We LOVED Baños!
For such a small town high up in the Ecuadorian Andes, there sure is a heck of a lot to do, and we spent a great weekend exploring the town and it’s beautiful surroundings. Despite what you may think by the blog title, we didn’t actually get much rain (only one downpour!) but we did enjoy a lot of watery activities!
So if any of you know Spanish, you’ll know that ‘baños’ means ‘baths’, and it isn’t really a surprise that the town is called this because there are many thermal baths in the area. Termas de la Virgen is a big thermal baths in the centre of the town, located at the bottom of a waterfall, and we took advantage of being so close to the baths by going along on our first evening.
We paid $6 each, plus $1 each for the privilege of wearing a pretty ugly swimming hat. Actually it wasn’t that ugly, but it definitely didn’t suit my pea-head. The lower level has all the thermal pools and the upper level has access to water flumes as well as more child-friendly pools.
After dipping our toes in a few to find out the temperatures, we sat for a while in the medium-temperature pool then braved a hot one then THE hottest one. It definitely took a few seconds to get used to, but we loved it. We also did the European thing and alternated between the hottest pool and the freezing cold plunge pool. Joe claims there are health benefits to it. I think we got funny looks from the locals.
The next night we gave the El Salato baths a go, which are a short taxi ride (or 30min walk) from town. Entry was only $3 and again, we had to rent caps for $1 each. The setting was nice, in a small gorge next to a river, but the pools weren’t as good as Termas de la Virgen. The hottest pool wasn’t really hot enough for me. However, there’s also an on-site masseur, so if you’re looking for some extra relaxation then El Salado would be a good choice.
Cycling to the Waterfalls
One of the most popular things to do in Baños is visit the waterfalls along the road leading to Puyo. You can either get a tour with one of the colourful ‘chiva’ buses (we even saw one that also had in-built karaoke) or another option, and the one we went for, is to hire bikes and cycle the route.
We got bike rental for $6 each from a company called Geotours – the cost included helmets and a bike kit (pump, lock and key, two inner tubes and a puncture repair kit), and the bikes were good quality.
The cycling is advertised as downhill, but there were a few sneaky uphill bits in there to work up a sweat. A lot of waterfalls could be viewed from the route but could only be accessed by a cable car or zip line. There are loads along the way but we decided against going closer, and powered on to see the most famous waterfalls.
The Pailon del Diablo is the main waterfall that people go to visit. There’s a 15min downhill hike to get to it and you also need to pay a couple of dollars as an entry fee. We had been quite underwhelmed by the other waterfalls (bearing in mind we only visited Iguazu a couple of weeks ago!) but Pailon del Diablo didn’t disappoint. It was really impressive and gave off a decent spray. Thankfully we didn’t get as wet as we did at Iguazu.
There’s also a bridge you can cross to get a really good viewpoint.
The hike back uphill was a tad sweaty so we treated ourselves to a sit down and some fresh mango from the local stalls before heading to the final waterfall at Machay.
Most tourists must skip this one because we actually had the whole waterfall to ourselves for quite a while! There is quite a steep downhill hike to get to it (lots of steps) but you can swim in the pools at the bottom so it’s definitely worth it. We may or may not have skinny-dipped…
On the hike back uphill we also saw a snake, which gave us a bit of fright. It also gave us the motivation to practically sprint the rest of the way back to the top. By that point there were also a few other tourists about and we managed to share a truck ride back to Baños from the guy who lives next to the waterfall.
The whole cycling trip and stop-offs lasted about 5 hours and was a really good way to see more of the jungle outside of the town.
White Water Rafting
Baños is known as an adventure-sports town and we already had it on our list that we wanted to go white water rafting here. We booked a half day of rafting with Geotours because we’d read good reviews online and the price was only $60 for the two of us, including lunch. Bargain!
We left Baños at about 9am and made a first stop to pick up our kit (wetsuit, shoes, lifejacket and helmet) before heading to the get-in point. Our guide William gave us a really good safety briefing and Joe volunteered to be one of the ‘captains’ at the front of the boat. I was quite happy to sit at the back to try and hide from the waves.
Within the first couple of rapids, both Joe and Carmen, the other captain, managed to fall out the boat! The rest of us had a moment of panic while we tried to help them back in as well as continue paddling. Joe even managed to abandon his paddle. Carmen was a trooper and saved it for him.
The whole trip was really good fun. William swapped the captains around and even I had to give it a go. I’ll be honest, I spent a lot of the time with my eyes closed. Those full-on waves take no prisoners.
We had a well-earned lunch of trout, rice and salad after the rafting before heading back to Baños. Trout is really popular up in the mountains so it was great to have a proper local lunch!
Also a HUGE thank you to Beryl for giving us the white water rafting gift for our wedding – we had so much fun!
The Swing at the End of the World
Ok so we did some non-watery activities too and visiting the Swing at the End of the World is probably one of my highlights of the trip so far. And it’s so simple!
The swing at Casa del Arbol on the hills above Baños is probably the main draw for tourists visiting the town. The Swing at the End of the World is at the edge of a hill and the views are just amazing. You really do feel like you’re flying through the mountains. We had great fun on a few different swings before having a beer and watching the sunset.
It’s super easy to get to Casa del Arbol. We took a local bus for $1 each which leaves every couple of hours from Baños. We got the 4pm bus which arrived at about 4:30pm then we took the last bus back to Baños at 6pm. You can also hike up or down to Casa del Arbol if you fancy it. Entry to the swings was about $2 each.
All the Hot Chocolate
Ok so I can’t finish the blog post without mentioning our favourite find in Baños – the chocolate café Aromé. We stumbled across it while trying to hide from the torrential downpour on our first night after leaving Termas de la Virgen. Best find ever!
We had the hot chocolate ‘de la casa’ and it was probably the best hot chocolate we’ve ever had. Hands down. No exaggeration.
So naturally we went back every day. The next day we got the hot chocolate with a slice of organic dark Ecuadorian chocolate, and the day after that we treated ourselves to chocolate cake… and hot chocolate. Basically we ate our weight in chocolate in Baños. When in Ecuador…
Have you ever visited Baños or other parts of Ecuador? Where is your favourite place for hot chocolate?? Let us know by leaving a comment! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for more travel photos.