TOP THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN BAÑOS, ECUADOR
Baños, Ecuador was a place I called home for over a year as an expat while running a local hostel. As many of you know, I’m from California, so Ecuador culture and customs were a nice surprise. There are a ton of activities to do in Baños de Agua Santa (the full name), and they did not disappoint. Baños, Ecuador is known for their hot springs, La Casa del Arbol (the Swing at the End of the World), and many outdoor activities in between scenic mountains, waterfalls, and rivers.
After spending 18 months in Baños, and giving local advice to the many guests that stayed at the hostel, Plantas y Blanco, I quickly learned the top things to do, places to eat, and some hidden secrets to the town that not many tourists give the time to learn about.
What to Expect
Baños, Ecuador is a beautiful city right in between the Amazon jungle and the mountains of Ecuador. It’s also nested right by a the Tungurahua Volcano, but don’t worry, it has a mountain blocking it and you’re far enough away to survive an eruption.
As most touristy towns, you can expect to find lots of small businesses centered around tourism, with tours, quick meals, vendors, hostels, and lots of gift shops on every single street. I came to discover this as I joined one of the top hostels, there were just too many of us. And the town is tiny, itself and the surrounding areas total around 15,000 residents. You can walk across the city from edge to edge in less than 20 minutes.
A plus for tourists, is that prices for just about anything are low. So if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll have no trouble finding a place to stay and eat for less than $20 per day.
Things to Do
How long should you stay in Baños? Most of the tourists stay for 3-4 days, but I highly recommend staying at least a week to really enjoy everything Baños has to offer. The main attraction even among the locals are the hot springs. The name Baños actually means baths, so it makes sense.
With all of the surrounding mountains, rivers, and waterfalls, it shouldn’t be a surprise for Baños to offer one of the most extensive lists of outdoor activities in a single place. From things like swing jump, canyoning, to even more extreme things like rafting and visits to the adventure parks. You can read more about these activities in the following sections.
Would you do bungee jumping on a bridge overlooking the Pastaza River? Not for the faint of heart, Baños offers the ability to swing jump from two different bridges.
One is on the way to the waterfalls between the mountains, and the other is right at the entrance of the town and by far the most popular, the Puente de San Francisco, where you can jump from as little as $30 per person, and averaging around $20 most times.
Canyoning, also known as rappelling down waterfalls, is one of the most popular activities in Baños. These are offered in half-day trips, the first shift leaving at 9am or earlier, and the second shift leaving at 2pm every day. If you’re on a tight schedule, be sure to plan around this.
The trip begins with gathering the group together, preparing with wearing the wetsuits and necessary training, and then driving with your group to one of the many series of waterfalls. The hike up to the top waterfall is fairly easy, and then the fun begins. You begin a descent with ropes working your way down to the base of the waterfalls. The group leaders are fun and energetic, and they’ll do their best to make you laugh and have a good time even if you don’t speak Spanish. They undergo rigorous training, but still, make sure of this with the tour agency you’re booking to be sure they are licensed and properly trained.
There are plenty of photo opportunities, and the guides usually carry a GoPro camera with them, though not always. Take a cell phone in a waterproof bag, secure it to yourself, and take pictures as often as you can.
The Tungurahua, or Mama Tungurahua, as the locals call her, can be seen from the edge of the city, thanks to clearly marked signs around the city letting you know where the best viewpoints are located. Sometimes, there’s a snowy cap on it, and you’ll see photographers racing to the viewpoints to capture the next top shot of the volcano.
Tours are offered to the viewpoints at various shifts throughout the day, but this past year (2018), there were no eruptions or smoke coming out. Though I was woken up by tremors in the middle of the night several times. Not sure if this was a regular earthquake or the volcano rumbling, but they’re scary as heck either way. You’ll be fine though.
Hiking is a top favorite along tourists and locals. With the many viewpoints available, the trails are clearly marked and lead you to spectacular scenery that you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world.
From some of the ends of the trails, at the peak of several hills, you can see as many as four volcanoes in the distance on a clear day. Heck, you can even see the beginning stages of the Amazonian jungle.
My camera roll is full of pictures of clouds taken in Baños, Ecuador. These made for amazing timelapses and videos. This type of environment is inviting to many photographers from around the world, birdwatchers, and people studying geology and volcanoes, and they all use the same trails.
Bike to the Waterfalls
It is amazing how many bicycles get rented per day in Baños, Ecuador. You can rent one for as little as $10 and use it the whole day to take you to the series of waterfalls along the road. The most famous one is called Manto de la Novia and will welcome you into the series of waterfalls that continue from there, until you arrive at the most famous of all, one of the most recognized waterfalls in the world: the Devil’s Cauldron, or Pailón del Diablo.
