Ahh, Baños. For us a brief reprieve as we headed north from Cuenca to Quito, but so much more for those travelers with a little more time for exploration. The small city of Baños and the surrounding mountains offer too many adventures to count, including hot springs, hiking, white water rafting, climbing, canyoning, horseback riding, mountain biking, and even this cool “swing at the end of the world“. For us, our short stopover meant a nice fondue Christmas dinner and wine at the Swiss Bistro, a relaxing visit to the hot springs the next morning, and a quick tour and snacking around town. We would have loved to check out the cliff swing, but one of the littles in the family was feverish and sick, so we nixed it, needing to get back to Quito and a hotel bed so she could rest.
Where to stay: There are dozens upon dozens of options of where to stay in Baños. We selected La Casa Verde and could not have chosen better. Our room was spacious yet cozy, breakfast was lovely (the bread was fantastic), and the Jenkins family, our hosts, were helpful, kind, and friendly. Their kids and ours had plenty of fun playing together for an afternoon, too. They also have a massage therapist, on-site, how convenient is that? To top it off, we woke to captivating morning views from our room and the many balconies off the house.
Hot springs: Piscinas de la Virgen can be found at the foot of a waterfall spilling down a rocky cliff, and is the thermal pool we tried. This is a very popular thermal bath and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Piscinas de la Virgen costs $1.50 for adults and has a number of pools to choose from: very hot, hot/medium (appropriate for kids), and cold. It also has a very cold shower coming straight from the waterfall. Although the pools were busy, it was still surprisingly tranquil, and all four of us left feeling happy and relaxed.
Other hot springs in and around Baños include Piscinas Modernas, Piscina del Cangrejo, Complejo Santa Ana, and Piscinas El Salado. There are also a few fancy spas, where you pay about $20 for 3 hours in the thermal baths, and they offer other services, too, such as mud baths and steam rooms. If this had been a grown ups-only visit, one of these spots followed by a nice massage and topped off with fondue and wine would have been my go-to, for sure.
Around town there are lots of little shops, tons of spas and massage parlors, and gobs and gobs of CANDY. In Baños they are known for their sugar cane taffy, which you can see being pulled in doorways of the sweets shops where it is sold. There are also rows upon rows of vendors selling sugar cane; we tried a small sample but didn’t know what we would do with the incredibly enormous package that was being sold for $1, and so we went with the taffy instead. We also tried some savory snacks- food carts were selling a spiced pork, onion, and hominy mixture that was very tasty and certainly worth the 50¢ it cost.
We took a brief look into Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa Church. The altar is lovely, but it’s really the murals, both depicting local miracles attributed to the Virgin Agua Santa, and some more typical biblical scenes, that impress. Next to the Piscinas de la Virgen, the Agua Santa Waterfall also has pools where people come to drink the water, believing that the virgin will heal them and perform miracles.
Overall our time in Baños was thoroughly enjoyed. I think its one of the spots in Ecuador we’d come back to, since there is so much we didn’t have the chance to do. And the opportunity to laze about in some hot springs after a day hiking, rafting, or swinging over cliffs? What more could an adventurer ask for.