That’ll technically be Baños de Agua Santa since you may know that baños also means toilets. However, throw that “de aqua” behind it, and you’re talking about a water bath, for which the town is named. Baños de Agua Santa is near the Tungurahua volcano, thus named for the natural hot springs in the area!
Besides the thermal baths, Baños de Agua Santa (commonly called Baños) is known for its adventure activities. It’s also only ~3 hours from Tena by car (~4 hours by bus). So, when Lucie considered what to do for her 30th birthday in March, Baños was an obvious choice.
So, Lucie, Edd, and I kicked off the weekend with birthday pancakes, then hopped a bus to Baños!
Unfortunately, our weekend was a bit muted since Lucie’s stomach decided to revolt (as they do every now and then). Apparently, it missed the memo on Baños the town versus el baño…
Anyway, Baños has apparently exploded in tourism over the past few years and was nearly unrecognizable to Lucie, who visited about 8 years before.
The bad news. It’s a bit more expensive (but by no means unreasonable), and you have more of that typical tourist city center vibe. The good news. There’s a ton to do and nice places to eat!
Stuff to Do
Since we only had the weekend, we didn’t venture much outside of the city, but there are a ton of hikes and waterfalls in the area. The most famous is probably the Ruta de las Cascadas (the waterfall route), which is not a hike per se, but some hiking is required to get to each spot.
However, from town, you can hike to la Casa del Arbol, a famous treehouse swing with a view of the Tungurahua volcano. That hike (called Las Planes-Runtún-Ventanas on the sign) is ~3 km and takes about 2.5 hours. Since we were without Lucie, Edd and I decided to do the Virgen de Ventanas route, which takes about 1 hour for 1 km.
…Yes. You read that right. 1 hour to go 1 km? We thought no way.
There were A LOT of steps. Honestly, I was really sad Shane wasn’t with us. It’s one of his favorite things to do in new places, climb a sh*t ton of stairs.
…that’s sarcasm. It’s me. I can’t resist the stairs.
Anyway, the views are lovely on the way and at the top, so it’s worth it. We forgot to pay attention to what time we started, but it took at least 45 minutes to get to the viewpoint.
Considering you can bike the Ruta de las Cascadas, I’d also put that activity in the adventurin’ category. But wait, there’s more! You can go rafting, ziplining, canyoning, and via ferrata-ing (is that a word?)! There are tour companies everywhere, so these activities are easy to schedule. Also, most can be done in the rain, which is good news since Baños is located in the cloud forest, which means rain is common.
We opted for ziplining ($25 per person). This was a great activity on the morning we planned to leave since the whole trip (from hotel pickup to drop-off) took about 2.5 hours.
The entire experience was really fun and included 6 routes that got progressively longer. The final route was 550m over the canyon with gorgeous views of the river below! Lucky for you, I brought the GoPro… and then left it in my backpack. 🤦♀️
Do you like all things Spa-like? Well, Baños has got ‘ya covered. There are tons of spas in the area that offer a wide range of treatments (at various costs). For the most part, though, if massages are something you enjoy, they are VERY reasonably priced here.
For example, we went to the Huellas Natural Spa and had an hour full-body massage and a half-hour full-body scrub with volcanic ash for $40. I CANNOT recommend that full-body scrub enough! The massage was wonderful, and the scrub made my skin feel like butter. So, DO IT.
Regardless of the spa treatments, Baños is famous for its thermal baths. I must admit, I wasn’t too sure what I would think of the thermal baths. Shane and I went to one in Budapest, and we mostly just felt kind of bored and awkward. Everyone was just sitting around, not really talking… I dunno. It was weird.
Can you spot me? Shane said it was like “Where’s Waldo,” wife version.
We went to the original Termas de la Virgen, but there is also a newer and larger complex a minutes walk past the original ones. However, I’d go back to the original ones! No awkward vibes here. Everyone treated the baths like warm swimming pools, and the atmosphere was relaxed but fun.
Oh and yes, the swim caps are required. You can buy one for $1 at the baths, but we bought one from a vendor on the street for $0.50.
These baths cost $3 and are open from 5 am to 4 pm, then they close for a bit and reopen from 6 to 9:30 pm (for $4, not sure why it costs more).
If you’re feeling fancy, there are some amazing-looking baths at the Luna Volán Adventure Spa that overlook Baños, but they are considerably more expensive. You can stay in the hotel, which includes the baths or pay $66 to visit. However, this does include the baths, a facial, and dinner. Maybe next time.
Things to Eat
There were a ton of restaurants to choose from, some better than others. We did have a delicious dinner at Haycha Restaurant (Ecuadorian food) and some proper coffee (Honey Coffee & Tea is a popular spot).
However, head to the Mercado if you want a more authentic (and less expensive) food experience. We tried llapingachos ($3), fried potato pancakes served with egg, sausage, and avocado that originated in the Tungurahua region (aka, Baños area). And, of course, there are tons of fresh juice stands. We also saw cuy (guinea pig), if you’re feeling adventurous.
We also encountered some, uh, unexpected sweets.
Apparently, this has to do with a tree that, legend has it, would… um… improve the size of one’s particular appendage. 🤷♀️ We definitely didn’t expect to see this, though!
Where to Stay
There are an overwhelming amount of hotel options, but we finally narrowed it down to La Posada del Arte, which was very close to the thermal baths and out of the main area, so it was quiet at night. The breakfast was fantastic, and our rooms had a waterfall view!
So, Happy Birthday Lucie, and until next time, Banos!