Banos Ecuador is a scenic little town easily accessible by bus, notably from the state capital of Tunguranhua province, Ambato, and from Quito, among other cities. Banos draws its name from the 5 sets of thermal baths fashioned into concrete pools. It's close to the most remote regions of the Amazon, making it particularly attractive as a base camp for outdoor diversions.
If you go for a soak in one of five sets of pools, you'll often be sharing mineral water of varying degrees of warmth with local families in a friendly atmosphere. The pools are especially nice if you go early in the morning to savor a fantastic sunrise view of the Andes.
The clear to yellow-brown waters of the baths are heated by the Tungurahua Volcano. In 1999, Tungurahua was put on orange alert, indicating the likelihood of an imminent eruption and sending Banos inhabitants fleeing, with only about half of them returning later. No large-scale eruption materialized, but levels of volcanic activity have remained high, offering sensational views of spitting lava, particularly at night. Not to worry. News services keep you advised of Tungurahua's current state and Banos hotels provide evacuation procedures.
Built around a landscaped central park and surrounded by dramatic mountains, Banos has few significant buildings except for the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Rosario de Agua Santa, a neo-Gothic church that attracts thousands of pilgrims yearly, coming to worship Our Lady of the Holy Water. On the enormous altar is a tiny carving, credited with rescuing Banos and its residents from countless calamities, including volcanic eruptions.
Outdoor activities, including horseback riding and rafting, abound in Banos Ecuador, and biking is especially popular. You can rent bikes from countless shops. But check them out carefully, testing gears and brakes before making a commitment. A choice ride is the unpaved route to the village of Rio Verde, reached in about two hours. The scenery is dramatic, with hairpin bends and sheer drops and a pitch-black tunnel. (Bring a head torch or bike lights!)
For the more adventurous, the road from Banos to Puyo (seven to eight hours mostly downhill, but with serious uphill stretches) provides a scenic approach to the Amazon basin. The area boasts more than 20 waterfalls, some hanging over the road, and others reached by short trails.
If walking is more to your style, you might take a 10-minute stroll from the bus terminal to the new San Francisco bridge spanning the picturesque Rio Pastaza Gorge. After crossing the river, you can take several paths up the steep hillside and along the bank of the gorge, linking up with several other bridges.