You don’t have to travel for long in Ecuador before hearing about Banos. Fellow travelers will ask if you’ve been there yet and proceed to rave about how fantastic it is. Usually this sort of travel advice is worth taking and this is especially true when it comes to Banos. Banos is a small town of ~9500 nestled in the foothills of the Tungurahua volcano. The two things Banos is probably known best for is outdoor activities and taffy. A win-win combo!
With prices from free to incredibly affordable, visitors might go hiking, whitewater rafting, waterfall rappelling, bike riding, relaxing at a spa day and more. Even with cruddy weather while I was there, it was still possible to enjoy the outdoors. Rio Verde was raging and too dangerous just east of Banos to whitewater raft, but the guide managed to still hit some Class III rapids downstream. It was worth the $25 fee for the arm workout alone!
The more exciting excursion for me, though, was rappelling down waterfalls (another $25). It was mentally challenging to trust the equipment and in the case of the last 50m+ waterfall, to launch myself off rock ledge into a freefall.
I passed on hiking due to the low clouds and rain. Apparently on picturesque days, hiking up the mountainside south of town to witness the nearby volcano erupting (red lava and all) is something not to miss.
Finally when it was time for a break from all these activities there was an endless supply of fresh taffy to be had while wandering the town or partaking in spa treatments. I wouldn’t recommend the local ‘hot springs’ near the waterfall in town, though. I fortunately snuck a peak before paying to go in and I could barely see water there were so many people crammed into these tiny pools. How relaxing…Instead, I caught a taxi a few minutes outside town to El Refugio Spa Garden. There were many options in every price range. The best value was surely the steam box. For around forty minutes you sit in this wooden box with eucalyptus leaves as steam gets pumped in. Every so often a guy will wipe your face (the only part not in the box) and hold up a straw for some water. And just when you start to marvel at the pure relaxation of it all, he’ll let you out for a cold-water dunk in a small tub that is part refreshing and part torture.
It was easy to see how some get sucked into staying in Banos for longer than they expected with so much to do and that endless supply of cane sugar taffy!