Baños, Ecuador is seriously… So. Much. Fun. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Little kids or adults, solo travelers, couples, or whole families can all have a blast in this centrally located mountain town of Ecuador. If you love thrills, adventures, waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, and/or parties, add Baños to your Ecuador itinerary.
What is there to do in Baños, you ask? How might I enjoy this town?
I am SO glad you asked. Heres a few options:
CASA DEL ARBOL
A trip to Baños is absolutely not complete without a visit to Casa Del Arbol.
Casa del Arbol means “tree house”. But this is so much more than a tree house. Casa Del Arbol is a playground for adults (and children too). There are several swing-sets where you can swing up and over the mountains. There are ropes to zip and swing down and natural (-ish) balance beams to practice your acrobatics. There is a restaurant on site and bathrooms.
Part of the fun can be getting there. You have the option to pay for a cheap and quick bus ride up the mountain. But you can also rent a motorcycle, quad bike, go-kart, or bicycle (although it’s up a mountain, so be in shape for that one).
WANDER THE CITY IN THE DAY
In my opinion, Lonely Planet is awfully harsh on Baños on their website when they say, “Baños is a mixed bag… the town itself, with its drab architecture, garish tour operators and overcrowded backpacker-ghetto feel, leaves a lot to be desired”.
Personally, I could not disagree more. After reading that, I expected an ugly, seedy town. Baños may not have the architecture and charm of a little town in Europe, but this is South America. And whoever wrote that probably hasn’t seen much of South America yet. With a few exceptions, towns and cities in South America are typically a bit grungy, and far from charming. Comparatively, I found Baños, Ecuador to be extremely pleasant.
Baños rests in a valley completely engulfed by mountains, no matter where you turn. That in itself is enough to make it beautiful. Baños has scores of restaurants to try, and a beautiful main plaza.
Just walking around for a day, you can:
- come across a small market where you can observe how juice is extracted from sugar cane, try fruits you never knew existed, or eat a roasted banana with cheese (It’s not as gross as it sounds, or I dunno… maybe it is)!
- Admire a lovely waterfall up-close and personal.
- Take a dip in a natural thermal bath with a mix of local people and tourists
- Admire quirky street art and graffiti
- Witness the train cars that look like dinosaurs and snakes (perhaps take a ride in one too)
WANDER THE CITY AT NIGHT
I certainly enjoyed Baños by day. But by night, the town is a totally different treat. At night it becomes even more obvious that Baños is a town all about making people smile. Colorful lights sparkle everywhere.
- The plaza lights up at night and becomes scattered with puppeteers and jugglers.
- The crazy snakey cars light up and run young families around town.
- Party buses filled with tourists, loud music, and more colorful lights roam the streets
- Taffy venders put on a show at their storefronts, while onlookers watch in amazement as they throw the gooey candy around preparing it for hungry sweet-tooths.
TUNGURAHUA PARTY BUS AT NIGHT
For just $4 USD you can take a ride in a colorful party bus. Expect loud music and be ready to jam). Starting in the center of town, the buses ride up the mountain to a Mirador that overlooks the city. But buyer beware – the ticket is sold as a “view the active volcano at night” sort of deal – but that is not always what you will get. It was very cloudy when I was there and there was no chance of seeing any volcanic action. But it didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying my $4 excursion.
- View the city lights at night
- Hot cider (non-alcholic) is offered to all when you arrive up top along with a little background info about Baños from your guide.
- Join the other buses as all the people mix together to enjoy performances, like fire jugglers and a magic show.
- If you are lucky you can see the Tungurahua Volcano giving it’s natural performance (I was not lucky, but it was still the worth $4).
This is a family-friendly party bus. All ages are welcome and alcoholic beverages are not served. However, the ride ends in town near all the “discotecas” if you are looking for that sort of party action.
WATERFALL TRAIL / PAILON DEL DIABLO
There are a number of ways you can visit Pailon Del Diablo. You can take a car or taxi straight there if you want. Pailon Del Diablo is an impressive waterfall with an equally impressive stair system built into the cliffs for visitors to appreciate the site.
