Baños sign in front of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa Church


Baños de Agua Santa or Baños is a cool small town with no shortage of fun outdoor activities to do. We wished we have stayed longer.

Time of Visit:  April 2024

Duration of Visit:  Three nights


Baños de Agua Santa or Baños for short is a small town in a valley surrounded by verdant towering mountains. The town is compact with stores (big and small) and restaurants in almost all streets.  There is no shortage of fun outdoor activities to do, ranging from small theme parks to hard core adrenaline pumping activities such as bungee jumping or paragliding.

Be sure to book your accommodations early if you plan to be in Baños during the weekend. It gets packed and most accommodations we saw had a “No Disponible” or not available sign hanging on their doors. Our host said that hotels and hostels regularly sells out during weekends.

Outdoor Activities 

Sample theme park tours
Sample outdoor adventure tours

Almost all outdoor activities you can think of can be done in Baños. There’s ATV and bicycle rentals, bungee jumping, river rafting, paragliding, sightseeing and visiting small themed parks.  Baños would not be called Baños if it wasn’t for the many private thermal baths in the area.  It is a good way to relax and unwind after a busy day of outdoor activity. 


It is a party atmosphere inside a chiva

You will undoubtedly know the meaning of chiva when you get to Baños.  A chiva is basically a box truck that has been converted to carry passengers.  They are used to transport visitors to and back from the different outdoor activity venues.  They work with tour operators.  Essentially, tour operators pool visitors and send them over to the chiva operator (driver).  So there could be passengers with different itinerary on the same chiva.

Chivas are brightly painted and decorated. Most of them have colored LED strips all over the body to make it feel lively when it gets dark (there are tours that run at night).  To add to the party atmosphere, they install large speakers at the back and play loud music. Better sit at the very front or have earplugs if you can’t handle the high decibel condition.  We monitored one of our chiva ride and the highest we noticed was 88 db.

Tour Operators

There are several tour operators spread all over Baños such that it is almost impossible to know if you are getting a good deal or if they are milking you for every possible dollar they can get (more later on how to save on activities). Tour operators act as a middleperson between you and the person or entity providing the outdoor activity.   

For example, if you are going to Casa de Arboles or doing the Ruta de Cascadas, you will most certainly be taken there via chiva that the tour operator works with. Your payment to the tour operator only covers the ride to and back from the attraction. It does not cover the attraction entry fee.  Fortunately, the entry fees are minimal in cost, ranging from $1 to $5.  If the attraction has activities such as ziplining or walking on a suspension bridge, there is only the activity fee which can range from $5 and up depending on the activity.

By pooling visitors that have different itineraries but in close proximity of each other (example, Casa de Arbol, Manos de Pachamama and the Animal Park are within 10 minutes drive of each other), your time at a particular attraction may be limited especially if it is the furthest. To illustrate, when we asked the tour operator how much time the $5 pp Casa de Arbol tour was, the answer was 2 hours. But that included travel time of 30 minutes each way. So we thought we had an hour to enjoy the small theme park that had an admission fee of $1.  

When we got in the chiva, it actually took 3.5 hours between leaving and returning to Baños. The chiva first dropped off visitors at the Animal Park and told them they had 1.5 hours before the chiva returns to pick them up.  Next the chiva stopped at Casa de Arbol and we were told we had to be back in 30 minutes.  This included walking the steep 200 meter path to the entrance. Next, the chiva stopped at the Manos de Pachama for 30 minutes as the chiva works with the man made attraction even though the people on the ride did not sign up for it.  So it was kinda disappointing to have our one hour allotment at Casa de Arbol cut short by half because of a stop that we were not told.  

Tours may or may not be aware of the chiva operator’s plan which changes depending on where the pooled passengers are going.  We were just unlucky that day.

The Outdoor Activities

As mentioned earlier, there are a myriad of outdoor activities to keep you occupied.  We did the Casa del Arbol, paragliding and Ruta de Cascadas in the three nights we were Baños.  We will decribe our experience with these activities later.  Here are the list of other activities we noticed just by looking at posted information at tour agencies:

  • Bungee Swing
  • Canyoneering
  • Paragliding 
  • River Rafting 
  • Rock Climbing
  • Ruta de Cascata
  • Theme Parks – Animal Park, Casa de Arbol, Dinosaur Park, Manos de Pachamama, Manos de Dios
  • Thermal Baths

Casa del Arbol

The famous swing at Casa del Arbol

Casa del Arbol is a small theme park high up in the mountains overlooking a valley.  The park’s main draw is the tree house at the edge of the mountainside and tall swings that takes riders beyond the edge.  It was really fun and exhilirating to ride the swing as it goes over the deep abyss.  

Besides the swing and tree house, there is also a short zip line that a lot of people seem to enjoy.  If you are not into the tree house, swing or zip line, the view of Tungurahua Volcano is magnificent on a clear day.  Also the view of the surrounding valleys and surrounding mountain peaks make the visit worthwhile.


