Earth : South America : Ecuador : Andean Highlands (Ecuador) : Baños
Baños (de Agua Santa) is a small city in the Andean highlands of Ecuador under the smoke of volcano Tungurahua. Its name, which is Spanish for "Baths (of sacred water)," comes from the famous hydrothermal springs in the area. It's equally popular with foreigners as with Ecuadorians and is known as the adventure capital of Ecuador. The streets are lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour agents. Although it seems a bit touristy and artificial lots of people love it and it's definitely worth a visit. It's an important hub for outdoor sports and jungle tours.
The small bus terminal is on the north edge of town and is within walking distance to the center and most all hotels. However if you need to catch a taxi, it should cost you less than $1.
There are frequent connections to Baños from Quito (3.5 hours, $3.50), Riobamba (2 hours, $2) and Guayaquil (5.5 hours, $7.00). Be aware there are reports of scams on the Amazonas bus company, whereby passengers are ditched in the southern districts of Quito. When they buy another ticket with another company, they are told they have to return to Quito and argue for a refund. The closest bigger town is Ambato (1 hour, $1) and there are very frequent buses between the two towns. The road between Baños and Riobamba is currently closed, so if you´re headed anywhere south you will need to backtrack via Ambato and then head south.
Easy, just walk. Nowhere is more than a 15 minute walk from where you start and usually even less. It is relatively flat in the city centre.
Also check out the mountain biking section should you wish to explore further afield.
There are also plenty of taxis around should you need one.
There are dozens of travel agencies offering rafting, climbing to Cotopaxi, mountain bike rental, multiple day trekking, jungle tours, etc.
The best massage studios are all on the same street, within 50m of each other. They are all $20/hour. Try Xu Jing Casa de Salud for an excellent massage from a wise old chinese woman. Corner of Luis A. Martínez and Eloy Alfaro, across from Casa Hood.
Around Baños there are several easy trails. The tourist office (calle T. Halflants at the park) can provide simple maps. On some trails you can find many signs on the way, though the indicated distances seem to be quite contradictory. Head up to the statue of the Virgin Mary which overlooks the town for nice views.. but be warned, it's a heart-pumping hike!
Several agencies rent out mountain bikes (5$ a day or $1.25 a hour). But make sure that you or someone with experience checks out the bikes and ensures that they are safe to use. Especially check if the gear is clean and oiled enough - bikes look really good, but are sometimes not maintained like they should be. Also be sure to understand who has to pay for damage to the bike should it occur.
A popular ride is the 61km, mostly downhill, to Puyo. The first 18 km to Rio Verde is strewn with impressive waterfalls, some reached by mini cable cars across the valley. Rio Verde's Pailón del Diablo is the most dramatic. The frequent tunnels on this road mostly have bike bypassses and the only one you need to go through is the first one. There are good signs indicating where to go all the way to Puyo. From Rio Verde or Puyo there are frequent buses back to Baños, some of which will put you bike on the roof. It is also fairly easy to hitchhike your way back on a pick-up truck.
You can also sometimes include a small bungee-style jump off a bridge some 30 minutes from Baños.
Many companies organize rafting trips to the nearby Pastaza river. The rapids range from class II to IV, depending on the recent rainfall. A half-day trip costs about $30-35 and you are best off going with a respected, well-known organizer. The water is not too cold but beware of sunburn where the wet suit doesn't cover. In June of 2009, a French tourist drowned when the boat capsized. Be careful!
ATVs and Dirt Bikes
ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) and motocross bikes abound in the town and you can easily rent one for a couple of hours or days. The hills surrounding the town provide good views of the town and the volcano and climbing to the antenna or to the cross are both good options. You can also drive down to Puyo if you don't feel like biking.
Many kinds of tours are organized to the Amazonas jungle from day trips to the edge to two week adventures deep in the jungle. You will get to meet natives in their villages, swim under a waterfall and see at least some small wild animals like frogs, fish and spiders. You can usually also bundle the tour with rafting if you want. Shop around a bit for the package and price that best suits your wishes. 20 dollars for the trip.
Several tour operators offer bridge jumping. There are two bridges this is done from, one is much higher than the other. Although the operators are not covered by any kind of liability insurance, the rigging equipment is of high quality and done professionally.
Dozens of tour operators offer rapelling down waterfalls (canyoning).
There are a lot of different places to buy handicrafts, there are a lot of small business in front of the church in the middle of the town.
At the market you can find decent meals from $1 to 1,5$.
Sugar Cane Taffy (Melcocha)
Melcocha is Ecuador's hallmark candy and the majority of it is made in Baños. The abundance of sugar cane in the area makes this version of taffy a local specialty. It is a naturally sweet taffy made from boiled raw cane syrup. In store fronts that sell it you are likely to see it being made by pulling it and beating it against sturdy door frames.
Sugar Cane Juice (Jugo de Caña)
Sugar cane is also popular in a less worked form as chewable cane pulp sticks or squeezed juice.