Located on the edge of the Amazon, Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador, and is a major backpacker and local travel hub. Our trip to Baños was a little chaotic due to our lack of knowledge about Ecuadorian holidays, as we ended up here on the very busy “All Soul’s Day” long weekend. So at least we can personally vouch that Baños is not only a backpacker hotspot, but also a favourite for Ecuadorian families on their vacations, which makes sense because it is a very exciting place to be! Baños is known for it’s “Swing at the End of the World”, where you have eight swings at the top of a mountain to attempt to get the perfect Instagram pic, but it offers so much more! The main area of town is easily walkable, and it’s easy to find something for everyone. Tour companies offer adventure trips ranging from waterfall “canyoning” to scenic bike rides, multiple spas in the area offer relaxing thermal baths, and countless restaurants, bars and clubs offer a variety of options for fun nights out. No matter what you’re into, this city nestled between gorgeous green mountains will have something for you!
How to Get There
We travelled from Guayaquil to Baños on a packed El Dorado bus for $11 USD. We’d recommend a different company, as our bus had very little to no leg room. Also our bus actually left earlier than the time printed on our ticket, so make sure to be there with plenty of time to spare. You can find the bus companies offering rides to Baños on the bottom floor of the Guayaquil bus station, near the booths in the 70s. The trip should take 6.5-7 hours, but our bus took 7.5 hours due to the long weekend traffic. Many of the buses in the Guayaquil bus station claim to head to Baños but make you transfer in Ambato. If you want to keep things simple, be sure to clarify that your bus is direct to Baños. Once you’re in Baños, the main part of the city is within walking distance.
We also travelled from Baños to Latacunga, in anticipation of our Quilotoa Loop trek. We travelled on Expresso Baños for $2.5 USD. The two hour ride was pretty comfy, and we had lots of leg room. What we were not anticipating was being dropped at the side of the highway at a roundabout outside of Latacunga. Apparently this is where most of the buses will drop you off for Latacunga. From there we flagged down a public bus on the south east side of the roundabout that was heading to Latacunga’s central bus terminal for $0.45 USD, which took another 35 minutes. There are also taxis willing to take you into town for a few dollars if you’re in a hurry. The main area of town is about a ten minute walk, across the bridge.
Where to Stay
- Hostel Chimenea – We got into town late on the long weekend, and barely managed to snag a room in this lovely hostel due to a no show. The room was $10 USD/person/night, and had a private bathroom with hot water, a balcony overlooking a waterfall, and good wifi in the room. There is also a very nice breakfast served on the roof every morning for a reasonable price. It’s a little off the main drag, and a quieter hostel vibe, which was exactly what we were looking for due to the madness elsewhere in town. We recommend looking up holidays in Ecuador and making sure to book ahead if you happen to be heading to Baños during a national holiday (otherwise you should be fine to book on arrival)!
What to Do
- Case del Arbol – The swing at the end of the world is high up on many backpackers to do lists when arriving in Baños. There is a cheap $1 USD dark blue bus that leaves at 6am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm, and comes back down for $1 USD at 8am, 1pm, 4pm and 6pm. The bus stop is clearly marked on maps.me at the corner of Vicente Rocafuerte and Calle Pastaza. It’s first come first serve, so make sure to show up a little early on busy days to ensure you make it on. The trip up is about 45 minutes. Once you’re dropped off you’ll see a crazy looking swing that isn’t the “real” Casa del Arbol. Head down the path to the right, and soon after take the first path branching off to your left, which immediately splits. Take that path to the right (marked with a sign pointing you to the original Casa del Arbol) and you’ll end up at the entrance to the park. It’s $1 USD to get in, and there’s a couple swings and other attractions in the area. The original Casa del Arbol is the treehouse in the back right corner with a swing on each side. When we were there the crowds were insane, and since we took the 4pm bus, we only had enough time to line up for the swing get out 8-10 swings in, and then beeline it back to the bus. On a normal day we’ve heard that you can spend a lot more time on the swing, and do it over again with barely any line. We would’ve also liked to explore the area, as there are some very cool hiking trails along the tops of the mountains. Either way it was a very cool experience, and we managed to time our swing with a pretty great sunset!
- Canyoning – We booked a half day canyoning tour with GeoTours for $30 USD/person. You can find GeoTours in the main town and just walk in and ask! Included in the price was lunch after the half day, and all equipment, including wetsuit, shoes, helmet and a place to store all your stuff. Pictures of the trip were also available after. Our adventure started with a 15 minute cab ride (included) to the starting site, and a very detailed tutorial on how to repel. Don’t worry if you’ve never done it before, we hadn’t either and we were confident in the amount of instruction we got. After a steep 12 minute climb in full wetsuits, we were very excited to get into the cold jungle stream and start repelling down some waterfalls! The trip included repelling down 3 big waterfalls and one small one, and ended with a fun slide on our butts down the last one. Our guides were lots of fun and very helpful, especially when some younger kids with us got scared. Repelling down the falls was lots of fun, and once you’re in there you feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle on a crazy expedition. After a short walk back to the taxi and the drive back, our guide showed us to Zumo, a cool little lunch spot where we got some free fried noodles. Everything, including lunch, was done by 12:30pm. Many tour agencies offer this trip, as well as a more intense full day trip which we would have LOVED to do if we had the time. There are usually three options of tours; Rio Blanco (which we did), Chamana and Cashuarco. Simply ask for them to compare the tours for you. As well, some will also be unavailable due to weather or lack of popularity. Another tourist agency that provided us with helpful info was Natural Magic, so check that one out as well! If you’re looking for some adventure where you can really immerse yourself in the surrounding jungle, canyoning is a must do in Baños.
