A complete guide to Baños, Ecuador – more than just Español for ‘toilet’…
Amber! Tell me about Baños 😃
Baños is known as the “Gateway to the Amazon”, as it’s the last (relatively) big city located in the mountains before reaching the Amazon River basin.
Baños was a quirky little place; a rather unassuming town that most tourists flock to for its adventure activities.
Every other shop in Baños was creating basically Baños’ version of Blackpool Rock. Young Ecuadorian men would be schlepping great big throws of candy and throwing them against the wall. They were actually quite tasty for $1, but I imagine awful for your teeth. Not for those who need fillings!
The views surrounding Baños were absolutely gorgeous. Whilst the town itself was quite bland – a concrete jungle just filled with touristic adventure shops – from every nook and crevice you could see the most incredible views of mountains, rainforest and waterfalls.
I grew to love Baños in the 4 nights that I spent there. Here are my top 5 activities to do whilst visiting Baños!
#1 Feel on top of the world! Visit the End of The World swing 🌏
They say a picture is worth 1000 words. For the End of the World swing’ at Casa Arbol the picture you take upon the swing is far more impressive than the park itself – akin to a children’s playground. If I thought I felt ridiculous queueing for the swing behind a load of Ecuadorian children, I’m sure the 6ft Dutch blokes I was with felt worse. Yet for most backpackers this is a ‘must see’.
BTW I left here livid. I gave just about each and every Dutch bloke a ‘how to’ lesson on photography. The photographs I took were awesome! I was the best photographer, crouching down and giving orders to ensure I captured the best angle. They were so impressed and gave me a big hug and thanks after viewing my work. HOWEVER when it was my turn, THIS was the best they could produce.
I had to crop a load of people and some thumbs out too… 🙃🙃🙃
Entry to Casa de Arbol is $1.
#2 Go chasing Waterfalls – discover the ‘ruta de las cascadas’ by bicycle 🚲
Cascada being Español for waterfall, of course! And not the cheesy dance group from the early 2000’s (although lets not lie, their bangers are perfect for da club).
So I did this in conjunction with the End of The World Swing. You can arrange a collectivo to the swing with your bicycle and then afterwards cycle down to the waterfalls – it adds approximately half a hour/1 hour to your journey (less if you’re Dutch – I’ll come onto this). The views on the way to the waterfall are absolutely stunning!
Th route itself is actually composed of 7 waterfalls, but most people hit up the biggest 3: Cascada de Agoyán (a beautiful double waterfall feeding into the Río Pastaza), The Manto de la Novia (Español for Bride’s Veil), and – arguably the most impressive – the El Pailón del Diablo.
A bicycle costs approximately $10 to rent, but this was at the hostel. Go to the main square and you can probably find it cheaper – possibly for $6 – but cheap isn’t always good. Again, I’ll come onto this.
Speaking of Dutch – I did this with a group of guys from the Netherlands. Going cycling with a big group of 1 – men and 2 – men from the flaming Netherlands ESPECIALLY whilst hung over was one of my poorest decisions to date.
No seriously. I swear in Holland as soon as a baby is born it is plonked on a bike. Meanwhile in the UK I still have friends who can’t ride a bicycle. Did I mention how much I hate cycling? I didn’t get the clue with them being Dutch when they asked me along, and for some reason thought they meant via a motorcycle or scooter.
You hate cycling. Why did you go cycling?
I really don’t know…
So first of all, the bicycle the hostel provided me with was far too big for me. So I had to swap with one of the travellers who had cheaped out and got a $6. Lets put aside that I’m a terrible cyclist, so was a good 25 minutes behind all of the Dutch crew anyway.
On the way to the Pailón del Diablo the chain on my bike broke, which led me to swerving into the road and being honked at by a load of angry Ecuadorians. This wasn’t a big deal whilst cycling downhill (the majority of the road is downhill) but as soon as I reached a flat part I couldn’t physically move my bike. I was found by a truckload of Ecuadorian men having an anxiety attack on the side of the road, desperately trying to fix my bicycle chain. “Qué es la problema, señorita?” they asked as I sobbed, “La cadena de esta bicicleta está rota, por favour ayudarme, neceisto ir al Pailón del Diablo.”
