuerzo’ or set lunch when dining out at restaurants – you’ll get a well-sized plate of staple foods for an affordable price.
The town itself is quite small so walking within town is a ‘walk in the park’. You can rent bicycles, ATVs and go-karts on every corner. Buses are dirt cheap in and around Baños, and tour companies offer transportation to nearby attractions.
Getting There and Away:
The city’s main bus stop is just a few blocks from the city centre. There’s a variety of bus companies frequenting most major cities, ready to take you away from Baños to Ecuador’s outskirts.
Surrounded by jungle and pristine nature, just being in such a beautiful place is great, but it’s the adventure sports that bring most travellers to town. Continue reading below to see why Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador.
Everyone and their brother owns a tour company in Baños, so there’s a lot of competition for your money. Many companies specialize in different areas – canyoning, waterfall tours, ATVing, hiking, zip-lining, you get the point. Make sure to shop around before choosing a tour. The Baños area is a hilly region but still makes for good cycling, hiking, and off-roading so consider doing a DIY tour by bicycle, on foot, or any other method if you’re not sold on any tour or company.
There are a bunch of major waterfalls situated around Baños.
Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) is probably the most famous of them all, rightfully so. There’s a stone path and observation platform built into the side of the cliff near the waterfall, allowing you to basically stand right under it and get a refreshing bath from the mist – you’re going to get wet.
Cascada Manto de la Novia (the Bride’s Veil) is one of the other main waterfalls to visit. This twin waterfall isn’t as awe-inspiring as Diablo, but is still impressive and holds its own. Most notably so because there’s a basket-like cable car that carries you over the ravine overlooking the waterfall, allowing for some sweet photo ops.
Ruta de las Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls) features seven different waterfalls in close proximity to each other, all accessible within a few hours on bicycle. It’s one of the main things to do in Baños, and it should absolutely be on your itinerary.
White Water Rafting:
The class of rapids depends on the river’s water level, and typically ranges from III to IV, but has at times been levels II and V. The rafting takes place on River Pastaza, the main river in Baños.
Half-day and full-day trips are possible and typically range between $30.00 and $60.00, depending on the tour you’ve chosen. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with the raging River Pastaza. Try tubing for a more low-key time on the water.
Canyoning is one of the most popular sells in Baños as there’s ample opportunity for it. With so many waterfalls comes so many chances to get wet and wild. Again, operators are competitive.
The tour I went on included a drive in the ATV to near the waterfall locations, a nice hike to get to some of the waterfalls, abseiling numerous waterfalls of different heights and difficulties, and a couple of cool water slides and jumps. It’s a great way to spend a day, see some of the region and get your heart pumping.
More popular with locals than tourists, but definitely worth a visit, especially after a day of extreme activities. Heated by nearby volcanos, the minerals in the thermal springs are said to have healing powers.
There are two thermal pools in town, and they are best visited at night under starry skies for more a refreshing, relaxing experience. Or, go around sunrise to have them all by your lonesome.
Swing at the End of the World:
“The Swing” as it’s known, sits at the top of the hill attached to a treehouse – Casa del Arbol. The swing offers jaw-dropping, heart-pounding, eye-opening views of the valley below.
Take a seat and enjoy the ride, er… swing. For $1.00 you can’t really go wrong. You can get there on your own or take a bus from the city centre. The swing is just like any other swing, only it’s not – after a few kicks back and fourth, you’ll soon be shadowing over the valley below, seemingly swinging into the abyss.
Another way to feel like a bird. You can go zip-lining through the canopy or in wide-open spaces. One of the most thrilling lines takes you through a gorge and over River Pastaza.
At 1,000 meters long, it’s one of the longest in the world. For more than one zip line, consider going on a canopy tour with Puntzan Canopy take you into the forest to cruise through the canopy on a number of different lines.
There are two bridges near Baños where you can experience gravity at its finest. Almost like bungee jumping, except your trajectory follows a swinging motion rather than going straight down. What better way to spend $20.00? The higher of the two bridges is around 100 meters, offering more of a heart-in-your-throat thrill than the 35-meter bridge.
Feel like gliding through the breeze above Baños? Here’s your chance. Like most adventure activities in the city, you’ve got an array of companies to choose from. They’re all going to send you flying. Strap in, hold on tight, and hopefully the skies will be clear as you soar around Baños, having Tungurahua Volcano as a backdrop.
Cycling/Mountain Biking: the Ruta de las Cascades
(the route mentioned in the waterfall section above) stretches more than 60 kilometers following the river to the city of Puyo, and drops around 1,000 meters in elevation along the way. It’s not all gliding downhill, though. Most of the route is easy sailing, but there are a lot of stretches that go up and down, and some over dirt and gravel paths.
Make sure your bike is in top notch condition, as you don’t want to end up tumbling down some of those hills. Shortly after leaving Baños, you’ll zip through a tunnel embedded in the side of cliff, which is a fun experience of its own. I rented a bicycle for around $5.00 and did the route with a friend and it was one of the highlights of Baños and Ecuador as a whole.
ATVs are a popular way of getting around, and are such a fun way of seeing the area. They can be rented from numerous tour companies, and they offer an easy alternative after days spent hiking and cycling.
There’s a bunch of off-road trails where you can rip it up. Consider going on a quad tour, as you’ll probably end up covering more ground with local guides who know the area. Both quads and go-karts are available.
Visible from Baños, this cone-shaped, fire-breathing giant is even more beautiful the closer you get. At a snow-capped 5,023 meters, Tungurahua is a sight to behold. The volcano erupted as recently as March, 2016, filling the air with a firework-like display of lava and plumes of smoke reaching as far as the eyes can see. Hike to viewpoints out of town for picturesque views on clear days.
Wherever you’re at in Ecuador, you’re probably sitting at the gateway to the Amazon, no matter the distance. And Baños is near the Amazon Jungle’s doorstep, so there are numerous tour operators in the city who can get you there.
Experiencing the Amazon should 100% be a quintessential part of any trip to Ecuador. So, if you find yourself in Baños, look into making your way just a little farther to one of the most unforgettable places in the world. Welcome to the jungle, baby.
I found myself hiking a lot in Baños, whether making my way to gushing waterfalls or following a trail up the mountainside for views of the city below. Baños isn’t necessarily known for its great hiking, however, you’ll more than likely find yourself on a hike or two, navigating through jungle-like terrain on your way to canyoning or rafting or whatever’s on the agenda that day.
For a variety of tour options Imagine Ecuador and Geotours have some awesome day trips with all kinds of crazy activities to try.
Baños. There you have it. No matter your tastes or interests, you’ll be able to kick it one way or another in the adventure capital of Ecuador.
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