One of my favourite places in Ecuador was visiting the town of Baños (de Santa Agua). This town was built for tourism as it was a getaway spot for local Ecuadorians to enjoy the thermal spas while immersing themselves in the serenity of Andean highlands. Nearby an active volcano, Tungurahua, and only a short 3.5 hour bus ride from Quito – this town has something for everyone. Baños is known for being Ecuador’s adventure capital as it offers local and global travellers the opportunities to hike, bike, climb, swing and jump. For those that are less active, the thermal baths, massages and spa treatments found throughout town is a nice way to relax.
I stayed at the Princesa Maria hostel which is a touch outside the central area. Private room, consistently hot showers, clean facilities with very helpful and attentive staff. To provide a bit of perspective, you can walk all of Baños in 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Streets are lined with tour agencies, local eateries, spas, shops and panderias (bakeries) and the most charming features were the two small waterfalls located at the west side of town.
Also, keep in mind that it is summer vacation in January for South Americans and Baños had tonnes of vacationing Argentines and Chileans.
Without a doubt, this was the most inexpensive leg of my trip and where I stretched the dollar quite a way. Day tours were priced at $25, meals for few dollars and yes, my shady bridge jump from San Francisco bridge behind the bus terminal was a mere $20 (sorry, mom).
However, I needed to warm up a bit and signed myself up for some day tours. I ended up on a terrifying 1.5 hour hike up to canyon down five waterfalls, visited Casa del Arbol (not “swing of death” it was more like “swing of broken bones”), went behind Pailon del Diablo, hiked 2 hours in a rainforest to swing off a rope swing, hiked another hour to swim in a remote waterfall and canoed down the Rio Puyo. There are tonnes of activities to be done, and I only touched on a few. Trust me, it is very important to find accommodations have consistent hot water. Given it was the end of January and in the highlands, it was still quite brisk at night and early mornings. Worst case scenario, go to a local shop and bargain down the price for an alpaca blanket to keep you nice and toasty.
Bridge jumping (puenting) was the activity to do in Baños. They had day trips made for it where you could jump off multiple smaller bridges, but I wanted the big bridge that everyone spoke of. Apparently there would be line-ups and many hesitations but for those who had done it said it was such a rush. By no means am I an adrenaline junkie as I am terrified of heights and I often overthink every possible scenario.
This jump meant something to me as it was the end of my trip and I had something to prove to myself. I am always so susceptible to the opinions of others and succumb to the majority opinion or passive aggressiveness. I wanted to do this jump to prove to myself, that as scary as it was. That jump would be my call 100%. No one to convince me one way or the other, jumping when I wanted to jump instead of being pushed off or coaxed down but most importantly, I was the only one accountable no matter what the outcome. This was my perfect ending and I needed to jump off that cheaply welded platform aka baking sheet for $20.
Ecuador already taught me a number of great life lessons and changed my life in a way that a few understand but only I can truly appreciate. Baños is an awesome place to try things you’ve always been curious about as it challenges your mind, risk appetite, endurance and strength.
If you happen to be planning a trip to Ecuador or in Ecuador right now, don’t forget to check out Baños as it is worth the stop.