If you’re looking for a relaxation vacation, go to Baños! If you’re looking for an adventure vacation, go to Baños! You can pretty much have any kind of experience you want in Baños so whatever you want to do, you should go there! Plus, it is not very busy or touristy! I had only heard of it because my world traveling grandparents had been in the past and highly recommended it.
Best things to do in Baños:
- Casa del Arbol – the swing at the end of the world that swings you out off the side of a mountain!
- El Pailon del Diablo – hike to an incredible waterfall across suspension bridges
- Canyoning – repelling down / inside of waterfalls
- Volcanic baths at the Luna Runtun
- El Vuelo del Condor – fly like a bird while swinging suspended out over a cliff
- Jungle Tour day trip
- White Water Rafting
All of these things can be booked through separate tour companies or hostels downtown in Baños! If you book them through the Luna Runtun or any other fancy hotel they will charge you a premium just to drop you off downtown where everyone else is meeting to pay way less than you paid! Don’t fall for it!
Now if you’re following along from the start of my journey, you’ll know that I flew in and out of Quito which happens to be a solid 3 and a half hour drive from Baños. There are a couple of different ways you can make the trek and I’ll tell you about the two ways that I tried. First, was taking the 🚌 public bus for $4.45. This is of course the cheapest route apart from straight hitchhiking it. However, as is typically the case, if you’re going for the cheapest route, it will definitely not be the fastest. We took what they called the “direct” bus which obviously stopped constantly to pick people up. 😂 They weren’t long stops by any means, we would just pull off to the side of the road, a few people would jump on, every once in a while people selling food, ice cream, fruit, etc. Of course this starts to add up time wise so it definitely added at least an hour to the ride, if not longer. But have no fear! You will be entertained thoroughly throughout the entire ride.
Between beautiful scenery out the window, the interesting people who walk up and down the aisles at every roadside stop and of course the movies they play throughout the ride, the time passes quickly. (We were #blessed with the movies 🎥 of choice on our bus ride as “God’s Not Dead” a dramatic Christian movie voiced over in Spanish followed by the comedy I personally preferred “Instructions Not Included” a popular Mexican movie). The ride almost seemed too short because we arrived in downtown Baños before the movie ended. I hate not finishing movies… I want to know what happened! (Don’t worry I googled the end later 😝).
If you’re staying at a hostel and going the adventure, budget route, you have already arrived! Just walk your way over a few blocks to your hostel of choice. For the more adventurous types, there are so many hostels downtown you don’t even need to book in advance and could really just show up and walk into any of them and grab a place to crash for the night. Hostels can be anywhere from $5 – $35 per night. If you’re going the relaxation, fancy route like us 💁, you have another 10 minute ride before you arrive.
We were staying at the Luna Runtun Adventure SPA which was a recommendation from my grandparents and we sprung for the extra cash so that we could have a relaxing and decadent feeling vacation. After a short $6 cab ride from downtown, we were pulling into the front drive of the beautiful Luna Runtun. It was situated at least half way up the mountain with an incredible view of downtown Baños. We checked in at the main reception area – which also doubles as a game room complete with pool/billiards, chess, checkers, etc. – before we were escorted up through the restaurant where breakfast and dinner was served daily. We then wound back down past reception and through the greenery and flower lined pathways, past the organic vegetable garden to arrive at our private room. We chose one of the smaller rooms when booking (you select exactly which type of room you’d like) which was still the perfect size for us including a bed, two comfy chairs, a coffee table, small desk and we even had an unexpected balcony that overlooked the city.
Volcanic Baths at the Luna Runtun
After we dropped our things, we decided to explore the remainder of the campus and headed back up the paths, up the stone stairs, through the little iron gate towards the volcanic baths. As a guest, you have unlimited access to the baths however if you aren’t staying there, you can pay an entrance fee of $20 to relax and enjoy them. They are sprawled across three levels with a large swimming pool that was a bit cooler, three medium to small baths and a jacuzzi tub. All of the baths are said to be heated naturally from the nearby volcano at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We were there in February so this was an amazing temperature for late afternoon and especially in the evening. From any and all of the baths you have a spectacular view of downtown Baños, the Tungurahua volcano and the Llanganates National Park. Each time we went to the baths (which was almost every day hehe) there were max two other people there so we had the baths pretty much to ourselves which was amazing. Very relaxing, private and at night extremely romantic.
