A Quick Guide to the Best Things to Do in Baños, Ecuador
Baños de Agua Santa is one of the most laidback cities in Ecuador packed with adrenaline activities, but when traveling on a budget, you can bike or hike around, see waterfalls or swing on a famous tree house in the lush natural scenery. Read our quick guide to the best things to do in Baños to get the most of your time.
BAÑOS, A CITY OF HOT SPRINGS
City Baños, settled among lush green hills, near snow-capped volcanoes, rapid rivers, and hot springs was predetermined to become one of the most popular backpacker destinations in South America. Thanks to its position, you can also use Baños as a base for your Amazon adventure. The city got its name after several hot springs bubbling out from the ground - baños in English means bath. Baños lies only three and a half hours from Quito (read Best things you can do in Quito) by bus and can get pretty busy on weekends.
Having said that Baños is surrounded by volcanoes, you might be surprised that most of those volcanoes are still active. Especially Tungurahua still erupts from time to time, so don't forget to ask around the city to get the most recent information, if you plan some trekking. Although Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador, there is still plenty to do when traveling on a budget (but the prices of some sports activities were not overpriced, definitely much cheaper than in Colombia). Here's a list of best things you might consider doing when in Baños.
ENJOY HOT SPRINGS
It is almost impossible to visit Baños de Agua Santa and not to jump into the hot springs. There are several places where you can enjoy a relaxing dip within walking distance from the city center. It is definitely a pleasant way how to spend an afternoon after the morning biking or hiking exercise.
We went to Termas de la Virgen. As of matter of fact, there are two hot springs carrying the same name. At the top of the street are the old hot pools, nearer to the city center is a newer building with water slides inside as well. We chose the old ones - but we must warn you - if you are looking for anything fancy (or European standards-like), don't go there. I mean, everything is fine, but we've read quite a few negative comments on Tripadvisor about water being dirty - water in the pools is alright, it is not only being cleaned and chlorinated - it is why it has greenish or brownish color. Maybe because of this we were the only tourists there. There is also a waterfall right next to hot springs, and you can shower in its cold water. Pretty cool.
SWING ON THE TREE LA CASA DEL ARBOL
We must admit, that sometimes (or rather often) we don't understand how only one picture on Instagram can make loads of people want to have the same photo on the very same spot. But this became the case of La Casa del Arbol. When in Baños, it is a must thing to have an iconic photo of yourself swinging on this tree high above lush green valley which is often hidden in the clouds.
We got to the La Casa del Arbol during our hike around Baños. Yes, we paid $1 fee to get to a small park and yes, while there, we must have tried the swing (nowadays there are more swings and zip line). To be honest, this place is not that awesome, and it is a great example of how well-taken photos can sometimes modify and exaggerate the reality. We wouldn't go there again, but the hike to this area is worthwhile, so why not to stop there and experience what other travelers do while in Baños.
You have two options on how to get to La Casa del Arbol. You can either take an irregular bus from Baños which goes up (but then you'll arrive with many people at the same time - there are records of people waiting up to 45 minutes only to swing on the tree), or you can hike to the top on own. We chose the hike, and although it was strenuous and not easy one, we are glad we did it this way.
HIKE AROUND BAÑOS
Unsurprisingly, the city in such a nice surrounding offers a large number of treks. Some of them are close to the city ranging from a couple of hours to full day hikes. If the weather is fine, you can go for an even more challenging trek where you can get closer views of Tungurahua Volcano, but the summit of Tungurahua was in the cloud for the entire period of time (four nights) we stayed in Baños.
VISIT EL VIRGEN VIEWPOINT
If you want to get a sense of Baños, take a short hike to the viewpoint towering above - El Virgen. There are several steps you must conquer, but about 30 minutes you should reach the statue and see the city from a different perspective. This is also the way you should take while hiking to the La Casa del Arbol.
BIKE THE RUTA DE LAS CASCADAS
There are not many better places in Ecuador where to see several waterfalls along the short stretch of way than on Ruta de Las Cascadas (similar might be only the walk we've done along waterfalls in Mindo). Rent a bike and follow the road from Baños to Puyo. You don't need to bike all the 60 kilometers to Puyo, the first 20 kilometers, are rewarding enough - we saw at least seven waterfalls although it was a dry season (it must be even more spectacular in the wet season as new waterfalls can appear on the slopes).
There is regular traffic on the road, but we had a feeling that drivers know this part of the drive is popular among bikers and they by-passed us slowly and from a safe distance. It became popular to build cable cars or zip-line stations across the gorge, the easiest way how to do it is to combine this activity with the biking trip.
In Baños there is numerous tour operator where you can rent a bike, but also every hostel or hotel offers this service. Bike rental for a day cost $5. It wasn't in very good shape, and we wouldn't want to pedal uphill on this machine, but it was enough for this route.
It is convenient that from the last (and the biggest) waterfall we visited - El Pailon del Diablo - you can take a bus or truck to get back to Baños. It cost us $3 each.
EL PAILON DEL DIABLO
The most spectacular waterfall along the way is undoubtedly El Pailon del Diablo. You have to walk to the waterfall gate about 10 minutes from the parking lot (where you can lock your bike) and here pay $2 entrance fee. Here you can walk either left and cross a suspension bridge to get better views, or turn right and follow a short trail closer to the waterfall - only expect to get wet as the mass of water running down is tremendous.
El Pailon del Diablo was the last waterfall we visited when biking from Baños. If you don't want to bike, you can either take a tour or jump on the bus going to Puyo and ask to be dropped off at this waterfall.
HOW TO GET TO BAÑOS
Baños as a destination is on every traveler's itinerary. Thanks to this fact, getting to and from Baños is simple, and the city is well-connected with other places. Bus from Quito goes regularly from the south terminal, cost $4 and takes around three hours. From Baños we took a bus to nearby Riobamba (read more: how we biked down the highest mountain in Ecuador) for $2, but you can carry on even further, for example to Cuenca.