If you are touring the "Avenue of the Volcanos" another "must see area is
Baños de Agua Santa, a small town in the central highlands of Ecuador, tucked away in a valley on the Pastaza River only 8 kilometers from the crater of the active Tungurahua volcano, which means “throat of fire” in Quichua, which is the indigenous language. The 5,023 meter-high volcano provides a lush and unique backdrop full of dramatic waterfalls, deep river gorges, and dense vegetation that attracts nature and adventure lovers alike.
After 80 years of inactivity, Tungurahua Volcano began an erupting process in 1999, and the city was evacuated for three months. Since then, the volcanic activity has been slight and volcano watching has become yet another attraction. On occasional clear days, visitors can watch mushroom clouds rise up from the crater and take nighttime tours to surrounding hills to watch red sprays of lava or red boulders expelled from the top of the volcano. Even more popular than watching the volcanic activity is visiting one of the many outdoor pools naturally heated by the volcano that have made Baños de Agua Santa famous. Bathing in the thermal baths is one of the highlights for any traveler in Ecuador. The water is naturally infused with high amounts of minerals from the active volcano and many people travel to Baños de Agua Santa to soak in one of the baths and do spa treatments, either to help relive symptoms of arthritis or similar afflictions, or just to pamper themselves.The most popular baths are Piscinas de La Virgen as they are the only hot baths in the center of town. They are on Calle Montalvo, and are open 4:30am-5:00pm and 6:00pm-10:00pm. They were built in 1928 as a community project and they are named after the Virgin Maria who is rumored to have bathed here herself. The best times to visit are early in the morning and in the evening when it is less-crowded. It only cost a few dollars to enjoy the baths.
Adventure seekers will not be disappointed in Baños as the river provides thrilling opportunities for repelling down waterfalls (canyoning), whitewater rafting, and bridge jumping. In addition to the water sports, the flanks of Baños’s volcanoes beckon travelers who can’t resist either climbing, hiking, or horseback riding up their sides to get a view of the dramatic vistas of the mountains sloping into steep waterfalls that flow and pool into the river winding between their bases. Tour guides can be found all throughout the center of town.
Baños de Agua Santa is also famous for its toffee, which is called melcocha, and throughout town visitors can watch the owners of the candy stores make it in their doorways. The proprietors almost always offer grateful children and tourists free samples.
In the center of the small town, visitors will see Basílica de Nuestra Senora de Agua Santa, the town’s church dedicated to the Virgin of the Holy water. The Virgin is credited with numerous miracles such as protecting people from volcanoes, transit accidents, and burning buildings. It’s not uncommon to see priests blessing cars or people before a long journey.
It’s recommended that visitors bring some warm clothes and a raincoat. Baños de Agua Santa’s unique location on the Pastaza River in the Amazon Basin makes it a perfect launching point for journeying into the Amazon jungle by way of Puyo. In fact, Baños de Agua Santa is known as the “Gateway to the Amazon Rainforest.”
Whether visitors are athletic or not, few can refuse the allure of the highway of waterfalls, which is called La Ruta de las Cascadas, a scenic road that follows the twists and turns of the river with spectacular views of the 16 waterfalls and ultimately leads to the jungle town of Puyo.
In addition to the Amazon, Baños de Agua Santa is also an excellent base for exploring Sangay Volcano National Park or Llanganates National Park or for continuing on to Riobamba to experience riding the train over the famous Devil‘s Nose or climb the Chimborazo peak, Ecuador´s highest volcano (6310 meters or 20702 feet).