What did you do in the end 😂
In the end I hitchhiked my way to the final waterfall with these Ecuadorian truckers. Lets just say it was rather embarrassing arriving to the waterfall LAST, tearful and in a truck.
Entry to the Palión del Diablo is $1.50. The bus back to central Baños should cost $2.50 – most buses will be used to strapping bicycles to the back. I say bus; ours was more like a pick up truck. I felt a bit like an illegal immigrant being smuggled back to Baños.
My rant isn’t even done, you know…
What else Amber 👀
Since Colombia it is fair to say I’ve met a lot of people from the Netherlands. I’m currently in Bolivia, and I really and truly believe I’m running out of Dutch people to meet. I must have met a decent percentage now. The country is tiny. Anyway, in Baños with a large group of flying (well, cycling) Dutchmen at my disposal I thought I’d ask a guy called Tim for a lesson in Dutch.
Tim: “You want to learn Dutch?”
Me: “G’warn then, teach us a word.”
Tim: “Okay, well I will teach you the Dutch word for nice young lady. Beffen.”
Me: “Beffen? How do you spell this?”
Me: “Beffen. A nice young lady is a ‘beffen’. Got it.”
Throughout the day, Tim kept shouting over at me, “Remember the word I taught you?” and “What was ‘nice young lady’ again in Dutch, Amber?” and I kept shouting (like a FOOL), “BEFFEN!” to laughter and a round of applause. After constant sniggering from the Dutch blokes, I became suspicious.
Do you know what beffen means in Dutch? Do you????
Grandma, look away.
Beffen means eating p***y. I was shouting this across Baños. That’ll teach me for being so nice and trusting. Tim told me… eventually. After I’d told probably all the Dutch guys about my new word.
#3 Go canyoning (and risk death, it sounded fun but pretty dangerous…)
I didn’t do this, as I was too busy attending my own funeral after my first night out in Baños (it was the first drink I was able to have in a long while). However my pal Lucy did it – apparently you can pay $30 but this one is a bit mild, so most people opt for the $60 which comprises of zip-lining, waterfall rappelling, cliff jumping and other adrenaline filled activities. The cost of the activity includes all transportation and lunch.
Lucy – who is far braver than I am – sh*t a brick doing this and said she felt scared occasionally. After she told me this I reasoned it was probably better that I didn’t go because I’d probably have an anxiety attach at the thought of jumping off a cliff. 🙃
#4 Make a splash! Go white water rafting
Those into adrenaline-fuelled activities cannot miss white water rafting – racing through Level III and IV rapids on the Rio Pastaza. It was probably my highlight from Baños! You have the option to take 1 of 2 boats – ‘normal’ or ‘extreme’ – I initially copped out and took normal, but in the end wound up on the ‘extreme’ boat for a bit as the guide jokily dragged me off of my boat and into the rapids below. The normal boat bobbled off and left me on the extreme boat. I shouted after everyone, “FINE. I HAVE A NEW BOAT FAMILY NOW. A NEW DEUTSCH FAMILY.” and the Germans all applauded (the extreme boat was comprised of mainly Germans).
Each boat had a guide, and there was a rescue medic nearby in a kayak doubling as paparazzi. The guide on the extreme boat was an absolute maniac – he’d giggle creepily and say, “bye bye” before flipping over the boat on purpose. He also dragged people from the normal boat into the water unexpectedly. I fell into the water 5 or 6 times! And I loved every minute of it. 😆
After rafting I told my mum how much I loved it. Mum simply replied, “Well, you always liked the Big Dipper.”
White water rafting costs about $30, including all transportation and lunch. It can be arranged either in town or through the hostel.
#5 Have a thermal baño in Baños 🛀👙
The thermal baths are Baños’ namesake. They are located just behind the main square and comprise of 4 different baths ranging from freezing cold, nice temperature, absolutely boiling hot and HOLY LORD ^#%*@&#&!* THIS IS HOT. I spent most of my time in ‘nice temperature’ – unsurprisingly the other baths were all pretty empty and this one is rammed.
