Baños is a top destination thanks to its location in a lush valley between the Andes and the Amazon basin. It’s famous for its volcanic springs, extreme sports, and waterfalls. Despite its beautiful natural setting, Baños itself is an ugly town, with too much concrete and loud tourist operators. Don’t let this put you off however, as it is a great base to explore the area and the nearby Amazon. If you feel like splurging, there are some lovely places out of town that take you away from the concrete and have more lush green. If you’re thinking of visiting Baños, we’ve put together the perfect itinerary for four days in the area.
When you arrive in Baños go and drop off your bags. The bus terminal is right in town so you don’t need to worry about finding your way in. In terms of accommodation Baños has some great cheap options and some really luxurious hotels. If you’re on a budget we love Hostal Plantas y Blanco which offer dorms from $8. It’s right in the middle of town, and has really nice communal areas. If you’re looking for something a bit quieter, Papachos Hostal is a couple of blocks away from the hustle and bustle with $11 dorms. If you’re on a larger budget and want to splurge, there are a couple of amazing spa hotels such as Samari Spa or Luna Runtun further out of town.
Once you’ve settled in, head to town to book some activities for the afternoon and the next day. There are a million tourist agencies but if you ask at a couple you can usually find one offering the itinerary you want at a good price. For this afternoon book for a canopy tour, which is a ziplining amongst the canopies of the trees. This should cost about $20 for a 2 hour tour. While you’re here, book the next day’s white water rafting tour, which will leave early in the morning and last about 5 hours. Budget more or less $30 for this.
After you’ve sorted out the tours, walk to the central market for something to eat. Most food markets in Ecuador sell meals as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and miscellaneous items. You can try all sorts of local delicatessen here, such as hornado (roast pig), llapingachos (potato cooked in pork fat), or locro de papa (a potato soup that comes with cheese and avocado). Most dishes will be about $2 or $3 for a soup and a main. Make sure you eat lunch well in advance of the time you are scheduled to go ziplining, so that you leave time to digest. Ziplining on a full stomach can be a bit nauseating.
There are several ziplining complexes in the area, but most have similar facilities and you can usually cross about 6 ziplines. If you are adventurous you can cross them upside down or outstretched as if flying. Bring water as you have to hike between zips and if it’s sunny it can get pretty sweaty. Our favourite part about ziplining is the amazing birds eye view you get of the forest. Don’t forget to take pictures or even better, slow mo videos of you swooping through the forest!
After you’ve cleaned up, try La Tasca de Baños for dinner. This tapas restaurant has amazing Spanish food made in-house by the owners from Malaga. The restaurant not only has delicious food, but also a great wine list (shocking we know). Ask for the specials and definitely try the “boquerones en vinagre” if they have them.
After dinner, have a walk around the most popular area of Baños’ nightlife on the Eloy Alfaro road. The whole street is jam-packed with karaokes, bars, and clubs all pouring out different music into the street. You can get outrageous drinks offers here at happy hour, but beware having to get up to go white water rafting at 9am!
For the second day’s activities you’ll be heading out early, so make sure to have some breakfast and meet with your tour guide for around 9. White water rafting tours usually take about 5 hours and descends the Pastaza river from Baños towards the Amazon basin. This means you’ll be out the open all day, so take plenty of sun cream, insect repellent, and water.
The tour will include all the safety gear, wetsuits and lunch! If you have a waterproof case or bag for your phone, definitely bring it along as the medics usually take loads of photos of the group. Although the river looks pretty hairy, its safe as long you follow your guide’s instructions.
White water rafting was one of our favourite activities in Baños, as you’re out of town and really get to appreciate the landscape around you. Adrenaline levels are an 8/10 if you go in the rainy season as the river swells and becomes huge. If you have glasses, leave them packed away, or get a strap. We lost ours once, ciao vistas!
After the rafting, you’ll be dropped off in Baños in the early afternoon. If the weather is clear, take advantage and head up to visit the iconic Casa del Arbol, also known as the swing at the edge of the world. Located on the top of the mountain that overlooks Baños, and overshadowed by the Tungurahua volcano, the views here are stunning. If you need a good shot for your instagram, look no further. The famous tree house has a swing built on the side which swings over the valley, which can be a bit nerve-wracking on the first swing but you’ll want to get back on by the end.
