Banos, Ecuador may not appear to be anything special at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. With all the great things you can do, this little tourist town is actually one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ecuador.
You can spend days in Banos and never get bored. Besides amazing natural beauty (more than 60 waterfalls!), Baños offers everything from extreme sports and nature to miracle cures and thermal baths. It is also the “gateway to the Amazon,” a perfect spot to begin an exploration of Ecuador’s Oriente (eastern) region.
Things to do in Banos
If you’re beginning to feel spoiled for choice, you are. Here’s a list of the best things to do in Banos Ecuador.
Or, if you want to make things super easy, consider a 2-day tour from Quito. The trip includes the End of the World Swing, a city tour, adventures of your choice, and more.
1. Start by exploring the town of Baños de Agua Santa
Banos is your typical Ecuadorian town which, if you’re the curious sort, can be interesting in itself. When we travel, we think it’s fun to just soak up the local atmosphere and see how another culture lives. I’m talking about houses, shops, markets, clothing, what have you.
Walk through downtown Baños, explore the side streets, wander into shops … even if only for a short while, it’s all part of the experience. You can even go a little further afield and explore the residential areas.
We especially like to walk through town squares, which often have nice gardens or interesting statues. Banos had a particularly delightful town square near the cathedral that was chock full of flowers. Sightseeing is fun, but sometimes it’s good to just “set a spell” so you can watch children playing and passersby.
2. Get wet at Cascada de la Virgen
Baños, the “gateway to the Amazon,” was our final stop on a tour of Ecuador’s Amazon basin in 2014. Our overnight stay made a nice contrast to the days we had spent “roughing it” in the jungle, a chance to relax for a night before heading home to Cuenca.
Baños can boast of over 60 waterfalls in the area but apparently, the Virgin Mary makes an occasional appearance at the waterfall in the center of town. This may appeal to you if you’re Catholic.
According to the locals, Santa Maria has performed a number of miracles in town, and so they named the waterfall in her honor, Cascada de La Virgen. As you’d expect, Baños is a pilgrimage site for the faithful of Ecuador. Even the town’s official name, Baños de Agua Santa, means Baths of Sacred Water.
Speaking of faith, Baños is proud that it sits at the base of a live volcano. You might imagine that living at the base of an active volcano would make its residents want to relocate. Not in this case … they believe that Baños is protected.
Tungurahua erupted only a few days after we were there, which really upset Dan. He wished he could have captured all the activity on camera.
ⓘ TIP: At the other end of town, take a short but steep hike to the statue of the Virgin Mary. It offers fine views of both Baños and active Volcano Tungurahua.
3. See Basilica Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa
Baños dates back to 1570, a few years before the foundation of Quito, when Dominican missionaries traveled the region evangelizing. So, considering the importance the Virgin Mary has in the town’s history and culture, it makes sense to begin with its religious focal point.
Banos’ first church was a humble hut. According to legend, someone saw an image of the Virgin Mary and two angels leave the hut and come to rest at a nearby waterfall. The following night, the Virgin appeared to the priest and told him to build a church. She also promised that the faithful who bathed in the waters would be cured of their diseases.
The town showed its gratitude for the promised miracles by building a neo-Gothic style basilica out of volcanic rock. They named it Our Lady of the Holy Water (Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa). Or Church of the Queen of the Holy Water Rosary (Basilica Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa).
Every October, Banos holds a festival in honor of la Virgen de Agua Santa. It is visited by hundreds of domestic and foreign tourists who arrive in search of spiritual peace, some for the virgin or simply out of devotion.
Regardless of its name, Banos’ faithful citizens have always fled to the church whenever volcano Tungurahua erupts. Thus far they have always come out unscathed. Yet one more of the Virgin’s miracles.
Instead of the usual Bible scenes that decorate the walls of most churches, the artwork on the walls of this sanctuary depict miracles that occurred in town, including saving the church from the volcano’s fury.
4. Visit the Shrine to the Virgin
You can also visit a whole separate area with a shrine to the Virgin. While I’m sure it works for the locals, it definitely doesn’t work for me. With its pasty skin, the doll they used was pretty creepy-looking. Forgive me, but I don’t consider it a compliment to the mother of our Messiah. It looked like a corpse overdue for burial.
5. Shop at the pedestrian mall
Not far from Banos cathedral, you’ll find a pedestrian mall with stalls selling crafts, silver jewelry, and touristy knick-knacks. Many of them are crammed so full of stuff it is almost overwhelming.
We saw one vendor sitting outside his shop, I guess because it didn’t have enough room for him as well!
As you can see, this woman knits hats for a living. (It can get cold in the mountains!) She was carrying on a conversation with her friend across the street, so focused that she didn’t even notice Dan photographing her.
6. Check out Rio Pastaza Gorge
This isn’t just any gorge, this is the gorge that a priest didn’t fall into! The story goes that one very early, foggy morning, a visiting priest was riding into town, but he was so drowsy that he just let his horse lead the way. When he arrived at church, the townspeople were surprised to see him. “How did you get here? The bridge over the gorge is out!”
