Baños, Ecuador’s adventure tourism and party capital
↑ Banyos, a cute little town in the middle of volcanic mountain ranges and with spectacular views.
Reading descriptions of this town in two guidebooks, I was convinced that Baños was a town for Gap-year kids, full of noisy gringo parties and uninteresting stuff like that. My host in Quito had assured me that I should go to Baños and that I would really like it. I took his advice but needed some more persuasion. So a week later, when a fellow Argentinian couchsurfer I met in Latacunga asked me if I wanted to go to Baños, I couldn’t possibly refuse an offer from someone that cute. We hitchhiked from Latacunga to Baños via Ambato at the back of a pickup truck zooming through twisty mountain passes as it alternated between hot mid-day sun and cold winds from the icy glaciers of volcano Tungurahua.
I liked Baños instantly, mostly because the bus stand is flanked by a row of atleast a dozen sugarcane juice stalls. It had been three years since I had sugarcane juice in India, and it’s my absolute favourite. Ofcourse there are more reasons than that to like this town. 🙂
↑ Interiors of the main cathedral La Iglesia de la Virgen de Agua Santa in Baños.
Officially known as Baños de Agua Santa, the town is sandwiched between two huge mountain ranges, occupying a tableland pocketed in a valley next to the Pastaza River. The town derives its name (the word “baños” means “baths”) from hot water springs in the area. The town is the adventure tourism capital of Ecuador, thanks to the large number of hiking trails, waterfalls, cycling and other activities like bungee jumping, rafting, etc. The streets are lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour agents. The lofty mountain ranges yield, giving birth to the flat Amazon forest about 60km from this town.
↑ Main drag in the town centre.
Contrasting the expensive tourist-driven bars, cafes and restaurants are the humble and grubby eateries in Mercado central. I gave in to tourist temptations and had a pizza in one of the fancier places… it cost me more than all my meals in last two days put together.
Hiking, cycling and outdoor activities
↑ Glacier covered summit of the Tunguraguha volcano.
There are numerous hiking trails around Baños with towering mountains in any direction you look. Tungurahua volcano is climbable but since 1999 the volcano has sprung back to life. Last major eruption was in 2006 when the town had to be evacuated and it took months to cleanup the volcanic ash dumped into the valley. Still, it’s possible to hike to the top of the southern mountain and catch glimpse of mama Tungurahua. She looks very beautiful.
On my third day in this town I rented a mountain bike and rode on the famous route of the waterfalls. It started raining in the middle of the day, and then my chain snapped and I had to load the bike in a pickup truck, but overall I had a great time and definitely more stories to tell.
In addition to hiking and cycling trails, there are numerous tourist-friendly adventure activities like bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, etc. Mountains are beautiful, I really miss them in Toronto.
↑ Tourist district after a mid afternoon shower.
In conclusion, although touristy, Baños is a great place for nature lovers to hang out. It’s also the perfect place to meet fellow travellers since everyone seems to be in Baños at some point in their Ecuador itinerary.