A top Ecuador destination you can’t miss
Why visit Baños
Baños is one of Ecuador’s top tourist destinations, after the Galapagos Islands and Otavalo, for good reason. Due to its location on the cusp between the Andes and the Amazon, it offers visitors a fresh, but tropical environment and the best outdoor adventure activities you’ll find across the country.
Baños was a sought after place among travelers before the ziplines and fancy hotels because, simply put, the surroundings are breathtaking. Imagine walking through the main plaza on a golden afternoon as Volcano Tungurahua rumbling nearby, and taking a dip in the city’s local thermal baths before heading to your hotel room with a view of the sparkling city lights, surrounded by the dense and mystical forests leading into the Amazon. Add a few comforts of home (cute cafes) and the thrill of adventure (river rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, ziplining) – all for a very reasonable price – and you get a top Ecuador destination you can’t miss.
How to get to Baños
A popular destination in Ecuador, you’ll find several modes of transport that will get you to Baños in a few hours.
Public transport: To get from Quito to Baños by public transport, you’ll need to first go to the Quitumbe bus terminal (“Terminal terrestre Quitumbe”), located in the south of Quito. To get to the terminal from northern Quito (where most hotels and hostels are located), you can either take a taxi (depending on the time of day, this can cost between $10-20 dollars) or the Trole line headed south. If you decide on the trolley, make sure you travel by day and always keep an eye on your belongings.
Once in Quitumbe, you’ll find regular buses departing Quito to Baños from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for around $4. The trip takes about four hours by bus.
Wanderbus Ecuador: Alternatively, you can get to Baños on the Wanderbus, which leaves regularly from Quito at pre-selected, convenient pick-up points. Wanderbus saves you the hassle of dealing with public transportation and is also a much safer option.
For instance, the Jacamar Pass goes from Quito to Baños three times a week, stopping by the Cotopaxi National Park (Limpiopungo Lake) and the Quilotoa crater on the way. This is an excellent way to see some of the sights you might otherwise miss en route to your final destination.
Baños is short for “Baños de Agua Santa”, referencing the thermal baths located within the city. Like most cities in Ecuador, indigenous groups inhabited the area long before Europeans came through claiming everything as theirs. In fact, there is no clear date to designate the official “founding” of Baños. It is believed that small indigenous groups would trickle in, eventually followed by Spanish and mestizo people.
Nestled beside la Mama Tungurahua, Baños’s history is tied to the volcano’s activity. Historically, all inhabitants have had to evacuate the town due to ash and the threat of eruption.
Health and Safety
Before traveling to Ecuador, it is strongly recommended you purchase travel insurance in case of any emergency, including health and loss of possessions. If you’re planning to travel to Baños, consider the adrenaline sports you might be doing and whether the insurance you purchase will cover related to these.
In the case of an emergency, you can reach an ambulance by dialing 911 or 102 (Quito Fire Department), 131 (Red Cross) or 101 (Police).
Hospitals in Baños
While there are a number of hospitals in the area, one listed by the US Embassy (probably because there may be English-speaking staff available) is Hospital Betesda. It is located on Calle de los Rosales, Barrio El Recreo, Telephone: +593-32-740-643.
Pharmacies in Baños
Pharmacies can be found around the center of the city. The bigger chains include Sana Sana and Cruz Azul. This link will indicate the pharmacies registered on Google Maps.
ATMs in Baños
Always try to plan ahead so that you don’t need to visit the ATM very often, increasing chances of being targeted by thieves, and always avoid taking cash out in the evening.
Wifi in Baños
Popular activities to do in Baños
Baños offers activities for all types of travellers, from nature lovers to adrenaline junkies to your average tourist whose sole purpose is to R-E-L-A-X.
Thermal baths: The name Baños is short for Baños de Agua Santa, which translates as “baths of holy water”, referring to the thermal baths located near the town center. After a full day of activities, you’ll definitely want to soak in these pools, which are open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Entrance fees vary between $2 and $3 at the local baths, like Termas de la Virgen. However, if you want a luxurious spa experience, look at Luna Runtun or Samari Spa (over $100 per person). Many of the spas offer massages (~$25/hour), facials manicures and more.
