Baños is THE adventure sports destination in Ecuador with all manner of things to drive fast, rappel down, swim under and fall out of. Unfortunately, all this adrenaline fodder can come with a hefty price tag to make hardcore budget backpackers squirm and your money disappear.
We spent several days exploring the mountains, rain forest, waterfalls and THAT swing to bring you a list of activities to keep you entertained in this beautiful area of the country whilst leaving you with plenty of pennies to enjoy the rest of your trip!
#1 bike ride to puyo
The 60km bike ride to Puyo is one of the most well-known cycle routes in Ecuador - if not South America. It's not always easy, but the lactic acid inducing uphill climbs are almost always followed by a steep descent (wheeeeeeee!), and a very welcome breeze. Whilst a lot of people often choose to finish after the first 20km after visiting the waterfalls, it is well worth persevering.
Push yourselves that little further and you will be mesmerized as the beautiful mountain vistas give way to ardent green rainforest and you come to the very limits of the Amazon and an entirely different world; you may start this ride being sprinkled with rain but will end in blazing sunshine.
If you're really not used to cycling or unfit, then maybe just limit yourself to the first 20k.
How to get there: Thankfully for those of us less than adept at reading maps, the road to Puyo is one long stretch and almost impossible to get lost on! Simply follow the signs out of town for Ruta de las Cascadas and keep going. Along the way, you will be diverted away from tunnels onto little dirt tracks but these are always sign-posted.
Depending on how many stops you have along the way, a relatively fit person should be able to make it to Puyo in four to five hours. Once there, you can, if slightly crazy, turn around and cycle back. However, what most people do is take the bus back to Baños - the companies seem pretty used to stowing bikes underneath.
Cost: Bike rental should cost no more than $7 per bike, and the bus back $2.50 per person. Please note: there is NO charge for transporting your bike on the bus, despite what grumpy ticket women may tell you! Remember to bring water and snacks, although there are plenty restaurants along the way to stop off at.
#2 visit the waterfalls
You can not possibly visit Baños and avoid spending some time exploring the 'Ruta del las Cascadas'. Having seen more a few less than spectacular waterfalls on this trip, we are pretty hard to impress.
Yet, one cannot experience the El Pailón del Diablo and not be blown away. You could easily hike to every waterfall in a day, but most people choose to do it by rental bike to save time.
How to get there: Follow the signs out of town and the turn offs for each individual waterfall are easy to find.
Cost: Bike rental for the day is $7/person and the method we'd really recommend, and entry to Pailón del Diablo is $1.50 - all other waterfalls should be free. There are a variety of zip-lines, funiculars, bungee and bridge jumps available along the way so remember to bring extra cash if that's what you're looking to do.
#3 hot springs
The hot springs in Baños are pretty famous - they are, after all, what the town is named after. There are a number to choose from including the ever popular Las Piscinas de la Virgen.
Keen to spend our time relaxing and not surrounded by loud children, we walked the 2km out of town to Piscina El Salado, which attracts less tourists also. After donning our rather attractive rental swimming caps we spent a good couple of hours languidly relaxing in the hot pools and rapidly jumping out of the ice-cold pools. After too long spent on rather uncomfortable bicycle seats the day before, we couldn't have chosen a better way to unwind.
How to get there: Walk along Rocafuerte away from the town centre, you will pass the cemetery on your left. Keep going until you reach the beginnings of a small path that will lead you to a bridge across the river. When you come back up on to a road, turn left and walk a further 10 minutes until you see the baths. If unsure, ask any local along the way.
Cost: $3 entry per person plus compulsory $1 swimming cap rental. You can also store your valuables there.
#4 casa del arbol
They say a picture is worth a thousand words - and when it comes to Casa del Arbol, they couldn't be more right. In fact, the picture you take upon the famous swing is actually far more impressive than the place itself. Yet, a trip here remains high on every backpacker's list and it's a nice enough place to spend a couple of hours on a sunny day.
If the weather is on your side, you may also be afforded some spectacular views of Tungaruhua volcano.
How to get there: Take the bus from Rocafuerte and Pastaza which goes at the ridiculous time of 5.45 a.m. or the more realistic 11.30 a.m. The bus will wait at the top for you where it will return at 1.30 p.m. (trust us, this is plenty of time to see and do everything) or you could hike back down.
Cost: The bus costs $1 each way per person and entry to the treehouse is an additional $1 per person.
Unsurprisingly, for a town located amongst such beautiful countryside, Baños is home to a number of stunning hikes ranging from between a couple to five hours, the most popular being Bellavista or El Virgen.
How to get there: The routes are well sign-posted and any good hostel will be able to provide you with a map and point you in the right direction.
Where to stay in Banos?
Given Banos' popularity on the backpacker trail, it is hardly surprising that that town is full of hostels, guest houses and hotels - which we know can make it difficult to make a choice, and a recommendation can go a long way!
After wandering the streets, ridiculously heavy bags in tow, we settled upon Princesa Maria, a great hostel only five minutes walk from the centre of town. It had a fantastic kitchen, big rooms and really helpful staff - we'd definitely recommend it!
Sound like your sort of place? Click here to find out more and make a reservation!