5 Great Things To Do In Banos, Ecuador by:Gary Sargent
Known as the 'Gateway to the Amazon', Banos in Ecuador is one of the most popular destinations in the country, and it's not hard to see why. Tourists, volcanologists, religious pilgrims and a whole host of other characters are drawn to Banos for a variety of reasons, probably one of the five listed below.
1) They want to enjoy a spot of culture
Banos is famous for its magnificent Basilica, the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water. Pilgrimages are frequently made to thank the Virgin for the many miracles that she is said to have performed and for blessings. The Virgin gets her own festival in October, a combination of religious processions, music, dances and ear-splitting fireworks. If festivals are your thing, you'd do well to arrive in town on December 15th, when the anniversary of the town is celebrated. Each neighbourhood hires a band, and wild dancing in the street ensures.
2) They go in search of outdoor antics and thrill-seeking
Banos has something for everyone, from bike rides cruising through spectacular scenery, to horse riding to bungee jumping off bridges. Those wanting to use pedal power can ride the 60km to Puyo on the recently paved road, dropping from 6000ft in the Ecuadorian high jungle down into the rain forest basin. You will pass waterfalls and stunning vistas before shooting through dark tunnels cut into the rock and out the other side, stopping off with fruit vendors to load up on vitamins for the rest of the journey.
3) They flex their shopping muscles
Banos is home to some wonderful markets and shops where you can find some high quality crafts, handiwork and silver jewelry at very low prices. For those wanting to satisfy their sweet tooth, you can try out the local sugar cane taffy 'Melcocha'. You may see it being made or pulled by beating the candy against a door frame or other sturdy surface. The town market is also overflowing with local produce, so for cheap food that's about as organic as you'll ever get as you wander the maze of stalls.
4) They explore a volcano
Banos was evacuated in October 1999 for several weeks, thanks to the highly active Tungurahua volcano. Known as 'The Black Giant', the volcano is the largest in Ecuador, but easy to climb. There are periodic drills to keep visitors and residents aware of potential risks, so you shouldn't run into any trouble. To get up close to the majesty of Tungurahua, arrange a tour of the 400 metre diameter crater.
5) They take a thermal bath
Banos didn't get its name for nothing; any visitors to the town would be missing the point somewhat without dipping into one of the many hydrothermal mineral springs that pop up everywhere. There are numerous spas around town, and they are an ideal way to ease aching muscles after a day on a bike saddle or hiking through the surrounding hills. Temperatures vary from scorching hot to cool, depending on the amount of cold water mixed into the bath's water supply. Enjoy the thermal springs in town at Banos de la Virgen near Hotel Sangay, and Santa Clara baths which boast a sauna and a gym. Other options are El Salado, Santa Ana, and Eduardo's baths near town.
From active volcanoes to gentle walks, adrenaline fuelled rafting trips to soaking in warm mineral-rich waters, you'll find something in Banos to suit you. A good option is to get in contact with a regionally based tour operator that can help you make the most of your trip; chances are you won't have enough time to enjoy all that the town has to offer!
About the author
Gary Sargent is the Managing Director of the tour companies Escaped to Peru and Escaped to Latin America and has lived in South America for over 10 years. Gary is passionate about life here, the people, customs and places. To learn more or to book your next adventure please visit http://www.escapedtolatinamerica.com