Baños, Ecuador – full name Baños de Agua Santa – was one of our favorite places on our entire 4-month trip to South America. It was our 2nd favorite place overall in Ecuador (nothing beats the Galapagos!) and we would go back again in a heartbeat. The town is situated in a valley at the base of an active volcano: don’t worry, it’s far enough to be safe, though you might see some smoke or fire coming from the top! It’s unique location is in the perfect spot to take advantage of the varied environment, complete with mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs. The town is known for two things: naturally heated thermal baths – the namesake of Baños, Ecuador – and its many adventure opportunities! We spent a week in Baños, which we felt was a good length of time. Here’s our complete guide to what to do in Baños.
Activities in Baños, Ecuador
Casa de Arbol
Casa de Arbol is one of the top reasons people visit Baños, Ecuador: everyone’s seen that iconic picture, flying high above the mountains, leaving all your cares behind. Well, it’s a great picture, but don’t get your hopes up too high: you’re not actually that high off the ground, and getting that picture takes a bit of finagling. But don’t let that dissuade you. You should visit Casa de Arbol because giant swings are super fun and there’s also a cable that you can swing on like a low-flying zipline, all for the $2 entrance fee. For the less-adventurous types, this is the perfect level of low-risk fun! There are 3 giant swings – one with employees that push you and a very long line, and 2 self-guided swings with much shorter lines. We tried all 3. Once you get the hang of swinging and stopping on your own, the self-guided swings are a blast.
Travel Tips for visiting the Casa de Arbol in Baños, Ecuador:
- Tour companies will offer you a shuttle to and from the Casa de Arbol for as low as $5 each. They leave multiple times a day and are great if you prefer the ease of shuttles and you don’t mind long lines, limited time, and huge groups of people. We opted for the self-guided option, which is just a bus that leaves from the center of town and goes straight to the Casa de Arbol. It cost half as much, we had as much time as we wanted to spend swinging to our hearts content, and we were able to avoid the long lines that developed every time one of the shuttle buses pulled up.
- When you pull up to the Casa de Arbol, you will immediately see a tree house with a swing at the top of a steep hill. This is not the Casa de Arbol – the Casa de Arbol is actually up a little trail and on the other side of the hill. But, this is a giant swing over a huge hill, and it’s cheaper than the Casa de Arbol (by $1) and has less lines. So by all means give it a try if you like. But the actual Casa de Arbol is to the right and up a short trail.
See a waterfall … or two… or seven
In addition to a giant waterfall next to the thermal baths, Baños is also home to the famous Ruta de las Cascadas! The route through the valley passes 7 jaw dropping waterfalls, plus countless other beautiful views. You can complete the downhill route with a $6 mountain bike rental, or on a chiva/open air bus. Either can be booked at one of the many adventure shops in town. One of the highlights on the route is the Pailón del Diablo, a waterfall park complete with an enormous suspension bridge. You can also zip-line or take a cable car over the gorge!
Shop for handicrafts and artisan-made souvenirs
In the center of Baños is a little street filled with stalls handicrafts and artisan-made souvenirs. I’m not going to lie to you: it’s not the cheapest place to buy these types of souvenirs, nor is there any guarantee that they are actually made locally or by Ecuadorian artists. But if you’re looking for a small souvenir to remember your stay, or a gift for loved ones, this is the spot.
Travel tips for buying souvenirs in Baños, Ecuador:
- The handicrafts are heavily marked up, and the shop owners are expecting you to haggle.
- If you spend too long looking at something, they’ll probably start lowering their prices for you.
- You’ll get a better deal and have a better chance of haggling if you buy multiple things in one shop. Since most of the shops offer similar items, do a lap before you decide what you want, and then try to get it all in place and haggle for a deal.
Relax in Baños, Ecuador
Yes, Baños is an adventure town. But it’s also a spa town, and offers tons of opportunities to relax and wind down. Here are our favorite ways to relax in Baños, Ecuador.
The Thermal Baths
The namesake of Baños, Ecuador is well worth a visit. Despite its location right on the edge of town, next to a huge and awe-inspiring waterfall, the baths do not seem to be a popular tourist destination. We were in the vast minority of gringos enjoying the baths on a Friday night! But trust us, the thermal baths are not to be missed.
