Most travellers know Baños de Agua Santa simply as Baños, which often lends confusion as to why a town would be called “bath.” However, a couple hours spent soaking in the thermal waters that come from the town’s very active volcano will leave visitors with no confusion as to where the name comes from. Baños is so much more than a simple hot spring though, this may possibly be the adventure capital of all of South America. Coupled with the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains which spill dozens of breathtaking waterfalls, there is a sense of constant excitement that hangs in the misty air of Baños. Whether you choose to spend your day swinging from a bridge, giggling your way down a canyon or bouncing down the river in a raft Baños will test your sense of adventure and push it beyond what you believed was sense of adventure’s capability. For those who want to avoid the adventure there are still beautiful sights to see and the hot waters of the hot springs to relax in.
Time Needed: 2-5 days
Budget: 30-50 US$ a day
Things to do in Baños
- The Waterfalls: The entire valley between Baños and the small village of Rio Verde is filled with cascading waterfalls. The biggest of the waterfalls is Pailon del Diablo of which you can hike to (about 20min). Perhaps the most beautiful waterfall is Manto de la Novia.
- Rafting: The rafting in Baños is great and GeoTours is the best company to do it with.. The waters are either class 3 or 4 depending on the river level (water levels are often controlled by the nearby damn). If you are planning on heading to Tena at some point and only want to raft once, I do recommend the rafting in Tena over Baños.
- Canyoning: A man by the name of Rich, along with his business partner, brought the sport of canyoning to Baños and it is now taking off as one of the most popular activities. Check out the video below for an idea of how it works. Again, GeoTours are the company to go with if you’re interested in Canyoning in Baños de Agua Santa
- The Zoo: I am not a big fan of zoos of this type, for me the enclosures are too small. However, there are a good number of animals in the zoo that you wont likely see out in nature. That being said, if you head to Tena you can visit a wildlife sanctuary called Amazoonicos which is a much better environment to view the wildlife.
- Tarabitas & Hike: A tarabita is basically a basket strung on a cable that stretches across the valley. The tarabitas were put in place to connect the indigenous villages to the main highway, but have now made a hit with the tourists. For one dollar you can cross one tarabita and then hike along the opposite side of the valley to another tarabita and return. This is a great journey for a couple hours, but wear closed toe shoes as there can be quite a few bugs on the trail.
- Bridge Swing: A bridge swing is simply a rope strung under a bridge to a platform. People then jump off the platform and swing vicariously close to the ground before swinging around. It is brilliant fun. There is a video below of this as well.
- Nature Hikes: There are a number of hikes in the area that will put you in touch with the natural side of Baños. This is one of the top places in the world for spotting orchids as well as birdwatching.
- Climbing: The steep cliffs of the valley make this an obvious hot spot for climbers. Check with GeoTours for great rates.
- The Hot Springs: The perfect way to gear down after a day of adventure is at the hot springs. The springs cost about 3 dollars and there are a number of pools ranging in temperature for natural (44 degrees) to a normal cool lake water temperature.
Where to Eat in Baños
The quality of food in Baños is far from 5 star. Along the main drag in town you will find a couple of cafes that sell lunches, and a lot of pizza places. If you’re looking for Mexican food check out a place called Manatial. Casa Hood also has a great lunch menu. Near the bus terminal you’ll see the locals serving up traditional sugar cane juice. You’ll also see people stretching out the locally made toffee, which I think is horrible, but many do like it.
Where to Stay in Baños
Just 5 years ago when I made my first visit to Baños, hostels were still a relatively new thing. These days, hostels are a dime a dozen in town. In fact, it’s probably easier to find a dorm bed than it is a traditional hotel. If you’re looking for a hostel, my recommendation is Erupcion Hostel. They are central (located on the corner of Central Park) and they have the fastest internet in town, hands down. They have private rooms as well as dorms, and also have a nice restaurant that serves beautiful breakfast as well as set lunches. The owner of the hostel told me that they are planning a new hostel just outside of town closer to the hot Springs that should be open soon. So, check in with him to see if that one is open now, too.
Getting out of Town
Getting out of Baños is quite simple depending on where you are heading. Bus run regularly to Quito (4-5hrs), Tena (3-4hrs), Ambato (45min) and Riobamba (2 hrs). However, if you’re trying to get to Cuenca it can be a little trickier. Make sure you catch the 7am bus that connects directly with the Cuenca bus leaving Riobamba or else you will need to wait a couple hours in the dreary bus terminal of Riobamba waiting for the next connection. If you catch the connection the trip is about 7hrs, if you miss it it is between 8-10 hours.