When a place is described as the ‘adrenaline capital’, it’s usually not my cup of tea. Too much artificial adventure and not enough nature. But somehow Banos manages to offer both.
The location, in a steep valley at the foot of the spectacular Tungurahua volcano, is already a bonus. The northern edge is built on the cliffs over the Rio Pastaza. The village itself isn’t very spectacular, with its gridlike structure, but lively it is. And that’s what matters.
Actually, for some people it might be too lively. There is a party street with several drinking holes, catering especially towards foreign backpackers. And there are more tourism agencies than coffee cafes, which is an achievement in its own right. But if you stay clear of those overcrowded streets, there is plenty to cherish in Banos.
- General introduction
- Food and drinks
- Activities / Things to do
- Getting there and getting around
The complete official name of the village is called Banos de Agua de Santa. That already indicates that the heritage is in the spas that can be found on several locations in town.
Banos is also at a crossroads towards the Amazon area. The Pastaza river running through the village gains in strength along the famous Ruta de las Cascadas (waterfall route) eastwards. Near Mera and Puyo the river landscape opens up to slowly transform into the Amazon. The Pastaza is also the location of almost all of the adrenaline tours from Banos.
There is a massive international crowd in Banos. Even during the 2020 pandemic this was the one town where one could actually see and hear foreigners. That makes for a wild nightlife north of Parque la Basilica.
The international crowd makes for international cuisine AS WELL. Don’t forget though to enjoy good fish food if you can. For drinks Honey deserves a special mention: the coffee is just really really good and with some food it makes for the perfect lunch. It is located at a corner in Parque Central.
- one strange thing about Banos is that it seems to have not one but two central parks. The official one is small but cute, on the western side, and is also called Palomino Flores. But two blocks further east is the Parque Basilica, obviously with a church. This one is slightly bigger and touristy
- the Termas de la Virgen on the eastern edge of Banos are the most famous ones. Actually the original one got expanded recently with a massive outdoor complex including waterslides
- El Salado is hidden in a canyon near the western edge of the village. This one is cute and more catered towards locals, and has baths with different temperatures. A cap is compulsory
- in the western part of Banos is a stairs to the cross (mirador La Virgen) overlooking the village. It’s a gentle thirty minute walk which guarantees awesome views. You can continue further uphill if you want
- on the eastern side is a smiliar lookout, just slightly higher, called Cruz de Bellavista
- La Casa del Arbol is a treehouse and viewing deck on the mountain towering over Banos. You can walk there, but it’s apparently a bit inconvenient because it’s alongside a normal asphalt road. There are also buses going once every 1-2 hour in the weekends from the bus terminal
- adrenaline: there are many tourist agencies providing guided tours. You can even go deep into the Amazon jungle for a multiple-day trip. But more standard excursions are for ziplining, bungee jumps and rafting. These take place along the Ruta de las Cascadas
- Ruta de las Cascadas can be done individually as well. If you have a car of course you have total freedom. A rather brilliant option, which I took, is to rent a bike. You can go all the way down to Mera or even Puyo by bike (40-60km) to see the landscape transform from Andes to Amazon. It is mostly downhill but strenuous nonetheless. For the return trip you can hop on any bus going to Banos, and put the bike in the luggage compartment
- the easy way is through Ambato. If you come from Quito or Latacunga you can (and usually must) switch there to a bus to Banos. From Cuenca there are even direct buses. Going to/coming from the other direction (Puyo in the Amazon) is also possible. It’s slightly unusual, but you could go from Quito to Puyo, stay there to explore the Amazon and then continue to Banos
- within Banos everything is within walking distance. Even the El Salado spa is only a 30 minute walk
- Weather: don’t expect thirty degrees and sunshine. Banos is at around 1’500 metres. The climate can be mild, even in the evening, but rain happens almost daily. Be prepared for everything from sun to chilly nights and rainshowers and you’ll be fine
- Safety: not an issue in Banos. Take the regular precautions against pickpockets