From Baños, you can ride along the popular waterfall trail. Most choose to rent bicycles. It can be slightly challenging by bike, and for those too tired to make the journey back, there are taxi’s that will drive you and your rental back to Baños after your visit. You can also rent a motorcycle, quad-bike, mini-jeep, or go-kart. I have no idea why, but we opted for the go-kart. It looked like fun! (Honestly though, it was mildly terrifying driving a go-kart on a main highway with traffic, and then along a narrow cliffside road).
However you choose your route, you can expect to see a number of beautiful waterfalls tucked into the lush green mountains along the way.
When you get to Pailon Del Diablo, expect a good hike downwards to reach the falls (and remember you will be making the trek back up again when you are done). Enjoy the little shops with local artisans work at the top, walk along a rickety suspension bridge, and take in the mountainous jungle landscape. You won’t regret making the trip!
- and probably a few more I can’t think of at the moment
As mentioned in the portions about Casa Del Arbol and Pailon Del Diablo, you can rent a number of vehicles while you are in Baños to:
- zip around the city
- explore the surrounding mountains
- visit Casa Del Arbol
- ride the waterfall trail to Pailon Del Diablo
- visit some of the area’s natural thermal baths (the city’s namesake)
- los baños – The city is not named after a bathroom. It is named after the thermal baths (or hot springs), which surround the area due to the region’s highly volcanic activity. There is a public “baño” in town beneath the waterfall – so it’s hard to miss. This is were the locals go and it can be quite crowded. If you are willing to spend a little more money on entry fees and taxi’s or rentals of your choice, you can visit more luxurious baños a bit outside the city.
- White Water Rafting – I am always a big fan. I did this in Baños, and can’t recommend it enough!
- group bike – Take a look at the photo above. It is literally a bicycle for a large group of people. They have the ability to add and subtract pieces to accommodate different size groups. Ride around the city with all of your friends and loved ones! Go team!
- bungee jumping
- zip line (canopy)
- canyoning – Only a handful of places in the world offer “canyoning” experiences. Baños is one of them (Interlaken, Switzerland is another).
- crazy swing – ok, so I am not sure the actual name of this one, so I am calling it “crazy swing”. Located just outside the entry to Casa Del Arbol is a swing that is so intense you have to be harnessed into it. (The swings inside Casa Del Arbol are pretty crazy too, but more tame, and no harness necessary).
- trekking – for you hikers and trekkers out there, Baños tour operaters offer a number of beautiful and enticing trails to explore. Hike up the active volcano, or go on a snowy adventure!
NEW YEARS EVE
I’m sure you probably aren’t thinking about New Year’s right now. It’s May. I know, I am 5 months behind in my blog posts, so shoot me. But if you want a fun place to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I recommend considering Baños. This town has some quirky traditions, and they certainly know how to have a good time. It may be a small town, but NYE is a BIG party here.
Ecuador in general has some really interesting and unusual New Years Traditions. “Viejos” and “Viudas” were two that are particularly striking.
I started noticing the muñecas (dolls) before reaching Baños. I thought the markets selling nothing but paper machete dolls of superman, the hulk, mini mouse, political figures, and many that just looked like ordinary people were… well… odd. But on New Years, in Baños I discovered their significance.
The muñecas, called “veijos” (wich literally means “old”) are a New Years tradition throughout Ecuador. Many families and businesses go to great lengths to create the most impressive paper machete masterpieces possible. And at midnight, the country sets ablaze. To ring in the new year, people promptly set fire and burn their “viejos” to ash. It is a symbolic gesture representing cleansing out the old, to make room for the new year. They burn the bad of the old year away with their paper machete dolls.
Viudas are cross-dressing males (most of which probably only do this for the NYE tradition). Scores of Viudas wander the streets on NYE in high heels, scantily clad clothing and beg for money. They may grab and hold passersby hostage (in a playful way) until you drop a few coins in their pocket. They claim to be the widows of those burning in the flames of the night’s events. And they tend to put on quite a show in the streets. In Baños 2017 they certainly attracted crowds of onlookers.
I know you’re all super excited for the video portion of this post. I kept this one relatively short and sweet.