The bikes can park at the entrance of the park for free, though the charge to get into the park itself is $1.50. The park closes around sunset, so get there early and take a look at the roaring waterfall up close without too many crowds.
Tours and attractions
If you’re planning on visiting the Amazon jungle, hike the volcano, or do any of the half day activities around Baños, you’re sure to find a ton of options on the surrounding tour agencies. The main attraction for me will always be the scenery. Hiking, walking around the church, or going on photo walks around the town to fill up your Instagram account will always be my favorite.
Baños has a street by the bus station where all of the bars are. There are several top dance clubs in the area, including Leprechaun Bar, but after the places begin to get packed, people go out to party on the street.
Beer, tequila Baneño shots, and whiskey flow all night with food options scattered around the street with fried chicken, fries, and dollar pizza.
There are two main hot springs within the city limits of Baños, but there are a few more in the surrounding areas. The best one is the Termas de la Virgen, which is the one you see right at the base of the waterfall within the town itself.
Termas de la Virgen
These hot springs are the main ones in town. Most hostels are around this set of pools, so they’re definitely your best option, though I recommend that you check out both of the hot springs in town, El Salado.
Most of the travelers ended up loving this one over the Termas de la Virgen, though it looks a little dated and doesn’t have a waterfall running right next to you. It does tend to be less packed throughout the day, so be sure to give at a shot.
La Casa del Arbol
A fun fact about the Casa del Arbol is that it is actually a viewpoint and weather station, as well as a place to monitor the Tungurahua Volcano’s activity. There is a bus that leaves several times per day and takes you straight to the Swing at the End of the World for one dollar, then you pay one dollar to get inside, and one dollar to come back down to the city.
The trip is a little long, at around 30 minutes to get there, so plan ahead! A taxi can also take you up there for around $20, and they’ll hang out waiting for you to come back so they can take you down to Baños again.
The Best Time to Visit
Baños is a year-round place to visit, but peak times are July/August. I highly recommend going near the end of the year, around November and October, for the celebrations of the Virgin of the Holy Water. You’ll make the most friends when the hostels are packed, though, but be sure to plan ahead.
Backpackers crying in our lobby because they couldn’t find a room anywhere was a common thing during peak times, also the high demand for places to stay drives the prices up to 250% higher.
For a regular hotel in the area, there are a few top hotels that can provide a safe, clean, and comfortable place to stay. Here are the recommended hotels in Baños:
- La Posada del Arte
- Hotel Volcano
- Monte Carmelo
For extra comfort, I recommend:
- Monte Selva
Now, I used to run the iconic Plantas y Blanco Hostel, since it’s been around forever, so feel free to check it out. I know the quality of the ingredients that goes in there for breakfast, and all of the effort the owners have gone through to establish a superstar of a hostel. Here are some other hostels I would recommend:
- Community Hostel
- Great Hostels
If you’re thinking of staying in Selina’s, please think about it again.. not many people were happy about getting a mega-hostel taking over such a small town, as well as we were against KFC competing against the many small businesses and family-owned restaurants in the area.
Places to Eat
I have a long list of recommended places to eat in Baños, but for the sake of this guide, I’ve reduced it to the absolute top restaurants. Now, don’t go expecting any Michelin-star places over here, this is a small town, but they can still cook up some pretty good stuff.
- Best coffee shop: Arte Café located around the main church on street called 12 De Noviembre, toward the river (not toward the waterfall). Ask about their coffee, taste everything, and thank me later.
- Best breakfast options: The terrace of Plantas y Blanco hostel, Aromé, and Kakawa Coffee.
- Best lunch spot: Avo Burrito Shop. By far the closest you will get to a real burrito anywhere in Ecuador. This place is seriously awesome.
- Best dinner spot: I debated on this list since there weren’t many places for dinner, but there was one that I really enjoyed and have visited probably over 50 times, and its Stray Dog Bar. Jason knows how to cook a mean burger, and offers a traditional American menu with craft and industrial beers.
Quick Facts about Baños Ecuador
Every single week I learn something new about this town, whether it’s about some new trail, or something the neighbors are angry about, there’s always something going on. Here are some quick facts about Baños in case you’re curious about the most asked questions while I worked at the front desk of my hostel.
Baños has an elevation of 1820 meters, or 5,971 feet in altitude, which makes it lower in altitude than Quito, Cuenca, and Quilotoa. If you were experiencing altitude sickness, Baños will provide some relief, though if you really want a full dose of oxygen, you may want to consider visiting one of the beach towns in Ecuador to get your fix.
