Ecuador // The central sierra //

Baños and around

Continuing east from Salasaca and Pelileo, the Ambato–Puyo road threads its way down the narrow Río Pastaza gorge before arriving at the small resort town of Baños, 44km southeast of Ambato. A good 1000m lower than most sierra towns, at 1820m above sea level, Baños enjoys a warm, subtropical climate and a spectacular location, nestled among soaring green hills streaked with waterfalls. With the thermal baths that give the town its name, a great choice of good-value hotels and restaurants and excellent opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, horseriding and rafting, it’s easy to see why both nationals and foreigners make Baños one of the most visited destinations in the country – despite the unpredictable condition of the Tungurahua volcano towering above the town to the south. Tungurahua’s unpredictability is something of a draw in itself, with tourists flocking to high vantage points on cloudless nights to watch it spit lava and igneous rocks into the sky like fireworks. A chiva (wooden bus) leaves town for the Bellavista observation point every night at 9pm, returning around 11pm; tickets cost $3 from Córdova Tours at the corner of Maldonado and Espejo. Tungurahua can also be viewed from several other points, including near the village of Patate.

East of Baños, the road to Puyo, in the Oriente, offers one of Ecuador’s most scenic approaches to the Amazon basin, taking you past a string of diaphanous waterfalls along the way. Some hang right over the road, while others are approached along short trails, including the thundering Pailón del Diablo close to the village of Río Verde, about 20km down the road. Another road links Baños to Riobamba, skirting the slopes of Tungurahua and providing access to Parque Nacional Sangay via Penipe and Candelaria; the road is subject to frequent landslides outside Baños. The best months to visit Baños are between September and April; from May to August it can be cloudy and rainy.