Baños, named after its thermal baths (but often confused with “toilets”), is about four hours by bus from Quito in Ecuador and a super fun town. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a highlight from my time here, and some of it probably shouldn’t be shared (hi, Mum). I dove off a 100m bridge, jumped backwards off a waterfall, got myself steamed in a wooden box and at one point there was even wrestling.
Here are my top 10 things to do:
1. Go “puenting” – AKA jump off a bloody bridge
Since leaving Baños I have met a tonne of people headed that way and every single time I say excitedly “Dude, you HAVE to jump off the bridge”. I don’t seem to lose this enthusiasm, that’s how good it is.
It’s incredibly thrilling, but you have a full-body harness instead of a bungee cord so it’s not quite so intimidating (I can see my jumping buddy laughing at this statement). Having said that, you do have to dive head-first. They even showed us videos of how to do it vs how NOT to do it. It still entertains me thinking hundreds of people see this muppet doing it the wrong way and getting awkwardly jerked around like an idiot. Poor guy!
It’s also hilariously casual. Within five minutes of enquiring at a travel agency a taxi had arrived, we were at the bridge then climbing over a railing onto this dodgy little platform. It’s only TWENTY US DOLLARS (coincidence?). Don’t think too much, just do iiiiiiiiiiit. Nobody has died yet. I think.
Above left: Feeling confident pre-flimsy fence climb
Above right: What I affectionately call “the gremlin” – a face I have never seen before. Yes, they make you climb over a safety railing. My advice? Don’t look down. Also, take a hot Canadian with you who you’re trying to impress.
2. Have a “health bath” – AKA steam yourself in a box
This activity is necessary if only for the photos. You sit in a wooden box, steam the shit out of your body (but unlike other steaming experiences, you have control over the steam and your head is free – just don’t get an itchy face). After three minutes, you wash yourself with a big cold wet towel (or they do it – super awks), then sit in a shallow pool of cold water, then as an optional extra (lol) they can high pressure hose you down. Like an elephant. I am not kidding. You then repeat the process three times.
3. Bike ride from Puyo to Baños
Now, I didn’t technically do this. I messed up and hired a stupid and expensive buggy that could only go 30km/h (don’t do this). But the scenery is beautiful and you can stop at waterfalls along the way, including the impressive El Pailon del Diablo. You can hire a bike all day for US$5.
4. Go canyoning
You can abseil down waterfalls, go down natural water-slides and finish with jumping backwards off a waterfall. This activity is a hella lot of fun, and you can’t do it all over the world. Do it in Baños for US$30. Bargain!
5. Visit the thermal baths
These are super relaxing, especially if you’ve just been on a big hike like the Quilotoa Loop. I met someone who went back to Baños specifically for these baths!
6. Swing off the edge of the world
There’s a famous swing just outside of Baños that’s attached to a tree house. You can catch a local bus there for a couple of bucks, and just chill out for an hour or so. I went on a Sunday afternoon so got stuck in lines with kids (they were totally budging in front – I don’t care how old you are, not cool), but it totally cured my hangover.
7. Enjoy the street art
I was surprised to discover that this small town had some really cool street art – this is where my banner image comes from! A lot of people think Baños isn’t that pretty, and obviously it’s no Cuenca or Quito, but I still really enjoyed walking around town.
8. Inhale a real coffee at Honey
After months of hopelessly hunting for decent coffee in Chile, Bolivia and Peru I FINALLY found really good stuff in Ecuador. Honey cafe is located on the main plaza and it seriously serves up real Italian-style coffee. You can get a macchiato (that is actually a piccolo) for US$1.5. And the wifi is awesome. AND while I was there I got serenaded by this random black guy. So maybe I am biased!
Above: Amazing macchiato (piccolo) and chocolate cake with manjar (caramel)
9. Eat at the Venezuelan place
Baños is not exactly known for food, and because it is touristy a lot of it is pretty expensive. And not THAT great. Alto Caribe serves up really amazing food for as little as US$3 for a generous entree and main with a juice. Ot US$2 for breakfast.
10. Salsa dance at Leprechaun
I’ll confess that I didn’t actually salsa dance here – I instead drunkenly and unashamedly performed my Year 4 Egyptian dance routine in front of and amongst the bemused salsa dancers. To be fair, I had just had dirty 50 cent tequila shots.
This “salsateck” and “discoteck” is the main place to go out and lots of fun. I had a delicious pisco sour (yet to fully kick the addiction from Peru), and they have both salsa and a normal disco. I have to admit I don’t fully remember the music in the latter (I was busy stealing Nike shoes off some poor Ecuadorian guy). It might have been gringo music or overplayed latin pop, but who cares!
GO, GO, GO!
There are plenty of other things to do in Baños, like ziplining and white water rafting (neither of which made my top picks), and you definitely won’t be bored here – I ended up staying a week. The important thing is to go! And when you do, please send me embarrassing photos of your face if you jump off the bridge.