Baños is a small town in the eastern Tungurahua Province in central Ecuador. It is well known as a booming tourist centre full of hostels, and adventure style activities such as canyoning and white water rafting. It is also known as “the Gateway to the Northern Amazon” as it is the last big city before reaching the Amazon basin, making jungle getaways very easy from the city. The city sits in the foothills of Volcano Tungurahua which you can see on a good day at 1,802 meters elevation. Whether you are into adventurous activities like bungee jumping, hiking the trails or prefer a more sedate and relaxing time at spas and hot springs, the mountain town of Baños is a great place to be.
Where to Stay
La Floresta Hotel
This is a mid-range priced hotel 2 blocks from the plaza. It is located near the artisan market, the food market, and between the two plazas. The hotel is clean and comfortable, the showers always have hot water and the wi-fi is good. There is always clean water nearby and breakfast is included. If you are looking for a break from hostels and need something nice but not overly expensive, this is your place; clean, cool, and comfortable
The location of this hostel could not be more perfect, it’s situated on the corner of the main square and comes with 24 hour security. You can expect your standard dorm room here as well as some private rooms. The furniture is ok, showers are almost always hot, the wi-fi is really good and the hostel itself is quite comfortable. Breakfast is not included here, however you can purchase it for a reasonable price in the restaurant which is part of the hostel. The owner of the hostel is incredibly helpful and this can make all the difference in the world. As a backpacker this is a great place to meet people to spend your time in Baños with.
Where to Eat
Only one block away from the plaza, the market is THE place to eat in Baños. It is only open for breakfast and lunch so make sure you get there on time! Just sit down at one of the little plastic tables in front of any “booth” and enjoy. The most popular meal is called “llapingachos” which consists of chorizo, friend eggs, salad, rice, and Ecuadorian tortillas (like a mashed potato). Other choices available are tripe soups like Yaguarloro, tripe rice dishes called Librillo, and delicious smoothies. You can expect to pay under 5 dollars on your trip to the market.
Try Cuy (Guinea Pig)
This is the place to try Cuy (every traveller to this area should enjoy the novelty of eating Guinea Pig). You can purchase Cuy on the outside of the market, 20 dollars for the whole pig and 5 dollars for a portion along with salad and papas. Cheaper than many other places and good sized pigs, these little guys will be roasting all afternoon.
Melcocha (Sugar Cane Toffee)
This is Ecuador’s mountain specialty and best kept secret. Due to the abundance of sugar cane in the area, this candy is made from boiled raw cane syrup and you can see the Ecuadorians pulling at the toffee on wooden sticks in their doorways. Made by hand, you can watch the traditional technique used to create the toffee, in many stores all day long. If you want to try it, give the toffee maker 25 cents and he will rip a piece off for you.
Amarelo Coffee Shop
More expensive than the market but this restaurant in the square serves good Italian food as well as delicious coffee. If you are looking for good coffee, lattes, coffee with alcohol, basically anything coffee, come here, sit on the patio and enjoy, you won’t be disappointed.
Good steak for a decent price. If you’re looking to sit down in a trendy restaurant for a while with a nice ambience and pretty decent prices then Bambu is great, and gringo friendly, as long as you want steak.
Swiss Bistro Baños
This restaurant is one of the more expensive places to eat in Baños but it is also extremely popular because of its delicious Swiss Fondue. It is a top restaurant so expect top service, top prices, and some of the best food in Baños.
The most popular bar in Baños for travelers and locals alike. The bar is spacious and trendy with a big bonfire in the middle which is comfortable to sit around. The dance floor here is also always packed with people dancing to reggae-ton, electronic, and even American hits. Enjoy it!
Where to Shop
Like every South American city, there is an artisan market selling bracelets, purses and woven goods. It is located beside the food market. There is also a number of stores selling alpaca sweaters and Andean pants on the main streets but in all honesty, shopping for these items is not particularly amazing in Baños.
Unique to Baños is the availability of Tagua Nut art. The Tagua nut is edible when it is soft but after 6 months hardens to a point where the shell can be removed and the seed can be carved into ivory like art. The Tagua creates a similar product to plastic and is hand carved into buttons, jewelry, and miniature sculptures. Tagua grows all over Ecuador and was originally exported to Europe as the organic button commonly used before plastic. Baños has a few shops where one is able to purchase Tagua Nut art.
What to Do
Casa de Arbol and the swing at the end of the world
Situated high up on a valleys edge about a 45 min drive from the city is the one and only Casa de Arbol swing. This is where you get to take that cool picture swinging off the end of the world. Originally this space was used to monitor the volcanic activity in the area but is now a top tourist attraction. You can take a tour up here but it is better to take the public bus for $1, it leaves 3 times a day; 6am, 11am, and 2pm and takes you to the swing where it costs $1 to enter. The bus returns to town 2 hours later at 8am, 1pm and 4pm, alternatively, for 3 hours each way you can walk from town.
There are a number of tour companies in the city that offer white water rafting tours down the nearby Pastaza River. Here the rapids range from class 2-5 and a half day tour costs about 25 dollars. If you’re lucky you will get a guide who really likes swimming and they can make the journey just that much better.
Bridge swinging is one reason many people come to Baños. Where else can you just walk up to a 100meter bridge, give a guy 20 bucks, be harnessed in with very good equipment, and take the plunge. The equipment is very good, you have 2 harnesses, and the people who run it make you feel very secure. Remember this is not a bungee jump, you fall forwards and flip and swing under the bridge. You can also get your photos taken for 5 dollars. If the big bridge, called San Francisco, is too much for you, they do the same 15 minutes’ drive out of town on a smaller bridge.
Baños is blessed with good winds for flying. For 60 dollars you can grab a tour from any agency in town (who all book with the same main Pilot, Edgar), be taken to the launch site outside of town and then have a solid 25 minutes in the clouds.
You won’t have trouble finding tour operators for canopying (zip-lining). These lines can cost between 10-15 dollars per ride and some even have you in superman position!
Similar to canopy and rafting, there are dozens of tour operators in town offering canyoning tours. This involves things like rappelling down waterfalls, cliff jumping, and falling, swimming, and walking through rapids. The tours can cost about $30 for a half day and $60 for a full day.
The full name for the city of Baños is “Baños de Agua Santa” because of its healing mineral hot springs flowing from nearby volcanic activity. There are 2 very accessible options for thermals in Baños. ‘Las Piscinas de la Virgen’ are thermal pools located about 5 minutes’ walk from the Church and right next to the Virgin’s Hair waterfall and ‘El Salado Hot Springs’, which are slightly less busy are 1.5km from town.
Along with its healing baths, the city of Baños comes with everything spa-inclusive. This is a great place to kick back, relax and enjoy cheap spa treatments. Everything from hot-rock massages to deep tissue massages, to mud rubs, facials and mani-pedis are available here. Numerous spa operators run throughout the city, just ask your hostel or take a walk down town and enjoy.
The Ruta de las Cascadas is something one can take via bus tour, by bicycle, or by rented ATV and includes many of the waterfalls which surround the town of Baños. Stop at a zip-line along the way, or just enjoy the ride/drive and see some of the large, small, and sometimes double waterfalls of this mountainous area.