Banos, Ecuador (not to be confused with Banos de Cuenca, Ecuador) is a great place to get away from city life. The locals gather at the most popular baths – banos de la virgen – for a Sunday afternoon soak in the mineral rich murky waters under a pristine waterfall, surrounded on all sides by steep lush green hills. In marked contrast the facilities are downright ugly, the dressing rooms tiny and the lounge chairs in ugly cracked plastic. Luxury seekers beware. Compared with upscale thermal baths in Cuenca (my favorite is Piedra de Aguas) or in the United States (ahhhh beautiful Harbin!) this is definitely slumming it. But if you can go early to the less popular baths, and close your eyes to enjoy the natural mineral rich water, you won’t be disappointed.
Banos is popular with families, quite evidently, as evidenced by the throngs of shops hawking inflatable duckies and other fun toys near the baths. But for the more romantically inclined, luxury spas in the foothills (swiss-run Luna runtun for example) offer romantic champagne and rose petal jacuzzi soak packages. Their on- site cafe Cafe del Cielo boasts beautiful views if the valley, though forgettable food (mediocre pesto crepe for $5 anyone?)
The tower of the church lies in the center of the city, with Calle Ambato filled with a mx of local fare and international restaurants. The artisanal market is a cute alleyway, though most stalls hawk mass produced tourist gizmos, and they all sell the same 20 items.
The spas in banos are everywhere. At Natural Spa, a 60 minute massage goes fir $25. At Spa Osaka, an 80 minute massage and facial goes for $25. I’m sure there are cheaper places in town too, although the masseuses are far from the most skilled I’ve had.
The best part of Banos? I’m inclined to say the activities. On a slightly rainy day I booked a zip lining tour of the canopy. The truck picks me up in 30 minutes and drives me to a remote area in the hills. A visit to the equipment house to strap in a harness and a short climb a I’m sailing through the trees on the first of 6 zip lines! You can sit, hang upside down like a bat, or do the ” superman” and fly across the canyon.
Where I stayed: the Napolitano Apart Hotel offered charming rooms, with just the right amount if modernity and Ecuadorean style. The pool was empty, although I suppose no one in their right mind would want to swim in chlorinated water with all the mineral baths around. The location was a short 10 minute walk to town, just far enough for max tranquility, and for $50 per night and a view from the room to the waterfall I have zero complaints!
|Banos de la Virgen – awesome water, fugly facilities|
|The main square|
|Banos de la Virgen at night – My 2 cents for management: Fluorescent green and blue lighting does NOT make this waterfall prettier.|
|Hike back down from Cafe del Cielo, you won’t be disappointed.|
|“Al murcielago” i.e. bat style!|