On the night we visited, we walked over from our nearby hostel with our swimsuits and a towel, not knowing what to expect. We paid $3.50 to enter and rent the required bathing cap, and were promptly herded through the entrance, given a basket for our belongings and a very brief tour of the 2 story baths. There are 3 giant tubs with varying depths and water temperatures, showers – required before you enter the baths – and changing rooms.
After changing and dropping off our stuff – $1 to store our basket behind the upstairs counter – we were left shivering in our swimsuits, looking like confused, freezing cold gringos. Unsure of the correct protocol, we chose the downstairs tub at random because it was less crowded. This was the wrong choice: the downstairs tub is the hottest tub, and it’s less crowded because you can’t spend more than a few minutes in it at a time. After making a spectacle of ourselves shrieking at the boiling water against our ice-cold skin, we hurried upstairs to sit in one of the shallower, more crowded tubs.
Like Goldilocks and the 3 bears, this tub was just right. We finally felt our bodies relax into the warm water, gazing peacefully at the stars and the enormous waterfall right next to us. After a while in this tub, we felt brave enough to try the super hot tub again. This time, it felt incredible. We alternated between the upstairs and the downstairs tub a couple of times, feeling more and more relaxed and at-peace with the world with each rotation. By the time the baths were closing (around 9pm), it had begun to rain, which we welcomed with relaxed and pleasantly warm arms. We happily strolled back to our hotel in the pouring rain wearing only our swimsuits and feeling at peace with the universe. It was the best thermal bath experience we have ever had!
Travel Tips for visiting the Thermal Baths in Baños, Ecuador:
- Visit the baths at night. During the day, the sun makes the heat of the tubs unpleasant. At night, the cold air will feel absolutely incredible once you’re done with the tubs (it only sucks a little at first).
- Don’t be nervous if you don’t see many gringos, nobody seemed bothered by our presence (although they were amused when we tried to get into the super hot tub first).
- Complete a rotation of the tubs starting with the coolest and working up to the hottest for the most relaxing experience!
Massages and Spa Treatments
Baños, Ecuador is as much a spa town as it is an adventure town. When you’re exhausted from your harrowing near-death experiences, a massage or a spa treatment will feel like absolute heaven. (It also makes a great way to spend a day while your more-adventurous partner is out doing completely insane things, if you’re me.) Walking down the streets of Baños, Ecuador you will be offered multiple spa treatments and prices from the many shops offering a variety of the same experiences. From chocolate face and body masks to facials to those little fish eating the dead skin off your feet (whatever floats your boat, I guess), Baños offers a full range of budget-friendly spa activities. If you’d rather have an immersive experience rather than stepping into a tiny shop right off the street, check out the more expensive hotels, complete with their own thermal baths.
Travel Tips for Massages and Spa Treatments in Baños, Ecuador:
- Most of the small shops have the same set prices for their services, and there isn’t enough information online to compare reviews. Massages will all cost $25-$35 for an hour.
- I picked my shop completely based on price and went with the cheapest option for a mani/pedi. It was OK for $12, but my cuticles were cut a bit too deep. I’d recommend not going with the absolute cheapest option.
Adventure Sports in Baños, Ecuador
Adventure sports bring adrenaline junkies flocking to Baños, Ecuador by the busload! Baños offers a ton of adventure sports and activities, including horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, paragliding, 4×4 rentals, multi-day jungle treks, and bungee jumping. No need to book tours in advance: the town is filled with adventure shops offering a similar selection of exciting tours and activities or roughly the same prices. You can easily walk in and book a same-day or next-day tour. We tried a small selection of what the town has to offer. Here are our favorite adventure sport activities in Baños, Ecuador!
