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Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

Baños de Agua Santa, usually just called Baños, is in the Andes Mountains, at the foot of the volcano Tungurahua, in Ecuador. A bus from Quito, eighty miles to the north, will cost you less than five dollars. Once there, you can soak in one of the hot springs, go to one of the discos or other bars, and watch a volcano erupt.

In June of 2004, my wife and I spent a week or so in Banos. We had a clean hotel room with cable TV and lots of hot water, for $6 per night (It was $12 normally, but we are good negotiators). We paid $1 for lunch each day ($2.25 total for both, with tip), which was usually chicken, rice, beans, salad and juice. Sometimes we splurged and paid $1.50 for lunch at a nicer place.

Most nights we went to Santo Pecado ("saint/sinner") or one of the other discos (our favorite was Tuparina, perhaps due to the huayusa, a drink made of a psychedelic plant collected by the family of the owner). Some days I played chess in the open market in the center of town, with Manolo, Rene, or other locals.

Getting into Hot Water in Banos

There are two hot spring facilities in Banos, and two more with cold water. Having been to some of the hot springs in Ecuador, we can say that these are some of the best. Our favorite is at the base of a waterfall that tumbles from the mountain above. You can walk to it from anywhere in town. It costs one dollar, or a little more if you want to enjoy the mineral-rich waters under the stars each evening. A sign documents the amounts of various minerals that are in the water, and many people come to alleviate their arthritis or other illnesses.

Volcano Tours in Baños

There are dozens of volcanoes in Ecuador, and several of them are active. One of the most active ones is Tungurahua, which overlooks Banos. To see it, you need to get out of town. Baños is set deep in the surrounding lush, green mountains, which block the view of the volcano. The best way to get a good look at it, is on a "volcano tour."

There are at least two operations in Banos that take you on tours to see an eruption. Just watch for one of the "chivas" circling town and basting loud music in the evening. A chiva is an open-sided bus of sorts. You can ride on the roof, as I did, or "inside," as my wife did. First you'll get a tour of the city with loud party music playing the whole time. Then you will head up into the mountains.

There may be fire-juggling entertainers on top of the hill, where you will be given a hot rum drink while you look down on the lights of the town. Then, if you are lucky, as we were, and there aren't too many clouds, you'll see Tungurahua spit up some lava. I wrangled another drink or two, as well. The entire two-hour experience, including drinks and the honor of helping to push-start the chiva, cost only $3 per person.

Other Activities in Banos Ecuador

Here is a quick look at some of the other activities in Banos.

ATV Rentals

You'll see ATV (all terrain vehicle) rentals around town. It is relatively inexpensive if you want to ride the streets r the trails nearby.

Horseback Riding

You'll have to travel up the volcano to Luna Runtun for this. There are lessons and tours at the resort there, and great views of Banos down below you.

Dancing and Drinking

The best bars are mostly located on Alvaro Street. My wife and I thought that the best music (but not necessarily for dancing), was at the Jack Rock Cafe. The best light show and dancing floor was at Son Cubano. The Mocambo seemed to be one of the most popular bars.

Chess

This may interest only a few readers, but I love to play chess. Banos has some strong players. Roberto, owner of the Jack Rock Cafe, usually has a chess board out anytime it isn't too busy. If you like timed games, ask for Manolo at the artisan's market in the center of town. He and Renato (who also has an artisans stall there) are a couple of the best players in town. Manolo teaches the kids, who are also pretty good by the time they are ten-years old.

Chess in Banos With Manolo

Bicycle Rentals

It is cheap to rent a bicycle, and if you are a regular rider, it can be a great way to visit communities like Rio Verde on your own schedule. There are also some trails in the hills around town, but I suspect they are too steep for most of us.

The Cathedral

It is worth taking a look inside the Cathedral in Banos. You'll find classic architecture, history and art. It is generally open to the public, although there are often processions of one sort or another coming and going.

Walking Around

One of our favorite activities in Banos is simply walking around. You could cover most of the streets of the town in an afternoon. It is a great way to get to know where different restaurants and stores are.