- River Rafting, Hiking, Rock Climbing – This is a huge adventure town, with SO many options suited for whatever you want. Most of the tour agencies provide a range of adventure day trips. The best option would be visiting a few different agencies and comparing prices and deals on different trips!
- Ruta de Cascada – This is the main road heading east out of Baños, and passes by multiple scenic waterfalls. In our opinion, the best way to experience it is to rent a bike and cruise down the road to check out the waterfalls. The trip is almost completely downhill, so very little pedalling is involved, and at the end there are trucks to take you and your bike back for $2 USD/person. You can rent bikes in town for $5-$7 USD (we got some garbage ones for $7 only to discover way nicer ones for $5 at GeoTours before our canyoning trip), and most rental places will also provide maps, locks and helmets. On the way down you’ll encounter a couple tunnels, make sure to always take the detour around them when possible (if my memory serves me here, I believe there are detours for all but the first tunnel). We’ve outlined the major waterfalls along the Ruta de Cascada below:
- Agoya – This ones pretty far away, but a good starter waterfall. If you want you can take a cable car closer to the waterfall for $2 USD there and back, $10 USD to cable car one way and zip line one way, or $15 USD to zipline there and back. However, we recommend to take the cable car at the next waterfall if you only plan on doing one. Also between Agoya and the next waterfall you’ll make your way across a bridge were you can “swing jump” or “pendulum swing”, which is similar to bungee jumping, but you swing off the bridge instead of bounce up and down. Looked a little crazy to us, but if you’re up for it, seemed like a good place to do it.
- El Manto de la Novia – Meaning Bride’s Veil, this beautiful waterfal is definitely worth a stop! We took a cable car here, which goes right over the waterfall providing an awesome view. It’s $2 USD round trip!
Pailón del Diablo – This is the last waterfall, and the coolest one as you get to get right up close to it. Lock up your bike in the small town, where you can also grab a snack. In the middle of town is a bridge over a river, where you’ll see locals playing and cooling off. There are two entrances to get to the waterfall, the main one is on west side of the bridge. Continue west along the road that crosses the river for a minute or two, and you’ll see the sign for the waterfall. You’ll walk all the way down into the valley, past lots of fruit and snack stalls and pay $1.50 USD at the bottom. From there you get a great view of the waterfall, and can climb along the cliff to get right underneath the falls. After, you’ll walk across a suspension bridge for a different perspective, and then you have to trek back up the stair to town. The other entrance is east of the bridge and costs $2 USD to enter. You pay at the top, and walk along the river that feeds the waterfall. You walk across a few suspension bridges, and you can get absolutely soaked getting right up and personal with the falls. This side doesn’t take you all the way to the bottom, which can be a good thing if you don’t want to do all of that walking, or a bad thing if you want that great view. We recommend the west entrance for $1.50 USD!
- Luna Runtun Adventure Spa – Thermal baths are a big part of Baños experience, and you should try to experience one while you’re in town. There are free/cheap pools in town, but due to the crazy crowds on holiday, and Alex not feeling 100%, we opted to splurge and head up to the Luna Runtun Adventure Spa. We flagged down a taxi to take us 20 minutes up the mountain for $5 USD, and then paid the $20 USD entry fee at the spa. Free towels and lockers were provided, and you could order drinks too. We spent a relaxing couple of hours trying out the five pools of varying temperatures, all with amazing views of the mountains and the city below. You can grab a coffee or snack at the Luna Runtun Coffee Shop and soak in the sunset with great views as well. To get back down we had reception call us a taxi for $6 USD. Tip: If you go around 2-3 pm, you can spend a nice afternoon in the pools and then enjoy the gorgeous sunset over the valley before heading back down!
- Visit local markets – If you head to Palomino Flores, a park in the middle of the town, you’ll find locals selling food, baked goods and lovely handmade jewelry! Take a stroll through and around the park and find yourself some delightful souvenirs.
Where to Eat
- Stray Dog – An awesome craft beer pub to wind down at after a long day of adventuring. $5 USD craft beers on tap, $4 USD Cuba Libre (aka rum and coke) if you’re not down for beer, and some very tasty chips and “salsa” (aka three individual dips – guacamole, bean dip and melted cheese dip – it was delicious).
- Casa Hood – A well known and recommended restaraunt its a great dinner spot with lots of veggie options. The veggie lasagna is delicious! During happy hour between 9-10pm you can try out canelazo, a hot alcoholic drink for free!
- Cafe Hood – No, we did not accidentally write this one down twice. Cafe Hood is a little farther off the main drag, and not as hyped up, but we think it was even better than Casa Hood! Great food, awesome vegetarian and vegan options and a really nice owner. (Note: there’s a Cafe Good as well for some reason, but its just a pretty classic regular café… not really sure what’s up with Bańos).
- Zumo – This is the restaurant we went to for free after our canyoning, and it was a cool little spot. The fried noodles were especially delicious after our adventure!
- Try some taffy (?) – We were told that we had to try the local delicacy of classic taffy from Baños. However, Devon tried one rather hard piece of taffy and though it was delicious…. it wasn’t anything special. If you are thinking about hiking the Quilotoa Loop, buy a cheap bag of taffy to give to the local children on your trip!
- If you’re looking for a “menu del dia” type affair, head north along the street on the west side of the main square. You’ll find lots of smaller restaurants with cheap set meals.
- Leprechaun Bar – On Eloy Alfaro just north of Oriente (north west of the main square) you’ll find lots of bars and clubs. Our favourite was Leprechaun Bar! We were invited in and given a free flaming shot, and then managed to explore the crazy space. The middle has a hippie/rasta vibe, and it’s partially outside centered around a bonfire. From there you can head inside to the left for some salsa dancing, go back towards the entrance for some top 40s music, or head upstairs for electronic beats. You’ll never get bored!