Baños is a popular and, in many ways, perfect destination for those looking to participate in outdoor adventure pursuits, especially extreme sports such as white-water rafting, bridge jumping, canyoneering, mountain climbing, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Tour operators and experienced guides are plentiful, and prices are extremely reasonable.
Whatever you sign up for, be sure to know your own physical limits before setting out. Also, always bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Canyoneering & Bridge Jumping
If you'd prefer to climb the waterfall rather than navigate the river at the foot of it, try canyoneering, a sport proving to be increasingly popular among visitors. Canyoneering involves hiking in a mountain canyon, through rivers, with periodic rappel descents, usually on the face of a waterfall. Around Baños, canyoneering is possible on the Chamana, San Jorge, Río Blanco, and Cashuano waterfalls. Half-day tours cost around $30 to $45 (£20-£30). Try the excursions organized by Expediciones Amazónicas or Geotours.
Bridge or swing jumping is another of the daring outdoor pursuits offered up in the area. A rope is fastened to one end of a bridge and clipped to the jumper's harness; unlike in bungee jumping, the jumper pushes outward from the bridge, swinging pendulum-like when the rope becomes taut. Jumps, which cost $10 to $15 (£6.65-£10), take place off the San Francisco bridge by the bus terminal, or off the bridge crossing the Río Blanco (along the road to Puyo), with different platform heights available, depending on how bold you are. During the week you should organize jumps through local operators. On weekends and holidays you can head straight to the bridge.
Climbing, Hiking & Trekking
The forests, mountains, volcanoes, and national parks around Baños offer opportunities for all sorts of hiking, climbing, and trekking adventures. Hiking up to Bellavista, to the white cross overlooking town, is a popular option. Take the trail which begins at the southern end of Maldonado.
Volcano climbing is also an old favorite, although ascending Volcán Tungurahua is not recommended at present, owing to recent activity and the ongoing threat of eruption. Many operators have limited their climbing tours on Tungurahua because of eruptions in 2006 and 2007, and the danger of mud flows. But volcanoes El Altar and El Sangay can be ascended; check with local tour guides for up-to-date information on climbing conditions. All-inclusive trips usually range in duration from 2 days to a week and cost around $90 (£60) per person per day. A minimum of two participants is usually required. Lower-altitude trekking on the flanks of these volcanoes, as well as inside Sangay and Llanganates national parks, is better suited to those seeking shorter, less strenuous trips. Day trips with relaxed hiking start at around $45 (£30).
Tungurahua: Back with a Bang -- After an 80-year period of inactivity, which led many experts and inhabitants to believe that the volcano was dormant, Tungurahua unexpectedly returned to life in October 1999, spurting ash and lava for 2 weeks. Baños and surrounding villages were evacuated, and roads leading to and from the area were closed. While the eruptions were relatively minor, evacuees spent not weeks but months waiting for a major eruption, which never materialized.
Impatient to return to their beloved homes, locals began to pour back into the town after a showdown with the military; and, by summer 2000, Baños was back to business as usual. The first half of 2006, nevertheless, marked a period of increased seismic activity, and August 2006 saw the biggest eruption since 1916, with lava flows and incandescent rocks destroying nearby villages and causing several fatalities. Following months of relative calm, February 2007 and December 2008 were again times of increased activity, with ash, gases, lava flows, and lahars (volcanic mudslides) prompting authorities to close roads.
The volcano remains on orange-red alert and at present climbers are strongly advised against ascending Tungurahua because a large eruption is always possible. The refuge, situated at 3,800m (12,467 ft.), remains partly destroyed. Tungurahua is constantly monitored, and security measures are in place with a number of designated "safe spots" in the town's surrounding hills in the event of evacuation. Visitors to the area should be aware of the possibility of eruption; although in this case seismologists estimate that Baños would not be in the immediate path of danger due to its position. For further information on Volcán Tungurahua's current status, check out www.volcano.si.edu.
Horseback Riding & Mountain Biking
All the local tour agencies and hotel desks can help you arrange horseback-riding and mountain-bike tours through the lush mountainous terrain here. Rates run around $6 to $12 (£4-£8) per hour for a guided tour.
If you're going mountain biking, one popular option is the so-called Ruta de las Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls), ending up at El Pailón del Diablo, which is predominantly a descent. With advance coordination, your tour company will pick up you and your bikes at the end, so you can make the more arduous ascent back to Baños in a motor vehicle. Alternately, you can just flag down any of the frequent local buses and pile on with your bike and equipment.
Trips to the Amazon
Situated on the Oriente's doorstep, Baños makes for a superb base from which to explore Puyo and the nearby Amazon basin. For 1-day to 10-day trips deep into the heart of the rainforest, expect to pay approximately $30 to $45 (£20-£30) per day per person for budget-oriented tours, and more if you want a bit of comfort and luxury. June to September are usually the most popular months for jungle tours, so book in advance if possible. Come prepared if embarking on longer trips; be sure to have appropriate clothing, waterproofing, insect repellent, sunscreen, and malaria tablets. Rainforestur probably offers the best jungle tours around.
The majority of white-water rafting trips offered out of Baños are half-day tours on Río Pastaza or Río Patate. Rates run around $30 to $45 (£20-£30) per person. Novices are welcome, and all gear is provided by the operator. Most of these trips spend about 2 hours on the river, in Class II to Class III waters. Some operators also offer full-day excursions. If you have some experience, ask about the full-day tours on a Class IV and V section of the Pastaza.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.