White Water Rafting
One of the major attractions in Banos is rafting Rio Pastaza. This river takes rafters through class 3 and 4 rapids. What does this mean exactly? It means that rest is a rare luxury. Jeremy was so excited to take on the challenge, and it was so worth it. Like most rafting tours, you book with an agency, and then are sent to the actual rafting company. So feel free to find the best deal because odds are you’ll be using the same company anyway. Jeremy’s group consisted of 16 people split in two boats. On each boat has a guide, and a rescue medic nearby in a kayak. Rio Pastaza is fast and bumpy but not dangerous, so the medics double as paparazzi. The highlight of the ride was when our guide flipped the boat (on purpose). It was scary and stressful, but we had a great laugh after the panic attacks subsided! For 5 hours of white water rafting, you’ll pay around $25, including lunch, safety gear, transportation, and a wetsuit.
Travel Tips for White Water Rafting in Baños, Ecuador:
- You’ll want to book a day or two in advance because tours leave early in the morning.
- Be sure to follow the guide’s safety instructions. He is trained and experienced and as long as you listen and follow along as he calls out directions, you’ll be fine. The guide will also give instructions on what to do if you’re ejected from the boat: basically, just float on your back and let the current carry you until you’re rescued by the kayak.
- If you wear glasses, get a glasses strap! They may look dorky, but they’re hella useful. You don’t want to lose your glasses in the water.
Canyoning was hands down the activity Jeremy looked forward to most in South America. Canyoning means you alternate between adventure activities to work your way down a waterfall canyon. These can include repelling, cliff jumping, ziplining, or waterfall sliding. Jeremy really wanted to do the intense Cashuarco Canyon trip that utilizes all of those activities. The problem is a minimum of four people are needed for the trip, and as it was off season, no agency had a group he could tag along with. So instead, he did the Chamana Canyon tour . The tour starts with two waterfall repels. Next the guide clips a rope to your back, tells you to lie down in the middle of the river, and the current gently takes you … right off the edge of a waterfall! Finally you’re tied into a harness at the top of a cliff and free fall backwards off the cliff until the guide slows you down at the last possible second! If you’re looking for a variety of adventure and a big dose of adrenaline all in one tour, you should definitely try canyoning. For 4 hours of canyoning, you’ll pay about $35.
Travel Tips for Canyoning in Baños, Ecuador:
- Do the Cashuarco tour if you can!
- You’ll want to book a day or two in advance because tours leave early in the morning.
- You won’t be able to carry a water bottle or wear a camelbak. But the activities aren’t strenuous or physically demanding. Drink a bottle beforehand and you’ll be fine.
In Baños, the term Canopying is interchangeable for ziplining. The reason is you fly through a canopy of trees through a canyon. The trip we booked (yes, I joined on this one) took us on six different lines, totaling two kilometers (1.25 miles). One of the great things about this tour is you have the option of taking the lines in different styles: regular (seated), Superman, or even upside-down! Of course Jeremy did the upside-down Spiderman looking one without a second thought. He reported it felt awkward and he didn’t feel like he was in control (funny, that’s how I felt in the regular position). All in all, this is a fun half day tour, but be advised, there are some intense uphill climbs through the rainforest between lines. (Truth be told, I hated it. If you’re even mildly afraid of heights or don’t enjoy flying through the air attached to a wire like you’re freaking Tinkerbell, skip this tour. But literally everyone else had a blast.)
Tips for Ziplining or Canopying in Baños, Ecuador:
1. You’ll pay about $20 for 2 hours of ziplining.
2. Do bring water for staying hydrated on the short hikes between lines.
3. Bring your camera! You can hold it in one hand while you fly across the valley.
Where to Eat and Drink in Baños, Ecuador
Drink delicious Ecuadorian Coffee and Hot Chocolate
Ecuador is known for its chocolate: grown farm fresh in the coasts and near the Amazon jungle, the chocolate here is local, organic, and incredibly good. It’s so good that hot chocolate is often the preferred drink of Ecuadorians, spurring the usually less-than-stellar coffee options. This is not the case in Baños, Ecuador! Baños is home to both incredible hot chocolate AND delicious coffee.
