Budget Adventure in Baños de AGua Santa, Ecuador
Known as the gateway to the Amazon, Baños de Agua Santa is one of the most scenic places in all of Ecuador. The town itself is not the prettiest, but the surrounding scenery in the Andean Valley is breathtaking. Baños, as it’s called, is known for its thermal baths and the Instagram famous swing at the end of the world. However, those fun experiences aren’t even the highlights of visiting Baños.
There are plenty of beautiful waterfalls and viewpoints that are easily accessible by bike or on foot. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s an active volcano you can summit without a guide. Baños de Santa Agua also is one of the best destinations in Ecuador to visit on a budget.
What to Do
La Casa del Árbol – This is the biggest attraction in Baños and you may have seen it on Instagram. The 1-minute ride on the “swing at the end of the world’ is thrilling and the views are fantastic. I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing to do in Baños, but it’s certainly a fun experience. Don’t be afraid to tip the guys pushing the swings because they work very hard. Plus, the park entrance is only $1.
You can get there on foot, by bus, or by taxi. If you choose to hike, beware that the trail and the directions aren’t the best. Maps.me has the best directions, but the last 30 minutes of the route are incorrect.
Ruta de las Cascadas – The thrilling bike ride along highway E-30 passes 4 waterfalls in 15 km with the most impressive being El Pailon Del Diablo. The ride is mostly downhill and the scenic journey is arguably more enjoyable than the waterfalls. The entrance to each waterfall is $1 and it’s $2 for El Pailon Del Diablo. In Rio Verde, a truck will bring you back to Baños to avoid 15 km of pedaling uphill.
You can rent a quality bike from Wonderful Ecuador for $5 a day and they provide a map with useful info. There is an option to continue 40 km to Puyo, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are confident you will make it. Once you get beyond Rio Negro the road is no longer downhill. Plus, there is not much public transportation between Rio Verde and Puyo, and I was fortunate to have a kind local bring me back to Baños.
Mirador Bellavista – This is hands down the best viewpoint in Baños. If you walk to La Casa de Árbol, this is right near the trail. Otherwise, it’s a 45-minute walk from town and it’s well worth it.
Termas de la Virgen – Thermal baths are a necessity after a long day of biking and hiking. They will be crowded on weekend nights, but you will still have your space. There are two pools, the top one was a perfect temperature and the bottom one was so hot I couldn’t dip more than my feet in.
The entrance after 6 PM is $4 and during the day, it’s $3. You need a swim cap to enter and there are vendors selling them for $0.50 near the entrance.
Mirador La Virgen – To reach one of the best viewpoints in Baños, you need to climb quite a few stairs. If you type in Mirador La Virgen on Google Maps, it will take you to the wrong place. The start of the stairs are labeled Comienzo Del Sendero al Mirador de la Virgen. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the viewpoint from the town center.
Mirador Ojos del Volcán – If the skies are clear, this steep 2-hour hike rewards you with views of Volcán Tungurahua. I would only recommend doing this hike on a clear day. Otherwise, you will have put in a lot of effort for a view of Baños that is similar to other more accessible viewpoints.
Summit Volcán Tungurahua – I had read nothing about this before visiting Baños and missed out because I had to catch a flight to the Galápagos, but it looks incredible. The volcano’s peak is 5,015 meters and unlike Cotopaxi, you can summit without a guide.
There is a refuge where you can get a few hours of sleep for $10 before attempting to reach the summit at sunrise. The trailhead is not accessible by public transportation, so you’ll need to hire a taxi.
Adventure sports – There are plenty of adventure activities in Baños including rafting, canyoneering, paragliding, and ziplining.
Where to Eat
Haycha Restaurant – A more upscale restaurant serving traditional Ecuadorian food, which can be hard to find in a touristy place like Baños. A meal costs about $9-10.
Arepas To Go – An amazing Venezuelan restaurant where you can get an arepa and a juice for $5. They serve empanadas, traditional Venezuelan plates, and vegetarian dishes as well.
Café Chocolate – Their quality breakfasts with wonderful juice and coffee are the perfect way to start your day.
Mercado – The town market is a great place to try local food for only $3.
Where to Stay
Great Hostels – With plenty of organized activities and a legendary owner this hostel has a fantastic atmosphere.
Papacho’s Hostel – You’re bound to meet fun people at this hostel with a family vibe. It also has a terrace with nice views of the town.
How Long to Stay
2-3 days is enough time in Baños de Santa Agua before heading to your next destination in Ecuador.
Where to Next
Quilotoa Loop (2 hours by bus) – An awesome 3-day hike through the highlands that ends at the Quilotoa Lagoon.
Quito (3.5 hours) – Ecuador’s charming capital has stunning churches and the largest historic center in South America.
Cuenca (8 hours) – The country’s prettiest city has great food and is the nearby the beautiful Cajas National Park.