Travel Ecuador: Cuenca to Baños de Agua Santa

Whilst you travel through Ecuador, why not spend a few relaxing days away from cosmopolitan Cuenca, chilling in picturesque Baños de Agua Santa?

Located on the slopes of the ominous and still active Tungurahua volcano, surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, and the region’s “Gateway to the Amazon”, Baños (for short) is a delightful travel stop!

Beautiful Baños

Situated in Ecuador’s eastern Tungurahua Province some 190-kilometres from Quito, beautiful Baños is a major tourist and adventure hub.

Although the Tungurahua volcano is billowing smoke right now, locals don’t seem perturbed about this and go about their daily activities without stress.

Streets are clean and tidy, with pretty tiny lights adorning power lines and trees at night time.

Baños, Ecuador, South America

Baños is also popular for its Spanish schools so why not stay a while and learn a little of the language?


On a Sunday, you can only buy alcohol in Ecuador in restaurants between 10 am – 4 pm, nowhere else. Is this still the norm these days?

A little history

Hailed as Ecuador’s most beautiful town’, Baños de Agua Santa is Spanish for ‘Baths of Holy Water’ and aptly named for its therapeutic hot mineral springs.

Baños also clenches onto a couple of legends regarding the town and also the haunting Tungurahua volcano…

Quechua version

The indigenous Quechua believe that ‘Mama Tungurahua’ is similar to a wicked, but alluring beautiful and promiscuous woman that captures the hearts of men and women.

If Mama Tungurahua doesn’t get what she wants, then enraged, she belches hot ash and lava soaring into the air as an act of anger and to terrify locals.

The indigenous Quechua believe that Baños is Mama’s love child’, which she protects with bubbling hot medicinal springs. However, on arrival of the Spanish, another legend emerged…

Spanish version

Apparently as the Virgin Mary had ‘apparitions’ whilst visiting the region, the newly-arrived Catholics believed that its because of this, the waters in Baños have healing properties. And so, the name changed to its current name with a shrine erected in Mary’s honour.

Think I prefer the Quechua version.

What to see

Locals flock to Baños not only to relax with some hydrotherapy in the famous Virgen hot springs whilst gazing across to the calming cascading waterfall, but also for extreme sports.

Zip-line through lush tree-canopy between mountains over a gorgeous canyon, cycle, walk or go on the many hiking trails, take an exhilarating canyon abseil, catch a Motocross event or one of the many parades, or check out the active Tungurahua volcano.

Parades there are many. Then, there’s the religious aspect of Baños, which pilgrims from Ecuador and elsewhere visit each week for its sanctuary, dedicated to “Our Lady of the Rosary of Holy Water”.

Folk dancers, Baños, Ecuador, South America

If these dizzying activities are still not enough and you have loads more time, then hire a mountain bike and take yourself along the Ruta de las Cascadas that passes through a valley with 7 stunning waterfalls and dazzling views. Sadly, no time to indulge but I hear that the Pailón del Diablo suspension bridge along this ride is massive!

Nuestra Senora del Agua Santa

Started at the end of the 19th century with completion in 1929 and constructed from local red and black volcanic stone, the Basilica sees many pilgrims visiting to thank the Virgin of the Holy Water for her miracles.

The 7th October until the end of the month sees loads of celebrations that we’ll just miss – Carnival Sunday is big in Baños.

Nuestra Senora del Agua Santa, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Opulent internal features, ceilings at dizzying heights, elegant floors and tile work are remarkable.

Intricate murals grace the walls depicting miracles, which correspond to natural disasters from the 16th century onwards.

Declared as Cultural Heritage of Ecuador in 1997, the basilica’s Sanctuary is said to be the ‘most important historical, cultural, and artistic centre’ of Baños.

Trek to glimpse Tungurahua volcano

Although smoking a lot, still decide on a little trek to the Mirador (look-out) to glimpse the Tungurahua volcano.

At a height of 5,016 metres, the commanding and spectacular volcano panorama can be seen for miles.

Tungurahua volcano, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Messing about…

Tungurahua volcano, Baños, Ecuador, South America
Photo credit: Neil Lintern

Finally finding the Mirador after a little unsuspected detour (read lost) shrouded in volcanic cloud, it’s no point going any further.

