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One of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Ecuador, the city of Baños is a haven for all things adrenaline and adventure sports and definitely somewhere you don’t want to miss from your Ecuador itinerary!
Despite the city basically being equal in size to my right thumb, it really is that tiny, it definitely does have something for everyone: adventure, excitement, relaxation, local and international cuisine and, of course, unpredictable weather. I mean, who doesn’t want to wake up to glorious sunshine only to have the Heavens open up as soon as you step foot outside of your hostel door?!
If you find yourself in Baños it’ll likely be for one of two reasons – either you really like throwing yourself off high vantage points or you really like natural hot springs. Two kinds of people, huh? Personally, I’m the former. Give me a bridge and I will happily jump off it, as long as you can promise me I won’t die or shatter my spine into a million pieces. Hot springs? Meh, could live without them.
But that’s what Baños is famous for – in fact, that’s what Baños is named after. What a lot of visitors don’t realise is that Baños isn’t actually officially called Baños, but Baños de Agua Santa (Baths of Holy Water in English). That’s a bit of a mouthful, though, so we’ll stick with Baños shall we? Note the tilde (little squiggly thing) on the n – it may seem like nothing, but in certain situations, it is the only difference between saying you’re twenty years old and proudly declaring you have twenty anuses.
Baños is one of those cities that feels more like a town, and it’s somewhere that I don’t think is possible to spend too much or too little time. Only have two days in the city? That’s cool, you can squeeze a lot in and still have a great time! Want to spend two full weeks in Baños? Also cool – you can really cover a lot of ground and fully get to grips with the area. However long you plan to stay, I hope this mini guide on what to do in Baños helps you out a little!
A Mini Guide to Baños on a Budget
How to get to Baños, Ecuador
First thing’s first: you’re going to want to get there, right? So I have some good news, and I have some bad news. The good news is that Baños is super accessible from basically the whole of the rest of Ecuador. The bad news? It’s only accessible by bus. And Ecuadorean roads can be a little…ahem…bumpy so you may want to mentally prepare yourself for that.
To reach Baños from Quito, you need to first make your way to Quito’s south bus terminal, otherwise known as Quitumbe. I’m pretty sure there are public transport links from the main centre of Quito to the bus terminal, but I opted for a taxi and ended up getting conned by the driver. If that’s not a stark warning to keep your wits about you in taxis in Quito, I don’t know what is. I’m normally pretty switched on to what’s going on around me – especially in Spanish speaking countries, where I can understand what’s happening – but on this occasion, I let my guard down, and ended up paying the price.
Anyway, my own failings as a traveller aside, when you’re at Quitumbe just buy your ticket from any of the bus companies advertising buses from Quito to Baños. It really doesn’t matter which one you choose as they often usher passengers from one bus to the other anyway. If there’s a bus leaving sooner than the one you want to purchase, they’ll send you to them.
It costs USD$4.50 for a one-way ticket and that includes your little receipt thing to get through the barriers at Quitumbe terminal. Altogether the Baños to Quito bus takes about 2.5-3 hours, but in true South American fashion, the total journey time is entirely dependent on how often your driver stops to let empanada salespeople onboard!
To get to Baños from the rest of Ecuador is a little trickier. Most cities and towns won’t have direct buses to Baños – instead, you’ll have to purchase a ticket to Ambato, and then switch onto a different bus to Baños when you arrive there. It’s only about an hour between Ambato and Baños, so no biggie really.
What to do in Baños, Ecuador on a Budget
So you’re mid-way through your gap year around South America, me got to Baños and now you’re in a state of ‘Hmm, what do we do here?‘ Well, lucky for you, as you’ll be absolutely spoilt for choice!!
The Swing at the End of the World
Undoubtedly, the most famous spot in Baños, although you may not even know it’s in Baños, is the Swing at the End of the World, or La Casa del Arbol as it’s known locally. This is the swing, you guys. You know the one I’m talking about, it’s made endless “X Things You Have to do Before You Die” lists on Buzzfeed and the likes, and I’m pretty sure a photo of someone swinging on it has won a pretty snazzy photography award too!
On a scale of ‘I can barely afford bread’ to ‘I say I have no money but mention pre-drinks and I’m all yours’, how budget is it?
Well, entry to the Swing at the End of the World is only $2 – so that plus the cost of getting up there (if you choose not to hike) would bring you anywhere from $3 if you use the bus to $20 if you opt for a fancy-pants taxi. So pretty budget, really.