Art

There are a couple galleries in Banos. One has beautiful paintings by Ecuadorian artists, as well as fantastic carvings and sculptures. You'll have to find this one on your own (I was so busy looking at the art that I didn't write down the name or address).

Did I mention that Banos is beautiful, with a perfect climate year-round?

2007 Update

Baños De Agua Santa, more commonly just called Baños, hasn't changed much in the last four years. There are a few new bars, a fresh coat of paint on many buildings, and the same religious processions parading by and into the cathedral almost daily. You can still hear the Volcano grumbling, although the tours to go see it now cost $4 instead of $3 - but that still includes a free hot rum drink or two. It is even still possible to get a decent lunch for $1.50.

The hot springs pools have been improved, and now cost $1.60, or $2.00 for the night session. New tile work and a new stairway up to the waterfall viewing area above the hot springs have brightened up the facility. The tiny changing rooms are the same, however, so we recommend wearing your suit under your clothes when you go, to reduce the time you need to get ready.

Hot Springs In Banos Ecuador

The Hotsprings in Banos

The Volcano Tungurahua

Tungurahua was active enough earlier this year to chase everyone away for a day or two, but it seems to be behaving at the moment. While we were there (October 2007) we were told that ash had fallen overnight, but I didn't notice any. Evacuation routes are well-marked in case there is a major eruption, and locals tell us that nobody panics, so it is easy to leave town if necessary. You can't actually see the volcano from town (there are steep hills blocking the view), but you can watch for it as you come in from the north, or take one of the tours.

Waterfalls

This time we took a "Waterfall Tour" for $10 each, on the "Mocambo" chiva. A chiva is an open-sided bus, and you can ride on the roof or "inside." The tour takes you to several waterfalls, as well as to a place where you can bungee-jump off a bridge if you want to (I didn't). If you ride on the roof (as I did for part of the trip) expect to get a little wet, as one of the cliff-hugging roads the chiva takes goes under a small waterfall. Definitely bring the camera for this trip.

On the hills around you, you'll see greenhouses in the most unlikely places - impossibly steep places where no road can go. These are used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables, which are then brought down to the surrounding towns by mule or horse or backpack. The growing season is year-round here, and everywhere you look it is green. Banos sits more-or-less between the Andes mountains and the Amazon rain forest.

The last stop was in the small town of Rio Verde (Green River). We - and the three other tourists that were on this trip - hiked 20 minutes down into the forest to see the Pailon Del Diablo, or "Devil's Cauldron," an awesome waterfall that is accessed through private land. Being private, it is much nicer than any public park would be, with secure railings and viewing balconies where you can feel the spray from this powerful waterfall. Of course, being private, you do have to pay $1 to enter.

For more on that, see the page: El Pailon Del Diablo.

Hotels in Baños

The good news is that hotels and hostels in Baños are easy to find and very reasonably priced. But there will almost always be something wrong with even the nicest rooms. At least this is our experience in all of the seven or eight places we have stayed at over the years.

One hotel we stayed at ran out of hot water each day if you didn't get up early enough for your shower. Another had a leak in a water pipe that left a trickle of water running across the bathroom floor to the drain - it was tough to see and tough to remember not to step in it in the middle of the night. Another ran out of water, and we had to move to a new hotel.

On our most recent stay (October 2007), we stayed at "Plantas Y Blanca." This translates as "Plants and White," which describes the appearance pretty well. Everything is painted white, and there are plants in every corner. We particularly loved the rooftop terrace. The photo below is taken from there.

Waterfall In Banos Ecuador

Looking Towards the Waterfall and Hot Springs

It cost us just $15 per night for a private room, but they operate as a hostel as well, with beds starting at about $6 per night. There are steam baths for an extra charge (we didn't try them). After breakfast (the kitchen/dining area is on the roof), you are free to use the kitchen to cook your own meals if you like, and there are some snacks and drinks - including beer - that you can buy. Just take what you need and write it on the form with the room number.

