Picture yourself at the bottom of a beautiful green valley with waterfalls falling down all around you. This is Baños, Ecuador: a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast and any backpacker with an adrenaline rush who doesn’t want to break the bank.
The only thing that I knew about before coming here was the famous sky-scraping “swing at the end of the world” where every visitor has to get their Baños photo opp. The swing is attached to the Casa del Arbol or “Tree House” which is actually a seismic monitoring station for the active volcano Tungurahua in front of it. At 2660 meters above sea level (8700 feet) and opposite an active volcano, I think you can see why it is such a big attraction:
The swing is so popular that they have actually constructed a small amusement park around it now, and if you go during high season or on the weekends you may end up standing in line for an hour for a few pushes on it like we did. The town of Baños itself is at 1815 meters, so in order to ascend the nearly 1000 meters of difference you can either take a shuttle or a Chiva (party) bus from town (like we did on the way down) or hike up to it through the Bellavista Cloud Forest for incredible views of the town and surrounding mountains. It is a very steep and difficult 2-3 hour walk but absolutely worth it:
But the coolest thing that Baños has to offer in my opinion is the Ruta de las Cascadas or “Waterfalls Route”- a free, all-day, exciting activity that everybody leaves happy about. You can rent mountain bikes for the day anywhere in town for just $5. Only two of the waterfalls charged entrance fees to get into but they were less than $2. The beer that we stopped for along the way was the most expensive part of the day.
The route leaves from Baños going uphill with traffic along a busy highway. Sounds scary- but hundreds of people are doing this a day and drivers know to respect the bikers. Over the course of the 2-3 hour route you will weave back and forth between the highway and a bikers only path. There is water falling around you the whole time.
Water is the word here, and it’s no wonder to anyone who visits why the place is called Baños or “Baths”. It’s impossible to visit waterfalls like the “Devil’s Cauldron” without getting drenched. Between the rivers below you and the waterfalls all around you, Baños is a real life water-world.
There are plenty of opportunities to stop and try (or just watch, like we did) things like zip-lining across the canyon and bungee jumping off bridges. We saw a dad and his little girl bungee together. The atmosphere was very light and happy. Everyone has a good time in Baños.
Back in town, after working up quite the appetite, there are plenty of interesting eats reward yourself for a hard day’s work. I highly recommend checking out the market it the center of town, where you can feast on a giant, colorful plate of chorizo, salad, avocado, fried bananas, rice and beans for just $3 USD. That was a special treat.
There you have it- Baños! A gem in the jungle and a natural water park, and a must on any backpacker’s Ecuadorian agenda.