By Keith & Tina Paul - Photographers by Keith & Tina Paul
When people think of Baños, they mostly think of the small town in the Cuenca Canton about 20 minutes from Cuenca. However there is another Baños in Ecuador, that’s about a 6-hour drive away, commonly referred to as Big Baños. This Baños is known as the adventure capital of Ecuador. It’s probably most famous for its volcanic heated thermal baths, but there’s a lot more to do than just go for a soak. Baños has many adventurous things to do like paragliding, rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, hiking, off-roading, bungee jumping, ziplining, canyoning, cliff swinging, and touring the Amazon which includes visiting an indigenous tribe. If you’re not the adventurous type, there’s plenty of restaurants, shops, spas, and thermal baths where you can just relax and enjoy the warmer than Cuenca weather.
There are a few ways to get to Baños. You can drive or take a bus. Some say fly into Quito and drive, but you don’t save much time. We decided to rent a car and drive there. I have to say that the drive was easy and beautiful. It’s nothing like driving through Guayaquil or the Cajas with crowded and winding roads. All the roads to Baños are less traveled country
highways. This was our first time driving in Ecuador, and while I was a little apprehensive at first, I ended up loving it. It took us 7 hours to get there which included a 45 minute stop in Alausi to have lunch. Alausi is a great city to stop in because it’s about the halfway point to Baños. It’s a charming city with great architecture that sits in a beautiful valley.
There are lots of places to stay in Baños. From hostels to mountainside spa resorts. We stayed at an eco-lodge on the river about a 30-minute walk into the city. The city is the perfect size for walking around. There are plenty of restaurants and tour companies that cater to the many tourists that visit. We went to Baños to check off some travel bucket list items. We wanted to go zip lining for the first time, do a tour of the Amazon and go paragliding. Of course, you couldn’t go to Baños and not take a dip in one of the thermal baths. There are three thermal baths in Baños. The two public ones cost about $2, and then there’s the one for $20 that’s at the resort on the mountainside. We did the $20 one, so we could enjoy the views overlooking the city and watch the sunset. These baths aren’t hot tub hot, but rather warm, which means you
can stay in them for hours. The water was unusually buoyant due to the mineral content, but the experience was awesome. For our first adventure, we did zip lining. There are a couple of places to do this, but we wanted to find one that had some runs that weren’t too high since it was our first time and I have a thing about heights. I have to say I loved it. We even did it superman style.
About an hour drive from Baños, you’ll be in the Amazon. We did a great tour that included a hike in the Amazon, a canoe ride down the river in a hollowed out tree, a stop at a locals house where they made chocolate grown from their trees, and a meet with an indigenous tribe called the Shuar. The Shuar showed us around their village and taught us how to use a blowgun.
Lastly, we went paragliding. The city has a designated paragliding site where you can take off and land at the same location due to the thermals in the area. However, we couldn’t cross that off our bucket list because the weather didn’t cooperate. The rain and fog made visibility about 10 feet.
Baños is a place we will visit again. We were there three nights, and there’s still a lot we didn’t do.
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