Spent a few days there, walking in the clouds, failing to see volcanoes, making hazardous descents of sheer hillsides, buying jeans from outside the factory for $5, riding a bike through a pitch black tunnel hurtling down a hillside and visiting a lot of waterfalls and some beautiful villages, linked with the main road by a swinging cable car across the Río Pastaza and filled with lime and orange trees, palms and flowers.
Baños is one of the most popular tourist destinations. It is beautifully located, small, safe and full of things for visitors to do. The town lies on a flat shelf along a narrow valley created by the Rio Pastaza snaking down to the Oriente from the central highlands. Above it looms the rumbling Tungurahua volcano whose smouldering wrath has prompted a full evacuation of the area several times since 1999. Residents and visitors keep coming back undeterred.
Apart from trips to climb the volcano (no longer safe) the cascading Rio Pastaza provides opportunities to visit waterfalls, go rafting or canyoning or take a hand-pulled cable car ride across the river to explore little villages. A popular activity is to hire bikes and cycle down to the longest waterfall, El Pailón del Diablo, or even all the way to Puyo. The lush countryside is perfect for walking or horse-riding, although many routes involve going uphill or negotiating muddy sections. After all that activity you can relax in the thermal baths.
The town itself is filled with tourist services – a range of accommodation from cheap hostels to upmarket spa “resorts”, restaurants offering national and international cuisine, a Hard Rock Café and other bars, book exchanges, film screenings and of course several thermal baths open from early morning to evening. There are many agencies who can arrange the above activities or longer trips to the jungle around Puyo or up into the Llanganates.
Baños is a great place to meet other travellers but because of the dominant role of tourism it is not the best place to observe normal Ecuadorian life passing uninterrupted. It has a sub tropical climate and is usually warm enough to walk around with a sweater. The rainy season is from May to October. It is drier between November and April but take a waterproof jacket if you’re going walking or cycling.
The Parque Central is a nice little place to sit, full of trees and plants. The main street, Ambato, runs east to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa where there is another square with gardens. Nuestra Señora performed several miracles which are documented by paintings and artifacts in the small museum. The basilica is an important site for devoted Ecuadorian Catholics who especially like to visit in October when there are daily processions.
Other people come specifically to visit the thermal baths. There are six complexes around town. They are cheap to enter ($1) and especially popular at weekends. If you get there early in the morning you can beat the crowds. In addition there are some upmarket spa resorts outside Baños and simpler spa centres which offer different services to leave you feeling like a new person.
One of the most popular baths are the Baños de la Virgen which are located in the south east of the town, next to a waterfall, the Manto de la Virgen, which you can visit separately. The baths are open from 4:30 until 17:00 and have clean water (although it looks dirty due to the minerals).
You can walk out to the San Martín shrine next to the Pastaza river slightly out of town to the west. It is an easy, flat walk. Opposite there is an ‘Insectario’. Further on, over the bridge there is a zoo. If snakes are more your thing, visit the ‘Serpentario’ across the road. A little further there is a path to the Inés María waterfall.
I haven’t included the zoo route as a walk because if you’re not going uphill from Baños it doesn’t count. If you’re feeling energetic, here are some options:
1. Continue on this road past the zoo to Lligua. Then follow a trail uphill for 2-3 hours to Las Antenas. On a nice day you get a great view of Tungurahua from here.
2. Cross the San Francisco Bridge and select one of the numerous trails which lead up into the hills.
3. Walk to the end of Maldonado, up against the steep slope that marks the southern boundary of the town. A path leads up and over the Manto waterfall to the Bellavista cross. It's about a 45 minute walk. There are good views of Baños and a rundown café to reward you.
4. From the southern end of JL Mera street you can follow a steep path up to a statue of the Virgin. Its also about 45 minutes and gives you a good view of the town.
5. It is possible to loop over the top of the hillside via the Luna Runtun hotel to connect walks 3 and 4. You’ll pass houses and fields. The paths get very muddy in the rainy season and the path above the Virgin was difficult to navigate last time I did this walk in 2007.
6. If you follow the main road east out of town you eventually drop down to the Agoyan dam. From here you can take a path along the south slope of the Pastaza which leads to several small villages. A cable car will take you back over the river and you can return to Baños on a passing bus.
All of these walks are outlined in the sketch map you can get from the tourist office. You’re hardly in the wilderness – there will always be someone around to point you in the right direction, but take everything you need for a day trek as you won’t find many shops. Some of these routes are also used if you hire horses.
A very popular activity is to hire a bike and cycle downhill through several tunnels and past a series of beautiful waterfalls which culminate in the immense Pailón del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron). If you’re in really good shape you can cycle the 58km to Puyo. Wherever you end up, as long as you are on the main road a bus should be happy to take you and your bike back up to town.
There are also several trails on the hills around Baños which are excellent for downhill mountain biking.
Other activities which you can organise from Baños are canyoning, rafting, kayaking and bridge-jumping, or puenting, where you are harnessed and attached to several ropes which enable you to swing under the bridge. There’s a lot of competition from agencies so choose carefully. Try and take advice from the people you meet and find some others to sign up with you. That way you can be more confident that the tour will go ahead. If you’re planning to end up in one of the rivers by the end of the day, bear in mind that they are all quite polluted. Being downstream from the jean making capital of Ecuador (Pelileo) doesn’t help in this regard.
It is possible to organise tours to the rainforest from Baños. They will all take you down to Puyo, from where you might be able to get a slightly cheaper price. But you might prefer to spend the days of organising and waiting for numbers to fill up in Baños.
There are several Spanish schools in Baños, if you don’t like the idea of spending weeks going to classes in Quito.
Where To Stay
There are lots of cheap hotels, cosy backpacker places with cafés and a few luxury spa resorts. Click here to find out Where to Stay in Baños.
Where To Eat
Baños has plenty of cheap restaurants. You can get a cheap and simple desayuno, a set almuerzo or merienda, especially around the market. However there are also many smarter establishments offering international cuisine, many to a similar formula. For instance the Mexican restaurants look the same from the décor to the furnishings to the menu. There are many little pizzerias and another Italian restaurant. There are several French restaurants, which are a little pricer. Baños is also a good place to find vegetarian dishes. The tourist trade has also helped the growth of smart little bakeries. All these places can be found on or near to Ambato street.
Before you leave Baños you should sample the local specialities, which wouldn’t really make a good lunch on their own. Firstly there are varieties of toffee. Melcocha is really sticky. Alfenique hangs in ropes in shop entrances. You can also drink or eat sugar cane.
Click here to find out Where to Eat in Baños.
There’s a few bars and discos in Baños. Most play a lot of salsa. If you don’t like salsa, watch a film at Casa Hood
If you are arriving from the north, you should take the Panamericana as far as Ambato. Baños is located about 45km east of Ambato. There is a direct road between the towns. From the south there is a more direct route from Riobamba which passes Penipe. From the Oriente a road ascends from Puyo. There are many direct buses to Baños from all over Ecuador. If you can’t find one, take a bus to Ambato and change there.
The road from Ambato enters the town from the west and the bus station is located just before the centre. It’s a small, flat town and most hotels are centrally located so you should be able to walk to where you want to say.
Read more about the Routes to Baños: 1. Ambato – Baños, 2. Baños – Puyo
October Fiestas de Nuestra Senora de Agua Santa
Processions and parties throughout the month,
December Fiesta de Baños
A week of celebrations in the middle of the month to mark the town’s anniversary. There are street parties and processions. Good for people who can’t wait till Christmas.