Summary: Baños is a good place to visit when you’re in Ecuador. This very small town in the middle of the mountains offers plenty of activities and sightseeing, so it is really difficult to become bored.
After two months in the Galapagos Islands, we didn’t want to spend our last 20 days in the country in a city (though we knew that Cuenca and Quito are really worth seeing), so we decided to choose between Baños and Montanita. We finally chose Baños, as it was totally different than the Galapagos. Here is some information about this small town that you should definitely visit:
Though some people say Baños is too touristy, it is also a very beautiful area to visit. The town is a typical laid-back Ecuadorian town, and there is plenty of sightseeing, as the town is surrounded by four volcanoes (including an active one, the Tungurahua) and 60 waterfalls.
Do you like the feeling of an adrenaline rush? In Baños you can practice plenty of activities and extreme sports. If you prefer calmer activities, you can visit historical and cultural monuments instead. Though is a bit far from the city, almost all the agencies will offer trips in the jungle. Finally, in Baños you will find many restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and discos, so you will never get bored!
We first thought—because we didn’t do a lot of research—that Baños was in the tropical portion of Ecuador, as it is not far from the tropical jungle. But the city is located in the Cordillera, which makes the weather not very hot, but not too cold either. It rains quite often and is sometimes windy. You need a jacket almost all the time. When it is sunny, the sun is very strong, so it is best to have a hat. In short, you need almost everything in Baños!
Baños is situated in the highlands of Ecuador at an elevation of 5955 feet (1815 meters). It is a six-hour ride from Guayaquil, and 3/4 hours from Quito. When you arrive, you don’t need to take a cab (unless you have a really heavy bag) because the bus station is located inside the town (which is very small, so you shouldn’t walk more than 15 minutes to arrive at your hotel).
There are several bus companies from Guayaquil. The direct one is the night bus—all others are not direct (even if they tell you they are) and will stop at a nearby town, where you have to move to another bus to continue your ride to Baños (1.5 hours).
You definitely won’t have any problems finding a hotel in Baños (Bassel and I renamed the city “Baños: the city of a thousand hostels”!). Prices are pretty consistent (for the same kinds of budget hostels). We were in Baños in April—which is the low season—and we had a double room with private bathroom, no breakfast but free coffee and tea all day long, plus a shared kitchen for $15 at the D’Mathias Hostel (five minutes walking from the bus station). We also recommend the Transylvannia Hostel, where we stayed our two first nights.
There are plenty of restaurants in Baños, but we didn’t try many of them, as we were cooking most of our meals to save money. Almuerzo is $2.50 pp and dinner $5 pp. We recommend the Arte Te & Cafe restaurant where we had several drinks and a dinner, and where they have very good coffee. For budget travelers, the market will be your choice, with meals costing less than $2 pp, and plenty of choices available. If you prefer to cook your meals, there is a big supermarket just in front of the main market and it has almost everything you need.
Baños is also known for it’s sugar cane based products (taffy and sugar cane juice) that you will find absolutely everywhere in town. They are cheap and sweet.
The Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water is the main monument in town. Inside the church you will find paintings depicting the Virgin’s miracles.
The waterfalls can be visited by bike or by “Chiva bus.” Bike rentals cost around $15 a day, and it is a 20-km/12.42-mile ride, which is not too difficult for fit people. The Chiva is $4 ($5 from agency), and it will stop at each waterfall so that you can enjoy the view, take photos, and do some activities, such as canopy (this is expensive, so it is better to take a special tour for that) and bungee jumping. The last waterfall, “El Diablo,” is the best, but you need to hike down 600m/0.372 miles.
What is a ”Chiva bus?” The Chiva bus needs an explanation, as you’ll find it a lot in Ecuador. It is usually used for public transportation, though it is very uncomfortable and not practical. First, there are no stairs to get inside, and it is one meter high from the ground. Second, it is an open bus, so take enough clothes with you. Third, when the Chiva is used for tourist purpose, they play music very loud and put on some colored lights so that you feel like you’re in a strolling disco! A Chiva bus in itself is already a kind of activity!
There are a lot of activities in Baños—just be aware that safety standards are a bit different in Ecuador, so you’ll want to choose your operator carefully. You will find:
If you’re a good horse rider, you may not enjoy the activity because the horses only obey the guides and know the way by heart, so you don’t have to do anything but take pictures of the landscape. If you are a beginner, this is perfect. Note that the equipment is very uncomfortable.
We enjoyed this activity very much. We had six different zip-lines, and it was only the two of us with two guides. We paid $15 each for an hour and a half.
Bassel did this activity. It is very nice, but the water is very cold and you are in the water all the time. Lots of people enjoy the canyoning.
This was also nice, and we enjoyed it a lot. We did the fourth level (out of six)—which I thought was good for beginners, but may be a bit too much!
We didn’t hike a lot, but you have plenty of trails. All are beautiful, and you don’t have to go very far from Baños to see some dramatic landscapes.
We didn’t bike, but it is a very popular activity in Baños. It costs $15 a day.
We didn’t try this either (we are too chicken for that!).
We would have liked to do this, but it was a bit expensive ($45/day/person, with a minimum of four days) and too far. We also felt that it wouldn’t have been much different from the unforgetable pampas tour we did in Bolivia-the only thing new would have been the visit to the communities.
Though the activity is very cheap ($3), we didn’t go. I don’t actually know why!!!
After all these activities, you will surely need a massage. Well, no problem! There are a lot of spas and massage studios in town that vary in their services. The five-star hotels and spas offer a more expensive yet memorable experience.
These are the “tiring activities.” Now, if you are not too fond of physical activities, you will also find a lot of shops where they sell handicrafts, t-shirts, and jewelry, so you can go shopping instead and buy presents for your friends and family. Prices are fair, but check the quality.
We stayed in Baños for 20 days and we didn’t do all the activities. We felt the place very relaxing, even if it is a little bit touristy. We highly recommend that you visit Baños when in Ecuador.