Waterfall Route: One of the more popular activities to do in Baños is the Waterfall Route, which takes you to seven tropical waterfalls amidst the surrounding rain and cloud forests. You can either do the route by bicycle, motorcycle or on a dune buggy. Rental costs vary between $5 and $10 per day (check that vehicles come with locks and take a short test drive to check gears/brakes). To rent a motorcycle or dune buggy you’ll need a valid driver’s license.
By bicycle, this route can be completed in around 3 hours, depending on your level of fitness. Some companies also offer to bring you and your bike back by truck. When driving along the road, ensure you stick to your right and avoid going through the tunnels as there is often traffic.
Pailón del Diablo: Located along the Waterfall Route, visiting this waterfall is well worth the 45 minutes it will take to hike down and back up the canyon. Follow the signs and stairs that will take you directly into (and under) this breathtaking waterfall. If you get hungry, you can grab something to eat at the nearby town of Rio Verde.
Volcano watching: Tungurahua volcano overlooks Baños and is quite active. In fact, on a clear day, you might see plumes of ash emit from its peak. If you hike in the surrounding area, you’ll likely see impressive views of this 5,000 meter (16,400 ft) high mountain. Ask your hostel for more information on hikes up toward the volcano.
La Casa del Arbol: This “highly instagrammable” spot near Baños has been made famous on social media. A simple tree swing on a cliff overlooking a valley, the Casa del Arbol is a wonderful place to appreciate the lush landscape around Baños and get a bite to eat. Get here walking or by bus from the city centre – your hostal will be able to provide you with more detailed instructions.
Ziplining and bungee jumping: What better way to get around than zipping across canyons and valleys? Called “canopying” by the locals, this is an adrenaline-filled activity you should experience while in Baños.
River rafting, kayaking and canyoning: Given the number of rivers and waterfalls in the area, a few white water adventure companies have set up shop in Baños to offer visitors these activities. While walking around town, you’ll see many small tour operators that can organize activities for you and your group at reasonable rates.
If you’re going river rafting or kayaking, keep in mind that a rafting tour 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 majority of these tours include safety gear, wetsuits and lunch. If you have a waterproof case or bag for your phone, definitely bring it along. Budget around $30 for this tour.
Horseback riding: There are a few companies in Baños where you can organize a lovely horseback riding tour, including Imagine Ecuador and Isla de Baños that charge about $10 an hour. If you book through these agencies, they will transport you out to where the stables are located, usually 2-4 hours out of town. If you purchase a longer tour, it usually includes a packed lunch and transport, though you should definitely take snacks in case you get hungry.
Opt for chiva (open-sided bus) tours over hiring quadbikes – great fun, and an authentically Ecuadorian experience, chivas are a safer, more cost-effective option. There’s so many adventure activities on offer from so many providers that sometimes it can be hard to choose between them. Beware of opting for cheap operators – low prices often mean lower quality equipment and less experienced instructors.
Planning your time in Baños
Planning your time in Baños depends entirely on what YOU like doing, but we’ve listed some of the highlights. We encourage you to take these and customize your itinerary based on the amount of time you have, personal preferences and your budget.
Remember, Baños is the “gateway to the Amazon”. If you’re already here, make the most of it and consider planning a few days in the rainforest. Jungle tours can be organized from Baños and likely through your hostel.
Where to stay in Baños
As a bustling tourist destination, there are plenty of hotel options in Baños.
- Community Hostel – Average rate: Dorms 10$/Private 30$
- Papachos Hostel – Average rate: Dorms 9$/Private 25$
- Casa del Molino Blanco – Average rate: Dorms 9$/Private 15$
- Great Hostel Backpacker Los Pinos – Average rate: Dorms 10$/Private 25$
- Santa Cruz Backpacker Hostel – Average rate: Dorms 8$/Private 16$
- Latina – Average rate: Dorms 7$/Private 20$
- Hostal Princesa Maria – Average rate: Single bed 10$ – Twin 22$
- Selina – Average rate: Dorms 7$/Private 21$
- Hostal Monte Carmelo – Average rate: Double room for 1: 18$, for 2: 24$
- Hotel La Floresta – Average rate: Double room 70$
- Hostal & Spa Casa Real – Average rate: Twin room for 1: 25$, for two: 44$
If you prefer a hacienda experience, Hacienda Manteles offers visitors incredible views of the Tungurahua Volcano from a different angle than that in town. Though it’s a bit on the pricier side, this place is well worth a splurge.
