SPA TOWN IN ECUADOR
BAÑOS DE AGUA SANTA
Baños de Agua Santa is a small city in the Andean highlands of Ecuador under the smoke of volcano Tungurahua. Its name, which is Spanish for "Baths (of sacred water)," comes from the famous hydrothermal springs in the area. It's equally popular with foreigners as with Ecuadorians and is known as the adventure capital of Ecuador. The streets are lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour agents. Although it seems a bit touristy and artificial, lots of people love it and it's definitely worth a visit. It's an important hub for outdoor sports and jungle tours.
Located at the foot of the Tungurahua volcano, Baños, Ecuador is a mystical town of waterfalls, hot springs, and miracles - often referred to as the "Gateway to the Amazon."
Things to See
- Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water (Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa). This neo-Gothic style church is named after the vision of the Virgin Mary seen near the appropriately named waterfalls and is therefore a place of pilgrimage for those who come to thank the Virgin for many miracles and to ask for her blessing. It was built with many volcanic rocks and the inside is lined with paintings depicting the Virgin's miracles, including saving the church from multiple volcanic eruptions.
- Cascada de La Virgen. This is the main waterfall near the city center which empties near the thermal baths.
- Manto de la novia (Ruta de las Cascadas). This dynamic waterfall sometimes features two distinct chutes and has a cable car ride available.
- Pailon de diablo (Ruta de las Cascadas). This is the most impressive of the falls in the area with an option to hike to the source for a closer look.
Things to Do
There are dozens of travel agencies offering rafting, climbing to Cotopaxi, mountain bike rental, multiple day trekking, jungle tours, etc.
Casa Del Arbol
Swing towards the mountains in the famous Casa del Arbol. Entrance costs $1. There are currently 2 swings with 2 more in construction. To get there, either hike (3h) or take a bus ($1 - 30min). The bus generally comes back 1:30 after it left you at the Casa del Arbol. In high season, the wait lines for the swings can grow quite big.
Baños is not just well-known for its adventures, but also for healing.
The best massage studios are all on the same street, within 50m of each other. They are all $20/hour. Try Xu Jing Casa de Salud for an excellent massage from a wise old Chinese woman. Corner of Luis A. Martínez and Eloy Alfaro, across from Casa Hood.
Bioethika Center for Healing, an Ayurvedic clinic at Luis A. Martinez and Thomas Haflants, next to the Libreria Cafe, offers many kinds of Ayurvedic treatments including Ayurvedic massages.
Around Baños there are several easy trails. The tourist office (calle T. Halflants at the park) can provide simple maps.
On some trails you can find many signs on the way, though the indicated distances seem to be quite contradictory. Head up to the statue of the Virgin Mary which overlooks the town for nice views, but be warned, it's a heart-pumping hike!
Tungurahua, (for Ricardo Robalino - the operator of the refugio). With its crater at 5023m (16480ft) this active volcano provides strenuous hikes just south of Baños. You can hike up from the center of Baños (1800m, 5900ft) or take a taxi to the ranger station of Sangay National Park (2800m, 9200ft) and start from there. From the center go towards Termas el Salado. On the road that leads to the baths, take the first right to find the marked start of the trail. The first part of the unmarked but mostly obvious trail takes you up to the hamlet of Pondoa(2400m, 7900ft) which has a small restaurant. There follow the paved road that later turns into a dirt track up to the ranger station where you need to register (free). A steep and unmarked but obvious trail goes from there to the refugio at 3800m (12500ft) where you could stay overnight ($5 per person) to enjoy the clearer views in the early morning. This hut has a basic kitchen, water access, and a few thin mats to sleep on. This is where you need to turn around unless you brought a guide. It is forbidden to go any further on your own because of the quickly changing weather conditions and the trail that is hard to follow in foggy conditions. $5 if you stay overnight at the refugio.
Several agencies rent out mountain bikes ($5 a day or $1.25 an hour). But make sure that you or someone with experience checks out the bikes and ensures that they are safe to use. Especially check if the gear is clean and oiled enough - bikes look really good, but are sometimes not maintained like they should be. Also be sure to understand who has to pay for damage to the bike should it occur.
A popular ride is the 61 km, mostly downhill, to Puyo. The first 18 km to Rio Verde is strewn with impressive waterfalls, some reached by mini cable cars across the valley. Rio Verde's Pailón del Diablo is the most dramatic. The frequent tunnels on this road mostly have bike bypassses and the only one you need to go through is the first one. There are good signs indicating where to go all the way to Puyo. From Rio Verde or Puyo there are frequent buses back to Baños, some of which will put you bike on the roof. It is also fairly easy to hitchhike your way back on a pick-up truck.
You can also sometimes include a small bungee-style jump off a bridge some 30 minutes from Baños.
Many companies organize rafting trips to the nearby Pastaza river. The rapids range from class II to IV, depending on the recent rainfall. A half-day trip costs about $30–35 and you are best off going with a respected, well-known organizer. The water is not too cold but beware of sunburn where the wet suit doesn't cover. In June 2009, a French tourist drowned when the boat capsized. Be careful!
ATVs and Dirt Bikes
ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) and motocross bikes abound in the town and you can easily rent one for a couple of hours or days. The hills surrounding the town provide good views of the town and the volcano and climbing to the antenna or to the cross are both good options. You can also drive down to Puyo if you don't feel like biking.
Many kinds of tours are organized to the Amazon jungle from day trips to the edge to two week adventures deep in the jungle. You will get to meet natives in their villages, swim under a waterfall and see at least some small wild animals like frogs, fish and spiders. You can usually also bundle the tour with rafting if you want. Note: The tours around Puyo have a price range of about $35-50 per day, but no matter how much you pay, you'll probably end up on the same bus, eat the same food and stay at the same place, so shop around a bit before booking.
Several tour operators offer bridge jumping. There are two bridges this is done from, one is much higher than the other. Although the operators are not covered by any kind of liability insurance, the rigging equipment is of high quality and done professionally.
Dozens of tour operators offer rapelling down waterfalls (canyoning).
For a reliable, affordable, and fun outdoor activities check out MTS Adventure between Av. 16 de Diciembre and Luis A. Martinez near the church. Canyoning, rafting, canoping, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, hiking, etc. Guides are knowledgeable and fun.