- Arome Chocolate & Coffee
Arome Chocolate is THE place to get excellent chocolate in Baños, whether it’s a high end bar of Pacari chocolate, toasted cacao beans, or a slice of fudgy chocolate cake or tiramisu. Their specialty is hot chocolate: choose from a selection of options on the menu, or choose a custom-made cup of hot chocolate created from any chocolate bar in the store! We experimented with a few options and found them all to be heavenly. What’s more, Amore also serves up some of the best coffee in town. Choose your location in Ecuador and your bean strength and you’ll be brewed up a fantastic cup of coffee – or add some of that famous chocolate to make it a delicious Mocha! There are five Amore locations around Baños, each specializing in chocolate, coffee, nuts or spices.
- Honey Coffee & Tea
That’s right, there are TWO excellent spots for coffee in Baños! Honey is the gorgeous, instagram-worthy coffee shop of a long term traveler’s dreams: cozy enough to spend a whole day lounging and getting work done on your computer, and yummy enough to spend all day casually ordering food and dessert to go with your coffee. With 35 varieties of coffee and an inclusive selection of third-wave coffee brewing techniques – including V60, Siphon, CHUSPA, Vacuum, and Aeropress – this is the perfect spot for a coffee lover to spend a day unwinding after their adventures in Baños, Ecuador! (Note: Honey also has a huge selection of teas for the less caffeine-inclined!)
Where to Eat in Baños, Ecuador
Baños, Ecuador is home to a plethora of fantastic food options at all budget ranges. Here’s our list of where to eat in Baños, Ecuador.
- Budget Option: Eat at the Mercado
We love mercados in South America: they’re the cheapest place to buy groceries, always offer local produce and meats, and they typically have some fantastic cheap food options. The mercado in Baños, Ecuador is no exception. It’s situated directly across from the Supermarket, which makes comparing prices really easy (spoiler: the mercado is a zillion times cheaper). In addition to produce and meat, half of the mercado is a huge cafeteria which is always filled with locals enjoying heaping plates of food. Travel tip #1: always eat where the locals eat! Most of the stalls in the mercado offer a variation of the same set menu: soup, juice, a plate of rice, chorizo, salad, and llapingacho (delicious grilled potato and cheese cakes), or a segundo option, usually chicken or beef – all for $2.50. If you want to venture out from the set menu, there are also plentiful juice and batido stalls as well as a fantastic ceviche spot: it was some of the best ceviche we had in Ecuador, and cost only $2. Even if you don’t eat a meal here, at least stop in for a llapingacho. They’re incredible.
- Budget Option: Set Almuerzo menu at any local restaurant
Cheap Almuerzo menus are common all over Ecuador, and Baños is no exception. Stop into any tiny local restaurant and ask for the almuerzo, and you’ll be served a filling multi-course meal for under $5. It usually includes juice, soup, a meat platter, and sometimes a small dessert. Our favorite spot near our hostel was next to the much more popular (and expensive) Ristorante Papardelle.
- Splurge Option: International food at a nice restaurant
Baños is home to a wide variety of cuisines, from Italian to Swiss and everything in between. Here are our favorite splurge options for fine dining in Baños, Ecuador.
- Swiss Bistro: Like cheese? You’ll love this spot, located close to our hostel and offering everything from fondue to warm pastry-wrapped brie, plus other Swiss staples.
- Cafe Hood: With a varied menu including everything from Indian to Thai inspired dishes (and plenty of vegetarian options!) you’re sure to find something you love at Cafe Hood. Everything we tried was excellent.
- Carpe Diem di Verdi: With a wide variety of Italian restaurants to choose from, Carpe Diem has risen above the fold. It’s currently ranked as the top restaurant in Baños, Ecuador on TripAdvisor. With Italian classics like pizza and pasta, you’re sure to satisfy your craving for delicious Italian food here!
Sample Ecuadorian street food
We love street food, and we classify it in a different category than restaurants. The street food in Baños, Ecuador is perfectly safe to eat and absolutely delicious! You’ll find street food sold in stalls and out of carts all over town. Here is our list of recommendations for street food to eat in Baños, Ecuador!
- Choclo/Dry roasted corn kernels
You’ll find choclo all over Ecuador, topping your fresh ceviche or served as a crunch snack. In Baños, you’ll find choclo with a twist: it’s served in a little bag with warm steamed corn and fresh flavorful salsa, for the perfect fresh, crunchy, and warm snack – all for about $1! This yummy snack will keep you full for hours and is incredibly good.