Entry to the thermal baths cost around $3. It is mandatory to wear a swimming cap that you can rent for $1. Sadly this means you won’t look cute for Instagram, but I suppose its nice knowing a load of rogue hairs wont be floating around the thermal baths.
Baños sounds fabulous! Where should I stay? 🏨
As Baños is pretty touristic, the town is packed with hostels and B&B’s so don’t worry about booking in advance! You’ll definately find somewhere. However the most popular hostel (where I stayed, of course ☝🏻) was Community Hostel, chosen because the hostel is new, modern with an extremely sociable vibe. Every evening the hostel has 2 for $6 on an array of cocktails, and often arranges (drinking) activities for the guests. The food is pretty decent in the hostel too!
Nightlife in Baños 🕺🏼💃🏻
Baños had one the best nightlifes in Ecuador (looking at you, La Mariscal in Quito 👀). That being said, Ecuador as a whole was lame on a night out.
Baños basically has a main strip running through its centre full of cheesy pubs and bars. Leprechaun Bar is the main watering hole that people wind up in at the end of the night. Beforehand go to Mocambo for a cheap cocktail and a game of pool.
We also boogied in Volcan Bar & Disco until the wee hours on a different evening, with Lucy and I both ducking kisses from the SAME guy. 😂The music was just what the doctor ordered; salsa mixed in with R Kelly. I almost lost my voice!
The Stray Dog – I know, I really am recommending all of the classiest establishments – is a great place to pre drink before heading to a club (likely Leprechaun). There is a great selection of artisan beers and cocktails are cheaper than elsewhere in Baños.
Ya girl is hungry. Where should I grab (vegetarian/vegan) food in Baños? 🥦
As usual, everywhere I’ve mentioned is vegetarian friendly and also vegan friendly, seeing as in initially I was dairy free.
I literally HAD to come here because I’d been having dreams about lasagne.
Dreams about lasagne??? 🤔
YES. Someone in Community mentioned lasagne to me and that was it, I couldn’t deviate from lasagne. Of course vegetarian lasagne is always a more difficult task to find but when I heard Casa Hood had a good (and not too cheesy) lasagne I had to try it. They can even make it dairy free, which is a bonus.
Café good have a very extensive menu, and after um-ing and ah-ing for 20 minutes over what to eat I settled on the pad thai. The menu stipulates that the pad thai can be made vegetarian or vegan – when I asked the owner what the difference was he said, “the vegetarian pad thai uses fish sauce, the vegan pad thai does not.”
Um mate, pretty sure FISH is not vegetarian? I did try and explain this to him but he looked baffled. They just don’t get vegetarianism in South America. Anyway, the portions were huge and my pad thai was delicious.
It was in Café Good where I met Tal, who turned out to be awesome but we totally got on the wrong foot. He asked me how old I was and when I responded “25” he said, “wow, but you could EASILY be older. Like over 30!” It was his weird way of saying I’m mature for my age (😏) but one must NEVER tell a woman she seems older than she is. EASILY OVER 30???? I normally get ID’d trying to buy scissors!
Milk & Honey
You can’t beat cake and tea, or a decent hot chocolate. Milk & Honey is on the main square in Baños and is THE place to grab afternoon tea (how British of me) whilst doing some work/writing up your journal. Or a mid-afternoon panini and a debate. I told a ‘flexitarian’ from my hostel that flexatarianism is a cop-out and isn’t actually a thing (you’re either bloody vegetarian or you’re not in my eyes, it is quite simple).
Lucy and I like to argue with other people. It is why the pair of us got along so brilliantly for 6 weeks. Miss ya, Lucy. 😘
This chocolate cake was delicious, but I did have wistful thoughts about the passionfruit cheesecake later that day. If you’re in Baños for longer then go more than once!
I highly recommend the chai hot/cold (I had it cold) chocolate with almond milk.
Café Ricooo Pan
Not cheap but quick, decent portions and just off of the main square. I opted for the Ecuadorian breakfast; for $6 I received the below + orange juice, hot chocolate and jam/butter.
Café Arte and Te
A more than decent breakfast – a little cheaper than Cafe Ricooo Pan and a more varied menu. The restaurant is also very quaint.
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