Baños, Ecuador

The eponymous banos (green) with waterfall (clear)

Baños is in the northern foothills of the Tungurahua volcano, at an elevation of 1,820 metres.The town is named after the hot springs located around the city which have a reputation of having healing properties due to their content of various minerals. Baños is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ecuador due to its amazing natural beauty (it is home to more than 60 waterfalls) and its plethora of available adventure sports (in which we did not partake, but were visible at every turn). When staying here you would want to visit Banos town, perhaps go up the mountain, and also drive down the valley towards Puno to enjoy the waterfalls

The volcano's activity has been characterized by frequent powerful ash explosions and lava flows that can be seen from Banos, and is being monitored by the Geophysics Institute at E.P.N. Renewed activity in October 1999 produced major ashfall and led to the temporary evacuation of more than 25,000 inhabitants from Baños and the surrounding area. Activity continued at a medium level until May 2006, when activity increased dramatically, culminating in violent eruptions on 14 July 2006 and 16 August 2006. The 16 August 2006 eruption has been the most violent since activity commenced in 1999. This eruption was accompanied by a 10 km high ash plume, depositing ash and tephra to the southwest of the volcano. Several pyroclastic flows were generated that killed at least five people, and destroyed a number of hamlets and roads on the eastern and northwestern slopes of the volcano. A further eruption and evacuation occurred on 4 December 2010. Ecuador's National Agency of Risk Control issued a "red alert", later downgraded to orange. The Ecuadorean Institute for Geophysics reported a rapid increase in seismic activity, a number of explosions and an ash cloud reaching 2 kilometres in height. Another eruption occurred on 18 December 2012 forcing evacuation of those living on the volcano's slopes. The volcano erupted again in July 2013. And on 1 February 2014, the volcano erupted again.

You can bathe in the local hot springs. There are plenty of them, ranging from public bath houses to private spas, the latter of which are more aimed at the international visitor. Locals prefer the public hot springs. All the springs’ water contain a high mineral content brimming, they say, with restorative and healing properties. From a personal point of view, the hot spring pools were so green in colour that they were not inviting, and even Chris, who would normally swim in anything wet, avoided taking a swim here

The famous basilica is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa, “Our Lady (the Virgin Mary) of Holy Water.” The basilica was built at the turn of the last century from volcanic rock sourced near Tungurahua. The Virgin is credited with many miracles in the area, and it is said she appears by the waterfalls from time to time. The neo-gothic interior of the basilica is decorated with her stories and the site is a pilgrimage for those wishing to thank the Virgin for her many miracles.

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To reach Banos involved a fairly fraught drive of about an hour from the Pan American - all steeply downhill on a road frequented by lorries travelling in crawler gear. Overtaking was not legally possible on account of a continuous double yellow line, but that did not deter most Ecuadorian drivers from overtaking - we were later told that most drivers look on double lines as only a suggestion that you do not overtake, not a prohibition.

We were only in the area the one night, but a walk round the small town, a visit to the cathedral and hot springs, plus a walk across the bridge to the other side of the river, gave us ample time to see the beauty of the place

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Aldea Real Eco Resort More B&B than an "Eco Resort" :-). We stayed at this small hotel, about 20 minutes walk from the centre of Banos - we walked rather than face parking in Banos. The walk was easy and interesting, and you could have taken a taxi quite cheaply.

Our bedroom looked out over the river valley below, a truly stunning vista . The hands on owners have set up a very comfortable, well equipped hotel. Nice rooms, most with the stunning views. Breakfast taken on the outside patio was very pleasant. We had dinner here as well, rather than go into town - there was no real place to eat dinner, and it was served in a hallway upstairs, where the lighting was bad

The owner was very chatty and helpful, and made our stay very agreeable

The hotel represented excellent value for money, and I would recommend it to anyone in the area

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Cafe de Arte & Te - We enjoyed their iced coffees, plus a slice of chocolate cake and one of cheesecake. It was quite expensive being aimed at the tourist market. But it is a very pleasant little cafe, where you can sit outside in their small garden, and relax on an interesting hammock chair while enjoying your coffee

The next morning we drove down the road towards Puno for a hour, but although we passed some waterfalls, never found "the big one". I was not keen to go too far, as I had a long uphill drive back up the road that we had descended the day before. Once back on the Pan American, it was a fairly easy drive to our hotel just outside Riobamba.

On to Riobamba

Ecuador Holiday