The view is breathtaking
It is a lot of fun to soar in the air

Everybody should paraglide at least once.  It is very safe (more later) and very affordable in Baños.  We booked our paragliding adventure through a tour agency.  Just like chivas, each tour agency works with a paraliding “pilot”.  Usually there are two “pilots” that take guests up in the air.  This way, it shortens the guest wait time to have their turn to fly.

Air time is between 20 to 30 minutes, depending on wind condition.  We canvassed two tour agencies and received an unsolicited quote from a third after we have booked.  The quotes were $50 (unsolicited), $60 and $65.  We were told by a local that the price descrepancies are due to the pilot’s experience and how well he keeps his equipment.  So in this case, cheaper may not be better as you could get a less experienced pilot with a worn out equipment.

We lucked out with our choice.  Our pilots were “Dario” and his partner “Patricio”.  Together, they have a combined experience of over 30 years.  And they change their equipment at least once a year.  It felt very safe.  I looked at the harness and the locking carabiners they were using.  It was not worn out nor showed any signs of fraying.  Unfortunately, we were not able to get Dario’s contact info.  However, we booked through Fanatis Sport Travel Agency right in front of the Baños bus terminal.

Speaking of safety, paragliding pilots are licensed operators.  They go through schooling and need to pass a test to be a paragliding pilot.

Palileo Market on a late Friday afternoon
Locals selling stawberries and blackberries by the buckets

The paragldiing site we were taken to was about 45 minutes away from Baños, just north of the community of Pelileo.  The view was terrific.  As an added bonus, our tour driver was nice to let us stop in Palileo’s market on the way back to Baños.  Palileo has a big market day every Fridays and Tuesdays.  A gallon bucket of sweet strawberries was $1 and blackberry was $2.5 (some were selling by the 5 gallon buckets).  Luckily our hotel had a blender they let us borrow to make smoothies. 

Ruta de Cascadas

Adventure activiies at Rio Blanco Mega Park (zip lines, suspension bridges)
Closer view of unnamed waterfall from suspended cable car ride at Tarrabita Pedacito de Cielo

Our Ruta de Cascadas took about three hours from the time the chiva left Baños to when it came back. The tour normally has five destinations.  The first is a view of the dam spillway but our chiva did not stop because there was no water being released due to low water level.  The second was a slow drive through at Cascada Puerta del Cielo which is just trickle of water to get some passengers wet.

The third stop was Rio Blanco Mega Park.  We had about 30 minutes here if we wanted to do any of the activities such as zip lines, suspension bridge walk or swing.  Fourth stop was Tarabita Pedacito de Cielo. For $2 per person, visitors can ride a cable car over the river to get closer to a waterfall.  This was a short stop at 20 minutes.

Suspension bridges at Cascada El Pailon de Diablo
Cascada El Pailon de Diablo as viewed from the suspension bridge

The best and final stop was Cascada El Pailon de Diablo which is a powerfull and tall waterfall. We had 40 minutes at this stop before the chiva returns back to Baños.  Entrance was $3 pp and the walk to the waterfall took anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes depending on how crowded the place is.  The trail to the water fall is dowhill and involves two suspension bridges.  The trail gets you close enough to the waterfall to get a soaking. 

How to Save on Tours

Tour operators tack on to the base price charged by the activity provider.  Go straight to the activity provider whether its the chiva driver or the bungee guy at the bridge. 

You will have to ask tour agencies for an activity price as those are not posted in their office. Though the price they quote you may not sound expensive, you can be sure that they tacked on their profit on the quoted price.  As an example, we asked a couple of tour agencies for the Ruta de Cascadas chiva ride and both were twice as much as the price given by the driver of one chiva operator. The chivas are all stationed at the Terminal Turistico de Chivas on the south side of Eugenio Espejo Street between Thomas Halflants and Eloy Alfaro Streets (shown on Google Maps). Do not ask the people in the terminal, ask the chiva driver directly.

Another example was the bungee swing.  The bungee swing is conducted at the Puente (bridge) San Francisco just north of the bus terminal. A tour operator quoted $25 which was $5 more than the price quoted by the guy sitting at the middle of the bridge with bungee cords neatly stacked. There are jumping platforms on both sides of the bridge.

So it pays to shop around. Paragliding costs ranged from 50 to 65 as mentioned earlier.  Paragliding operators typically pick up clients at the tour operator office between 2 and 2:30 PM.  This is because afternoons provide the ideal wind condition. So if you see a pick-up truck with what looks like a paraglide in the back, flag him or her and ask for a price. 

If You Drive

Most street parking spaces in Baños are paid parking (blue lines). Parking fee is paid to people wearing reflectorized vest.

Parking is a premium due to the town’s compactness.  So make sure your accommodation has parking places to avoid parking on the street.  If you park on the street, make sure it does not have a blue painted line.  Parking spaces painted with blue lines are paid parking. Look for people wearing reflective vest to pay.


Baños is a small community in central Ecuador about 3.5 hours by car south of Quito. It is in a valley surrounded by verdant mountains. There are no shortages of outdoor activities to do in Baños. From small theme parks to waterfalls to paragliding, Baños will surely delight your senses wishing you have spent more time in this part of Ecuador.