Last year I spent an epic, life-changing month volunteering in Quito, Ecuador. To travel in Ecuador was a dream come true, and the volunteering was a great way to give back. This was my second visit to Ecuador, a small country that packs a big punch!
Working a four-day week gave me long weekends for trips away, and one of the most memorable trips was to Baños (full name Baños de Agua Santa). So when Happy Gringo asked me to write a guest blog about my experience, I jumped at the chance!
One of my favorite words is lush – which is how I would describe the landscape of Baños. Ecuador is pretty lush anyway, but with Baños’ spectacular waterfalls and green valleys, the surroundings particularly add to the exhilaration you feel when you do any of the activities the pretty spa town has on offer.
Baños is full of adventure, with tons to do. Time is your only limitation!
Whether it’s flying through the air skimming treetops on a zipline; chasing waterfalls; white water rafting; rappelling down waterfalls whilst canyoning, or bridge jumping!
Or if your bones ache and tire from all the adventure, then head off to the thermal baths for a soak, bliss.
A weekend in Baños just wasn’t long enough. I would recommend a minimum of 4 days or even a week. I would have loved to try more of the activities! Especially the Puntzan Canopy zipline which consists of 2,000 meters of cable that runs through 6 different lines, and not forgetting the crazy bridge jump!
Enough of what I didn’t do, here’s what I did do:
Super popular with locals and visitors. Three different pools with varying temperature. Go early/late for a sunrise or sunset view. We went at 6 a.m. Many of the hotels have their own thermal baths. We were staying in a hostel a stone’s throw away from the public baths. The water comes down from Tungurahua Volcano. I believe the locals may visit the baths before they head off to work, what a great way to start your day!
The Baños Swing at the end of the world is a must-do! You can walk up to the tree house but bear in mind it is a very long walk up a very steep hill and if time isn’t on your side, take a taxi, as we did. Go early to avoid the queues, especially at the weekends. The swing was a personal highlight of my time in Baños. There are two swings at the main tree house. You are strapped in as the guys push you out. I wasn’t a screamer, but if you scream really loud, they push you further and for longer! It felt liberating to be swinging in the clouds. I was transfixed at the moment, in my own little world, eyes shut, head back.
Taxi it. Cycle it. Quad buggy it. Approximately a 10-mile route downhill from Baños to Puyo with nearly a dozen waterfalls en route. With many having their own attraction, be it ziplines, cable cars or other canyon-side attractions. So take your pick where you want to stop and what crazy thing you want to try! We took a “cable car” aka open-air swinging basket across to one waterfall; stood behind the raging torrent of another; and ziplined another. The Pailon del Diablo waterfall is the most impressive, trek down to feel some serious spray on your face!
We found the office on a little side street after asking for directions. Having gone through the safety demonstration only to find out that we weren’t booked on, the hostel hadn’t rung through our reservations! Gutted. I don’t have much luck with paragliding. When in Cape Town we were all set to go, but couldn’t get off the ground, not enough wind! Not to be defeated, resort to Plan B.
I was completely out of my comfort zone, a bit hair raising in places, but I really enjoyed it! The circuit went like this: start with a zipline; walk on a swinging bridge; throw in a bit of rock climbing; and then wash down with another zipline. And when you finish at the end, you can finally take a breath because (a) you’re alive and in one piece and (b) what an epic experience you’ve just put yourself through! Then, jump up and down in elation!
The great thing about this was, nobody *really* took note of what was involved, we went in a little blind. That was until we were faced with the dilemma “where’s the next rung?” When trying to climb a rock face you can’t see around!
You can walk up the steep hill or take a taxi ride for breathtaking views of Baños and Tungurahua Volcano. There’s a swing there (unmanned and unstrapped) but you can sit on it and admire the view – great photo opportunity.
Baños, Ecuador, is super laid back. A spa town with adventure. Although quite popular with backpackers (we stayed in a hostel) it caters for a mix of traveler types. There is something for everyone. From hiking to adventure, from the exciting to the relaxing, with buckets load of fun along the way. The colorful main street is lined with shops; bars; restaurants; tour operators; visit the church or the Dino Park. If your palate is game, try a cuy (South American guinea pig) from the market.
Everyone is happy. The vendors are happy as you spend money. The visitors are happy because we’re having so much fun! Baños is a hub for fun seekers. A town that caters for tourists that doesn’t feel touristy. Instead what you get is a vibrant cultural feel with a splash of the adventure! Viva Latin America!
Plenty of bars and restaurants on the main street, buzzing atmosphere on a Saturday night, however, if venturing out on a Sunday night don’t expect the same buzz. We went into town for churros and arepas and drank in the only bar that was open, the Leprechaun bar – the “in place”. Other than a few people milling around, the town was deserted, which was surprising. Maybe Baños needs a night off too.
We each have our own take on the type of travel experiences we want. For me, fun and adventure feature high on my list of experiences and Baños offers both. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Dare to step out of your comfort zone and try some new exhilarating and exciting activity with the backdrop of mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls and lush valleys? Hell yes, I’ll take another dose of that, please!
Happy traveling mis amigos!
Happy Gringo runs a popular Baños Highlights tour, which includes many of the activities that Koser mentions, such as the amazing Swing at the end of the world, Pailon del Diablo waterfall, relaxing hot springs, and horse riding in the surrounding mountains. If you have limited time, or are looking to travel at your own pace with a private driver, then contact us!
Author description: Koser Khaliq has been a solo traveler for 20 years. She got her first taste of adventure travel with a trip to Bolivia and has never looked back. Having lived in London and the Caribbean she has never been one to shy away from an adventure. After a series of life-changing events in 2016, she said goodbye to a long career in the banking and legal sectors. In 2018 Koser launched a self-development blog https://lifelesscomplex.com/ to document the personal journey she has been on and to share her wisdom with others. Later that year, she launched her second blog to share her love of travel https://thepathiwalk.com/. She is about to self-publish her first book on personal happiness.