In general, you can get a decent room with a hot shower for under $20 in Baños. There are certainly more expensive places, including some high-end resorts on the edges of town, but there are also some great deals if you come during a slow time and negotiate a little (try paying for a few nights in advance to get the best deals). We like the hotels and hostels that are closer to everything. Fortunately, there are probably twenty or more that are within a five-minute walk of the market in the center of town.

Be sure that you are clear what you are paying. Many hotels charge by the person, so $7.50 may mean $15 for the two of you (as it did in our case). Ask if there is plenty of hot water (if that is important to you). Plantas Y Blanca had a television and movie rentals in a common area, but none in the rooms. many have cable TV. Many hotels also include breakfast in the price.

Hotel operators are usually happy to show you a room before you decide, so ask if you are not sure. And if you want to be close to the nightlife, the bars and nightclubs are mostly on Alfaro Street.

Restaurants inBaños

Four years ago when we were in Baños, Ecuador, we were on a tighter budget. Accordingly, we had our $1 lunches, and splurged every other day for the $1.50 lunch at the better restaurant. Both were decent meals (usually soup, chicken, rice, beans, salad and juice). This time (October 2007) we spent as much as $6 for a meal and tried seven or eight different restaurants in five days. It was some of the best food I have eaten.

Here are a few examples of places we ate. I apologise for the lack of addresses, but all of these are within walking distance of almost any hotel. Just ask around.

Chez Robertos

This may be one of the more difficult restaurants to find. It is on the backside of the town, close to the hills. The owner (Roberto) also owns the bar "Jack Rock Cafe," on Alfaro Street, so you can get directions there. It is worth finding. We had fantastic trout dinners for about $5 each, and the woodwork in the building makes it very cozy.

Dulce Refugio Cafeteria

This was our breakfast stop. I had never heard of "arepas" before. They are Venezuelan corn tortilla "pouches" that are filled with cheese, pork, or chicken. The cheese ones were wonderful, and the chicken arepas were one of the best meals I have had in a while. An arepa, a cup of coffee, and a tall glass of "Mora" (raspberry) juice cost $1.25 total.

Dulce Refugio Cafeteria In Banos Ecuador

Ana With the Owner of Dulce Refugio

Pancho Villas

I wasn't thinking that I would have to go to Ecuador to find some of the best Mexican food I have had, but there it was. While you wait for your meal, check out the post cards sent back from satisfied customers all over the world. Like most of the restaurants in Baños, this is a very clean place, and very comfortable. The margaritas need some work, though (my opinion based on a sip from my wife's drink).

Cafe Hood

This one is a classic that has probably been written up in many of the guides. It is decorated with Hindu gods and other eclectic wall hangings. It serves a variety of different meals, including many vegetarian selections. We ate there several times, and everything we tried was good. For a light meal one night, we had delicious fresh-baked bread toasted with cheese and tomato on it, and a glass of wine. It cost $2.50. Tell Ivan that Steve and Ana sent you. (I'm the chess player if he forgot my name.)

Casa Hood

Check out the collection of books here. You can exchange your novel for a new one if you like. A nice environment, candlelight, and many vegetarian selections on the menu. I had a gluten-burger and salad, Ana had fresh bread with humus and a vegetarian soup. We really liked this place.

We were in Ecuador, but in Baños we had Venezuelen, Mexican, French and Italian meals--and these are just what we got to in the five days we were there. There are also Chinese, German and other ethnic restaurants to try. Of course, there are always many restaurants that have the basic $2.00 Ecuadorian lunches and dinners, and these are almost always delicious.

For more information on travel in Ecuador, visit the pages, "Information on Ecuador," and "Climbing Mount Chimborazo." There is also some information on taking the train in Riobamba to "El Nariz Del Diablo," (The Devil's Nose) on the page, "Scenic Train Rides."

Want to brush up on your Spanish before going to Ecuador? Use this link: Free Spanish Lessons


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