Where to eat in Baños
No matter where you eat, it’s hard to avoid all the candies/sweets in Baños, made locally from all the sugar cane that grows in the region. You’ll find delicious dark purple concoctions made from guayaba (guava) as well as all sorts of caramels.
Best Breakfast in Baños
Offering a variety of “international” dishes from Thailand, India, Mexico and Ecuador, this is one of the best spots in town to get a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The Swiss Bistro in town sells delicious pastries and offers breakfasts with homemade bread. It also boasts a delicious selection of cheese that is otherwise hard to find in town. They have a hostal and restaurant off the road to Puyo, in Cumandá, that’s well worth checking out if you want to get off the beaten path a bit.
Honey Tea & Coffee
If you’re just looking for a spot to have your morning coffee and a pastry, Honey Tea & Coffee offers just that, in a very central location, and even has soy milk for our vegan visitors.
Best places for lunch in Baños
Dine like a local at the central market, which offers meals as well as fresh fruit, veggies and more. You can taste a plate of local hornado (roasted pork), llapingachos (fried potato cakes), or locro de papa (thick potato soup with cheese and avocado). Most dishes will cost $2 – $3 and include soup and a main dish.
Cafe Good offers pretty much the same selection as the more popular Cafe Hood, including “international” dishes, Ecuadorian and vegetarian options.
Best places for dinner in Baños
La Tasca de Baños
This tapas restaurant is owned by a couple from Málaga, Spain and offers amazing home-made Spanish delicacies, including delectable seafood dishes, as well as an excellent selection of wine.
Get a taste of some thin crust pizzas cooked in Leoni Pizza’s traditional wood fire.
A little outside of Baños you’ll find a spot worth stopping at Cafe del Cielo, perched on the mountain above Baños and part of Luna Runtun. At sunset, this place has incredible views of the surrounding landscape and also serves crepes, ice cream, and local coffee.
Carpe Diem Di Verdi
A small, italian-owned mediterranean and seafood restaurant, this cozy spot offers delicious dishes and vegetarian options. After a day of adrenaline, we highly recommend a place like Carpe Diem Di Verdi for a glass of wine and some homemade gnocchi or pizza.
Nightlife in Baños
Most tourists in Baños don’t spend their day in town because of all the things there are to do in the surrounding areas. At night, however, Baños becomes a lively little party town. In fact, you’ll find an entire street called Eloy Alfaro full of small clubs and karaoke bars.
A few spots to keep an eye out for:
The Stray Dog Brewpub offers guests some hardy craft beer.
Practice your salsa moves at the Leprechuan Bar, a decent-sized discoteque with different spaces playing various music genres.
If you’re traveling from Quito to Baños, you’ll be dropping in elevation to 1,800 meters (6,000 ft) so prepare for warmer and more humid weather, though the evenings and mornings can get chilly, especially in the rainy season.
The climate in Baños is temperate and often tropical, but almost always pleasant throughout the year and sits in the low 20s (Celsius), or low 70s (Fahrenheit), though this will vary depending on whether it’s the rainy season.
In Baños, it rains between May and September and it pours in the months of June, July and August.
Baños Packing List
Your packing list may vary depending on the activities you decide to do and on the weather.
Apart from your regular packing items, you should include the following to your packing list:
- Comfortable shoes to walk, hike, climb
- Sandals to change into back at the hotel
- Rainproof jacket
- Bathing suit
- Change of clothes for wet day trips
- Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunblock)
- Warmer gear if climbing to higher elevations (fleece, windbreaker)
Optional: GoPro or other waterproof camera to capture your adventures!
As mentioned earlier, Baños is an excellent jumping off point if you’re planning to explore more of the country.
Thinking of heading South through the Andes? Grab the Wanderbus Aguila Pass which will take you from Baños to Cuenca through Riobamba.
If you want to head farther into the Amazon, there are several agencies in town that organize tours in the Amazon from Baños or the nearby city of Puyo. You can head to this area yourself on public transport. Buses will take you from Baños to Puyo for only $2 (2 hours), or to Tena for $4 (5 hours). You can even take a bus to Coca, a 10 hour trip that costs $10 and takes you pretty much as far into the Amazon as you can get by road.
If you’re headed on to Guayaquil, you’ll find daily buses that do the 7 hours journey for $9. Other regular buses will take you to Riobamba and Cuenca, just ask your hostal for more information or go directly to the bus company at the bus terminal.