A query from a reader alerted me to the fact that I still hadn’t written a post about our time in Baños, Ecuador. I decided that needed to be rectified right away, because we absolutely loved our time in Baños! And don’t worry—even if you aren’t into adventure travel, there are still plenty of reasons to travel to this lovely city which is formally known as Baños de Agua Santa.
We enjoyed it so much we kept extending our time and were seriously considering renting an apartment for a long-term stay. I was actually looking at opening a business while there. It’s just such a cool town, and it was very safe. I had no qualms about letting Tigger (who was 10 at the time) walk around by himself.
Baños was one of Tigger’s favorite places.
Getting to Baños
This lovely town is very accessible and is only a few hours from Quito. Ecuadorian buses are quite cheap, so you can expect to pay about $4 USD for the trip from Quito.
If you’re planning on visiting Cuenca, this is a great town to help split that journey up.
You will have some beautiful views, so keep your camera handy. The buses usually stop in a mountain village about halfway through the journey so that you can get something to eat and make a bathroom stop.
Be advised that the ticket clerks will tell you there is a bathroom on board, but it’s rare for them to be accessible (unless you’re a woman) or functional. So when they make a bathroom stop, it’s a good idea to avail yourself of that opportunity. Also make sure to bring your own toilet paper. Public bathrooms rarely have them.
If you’re really into leather products, you may want to stop in Ambato first.
Upon arrival, we stayed at Flor del Oriente, and it was really not a good experience.
We quickly moved to Hostel Chimenea, which we really enjoyed. We had a very comfortable room with pretty good WiFi and a lovely view. The breakfast is inexpensive and quite good. The juices are made to order (fresh squeezed or blended depending on your choice). The coffee was pretty good, too, which isn’t always something one encounters in Ecuador, unfortunately.
It is also located close to the church square, the hot springs and public pool. Tigger’s favorite park (Parque Montalvo) was a short walk away.
There is a refrigerator where you can store your supplies, and the kitchen is available for customer use after noon.
Things to do in Baños
There is truly something for everyone here. Tigger really enjoyed the local park which had a small climbing wall and a zip line (which he spent a LOT of time on). They have a few areas that are designed for different age groups which made things even more fun.
The ruta de las cascadas (waterfall route) is a great activity for cyclists. You can rent bicycles in town for quite cheap and do this as a self-guided tour. They are pretty well marked, and a free map is easy to get at the cycle shop. If you aren’t keen on doing it alone, they have several different tours that follow the route.
The city is quite close to the very active volcano Tungurahua. There are many tours that will take you up in the evening so you can watch the glow and occasional show from a relatively safe distance. You may experience some big “belches” even in the town. We once woke up to a fine covering of ash all over. They haven’t experienced a massive eruption in a long time, and the city was spared damage with the last major one.
If you visit the church La iglesia de la Virgen de Santa Agua (the big church near downtown), you can see some of the commemorative artwork related to the last violent eruption. It’s believed that the virgen saved the town and its inhabitants.
Thanks to the regional geothermal activity, there are some lovely hot springs in the small town. They are extremely cheap to visit.
If you wish to get an adrenaline fix, then for about $20 USD you can go puenting (bridge jumping). Most of the businesses in town use body harnesses, which is supposedly better for your body than the other systems. You have your choice of shorter to crazy drops.
Mountain biking aside from the waterfall route is also quite popular as are 4×4 tours in the nearby mountains, and there is a great place for flying across a canyon on the outskirts of town.
If you prefer a little less excitement, it’s easy to find a place for a relaxing massage for about $20. We also really enjoyed walking around the Parque Central which is known as the lover’s park. It’s in the center of town and has lots of flowers and benches for relaxation.
The public pool is also quite nice and only charges $2 for adults ($1 for children). They have a few waterslides which are pretty fun.
The Iglesia de la Virgen de Santa Agua is a beautiful church and worth walking around.
Just outside the town is also a fairly decent zoo (San Martin). Just make sure to wear good shoes/sturdy sandals. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, including some steep uphill pathways.
There is some really great street food located in the square outside the church; however, most of them only set up in the evening around 6 PM.
Many restaurants in this area also have very filling lunches (3-4 courses plus beverage) for about $2 USD.
One place I highly recommend, even though it isn’t typical Ecuadorian fare, is Stray Dog Pub. Their food is quite good as is their selection of micro-brew beer. They are located on a corner by Parque Central.
You can also find a really good selection of local food at the local mercado. If you’ve been itching to try the infamous cuy (guinea pig), you can easily find it being sold here. Cuy tastes like quail to me.
If you’re a bit squeamish about food hygiene, the mercado is where you want to go. The food hygiene standards for vendors here are quite strict.
If you wish to prepare your own food, the supermarket is located by the mercado. They have an ATM machine located inside, but if you’re spending more than about $10-15 you can use a debit/credit card at the cashier (you will need ID or a copy of your passport, and it’s a multistep process). Prices and selection are both quite good.
There are also some shawarma places in town. The chifa (Chinese food places) was decent, but no one specific place stood out more than the others.
You will see lots of vendors selling what looks like and is described as taffy. We tried several while there, and I would NOT recommend getting any. They were all pretty nasty.
I would recommend planning on a stay of at least 3-4 days. There’s really quite a bit to do and see.
Have you been to Baños? What are your favorites there?