A printed map of Baños, Ecuador can be found at one of the two tourism offices in town. The map has the hours of the local attractions, and some general advice on navigating the city. Here is a Spanish version of the map of Baños to give you an idea of where everything is and help you out.
Being near the equator, Baños has relatively stable weather pattern, though the dry season begins near the end of the year, between December all the way through March. Random storms and rain can come at any moment, so it isn’t surprising to see people walking around in swimsuits walking in the rain, if they weren’t expecting and happened to be hanging out at the pools.
There is a very common question about how cold it gets in Baños, but that’s because the Google weather thing gets the data from one of the peaks and they’re usually way off. We’ve had people calling in asking if they should bring gloves and scarves, while I was walking around in a regular t-shirt. Dress for a regular autumn day, jeans and a t-shirt are fine most of the time, though it can get somewhat cold at night, so a light jacket will come in handy. And of course, it is Ecuador, so bring some rain jackets and waterproof shoes or boots (not those cloth porous running shoes!). Oh and your bathing suit, for the hot springs.
Is it Safe?
Baños considered a safe town. You don’t hear much about robberies and big crime, but you will hear stories of super drunk people who have gotten their wallet stolen. Or theft on the bus on the way to Baños from Quito.
The people of Baños Ecuador are a tightly-knit community, and even though they have their disagreements at times, they watch out for each other and will even turn to punishing criminals themselves. If you look into the history of Baños, especially around the time of the Tungurahua eruption not long ago, you’ll hear stories of triumph on how they fought with Ecuadorian military units to be allowed back in the city. These people do not mess around.
How to Get to Baños Ecuador
There is no airport in Baños, Ecuador, and the closest one is in Quito. The majority of people arrive to Baños from Quito on a bus, but here are the directions on how to get here from the main points in Ecuador.
There are two bus stations in Quito, but the most common one is Quitumbe Station which has several bus lines traveling back and forth from Quito to Baños.
If you have just arrived to the airport, you can take a bus from there (they begin running as early as 4:30am) to take you to the Quitumbe Station, or take a taxi to the bus station. A bus will cost you less than $5 while a taxi can cost upwards of $30.
Between 6am and 5pm, you’ll find buses that take you from Quitumbe bus terminal to Baños for around $4. Other options include going from Quito and taking a bus toward Ambato and transferring to a bus toward Baños (typically a bus to Puyo will drop you off there).
There’s something weird that happens in Ecuador that I’m not sure of it being too common in many other places, buses stop on the side of the road to do transfers instead of actually going into the main cities due to traffic jams. The main highways don’t actually go into the towns/cities, but instead go off to the side to make the flow easier.
It’s also common practice to ask if the bus is actually going to the terminal of the city you’re going to, since sometimes they just drop you off right on the side and you have to take a taxi into it. I can tell you right now that if you’re planning on transferring in Ambato, you’ll likely have to transfer on the side of the road, don’t worry, there are plenty of other buses, shops, and people there. Those stops are called paso lateral, or side track.
Since the routes are fairly new, most people and guides will tell you that there is no direct bus from Cuenca to Baños, one time I was even forced to argue with a know-it-all tourist with his Lonely Planet in one hand until I told him that I actually live in Baños and I make the Cuenca-Baños trip a couple of times a month. The bus line is called Amazonas but they’ve been quite empty lately, I’m not sure how long they’re going to keep up the direct trips. The first bus leaves early, at around 8:45am, then there’s one at 4pm, and a night bus. Please have your hostel call the bus company to figure out actual and exact bus times.
From Cuenca, you want to take a taxi or a bus to the bus terminal and either take a bus directly to Baños de Agua Santa; beware, there is another “Baños de Cuenca” nearby, which isn’t the Baños you’re trying to reach. If you’re not taking the direct bus, you should take the bus to Ambato and transfer there. If you see buses to Puyo, ask if they stop in Baños.
From the awesome bus terminal in Guayaquil, you’ll find a direct bus to Baños for around $12. The bus ride is long and boring, so take a book.
If you’re staying at one of the hostels in the area, they will likely have some transportation options, especially if you’ve hiked the volcano, since there are no buses that take you directly into the national park.
What you want to do is take a truck over to the road or into town to pick up a bus to Baños. Again, some of these hostels have direct transportation to Baños, so be sure to check with them first. It might seem expensive, but it’s worth it, especially if you’re sore and tired after doing all that hiking.