Cafe del Cielo
Just above the volcanic baths, a cafe called Café del Cielo with floor to ceiling windows boasts the same fantastic view that you get from the baths where you can enjoy a quick bite to eat or an incredible Chocolate del Cielo (my go to since I do not drink coffee). Gasp! I know! Apparently the coffee / coffee drinks here are incredible but since I didn’t have any you’ll have to go there yourself to taste them and let me know!
Finally, we stopped by the spa to see what the menu and pricing was like and decided to book facials for our last night in Baños. We figured we would be adventuring it up every day so we might as well book our relaxing spa treatment for the final night to remove all of the dirt we would inevitably accumulate between the start and end of our stay.
Even writing about all of that makes me hungry and tired! We finished our tour at the restaurant for a buffet style dinner which was delicious (as you’d imagine from a place that uses the organic vegetables out of their own garden). After eating way too much, including the adorable mini desserts that they laid out, we headed to bed so we could get up early and start our Baños adventures!
La Casa Del Arbol
The swing at the end of the world was such a cool thing! We set up to have a taxi driver for the whole day who picked us up at the Luna Runtun and was going to drop us off at each of our activities for the day. We went first thing in the morning to La Casa Del Arbol. Our driver parked his car at a nearby parking spot and walked up the short hill with us to get to the treehouse and the swing. Since we went first thing in the morning and it was February, we only waited a few minutes to get on the swing because there were just two other people there! When it was my turn, I jumped my butt back onto the large wooden plank of a swing seat suspended in mid air by two massive ropes that were secured to the tree house on the edge of the mountain. I clipped the rope across the front of my lap like a little seatbelt although you really wouldn’t go flying off the swing anyways but hey, safety is key right!? Then, there is a small ramp you can run your feet up behind you to get a better swing going but our lovely taxi driver gave me some big pushes at first so up, up and away I went! Pumping my legs to get even higher as I flew out over the edge of the mountain, I was flying high! Now I know it sounds so simple but let me tell you, it is the perfect amount of a small rush knowing your hanging over the edge of a mountain while also soaking in the amazing mountain scenery around you. A mix of fun and awe inspiring views. Since we were some of the only ones there we each got to go on the swing twice, taking turns regular swinging, spinning around in all directions, and then of course taking fun pics! When we finally felt like we had our fair share of swinging, we hopped off and climbed up into the tiny treehouse which is what the spot is actually named after. There are amazing views from the top of the treehouse as well and it almost makes it a little bit more adventurous when you realize the small wooden structure is what is responsible for holding up the swing. Happy as can be and a little sun burnt I might add – don’t let the amazing weather fool you! You are right by the equator after all and that sun is strong AF! Don’t be silly like me and forget your SPF the first day!
El Pailon del Diablo
Waterfall!!! Who doesn’t love a good waterfall!? Especially when in South America I mean, come on. El Pailon del Diablo or the Devil’s Cauldron is one of the coolest things that you can hike to and see on your own without a guide so I totally recommend it! It costs $1.50 per person to enter and there are two different paths you can take to get to the waterfall. One that brings you closer to the bottom / side of the waterfall and involves a lotttt of stairs and then one that brings you to a higher vantage point on the opposite side of the waterfall looking down over it. We chose the one looking down over the waterfall which involved walking over suspension bridges. I can’t resist a good old wooden suspension bridge. But either way is truly amazing. It doesn’t really take that long to do the hike but I recommend taking at least a few hours to enjoy the nature and the falls. After walking up the trail, we traipsed across the suspension bridges – yes I definitely jumped up and down while running across them a few times to feel all of the bouncies hehe. Once we arrived at the falls, I loved feeling the mist from the waterfall spray across my face to cool down after the hike. We just stared down the barrel of the waterfall for quite some time, taking in how insanely powerful it was with the water hurtling down in between the rock and pooling into a gorge at the bottom. When we felt we’d soaked in all of the waterfall we could, we headed back.
El Vuelo Del Condor
Clearly I enjoy the adrenaline rush of being suspended in mid air over the edges of cliffs so how could I resist when I found out there was another swing meant to be more like flying – El Vuelo Del Condor means the flight of the Condor which is a bird. This has way more security measures than the swing at the end of the world because you are being dropped off of a wooden platform that falls out from under your feet – I screamed a TON when this happened heheh – as you start to careen down and off the edge of the cliff with much longer ropes, and farther more intense swings. You’re also laying all the way flat. This was less of a photo op and more of just a really cool fun time. There were also some alpacas right next door that you could check out! Definitely worth the short pit stop.
