During our time in Ecuador we bumped into several other travelers who had told us about the town, either encouraging us to go because of the tour options or warning us away as a touristy area. So we decided to see what the fuss was all about. After a longer-than-expected eight hour bus ride into Baños in the center of the country, we arrived in the small town around 10 pm. Our hostel, Hostal El Recreo, was about a mile and a half from the bus terminal, and with our baggage a taxi cost two USD to get there. We highly recommend that hostel–cheap and the owner is friendly and even drove us into town a few time for free.
The town (in English, “Baths,”) is nestled at the foot of a large, active volcano and between several hills in the region. It makes for gorgeous scenery. We walked outside the next morning and were immediately glad we came–the views were worth it all, and we hadn’t even looked at activities yet.
The town is quite small and renowned for its thermal baths, caused by cool waterfalls and volcanic heat combining into great hot springs to bathe in. Everywhere we went we could see waterfalls cascading down into the valley at the edge of town. We felt a little travel-sore, so our first order of business was to find one of these thermal baths and enjoy ourselves.
There are several bath houses throughout town and even up the mountain sides, ranging in price and value. We went with a middle-weight, Santa Clara, which is in town and easy to walk to. Costing four USD per person, it is a brand new municipal center, which meant it was cheap and the facilities nice. It wasn’t as natural rock-and-vegetation-formation as we had expected, but we did have a good time in the hot tub and outdoor pools.
We only went to a pool once, but if we had gone a second time we would have checked out Eduardo’s, which is next door to Santa Clara and privately run, so a little more expensive but also a little nicer. Other blogs I read talked about spas on the side of the volcano that cost 20 USD a person but included incredible views of the valley.
Banos is also a highly religious area of Catholicism, because many people believe the Virgin Mary appeared at one of the waterfalls ages ago. The cathedral is in her honor. Although the town is very touristy, we really enjoyed walking around. The tourists that come here are backpackers (like ourselves), adventure sport enthusiasts, and hikers. All three of us are much more comfortable in this type of environment rather than the Cusco version of touristy.
We traveled up to see the Casa del Arbol that afternoon, something I had really wanted to do. It is about a 45 minute local bus trip up the side of the volcano (one USD one-way) to see a famous treehouse with a rope swing attached to it. It is called the “swing at the end of the world” because it swings over the edge of a cliff. We were suspended about 8,530 feet above sea level and close to 2,000 feet above the ground.
The pictures we viewed online were quaint: a treehouse, a gorgeous view, and little crowds. Well, the word is out now, because we had to stand in line for 20 minutes before getting a chance on the swing–and we only got three swings out of it. I mean, it wasn’t bad. It was actually a lot of fun. It just wasn’t what we had been expecting. It costs one USD to get into the park, where there are beautiful views of the valley, a cafe with cheap hot chocolate, and a small zipline.
As you can see, the fog was rolling in. We arrived around 5 pm, which I think is too late in the day for good photos. The best time of day is between 11 am and 3 pm to get a clear view of the surroundings. When we got our turn, fog had covered everything and it was murky gray. Thankfully, he had snapped a photo of the area before the fog got bad, so he photoshopped the two pictures together. That isn’t cheating, right?
It’s cheap entertainment and a great way to see the rest of the valley during the bus ride there and back. There are other, alternative “casa del arbols” now, because of the popularity of the original. We didn’t go to those, bus a backpacker we met in our hostel said El Vuelvo del Condor (Flight of the Condor) is great.
We spent the rest of the afternoon perusing dress shops and tour agencies, eager to try out adventure sports. Jordan, Sarah Ann, and I all decided to do zip lining in the morning and canyoning in the afternoon–a full day’s schedule.