Baños, Ecuador’s Adventure Playground on the Cheap

After a long and tiring journey crossing Ecuador, during which I panicked and believed icing sugar to be cocaine, I arrived in Baños late in the evening. I finally found a taxi and got in the back, but at the same time a random woman appeared out of nowhere and got in the front seat. The driver said she was his wife, but I was not in the mood for anything out of the ordinary.

I believe that when you have just arrived in a new place and you have all of your belongings on you, you are an easy target for crime. (See how I try to stay safe here.) An unknown extra passenger getting in the car just as I did seemed fishy to me, so I hauled my rucksack out and walked away. Eventually I found another taxi and made my way to my hostel Great Hostels Backpackers, where I was over-joyed to find double beds!

Baños is known as being an outdoor activities destination, and agencies organise canyoning, zip wiring, white water rafting, kayaking and more. Baños is great fun, a place to spend several nights.

Great Hostels Backpackers organise the most popular activities with Imagine Ecuador Adventure Travel company, for the same prices as the agencies in town. We decided to go white water rafting, which was one of the funnest things I have ever done! The price was a very competitive 25$ per person for everything – transportation, equipment hire, safety demonstration and lunch after the morning on the water. You can book via the hostel and Imagine Ecuador Adventure Travel collect you, and drop you back afterwards.

The rapids were a level 3-4 and as I had never gone rafting before, it was a perfect balance of scary and exciting! The tour reps took photos at various points along the river

rafting Banos
photo taken by Star Line

and they delivered a disk with the images later that afternoon to the hostel. It was great to go in a group as there are 6 people to a raft

rafting Banos
photo taken by Star Line

and you have to work as a team. There was lots of screaming and high-fiving!

Baños is probably best known (on Instagram at least) for The Swing at the End of the World, at La Casa Del Arbol. A swing hanging from a treehouse

on the edge of the steep hill. You pay $1 to enter what is one of the highest points in the town. We went on a gorgeous sunny afternoon

and saw ash errupting from a nearby volcano!
  
 then queued up to get on the swing. It is a beautiful spot for a photo so be sure to go with someone who will take one of you! You can take a bus there and back from the town centre for 0.50c each way.

The countryside surrounding Baños is beautiful, and I strongly recommend some sort of activity or excursion that takes you into it! Towering mountains are covered in lush vegetation, fast-flowing rivers cut through steep gorges and many thundering waterfalls are to be found. One afternoon we paid $5 to rent bikes for a few hours

cycling in Banos
photo taken by Laura Wotton

and cycled out of the town in search of waterfalls. We soon saw a sign that said ‘cascada’ and followed the direction of the arrow. Soon we heard the roar of the water and hid our bikes in some bushes before clambering over rocks to dip our feet in the water. My friend Laura found a route up the side of the waterfall and climbed up! I went afterwards and the view view from the top of the waterfall

from the top was unforgettable.

Make sure you don’t miss:

  • The church. If read my post about Cuenca, you will know that I love churches. Baños’ church has distinctive white towers that are visible across the town,

and the interior is stunning.

  • The melcocha makers. Melcocha is a hard sweet, a bit like a stick of rock, that tastes of liquorish. It is very hard to eat and when you chew it, you feel like your teeth are being ripped out. This regional speciality is perhaps best appreciated with the eyes only – the melcocha makes are to be found on the thresholds of many shops in the town centre

They beat the mixture by throwing around a wooden post with alarming speed and force, until it becomes hard (like a stick of rock) and can be packaged.

  • The street art. Distinctive murals of varied subjects

are dotted all over Baños, making the town an outdoor art gallery.

  • The open air thermal baths, which are a lovely place to relax aching muscles after a day of adventure. The water is an unappealing brown colour but we were assured that it was a result of the high mineral concentration! Entry is $2.50.

I had a great time in Baños, enjoying the town and the many activities on offer. Not far from Cuenca or Quito, I recommend that it features on your route through Ecuador!

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