It's worth taking a peek inside the town's semi-gothic Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa, which was finally completed in 1944, after Belgian priest Thomas Halflants had begun construction 40 years earlier. The interior displays interesting pictures telling stories of the supposed miracles performed by the Virgin of Holy Water in and around the town. There are always hawkers selling candles and religious trinkets outside, and it gets pretty crowded on Sundays and during religious festivals. Upstairs from the church is a small museum (50¢/35p) with religious artifacts; paintings; and, for some odd reason, stuffed animals. You won't be missing much if you skip the museum.
Housing a variety of local fauna, and several endangered species, Zoológico San Martín (tel. 03/2741-966) is a pretty and well-run little zoo. If you can't make it to the Galápagos, you can see one of the giant tortoises here. There are various monkey and bird species native to the nearby Amazon basin, and a pair of Andean condors, kept in a very large enclosure. Located some 3km (1 3/4 miles) outside Baños, in the San Martín sector along the road to the parish of Lligua, the zoo is perfect for a half-day trip and great for kids. It's open daily 8am to 5pm. Admission is $1.50 (£1). If you come to the zoo, you should definitely combine it with a visit to the neighboring Acuario & Serpentario San Martín (San Martin Aquarium & Serpentarium; tel. 03/2740-994), which features a host of aquariums and terrariums filled with a variety of native fish and reptile species. This place is open the same hours as the zoo, and charges an extra $1 (65p) per person.
All the local tour agencies and hotel desks offer sightseeing tours to the nearby waterfalls and other area attractions. Your best bet is to sign on for an organized chiva tour. These take place in open-air, brightly painted buses. They are often party scenes, especially at night. The most popular chiva tours are to a string of nearby waterfalls during the day, or to the volcano lookout at night. Volcano tours usually leave around 9pm and cost around $5 (£3.35). These last a few hours, and, if you're lucky, you'll see the red glow of Tungurahua's erupting molten lava. Waterfall tours cost around $9 (£6) per person, take about half a day, and end up at the rushing giant waterfall El Pailón del Diablo (The Devil's Cauldron). Along the way you can take a ride on a tarabita, a cable car crossing the river, which is a fun way -- if more than a little scary -- to appreciate the splendid scenery. The tarabita's open-air mesh cars offer little in the way of enclosure, and dangle by seemingly thin wires over rivers and gorges.
As an alternative, you can do the waterfall tour via ATV or dune buggy. If this interests you, check in with the folks at Motosports Adventure (tel. 08/5213-544), on Calle 16 de Diciembre and Martínez. Rates run around $10 to $15 (£6.65-£10) per hour, and guided tours are available.
Soaking in the Hot Springs -- No trip to Baños is complete without a visit to the town's namesake hot springs. Unfortunately, none are what I would deem very attractive or well kept. The following are my favorites. The most popular -- and therefore busiest -- thermal pools are La Piscina de la Virgen (tel. 03/2740-462), Martínez and Montalvo, featuring three large pools of differing temperatures, from pretty cool to very hot. Many people find the medium-temperature pool just right. This place is located near the town's waterfall, across from the Sangay Spa-Hotel. Brave bathers can take a cold shower in the waterfall before and/or after a hot soak. It is open daily 4:30am to 5pm and 6 to 10pm. Admission is $2 (£1.35) at night, and $1 (£65) during the day.
Just a little bit up the road from La Virgen, Balneario Las Peñas (tel. 03/2740-462) is the town's largest and most modern thermal bath complex, which is also popular with local families. Also called Las Modernas, it features several pools, including one that's very large, with crisscrossing water slides that children love. It's open Friday through Sunday from 8am until 5pm. Admission is $1.50 (£1).
If you prefer a quieter atmosphere, head a couple of kilometers out of town to Piscina El Salado (tel. 03/2740-493), Avenida El Salado, off the road to Ambato. This is a midsize complex, with several different pools fed by both cloudy sulfuric waters and clear mineral waters. These pools are open daily from 4am to 5pm. Admission is $1 (65p). To get here, take a taxi (about $3/£2) or catch the bus from Rocafuerte outside the artisans market.
If you're looking to pamper yourself, and aren't staying at a hotel with an in-house spa, head to Stay in Touch (tel. 03/2742-138), on the south end of Calle Ibarra, which offers full-body and deep-tissue massages, and shiatsu from $20 to $30 (£13-£20) per hour. Alternatively, opt for Carmen Sánchez's treatments at Chakra (tel. 03/2742-027), Eloy Alfaro and Martínez, for Swedish massage and reflexology. Or, for a slight splurge, take advantage of the day-spa at Luna Runtun.
You Can Drink the Water -- Local legend has it that the waters emerging from a spring at the base of the Cascada de la Virgin de Aguas Santas (Virgin of Holy Waters Waterfall) possess healing properties. This is the main waterfall in town, located just to the side of its namesake hot springs. Pilgrims come here all the time to drink of the waters. If you don't have your own container, you can buy a plastic bottle at the small shop here.
Party Time in the Old Town -- An excellent time to visit Baños is during its celebration of Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa (Our Lady of Holy Water), held each year throughout October, which features fireworks, parades, dancing in the streets, and all-out revelry. The city's founding is also celebrated heartily on and around December 16. Book accommodations in advance if you're planning a trip during these dates.
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.