Baños de Agua Santa is an incredible little town in Ecuador that absolutely deserves several days of your backpacking itinerary. Here are 9 things to do in and around Baños!
1. Bike to El Pailon del Diablo Waterfall
There are too many tour companies to count in Baños, and nearly all of them will rent you a bicycle for $5-7 USD (depending on what kind of quality bike you’re looking for). Pedal alongside the river for approximately 18km to the nearby village of Rio Verde, where for $1.50 you can see one of the coolest waterfalls imaginable: El Pailon del Diablo (The Devil’s Cauldron). You’ll see other waterfalls along the way, too, and you can go ziplining over the canyon or take a cable car across to the other side for a better view in some places. It’s recommended to pay a taxi truck $2 to bring you and your bike back to Baños because the return journey is mostly uphill.
2. Visit the “Swing at the End of the World”
Pictures of this swing seem to crop up on ‘Top 10 Amazing Places’ lists all the time. Officially, it’s called Casa del Arbol (Treehouse) and you can snap one of these killer shots for yourself for just $1 entry. Be mindful of the weather; Baños is in a cloud forest and if the weather is even a little cloudy, you won’t get the full effect of the swing. Luckily, fast breezes often mean that clouds will blow past within a short time.
3. Relax in the Volcanic Hot Springs
Don’t go into the hot springs expecting a spa-like experience, because the thermal pools around Baños are so popular they’re often more like crowded city pools. However, with a variety of pools ranging from steaming hot to ice cold, it can still be relaxing, and they only charge $2-3 entry fees. Las Picinas de la Virgen hot springs, the most popular, are at the base of the big waterfall in central Baños so they’re more easily accessible. El Salado springs are a short distance outside town but it’s possible to walk there (or take a taxi for a couple dollars). I prefer these springs because, while the facility is smaller, it’s surrounded by green hills and can be less crowded if you go during the week.
4. Leap Off the San Francisco Bridge
For a quick adrenaline rush, braver travelers can try ‘puenting,’ which is similar to bungee jumping but without the bounce. After leaping from the platform, puenters swing pendulum-style under the bridge before being lowered to the bank of the river below.
5. Treat Yourself to a Massage
There are more massage therapists in Baños than anywhere I’ve ever seen, and their rates are dramatically lower than you’d likely find in most Western countries. A 60-minute massage averages $20, and there are myriad other services available including volcanic hot stone therapy, chocolate massage, and fish therapy (I wasn’t brave enough to try this, but it seems like they put your feet in a bowl of water full of tiny fish that eat your skin). Anyway, I did a regular hour-long massage and found the therapist to be as well trained as any massage therapists I’ve had in the US, so it was well worth a little splurge.
6. Hike to the Mirador del Virgen
For a short hike with a great payoff, climb the blue and white staircase to the giant statue of the Virgin Mary that overlooks the North side of town. It’s a free viewpoint and the trail is easily marked from town. The trip to the top and back takes between an hour and 1 1/2 hours, depending on your stairmaster pace!
7. Visit the Basilica Reina del Rosario
The massive Catholic Basilica in the center of town is actually made out of volcanic rock from Tungurahua. Many local Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary has appeared at the nearby waterfall, and that she has saved citizens of Baños from various mishaps and maladies over the centuries. Inside the ornate cathedral are massive paintings depicting many of these mishaps, including multiple volcanic eruptions.
8. Go Abseiling Down a Waterfall
Commonly referred to in South America as ‘canyoning,’ this half-day adventure sport is available through several tour agencies in Baños (GeoTours is one of the better reputed companies). All the gear you need, including wet suit and shoes, as well as lunch, are included in the price.
9. Dance the Salsa in the Zona del Bares
For a small town, the night life in Baños is pretty fun. Many bars will give a free shot to foreigners, although they’re often more like heavily-sweet cocktails in a shot glass, and bartenders for some reason seem to insist on lighting them on fire. The Leprechaun is the largest dance club and has several different areas for different types of music, the most popular of course being salsa.
Have you been to Baños? What do you recommend? Let me know in the comments! And if you enjoyed the post, I’d really appreciate a pin to Pinterest! Thanks! 😀