Located about 2 hours South East of Quito, Banos is Ecuador’s answer to those looking for a place where extreme sports and good hiking are musts in their travels. Despite what many travel guides and travelers say the town itself is not very attractive, with little to offer culturally-wise except for the town church and… and that’s about it.
This said, Banos is a great place for hiking and mountain biking. There are several paths to be followed starting at the town center, but the most popular one is the Camino de las Cascadas (path of the waterfalls). This is a downhill ride along the main road that takes about 1.5 hours from which you will see four waterfalls, the last being La Cascada del Diablo (the devil’s waterfall) which is the biggest and most fun. It does require a 10 minute walk from the parking lot and they charge 1 USD to see it from the top (which is actually half way up).
The way back to Banos is another story, and you’ll have to be in some sort of good shape to accomplish it. If you can’t or can’t be bothered get a car lift for 3USD or stop a bus on the main road for 25c. You should have no problems carrying the bike in either of them, which costs about 5 USD for a day;if you are up for other activities these include bungee jumping, paragliding, rafting, buggy driving, horseback riding and more.
All these activities are easy to find in many other places, but in my opinon there is one thing that really makes Banos worth a stop: Tungurahua volcano.
Its activity is very attractive during the day, with clouds of smoke rising into the sky and making itself easily viewable from the distance, but it is at night when you will see it better, with several options available depending on how close you want to be and how much money you want to pay (5-25 USD/ person). 5 USD takes you with a chiva to one of two spots: the top of the mountain in front of Banos, or the Cross on the hill overlooking the town. Make sure you choose the first option: it’s the one I chose (by chance) and on the way up I was rewarded with glimpses of lava flowing and rocks being spit in the distance. Unfortunately once we reached the summit clouds decided to get the front seat- and that was the end of the show. All we could do was listen to the thunder the mountain made, quite unique already.
The 25 USD tour takes you to the base of the crater with a 4WD, and you’re guaranteed not to come back to Banos until you have seen enough and have taken all the pictures you want.
Accommodation and food are quite cheap in Banos; it is easy to find a basic room with toilet for around 6 USD and good almuerzos start at around 1.5 USD, fresh juice included as usual. Depending on how many activities you want to participate in two days is enough to see the volcano and the natural attractions in the area. It is common for travelers to head to the jungle from here (via Puyo), but I took at 4am the only bus direct bus to Otavalo, where the most famous market of the country would welcome me 8 hours later.
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