We took a 2 and a half hour bus ride from Quito to arrive in Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador. If you’re into extreme sports you can find it all here: rafting, bungee jumping, zip lining, rappelling and more. To get your body ready to work or just to relax your muscles after a hard day, you’ll find plenty of massage parlors and thermal baths around the city.
Baños is an inviting and lovely city with a fantastic climate. It is located in a valley with the Tungurahua volcano overlooking the whole town. People here are warm and always willing to help visitors. Everything is within walking distance and you are never more than 15 minutes away from where you want to be. We also found that Baños was one of the most affordable cities we visited in Ecuador.
After settling into our first hostel we headed out to get some grub at Casa Hood, an eclectic eatery with a variety of foods. For $7 I had a delicious and enormous Pad Thai that was large enough for two (made for a tasty late breakfast the next day!) The restaurant that is owned by an expat feels incredibly homey as they play movies while you dine and even have a library/book exchange.
That night we visited the Termas de la Virgen hot springs ($6 /pp entrance fee) to relax our muscles. When visiting you must wear a cap which you can rent for 50 cents. This place was packed as locals and visitors alike were lounging in the pools.
Since it was Saturday night we wanted to explore the nightlife a bit and ended up at Leprechaun bar, one of the two happening places in town (it’s adorably small!) The place was laid back and had a great fire pit in the back. We had a couple of beers as we chatted with the bartenders before the place got packed.
The bar is huge and plays a variety of music in different spaces. We heard some really great salsa coming from the room next door so we couldn’t resist but to go in and bust some moves! There were fantastic dancers on the dance floor including one of the bartenders. So if you’re feeling a bit shy don’t worry you can learn all the moves just by watching.
The next day the entire city of Baños was out of water so we headed out. Since we were still recovering a bit from the night before we decided to take it easy and do a waterfall tour for $5 each. We decided to forego biking and rode an open air Chiva that visited all of the waterfalls near Baños. Booking tours is easy and you will get reasonable prices with any of the tour agencies advertising around town.
Along the way the waterfall tour makes a few stops so visitors can take pictures, go zip lining and ride a mini cable car across a chasm. Manu and I decided to do the zip lining and it was incredibly fun. I was hell-bent on riding until I was harnessed in and staring at an abyss over the river but before I knew it we were both flying fast across the divide.
The tour culminated with a visit to the beautifully scenic Pailon del Diablo. After a short 20-minute hike we arrived at the picturesque waterfall. Later we enjoyed a mouth-watering platano with cheese from a local vendor just outside the entrance.
The next morning we were ready for some rafting. We were both excited and nervous as we had never been before. The tour guides were excellent and helpful. With a quick overview of what to expect and techniques to use while rafting, our guide quickly made us feel at ease and we were off. The experience was exhilarating and ridiculously fun! Our group was great, we were the only ones who didn’t fall into the river but our guide made us jump into the freezing water anyway.
When we returned to our hostel (not even worth naming) that evening the water was still out and our hosts were still inattentive and unresponsive. We had talked to a few fellow backpackers and one of the girls mentioned she still had water at her hostel. Needless to say we ducked out the next morning even having paid in full for the night.
Arriving at Plantas y Blancos hostel was a relief and we were met by a warm and welcoming staff. For $26 we had an incredible view of Caballera de la Virgen waterfall from our room, a relaxing rooftop terrace and thankfully…water. Feeling relaxed we headed over to a small empanada place recommended by a friend we met on our tour. Holy Crap were they good! I can’t remember the name but ask any local where they sell the chocolate empanadas and they’ll point you in the right direction.
We then visited the infamous Casa del Arbol, a tree house built on a precipice with amazing views. Here you could ride a swing that lets you hover over an abyss while you contemplate just how far you would be catapulted if the ropes broke. We were lucky to visit late in the afternoon and enjoyed the gorgeous sunset over the mountains. The entrance fee costs $1 while the chiva to get there will cost $5/pp.
We woke up early the next day and had a hearty breakfast at Rico Pan. The food was excellent and the bread amazingly fresh. We paid around $7 for a complete breakfast including eggs, bread, juice, coffee and jams.
With a full belly we were ready for a 1-day jungle tour. We booked the tour for $30/pp and it included transportation, lunch, a canoe ride, a hike and swim in a waterfall and a visit to an animal reserve. Our native guides were excellent and proudly gave us an insight into their culture showing us amazing sites along the way. If you have more time you could also book a 3-day to 15-day tour.
For our last dinner in Baños we visited Taberna Armenia, a delicious restaurant a bit off the beaten path. Our waiter was unbelievably welcoming and friendly and we felt like we were eating at a friend’s house. The food was fresh and they had excellent craft beer brewed by owner’s friend. I would highly recommend visitors check out the place.
Baños is definitely a backpacker’s paradise. There are numerous things to do and see and prices are cheap. Don’t miss this city when traveling through Ecuador!