Tungurahua volcano, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Not the only ones on the return downhill path to Baños…

Tungurahua volcano, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Not sure how long this hike should take, but today it’s a 3-hour return trip.

Parades and Go-cart race

Colourful and noisy parades in South America are a common occurrence regardless of the size of city, town, or village, and always running into one along the way.

Today, a crazy boisterous go-cart race billing out smoke followed by a parade spill out onto the highest and longest street in Baños. Thousands of spectators watch for hours – so why not check it out?

go-cart race, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Alarming speeds…

go-cart race, Baños, Ecuador, South America

…it really is a long steep street!

go-cart race, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Unperturbed and very cool dudes at the finish line.

go-cart race, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Always time for a spectator discussion – perhaps a little money is involved or just a lolly-pop swap.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Vibrant traditional costumes and vivacious folk dancing are a treat.

Folk dancers, Baños, Ecuador, South America
Costumes are fascinating, fun, and mesmerising…

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

…as is spectating at a height.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America
Locals love to dress up and parade whilst dancing in the streets, of course.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Some just look on curiously.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Throughout South America, it’s amazing at the lengths in which parade participants go just to be noticed – this angel is such a cutie!

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Elegant but apprehensive.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Ecuadorian beauty.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Pirates of Ecuador.

parade, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Street scenes

Just a few street scenes for you…kerbside schooling or play time?

school girl, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Any form of travel is great. A quick shot from the bus window at traffic lights, before the moment is lost forever in time.

transport, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Love the tiny holes in the wall from which locals pop out and do business…

vendor, Baños, Ecuador, South America

If you’re game to try the local delicacy – I’m not – then BBQ Cuy (Guinea Pig) is served along the streets. Also known as quwi or jaca in Quechua, all appear to have meet a violent death!

Cuy, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Getting there

Baños, Loja, Ecuador, South AmericaStarting from the Cuenca Terminal Terrestre bus station, the bus travels north along the E-35 Pan American Highway and takes anywhere between 6 to 8 hours.

Expect unscheduled pick-up/drop-off stops along the roadside and anything else that happens to disrupt your trip.

Music and movies blare out in Spanish, quite stuffy as no air-con, and we travel through curving mountains at alarming speeds and ever-changing stunning vistas.

Cuenca, Riobamba, Baños, Ecuador, South America

You wait at Riobamba for the connecting bus, which hopefully is there when you arrive – ours isn’t, so wait.

Fruit vendor, Riobamba, Baños, Ecuador, South America

On the bus again, keep your camera handy as loads of great street scenes along the way. Everything travels on a bus – not sure how these sheep keep their balance!

sheep, Riobamba, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Ecuadorian hats are similar to Peruvian hats but totally different to the Bolivian Bowler hat.

street scenes, Riobamba, Baños, Ecuador, South America

Roadside BBQ – another violent death?

street scenes, Riobamba, Baños, Ecuador, South America

As you travel in the canyon towards Baños breath-taking scenery awaits, whilst volcano Tungurahua puffs away in the distance…

Baños, Ecuador, South America

…enveloped in its cloud-cover blanket.

Baños, Ecuador, South America

Today, the trip takes a long 8 hours, but arrive unscathed nonetheless.

2019 update

As of 2018, buses run direct from Cuenca to Baños. You’d hope this shaves time off the journey.

What you can expect during bus travel in Ecuador

Hot and stuffy. Noisy and loud. Sometimes scary. The occasional local throwing up near you. The scent of odd smelly food from passengers. Hawkers hopping on and off the bus, but the worse thing is the driving – reckless.

Fearless Formula 1 driving style seems to be the job description or the prerequisite for Ecuadorian bus drivers – actually it’s the same throughout South American.

Whether it’s day or night, raining or sunshine, snow or gravel, cutting curves through double yellow lines, overtaking on blind corners or the crest of a hill regardless of oncoming traffic, or worse ensures you’re poised on the edge of your seat white-knuckled for most of the journey.

If you don’t have a lot of money for flights or are travelling long-term, then buses are your only choice. Private drivers are also too expensive and I’m sure you’d still experience the same driving-style on your travels.

Where to sleep

Check out the Hostal Princesa Maria for wonderful service from hospitable owners, for an inexpensive spotless double including private bathroom. A communal kitchen is also available.

The location is great as it’s an easy walk to shops and the square.