First time every canyoning and let me tell you it was nuts! It involves repelling backwards down small waterfalls with your feet against the rock / sometimes in the waterfall, hands on a rope, and hopping / walking your feet down until you land either on the rock at the bottom or a small pool of water. It is very adventurous and super fun although it takes a lot of work!
We went through one of the adventure tour groups from downtown Banos where they get you outfitted in a full wetsuit, helmet, and water shoe situation before piling into the back of a truck to head to the mountain. They drove us part of the way up the mountain, thank goodness, and then let us out to climb the rest of the way following the guide. The hike was pretty uphill and seeing as we were wearing wetsuits and water shoes it was one hell of a climb. By the time we got to the waterfalls that we were to start canyoning down I was already tired and panting! Luckily I was so hot and sweaty though because the first splash of that water was FREEZING cold. There was of course tons of instruction, especially around safety, and always being clipped into a rope but then off we went! Repelling down through the mini waterfalls! One after the next, we went down so many that I was finally comfortable doing it by the third or fourth one and felt like a total badass. I’m basically in Mission Impossible, Ecuador Jungle edition rn okayyyy. When we finally got to the end there was a waterfall that was more like a waterslide so they told us we could slide down it on our butts and it spit us out into a little natural pool! Overall, it was hard work but so much fun. If you’re looking for an adventure, definitely try canyoning.
Jungle Tour Day Trip
We decided to do a full tour for a day in the Amazon rainforest seeing as we had no idea where to go or how to get there! I totally recommend doing this with a guide, it was amazing and our guide Darwin took us to some of the coolest places in Pastaza! It was a group tour so we had to agree on what to do with the other family that signed up for the tour the same day as us but there wasn’t anything we didn’t want to do so it was pretty easy for us to agree on our “choose your own adventure” activities. We all jumped in the bus with Darwin and he drove us for the entire day to each of our various activities.
First, we stopped by an animal rehabilitation center seeing monkeys 🐒 (bully monkeys, white cappuccino monkeys, black cappuccino monkeys, squirrel monkeys), tigrilla, turtles, snakes, capybaras, coati, carrier ants, etc. It was a massive outdoor area where you could walk down different nature paths to see all of the different cool animals.
Our second activity was a very peaceful and calm canoe trip down a river. They let us use the old school wooden canoes which was awesome. It was such a beautiful way to see the riverside scenery.
Next, was lunch at a casual local place with outdoor picnic benches. This was the type of place where there wasn’t really a menu and we all had fish. It was fresh tilapia and they gave us each our own entire fish with head and eyes on! 🐟 That part is always a little crazy to me but it was really good! They also had this crazy energy drink from a natural fruit as our drink for the meal.
After we were fed and full of energy, we headed off on a hike through the jungle! Knowing it would be a little bit muddy and wet, they gave us some rubber rain boots to wear for the hike which was pretty hilarious. Our end goal was to reach a waterfall but we stopped along the way to grab clay off of the ground and so people could cover their faces with it. Everyone must have looked so hilarious with clay all over trekking through the jungle in rubber rain boots. Along the way we saw some cute mini dark green and brown frogs too. When we finally made it to the waterfall, we were sweating and soo happy to jump into the freezing cold water pooled at the bottom of the waterfall. We spent a while there just swimming around the fresh pool of water and back and forth swimming underneath of the waterfall itself! It wasn’t too big that we could do so without it being dangerous. 🙂 When we finally had swam enough, we headed back down the trail to hike back the same way that we came.
The only thing we did all day that truly felt touristy was going to the indigenous village. Although it was very authentic that the village clearly did still live that way, they were obviously now only sustaining themselves off of the money from tourists that came by. They mostly were selling their handicrafts but also allowed people to try using their blow dart gun which was much harder to do than it looked. They also had a pet bully monkey that was running around jumping all over everyone and lightly biting them (without breaking the skin) like it was their little dog or something. When everyone had tried the blowdart gun, we headed back across the craziest metal bridge over the river to our bus.
Our final stop before heading home for the day was a local botanical garden where the family has 7 hectares of their own land that they’ve dedicated to recreating the rain forest. There were hundreds and thousands of different species of trees, orchids and bugs that are native to the area but were being cut down and destroyed for money. People were preferring to make money off of things like cinnamon trees by cutting them down to make cinnamon. It was amazing all of the work that this family did to help save these natural resources and regrow them. It was an amazing massive area that we only walked through a small portion of. They even had crazy, mini orchids that needed a magnifying glass just to see them as well as rare animals like a spider with a silver belly. We almost missed this due to timing as it was our last stop of the day but I’m so glad we didn’t because it was one of the coolest things to see.