This is one of the miracles that are portrayed in the basilica. You can see the remains of the bridge that fell, but far more impressive is the beautiful gorge itself. Banos is built along its edge, and the river is that same one that creates the stunning Pailon del Diablo waterfall nearby.
7. Go on an extreme adventure!
Baños is the Ecuadorian mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Walk through town and you’ll find plenty of agencies eager to take you on an amazing outdoor adventure. Any travel partners who don’t want to get their hearts pumping can enjoy their slice of nature at the local zoo (Zoologico de San Martin).
If you’re an extreme sports lover though, you’ll think you’re in heaven. Just about anything you can do outdoors can be done in Banos. Whatever extreme adventure you can dream of, someone probably offers it. Tour companies are all over town.
Here are a few ideas:
- rafting Class IV rapids
- learn rock climbing
- experience canyoning
- tour the Amazon rainforest
- take a mountain bike or an ATV out on a rugged trail
- hike to one of the 60 natural waterfalls in the area
- visit the remote Llanganates National Park
- ride a horse
- go ziplining
And that’s just for starters. Take your pick, then go out and catching all that activity on camera. Your friends will be green with envy!
8. Try melcocha, a local sweet
You can’t walk through Baños without seeing someone standing in the doorway of his shop, pulling and wrapping a pliable length of color. They are making melcocha, a sweet taffy made from sugar cane.
Each melcocha artisan has installed a wooden peg on the inside of his door frame. He will wrap the confection around the peg, then stretch and beat the taffy again and again, until it’s just the right texture. Once it’s done to perfection, they cut it in lengths and wrap it, ready for sale.
If you’re lucky, you might be offered a sample, fresh off the peg. Be careful if you have dental work, though; it’s strong stuff.
9. Indulge in a spa
After all that activity, set aside some time to visit a spa. Whether you prefer high end spas or something moroe budget friendly, you’ll find your fit in Banos.
A local specialty worth considering is a $5 bano de cajon, or “box bath.” Literally named, you sit on a stool in a box, and are enclosed up to the neck so your body can be bathed in eucalyptus steam. You can control the steam via a lever inside and they will ask if you want breaks from the steam. That’s when you immerse yourself in icy water.
Massages, a spa classic worldwide, can be had for $25-$35 per hour. Other services, such as facials and manicures, are available as well. Unfortunately, since we were there for only one night, I couldn’t carve enough time out of our visit for any firsthand research. What a disappointment that was.
10. Enjoy the hot springs
There’s no doubt that Baños is a popular vacation spot for both Ecuadorians and foreign tourists. It’s pretty obvious from the number of hotels and backpackers we saw. The big attraction is its aguas termales, or natural hot springs — and there are plenty of them in and around town, some complete with gyms and spas.
All of the baths are fed by the hot springs coming from Tungurahua, the adjacent active volcano. The yellow water might make you pause, but relax. It’s not dirty water you’re looking at, but water that is rich with sulfides and natural minerals. The locals swear by its healing powers.
After all the hiking we’d done we were ready for a hot soak, so after dinner we headed over to the public baths, called Las Piscinas de la Virgen. “They’re easy to find,” our guide said, “Just walk toward the waterfall.” Sure enough, we found the baths at its base.
We paid our $3.50 admission, then I was directed to a shop selling snacks and trinkets to purchase the required bathing cap (40 cents!). After donning our bathing suites in the changing rooms, we showered and joined everyone else in the nearest pool. To say the pools are crowded is an understatement, but the atmosphere is friendly and pleasant.
The hot water for the public baths comes from Tungurahua, the volcano next to Banos. The water is naturally full of healing sulfur. Few things can beat soaking in a natural hot springs, knowing you’re getting good-for-you water, with a view of the sacred waterfall, La Cascada de la Virgen. Good memories.
Anyway, different pools have different temperatures, depending on the amount of cold water mixed in. Some pools are so hot you’ll need to take a break now and then just to bear the extreme temperature. There are even ice cold pools for people who enjoy shocking their bodies. We avoided both of those. Not crazy yet.
By the way, we were among the last to leave and we saw the staff draining and scrubbing every pool.
ⓘ TIP: The pools are open during the day and again at night. They close in the afternoon to clean the facility.
After dinner, we headed straight back to the hotel to get our bathing suits. This was our first opportunity ever to visit public baths and we weren’t going to miss out!
We arrived to find another couple from our tour were already soaking in the hot water. What a pleasant surprise! Roger and Jo are in their 80s and have more energy than anyone we know. They
Roger and Jo also recommended some other baths that they like, right outside of Cuenca. It sounds like another field trip might be in order….
Eating in Banos
The mercado in the center of town is where to find local produce, meats, and more. If you’re adventurous and hungry, join in and sit at a stall where they will be happy to serve you a tasty and filling lunch of platos típicos, typical local fare for only a few dollars. Way to go … eat like the locals!
Baños has plenty of bars of course, as well as both international and local restaurants. We found a bar offering 2-for-1 happy hour mojitos (at Ecuador prices!), then discovered a wonderful Italian place called Pappardelle Ristorante while searching for an early dinner.