I heard it through the Ecuadorean grapevine that rafting in Baños, much like basically everything else in Baños, is pretty epic. Unfortunately, although rafting was definitely super high on my list of things I wanted to do in Baños, Ecuador seems to be unique in that the day can start off in summer and finish up in the middle of a harsh winter. A lot like Wales, really.
So my rafting plans were scuppered as soon as I concluded I’d rather not get in a boat, on a river, in the middle of a very exotic and freezing cold torrential downpour. I value my life too much for that.
From just £20 per person for a half-day of fun, white water rafting is definitely something you should try in Baños if you have the time!
Cycle the Ruta de las Cascadas
Everybody loves a good waterfall, am I right? It doesn’t need to be a particularly impressive formation, but there’s just something about the sound of water skimming over rocks and colliding with the ground that’s oddly satisfying.
Cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls) all the way up to the crazy powerful Pailón del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) and beyond is a great way to spend the day, taking it at your own pace and stopping as often or as little as you like along the way to admire the scenery and any waterfalls you come across.
Read more about how to cycle the Ruta de las Cascadas
Bicycles are readily available in town from between $7-15 for a whole day’s rental, and most come with helmets and repair kits.
Nestled right in between an array of luscious mountains, and volcanoes (including Tungurahua, one of Ecuador’s most active volcanoes, Baños has a great little selection of hiking routes for you to take advantage of. Bear in mind, though, that it’s not the safest of areas, and so it’s definitely recommended to travel in groups no smaller than 3 and to be back before the sun starts to go down (about 5pm/5.30pm). Most hostels or hotels will be able to provide you with a free map and advice on which routes to take, so ask around!
Canyoning is definitely not for the faint-hearted nor for anybody who doesn’t enjoy the sensation of drowning. But any adrenaline junkies, water babies or generally “have-a-go” kind of people visiting Baños should definitely give this a try! It costs between £20-25 per person without lunch, and that’s for 5 hours of fun! I booked my experience through my hostal and paid $22.
The day starts by suiting up in the office and then you get driven about 10 minutes out of town to Chamana canyon, where the fun begins! What follows is a series of four waterfalls, each involving a different technique (and I use that word very lightly!).
The first of the four involves walking down the face of the fall, trying to heed the instructor’s advice and keep your legs apart while simultaneously attempting to keep upright against what feels like a tidal wave coming towards you. The second is a lot more relaxed: a nice little slide down a natural water slide. Then it’s walking again, this one a lot easier than the first. And finally, the grand finale – you jump! Right off of a cliff. You are of course attached to a rope the entire time, but that does not in the least bit detract from the magnitude of what you’re doing!
I’ll be completely honest here, I probably enjoyed about 40% of my canyoning experience. At 5’5 and not very nimble, I don’t think I’m built for walking down waterfalls if I’m honest. The whole time I just sort of felt like I was being water-boarded, which I’m sure you can imagine wasn’t a very pleasant sensation!
Enjoy a dip in the thermal baths
Not quite the same level of adrenaline-rush as the rest of the list, but after a long hard day of cycling through valleys, jumping from waterfalls and swinging on giant swings, what could be better than spending half hour or so relaxing in a natural thermal bath?!
There are several thermal baths scattered around the town, but the most popular among locals is las Piscinas de la Virgen, situated at the foot of Cascada de la Virgen, one of the city’s most famous waterfalls. Entry to the baths is a few dollars, and then you also have to pay to store your belongings and rent a cap if needed, but in total it shouldn’t come to more than USD$5-6.
Where to stay in Baños, Ecuador
If you’re looking for affordable comfort in a quiet location in Baños, away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets, look no further than Hostal Princesa Maria. This unsuspecting little gem has the sweetest owners, a shared kitchen and a fantastic outdoor space to enjoy a barbecue if the weather permits! I paid £16 for a twin room which, at £8 per person worked out cheaper than a hostel!
If hostels are your thing, though, El Recreo Backpackers is definitely the place to be! And for somewhere a little more upmarket but still easy on the purse strings, look no further than Hosteria y Spa Isla de Baños or the super quirky Jardines de Chamana.
There are so many more things to do and see in Baños than just what’s mentioned here, but as I only had a few short days there I wasn’t able to fully experience everything! Zip-lining, canopying and bungee jumping (off of a bridge barely taller than me!) are all offered along the Ruta de las Cascadas, amongst others.
So what are you waiting for? Get on that bus to Baños!