In October 1999, Volcán Tungurahua – the 5023-metre volcano whose smoking cone lies just 8km south of Baños – resumed activity after almost eighty years of dormancy. Baños and neighbouring villages were forcibly evacuated and roads were sealed off, leaving some 20,000 people homeless. By January 2000, no big eruption had materialized and 5000 locals (anxious that rogue soldiers were looting their homes) fought their way through military blockades, armed with shovels and rocks. The authorities subsequently agreed to reopen the town, which quickly recovered as a popular resort and, as far as tourism was concerned, it was as if nothing had happened.
Tungurahua (meaning “throat of fire” in Quichua) did not go back to sleep but continued regularly to belch gas and lava. Then, in August 2006, activity increased dramatically with a violent, explosive eruption that wiped out three hamlets on the volcano’s western slopes (Chilibu, Choglontuz and Palitagua), accompanied by a ten-kilometre-high ash cloud. Most residents had been evacuated prior to the explosion, but some refused to leave and seven people were killed.
At the time of writing, volcanic activity continues on a low to medium level. It’s business as usual in Baños, which was unaffected by the 2006 explosion – but be aware the risk is ongoing. Most hotels have evacuation instructions stuck on the walls, and large yellow arrows and dotted lines on the streets point the way to a designated safety zone on the eastern side of town, in the Santa Ana area. Before you decide to visit Baños, you should get news on Tungurahua’s state from the daily reports in all the national newspapers, from the SAE in Quito, from the Instituto Geofísico’s (Spanish) website wwww.igepn.edu.ec or from your embassy.