On this page: Introduction to Baños | The Basilica & the Virgin | Baños Zoo |Outdoor Activities | Where to Eat in Banos | Baños Hotels

Introduction

Situated in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs, Baños has become a mecca for international travelers seeking year-round temperate weather, a small town atmosphere, and a base for exploring the great Ecuadorian outdoors. Located four hours by bus from Quito, Banos offers hot springs, horseback riding, trekking, rafting, climbing and mountain biking. It also offers easy access to Riobamba, the starting point of the exhilarating train journey down the Devil’s Nose to the coast, and to Puyo, one of the gateways to the Amazon. Banos also serves as a popular site for studying Spanish — a mellower and cheaper alternative to Quito.

Green and blue abound in the campo outside of Baños.

Midweek, Banos is a sanctuary of peace and tranquility. The big events are the occasional performance of a traditional Andean band, the nightly English language movie at the Hood Cinema, or beers with friends at one of the local bars. However, on the weekends and during holidays, Banos explodes with carnival-like festivities. Children straggle behind their parents with neon balloons and sticky sweets; photographers position themselves on street corners offering instant snapshots; a cartoonish caterpillar train on wheels toots through town; and women in pastel painted stalls sell everything from hand-woven sweaters to imitation barbie dolls. Tables spilling out of cafes onto sidewalks provide the ideal location to watch the lively scene of Banos go by while enjoying a papaya or sugar cane juice.

The Basilica and the Virgin of the Holy Waters

After your juice, walk to the basilica in the palm-garnished main square. Inside the church is an entertaining collection of murals which describe local miracles attributed to the Virgin of the Holy Waters, the town’s spiritual protector. In October, when the town holds an annual celebration in her honor, the streets burst alive with music, dancing and, to the Virgin’s chagrin, much drinking.

Baños Basilica.

Baños Zoo

Just outside of town, is the privately-owned Baños Zoo, which may pleasantly surprise you with generally large cages built right into the hillside. Check-out the jaguar (that squared-off jaw can pop a human skull like a cantaloupe), Black and Chestnut Eagle, the raucous green jays, capybaras (the world’s largest rodents) and spectacled bears (the only bear native to South America). Admittedly, however, the monkeys do not look too thrilled to be on display.

Outdoor Activities

Outdoor revelers will discover a wonderful network of trails criss-crossing the mountains surrounding Baños. Walk half an hour to the Virgin monument, ride horseback to a waterfall, or trek for days — the choice is yours.

Bicycling has become very popular in Baños, especially renting a bike and going from Baños about 40 kilometers downhill to the town of Puyo in the Amazon region. This road has also become heavily used by cars and large trucks since it has been fully paved, so use caution, as Ecuadorian drivers have little respect for cyclists. Countless dirt roads and trails also surround Baños. The road near the bus station that crosses the Pastaza river is particularly nice, but is a good uphill climb.

Tungurahua Volcano, at 5016 meters that looms over Baños, is known as “Little Hell” to the Quichua, and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Tungurahua used to be climbed regularly when it was less active as it was one of the easier 5,000 meter plus peaks to tackle in Ecuador. However, don’t fool yourself, it has been quite active for the last several years and is not to be climbed when there is a risk of volcanic activity.

Of course, there are always the hot springs: Join the locals for a communal mineral bath at dawn or under equatorial stars.

waterfall8

Where to Eat

Within the town’s center there are reputedly up to 90 restaurants catering to out-of-town visitors. You can choose between Italian, French, German, Chinese, Ecuadorian, international, and vegetarian cuisine – all within a five block radius. The food in Baños is an exceptional bargain, even for Ecuadorian standards: an excellent meal can be found for just a few dollars.

Where to Stay

The only truly upscale hotel in or around Baños, is located on a nearby mountain top, otherwise most recommended accommodations in Baños are simple family-run establishments that offer reasonably priced rooms in generally cozy environments.