- Llapingachos/Grilled potato and cheese patties
Our favorite Ecuadorian street food! These yummy potato cakes are served in doorways, out of carts, and in the mercado all over Baños for cheap. They’re so good! Don’t leave Baños without trying one … or three.
- Melcocha/Sugar Cane Taffy
Walk through town and you’re sure to find a few candy shops serving up the famous melcocha, a specialty found only in Baños, Ecuador. The sweet taffy is pulled right in front of the store, hanging on a hook in the door frame!
- Fresh Sugar Cane
Ah, delicious sugar cane: crunch and a little woody, but absolutely delicious. You eat it by chewing the sugar cane to get all the sugary goodness before spitting out the pulp. Fresh cut sugar cane is sold at the stalls directly across from our hostel on the way to the thermal baths, and a large bag is only $1. Careful not to eat it all in one sitting unless you want a stomach ache. If you’d rather not have to work for your sugar rush, the stalls also sell fresh sugar cane juice! My heart is racing just thinking about it…
- Espumillas/Meringue Cream
Found all over Ecuador served in ice cream cones and covered with syrup and sprinkles, Espumilla may ook like ice cream. But don’t be fooled: the soft, sweet meringue has a marshmallow-like texture. Flavored with guava, blackberry, and other fruits, espumillas are a unique street food that you must try in Baños, Ecuador.
Where to Stay in Baños, Ecuador
We stayed at the super-affordable Hostel Chiminea. For about $20 a night, we enjoyed a roomy private with an ensuite bathroom and a deck covered in flowers and hummingbirds. The hostel also has dorms with beds priced at $8.50 a night. As is standard for any decent hostel, there are laundry services, towel rentals, strong wi-fi, and a kitchen that you can use for cooking after breakfast service is finished. What isn’t standard is the free pool, heated personal jacuzzis and massages (for a fee), and a stunning rooftop cafe with a view of the waterfall, mountains, and the town of Baños.
We loved the location of Hostel Chiminea: it’s right next to the waterfall and thermal baths, directly across from an abundance of street vendors selling souvenirs and snacks, and close to the center of town with plenty of spas, adventure shops, restaurants, and scenic plazas. The only complaint we had about our stay was that the kitchen had a slightly funky smell due to the composting of the food waste from breakfast – but hey, I’d rather have a smelly environmentally friendly kitchen than no kitchen at all! We definitely recommend staying here.
Book your stay directly on the Hostel Chiminea Website.
How to Get to Baños, Ecuador
Ecuador is a small country, and getting around it is quite easy and inexpensive. The only way to get to Baños is by bus, but you can bus from multiple locations around Ecuador. The bus station in Baños is near the center of town and is walking distance to most hotels and hostels – or you can take a cheap $1 taxi from the bus station to your destination.
Get to Baños Via Quito
If you fly into Quito, you will first need to take a $25 taxi for 45 minutes into the city. This price is standard, and unfortunately it’s the best option (you can take a combination of buses for several hours to save a few dollars, but we didn’t think it was worth the hassle). Once in Quito, ask your taxi drive to drop you at Terminal Terrestre Quitumbe , the main bus station in the far south of the city. Once there you can walk up to a counter and ask for the next bus to Baños. The bus takes about 3.5 hours, cost around $4, and may stop in Ambato on the way to Baños. If there is no direct bus to Baños, just buy a ticket to Ambato – there are frequent buses running between Ambato and Baños.
Get to Baños via Guayaquil, Latacunga, or Cuenca
Each of these buses will first stop in either Ambato or Riobamba, and then connect to Baños – you may need to switch buses or buy two tickets if the route is not direct. For each location, there is no need to book in advance. Just take a taxi to the main bus station and look for signs to Baños, Riobamba, or Ambato. Ask at each ticket counter to see which one is leaving soonest.
The bus from Guayaquil to Baños will take about 5.5 hours and cost around $7. From Latacunga, it’s only around 2 hours and costs under $5. From Cuenca, it’s 7.5 hours and costs about $10.
We hope you liked our complete guide to what to do in Baños, Ecuador! Are you inspired to visit Baños? Leave us a comment!