Once you’ve explored the volcano monitoring site that and gone for a walk in the area, head back to Baños for some food. Try Leoni’s pizzas for some yummy thin crusts cooked in a traditional wood fire. Afterwards head to Stray Dog Brewpub for some yummy craft beer. Be advised, we went before dinner and got pretty drunk, the beer is strong!
Head out for a yummy filling breakfast at Casa Hood, and then head to town to rent a bike. Bikes are pretty cheap and will usually cost between $6-$10 for the day, just make sure you have a lock and check the gears and breaks before you head out. We recommend cycling the Waterfall Route, which has a total of 7 waterfalls, as well as loads of other attractions on the way. If you’re a really serious cyclist you can plan to cycle there and back, or if not, you can hop on a truck back to Baños at the bottom of the route for a couple of dollars. Remember to take plenty of water and some snacks, although you can buy things en route.
Start out from the town and follow signs towards Puyo. The first stop we recommend is at Manto de la Novia (or bride’s veil). The staff here will watch your bikes for a small fee. Take the cable car, called tarabita in Spanish, 500m over the deep valley for just $1. Once you are at the other side, we recommend hiking down the bottom of the waterfall (about a 20 minute walk), to stand at the bottom and take in the falls in all their glory.
Back on the main road, hop back on your bikes for a 40 minute ride to the highlight of the route, El Pailon del Diablo (devil’s cauldron). This incredible waterfall falls between vertical walls of rock into a deep well before joining another river. Our favorite part is climbing up a series of tiny caves and steps until you are behind the actual waterfall. Once you have visited Pailon del Diablo, take advantage of the nearby town of Rio Verde to grab something to eat.
If you are feeling really adventurous, stop at one of the main bridges that crosses the gorge from the main road to go bungee jumping. There are a couple of different locations, so choose your favorite and make sure you don’t overthink it! The quicker you jump the easier it is.
After Pailon del Diablo, most people turn back to Baños, but you can continue on to the village of Machay and Rio Negro. You’ll notice the difference in altitude here, as the landscape starts to become more tropical and the temperatures get warmer. If you have time, there are several agencies that organize tours in the Amazon from Baños or the nearby city of Puyo.
For your last day in Baños, we recommend starting the day off with a horseback ride in the mountains, and finishing off your trip hitting the spa! Start your day off with a delicious breakfast at Swiss Bistro (the cheese is all we could think about), before heading to one of the nearby horse stables. You can book a tour at Imagine Ecuador or Isla de Baños for about $10 an hour. The agency will take you out to the area where the stables are, and tours are usually 2 or 4 hours. If you choose the longer tour, they usually include a packed lunch as well as transport.
Baños’ full name is Baños de Agua Santa, which literally translates as the baths of holy water. The nearby volcano of Tungurahua means that there are volcanic springs in abundance in the area, and hence, spas. There is a really wide range of options available, from the most luxurious spas such as Luna Runtun or Samari Spa (over $100pp) or your local baths such as Termas de la Virgen ($2).
We love starting with a massage at one of the smaller spas in town, which usually costs around $25 for an hour. You can get all sorts of special facials, chocolate massages, manicures, pedicures and more! After your massage, you’ll feel super relaxed and ready for a swim at the thermal baths. Termas de la Virgen is a short walk out of town, and really worth the $2 fee. There are several baths at different temperatures, all naturally emitting from the volcano.
Finish off your last day with a special meal at Cafe del Cielo. A couple of miles out of town, this cafe is perched on the mountain above Baños, and provides absolutely stunning views. Try and make it in time for sunset for the most beautiful views. The cafe serves all sorts of crepes, ice cream, local coffee, at slightly higher prices than you might pay in town, but not too over the top.
Not sure where to go from there? We offer plenty of options to continue your trip around Ecuador. Check out our Aguila Pass, which will take you all the way to beautiful Cuenca with amazing stops at Ozogoche and the amazing Guamote market. Or, try the Tucan Pass, which will take you all the way to Montañita.