If you stay at this hostal, book a room off the road as it’s tad noisy otherwise.

Leaving Baños

Sadly, the South American adventure is almost over as need to return to Australia.

A few relaxing days in Baños and now it’s time to travel north to Ecuador’s capital and bustling city of Quito on the 08:45 bus tomorrow morning – hear there’s a nasty scam brewing in Quito…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Ecuador at Image Earth Travel.

Baños, Ecuador, South America
Photo credit: Neil Lintern

32 responses to “Travel Ecuador: Cuenca to Baños de Agua Santa”

  1. Chocoviv Avatar

    Awww guinea pig…. but it is a delicacy there….

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, indeed it is a delicacy there…still couldn’t bring myself to eat guinea pig. 😉

  2. Outosego Avatar

    Liked and shared, Nilla. Thank you. Wonderful photography.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the share Outosego!

  3. Gillian Morris Avatar
    Gillian Morris

    Wonderful post Nilla and yet another wonderful place x

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Gill! Too many wonderful places to explore around the globe…

  4. Christie Avatar

    Such a great trip you’ve had, Nilla! And the sheep as well 🙂
    I actually tried Guinea pig this year, in Peru. I was terrified at the beginning LOL.. It tastes like roasted pig 😉

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Christie, yes it was an incredible trip but I still have a couple more posts to publish over the next couple of weeks.
      You’re more game than I am with food then..I couldn’t stand looking at them let alone eating one! 😉

      1. Christie Avatar

        Who said I ate one? hahaha, I couldn’t.. I only tried a tiny bit from my hubby’s portion, but it was not as expressive as the one in your picture😉
        Looking forward for your next posts!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ah right, at least you had the courage to try a little. 😉

  5. Emily Adams The Planking Traveler Avatar

    What a melting pot of fascinating things to see! I would love to visit Ecuador someday and this looks like a great city to put on my list. The sheep on top of that bus made me laugh 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Emily, thanks for your comment, which for some reason went into my Spam folder – weird.

      Yes, it’s definitely a great place to visit and at the time, although popular with local and nationals, I didn’t see too many foreign tourists in Baños.

      Ha, ha, that was a quick shot from the bus window and hoped that they weren’t off to the knackery!

  6. roadtoanywhere101 Avatar

    Great photos! There’s so many things to do in Baños, another place for my Bucket List

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, there’s loads to do in Baños – you really need more than several days in this excellent destination!

  7. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    Banos looks amazing – so much life, color, and festivities. I have to agree with you I like the Quechua legend – it’s more interesting! 🙂 It looks like a great place to hike!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It’s a fun town and boasts so much activities for visitors, especially adrenaline junkies.
      Totally agree, the Quechua legend is far more interesting. 😉

  8. thewonderer86 Avatar

    Those costumes. Those colours! Beautiful.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I love parades and the ones in South America are fantastic!
      many thanks for your feedback.

  9. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    Another great post! Thanks for sharing this trip with us!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Valerie as awlays for your great support – glad you enjoyed the trip. 😉

  10. Cherryl Avatar

    I think I might be up for the go-carts but probably not the guinea pigs!! 😊

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, I’m not up for the Guinea Pigs either. The go-carts looked like great fun! 😉

  11. David & Laura Speer Avatar

    The guinea pigs – I thought those were rats at first, but in the same family I suppose. The sheep on top of the buses, wow, not even seat belted in, lol!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, at first glance that’s what I also thought but they’re not rats – need to go to SE Asia and China for that delicacy.
      I snapped it quite quickly through the bus window as I just couldn’t believe it!
      Thanks for your great comments as always.

      1. David & Laura Speer Avatar

        We would both try it for sure.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Really? There are some things I can’t bring myself to eat such as Guinea Pig.

      3. David & Laura Speer Avatar

        Nope, everything but cat, dog and puffin we would eat. David would eat puffin.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ok! I wouldn’t eat those three either…

  12. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

    So interesting and so fun to read this post

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Mohamad for yuor great feedback – cool you enjoyed this article.

  13. The Year I Touched My Toes Avatar

    Hi Nilla, Wish I hadn’t seen the guinea pig. I’m scarred for life! Louise

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Sorry Louise but this delicacy was on sidewalks and in front of restaurants throughout Peru – a different culture.

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