Baños de Agua Santa, more commonly known as Baños, sits almost smack bang in the middle of Ecuador, some 83 miles directly south of Quito. Known as “The Gateway to the Amazon” thanks to its location on the cusp of the jungles to the east, this small town of 20,000 people is nestled in the Andean foothills of the Tungurahua Volcano.
Sounds impressive? Well, it is. The town itself is overcrowded and overly touristy, but it’s easy to ignore the lack of urban splendor when you’re in Ecuador’s most popular base for outdoor adventure. The list of possible activities is impressive and caters to all levels of ability, from casual trekkers to extreme sports enthusiasts.
Nearby waterfalls — one with a cable car fly-over — are within easy trekking distance, with longer hikes radiating out from the town. If you don’t feel like walking, rent a mountain bike from one of the local agencies. One of the most popular rides is a 38 mile, mostly downhill ride to Puyo, passing waterfalls and other spectacular scenery. Horseback riding is also easy to arrange.
For extra adrenalin, you can go canyoning, paragliding, bungee jumping, zip lining, rock climbing or rafting (class II to IV rapids). Speed freaks, meanwhile, can rent ATVs and dirt bikes for exploring the surrounding area.
Jungle tours are another big ticket in Baños. The town sits right on the edge of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and trips of two days to two weeks are easy to arrange. Longer expeditions can take you all the way into Parque Nacional Yasuní, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, which sits about 150 miles east of Baños.
And when your muscles start to ache from all the trekking, biking and paddling, make the most of the very thing that the town was named for: its baños, or baths. A handful of thermal springs are within a short walk or ride from the town. They’re normally quite full, but you won’t find a better way to soothe those aching bones.
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