Baños, Ecuador: A Town Of Adrenaline, Thermal Pools & Waterfalls
The town of Baños in Ecuador is small, but has plenty to offer backpackers. For starters, it’s known as the country’s adrenaline capital due to the large selection of white-water rafting, canyoning, mountain biking and zip lining activities available, at reasonable prices. As well as this, Baños sits in the Tungurahua Province, at the foot of the active Tungurahua Volcano. It’s close proximity to this volcano means there are plenty of natural thermal baths dotted around, as well as impressive waterfalls and rivers. Dave and I have chosen to stay here for three full days so we can take in all that the town has to offer.
On our first day, we get our bearings by taking a stroll around the grid-style blocks. There are dozens of tour operators lining the main streets, all of which call out to let us know what they offer as we walk past. In between the tour offices there are restaurants, market stalls and shops selling sweets, sticks of nougat and ‘Baños’ decorated fudge. Tourism is very clearly a big source of income here.
Having researched the most recommended tour operators online, Dave and I book a white-water rafting trip for the following morning, something Dave’s been wanting to do since Colombia but which I’m a bit anxious about. Regardless, we commit to the trip and pay up front as we’ll have to be at the office early the next morning. First task complete, we return to our hostel and ask for directions to the bus station, as we’d like to visit Casa Del Arbol, or the ‘House of the Tree’ in English. As the name implies, Casa Del Arbol is a treehouse situated at the top of a nearby hill, that is famous for having two swings attached, known fondly by travellers as the ‘Swing at the End of the World’.
So, after obtaining some rushed and half-understood directions from our hostel receptionist, we head out to find the only bus that ferries people to and from Casa Del Arbol for just two dollars each way. Unfortunately, the bus doesn’t wait at a designated bus stop and we fail to find it in time for the 2pm departure. As we dejectedly walk back to the hostel it begins to rain, so we reason that perhaps it’s a good thing we missed the bus and agree to catch the 4pm bus instead.
As a matter of fact, the day’s events turn out to be perfect, as when we do finally reach Casa Del Arbol in the late afternoon, the rain has cleared and the sun is shining brilliantly. This means not only can we get some great pictures of the view and ourselves swinging out over the vast valley, we can also very clearly see the Tungurahua Volcano spewing ash into the blue evening sky. We spend around two hours up here, taking photos, watching the sun set and clambering around the treehouse, before catching the last bus back to town level.
Due to the early start needed the next morning, we opt to go for an early dinner at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from our hostel and my day is completely made when the waiter generously brings out real, incredibly tasty garlic bread – on the house! Full from delicious spaghetti dishes we go to bed with satisfied tummies.
Unfortunately, when morning comes I am not feeling well at all. I’m unsure whether it’s a side effect of the malaria tablets we are taking, or just exhaustion from being so active and on the road, but I can barely open my eyes and have all the symptoms of a head cold. The last thing I want to do is jump in a boat and raft down rapids for hours, so I stay in bed and sleep until midday, while Dave goes rafting.
It’s early afternoon when Dave returns, finding me in the hostel common room, rested and blogging. We relax for the afternoon as I’m still not feeling well and Dave is tired, having had a brilliant adrenaline-fuelled morning. That night though, we meet up for dinner with some of the friends we made in Quito. The Australian couple from Adelaide have found a hidden Russian restaurant around a ten-minute walk away, so we meet them and three Irish guys we partied with in the capital.
The restaurant is called Taberna Armenia and it turns out to be the home of a Russian family who came to Ecuador travelling, but loved Baños so much they stayed. They serve us llama, Russian meatballs and Shish kebabs, all of which is delicious aside from the llama, which is quite a chewy meat. It’s a lovely evening spent in great company and I’d highly recommend Tarberna Armenia to any fellow travellers heading to Baños!
On our third and final day in the town we hire bikes and follow a twenty kilometre trail of waterfalls, mostly downhill, thank goodness!
The most famous waterfall along the way is called Pailon Del Diablo, or the ‘Devil’s Cauldron’ in English. Here you can climb steps and crawl through small, narrow tunnels to reach behind the 50ft waterfall, getting slightly damp in the process but feeling like a kid in a playground at the same time.
What’s more, we arrive at the waterfall to witness a vivid and colourful rainbow springing from, and ending in the foot of the waterfall itself. The sight is breathtaking and we feel extremely lucky to witness it.
The last leg of the trail is a little more challenging, due to the fact it’s an uphill ride and the final waterfall involves walking down at least two hundred wooden steps built into the hillside. It’s worth the effort though, as this is the only waterfall where we can actually wade in the natural pool that’s created by it. The water is freezing and quite shallow, so we don’t swim, just walk through the small rocks and pebbles, in the sunshine that has so conveniently come out to join us.
That night, legs aching but happy after a great day, we sit in the hostel common room with a bunch of friendly backpackers from Germany and Australia, playing Jenga, drinking beers and chatting until midnight. We’re leaving for the coast of Ecuador the next day, but not until we’ve experienced the thermal baths of Baños, which we head to in the morning. Locals believe that alternating from extremely cold water, to extremely hot water is very good for the body, so the baths we visit have three pools; a numbingly cold one, an averagely warm one, and one so hot it comes with a warning to only remain inside for ten minutes maximum.
Dressed in swimwear and very unattractive but mandatory swim caps featuring fake Nike logos, we test the waters. I point blank fail to enter the coldest pool further than my knees and manage just two minutes in the hottest pool, finding it more uncomfortable than healing. However, the warm pool is nice and relaxing and a sign details all the minerals and goodness contained in the water. After an hour of floating in the murky looking water, it begins to spit with rain, so Dave and I leave the baths and make our way to the bus station.
Our next stop is the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, most known for its boat rides out to Isla De La Plata, an island with similarities to those found in the Galapagos Islands. Being on a six-month trip, we can’t afford to visit the Galapagos this time round, so we’re hoping to see some great wildlife in Puerto Lopez instead. Subscribe to this blog to read about our time in Puerto Lopez and receive posts in a monthly roundup!