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Surrounded by mountains in a fairy-tale background, Baños (literally “baths” in Spanish) is where most Ecuadorians flock to for their vacation, but you will run into as many international tourists than domestic ones. Only five types of businesses exist here: food, lodging, internet, tours, and handicrafts. Prices here run a bit higher than elsewhere in Ecuador.
Chance Of Hooking Up Rating: 4 out of 5 ?
Baños is heaven for hikers and bikers. Trails surround the town and dozens of outfits rent bikes and ATVs. A popular downhill ride (60 km long) is to Puyo, passing several waterfalls along the way. Just pray you don’t get rear-ended in the pitch black tunnels.
You can’t come to Baños without visiting one of the thermal baths. There is one near the waterfall but for less crowds go to Piscina El Salado, a couple kilometers outside of town. After you watch 60-year-old women wash themselves in the shared showers, hop in the hottest tub for a relaxing soak. Don’t be afraid of the bath’s sewage-like appearance—it’s due to the mineral content (or so I’m told). The town’s waterfall is also worthy of a visit. Climb up the deck for nice views.
Your safest food choice is going to one of the cafes owned by a one Ray Hood; he operates both Casa Hood and Cafe Hood that are coffeeshop by day and decent restaurant by night. Most of the menu is good, but be sure to try the lemon sponge cake. La Casa de Abuela serves nice homestyle meals near the cathedral. This town is famous for taffy hung from hooks on walls. You’ll find store owners twirling them with their bare hands, mostly around the bus station.
At around 9PM, several chivas (tour buses) start collecting fares on Martinez for a ride up to see the active Volcano Tungurahua. On clear nights you will be able to see smoke, and if you’re lucky, molten hot lava (I got lucky). You’ll also see an elevated view of the city.
Most of the city’s nightlife options are conveniently located within two blocks of each other on Alfaro between Rocafuerte and Espejo. They are mostly dead on the weekdays but on weekends it’s packed with gringos and Ecuadorians. Leprechaun Bar is one of the bigger gringo bars but locals hang out there too. Have fun watching Ecuadorian males hit on the gringas.
If you are hungry late at night, many places will be happy to serve you hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries.
Hostal Plantas Y Blanco (Martínez and 12 de Noviembre)
$5.50/night for dorm bed. The name translates to Plants & White so I rightfully expected a pot and cocaine party but only found a couple people drinking instant coffee. Good value even though it feels like a factory for travelers. They have hot water but without a regulator the temperature constantly changes, often to scalding. Do not leave this hostel until you feed on their mammoth double pancake breakfast that is served with a mountain of fruit, yogurt, and syrup.
Baños On The Blog
I took pictures of the baths and a chance photo revealed an amusing breast-feeding episode. I continue to discuss the nightlife…
What I liked about Baños is that all the bars are within two blocks of each other. I was at one of them on Saturday night when I found myself talking to a skinny 22-year-old Canadian girl. My mouth was a bit dry after a couple beers, I think, because I sprayed it instead of saying it—right on her face… Continue Reading
Other Cities In Ecuador
If you're only going to visit only Ecuador then I recommend you get this guide, which is far more detailed than the continental guide below, with options that cater to a range of budgets instead of only the shoestring backpacking crowd. Also it gives more respectable treatment to small cities and towns that the larger guide breezes over with a paragraph or two.
South America On A Shoestring Guidebook
This is the guidebook that I used in my six month trip in South America. The maps are excellent, the information is complete and thorough, and the reviews are accurate, which is why it's often called "the bible" by many travelers. The only problem is that everyone else has this book so if you are the type of person that wants to hit the isolated small towns you will be disappointed. My advice is to use this book for its maps and information on getting from city to city, but talk to the locals and other travelers for those isolated gems that Lonely Planet for some reason didn't find worthy to include.
Spanish For Beginners
My copy of this book is so beat up and weathered it's disintegrating before my eyes. I took it with me to South America because I loved how it was organized in a logical way that kept me motivated to keep studying. Lessons start short and easy and increase in complexity as you tackle frustrating readings that help take you to the next level. The only downside of this book is that it was originally published in 1957 so some of the vocabulary is very dated. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to find a modern equivalent of this book whose teachings approach the same quality. Last time I checked you can grab a used copy from Amazon for less than a dollar.