Dan’s chicken lasagna was made to order. Can you tell?
- Want a guidebook? This one is a top-seller.
- Transportation can sometimes be a challenge in a new place. this website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
- For more sightseeing, view our Banos, Ecuador photo gallery.
Holidays and festivals in Banos Ecuador
- February – Carnival
- March/April – Holy Week
- May 24 – Battle of Pichincha
- August 10 – First cry of independence
- October – Feasts of the Virgin
- November 2 – Day of the faithful departed
- December – Cantonization party
27 thoughts on “10 Best Things To Do in Banos, Ecuador”
My wife loved her trip to Banos, Linda. What a fun time for her. Noted for when I finally visit Ecuador.
She owes you a trip, Ryan. You’ll love it.
I was there earlier this year and it seemed the most popular attractions were the Casa del Arbol and Pailon del Diablo. We didn’t bother with either (in fact our time in Baños was spent mostly resting and on the laptop), but it was great to learn about other things to do in Baños from your post!
It wasn’t until later that I realized that Casa del Arbol was in Banos. So disappointed – I’d have loved to pose on that “swing on the edge of the world.” We did make it to Pailon del Diablo waterfall, though. That is one steep hike!
Did you take a break from online and try the baths?
Don’t worry, it’s a gimmick and too touristy Not dangerous at all, it’s an optical illusion and you probably would not have a decent view of anything, it being foggy most of the time. I, and many others, think it’s stupid. It’s just become a ‘thing’, for no reason.
Thanks for the reassurance. It sounds like it’s only worth it if you’re looking for a photo op.
very nice post , really superb . Thanks for your sharing .
Thank you; we enjoy sharing quality travel experiences.
Must be interesting to visit the Rio Pastaza Gorge and see how that poor priest escaped death. Not that I doubt a miracles had happened, but there is always the possibility that the horse knew a way around it. Your pictures caught so well the local atmosphere!
I should find a photo of that gorge for this article; it’s really deep, like a crevasse! The priest story intrigues me and I have never been able to come up with an explanation short of a miracle. I’d never considered that the horse might have known a way around it, Anda. Something new to think about.
A varied colourful town, though I am not sure I would wan to climb the volcano – no matter what the local say.
I doubt I’d do it either, Sally. Besides, I’m not much of a mountain climber.
Banos looks amazing – what a wonderful place to wander around, soak up the culture and enjoy the hot springs and spas! I hope I’m still travelling like that when I’m in my 80s, like the couple you met. #theweeklypostcard
So do we, Elizabeth. I can’t imagine hitting the slopes at that age, but it would be nice if we were in good enough shape to have that option. Thanks for linking up.
Oh my! There are so many things to do in this small town. I have read it is one of the best adventure towns in Ecuador. I like this kind of towns since there are plenty of activities to have during the day. Then, you can return to town and have great dining and drinking options. Ecuador seems so cool. I am not sure why I haven’t been yet.
You should go, Ruth; it’s quite affordable. I’ll admit we were surprised at how varied the country really is. It’s a shame that most of Ecuador’s tourists visit the Galápagos Islands and nothing else. They are missing out.
Nice list. This reminds me of my trip to Peru – the colorful street vendors and beautiful cathedrals.
Lucky you, we were only in Lima for a stopover.
We visited Baños after volunteering with Monkeys near Tena. We cycled which was great as it went only down the mountain and we were transported back by bus. The hot springs was … nice … but rather grimy. Other than that, a good place to spend a few days or more as there is much to do. Here you find our story of the Monkey project in the jungle of Ecuador: http://animalcarers.com/2014/07/28/muddy-path-to-freedom/
What a small world; we actually visited that identical place, and I wrote about it too! I enjoyed reading your article because it gave me a different perspective on the sanctuary. Here’s our article: AmaZOOnico: Animal Rescue in Ecuador’s Amazon.
Every photo in this post make me want to book a ticket right now. I would definitely like to explore the Amazon.
Thanks, Jan. We tell everyone they should explore it. Best time of year is around June-July, when it’s cooler, drier and less humid. That weather makes for fewer mosquitoes as well.
I am very much interested to know more about that church with all the miracles of the Virgin Mary. I’m always fascinated by these kinds of stories – coming from a very Catholic Philippines, we do have a lot of those too. 🙂
The Virgin Mary does get around, doesn’t she? 🙂 The miracle stories in Baños were fascinating. I wish the church had a website that listed them all.
I would definitely explore the town on foot. I’m the biggest runner and town explorer so walking around Banos would be one of my favourite things here. Do you know any nice restaurants around? 🙂
You know what, Agness, we don’t regret spending all our time exploring the town on foot at all (though I truly do regret not being able to get a massage). We were only in Baños for one night but we did manage to find a wonderful Italian restaurant on the main street called Pappardelle. If we ever return to Baños we plan to eat there again. It was that good.
Great list! Banos is probably one of our favorite places to go to in Ecuador. There are so many things to do and see.
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