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Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa is alive and well, working miracles in the ever-popular town of Baños. Quiet coffee-sipping mornings slip into hectic afternoons as clouds lift from the surrounding hills and foreign and Ecuadorian travelers alike emerge from their hostel havens.

 

By mid-afternoon, the streets buzz with activity and people of all shapes, sizes, and styles spill onto the café-lined sidewalks. They have shaken the alcohol-induced stupor from the previous night and are eager to embark on the day’s adventure.

 

Such is the essence of Baños, where time drifts liquid-like from day to night and night to day, with the same fluidity as the Río Pastaza below. One part rowdy, two parts relaxed, a pinch of adventure; shaken, not stirred, garnished with a sprig of the sub-tropical and served with a side of local hospitality. This is the cocktail that makes Baños the hip, friendly, slightly cooler cousin of Quito that it is.

 

For the young and young at heart there is endless opportunity to get the heart pumping. From horseback riding to mountain biking, canyoning and climbing to river rafting: the countryside around Baños is as rife with adventure as it is bountiful in beauty and abundant in waterfalls.

 

Or stay in town. From the pilgrim’s Basilica to the Swiss-owned bistros, from Mexican to melcochas (toffees), Baños has tradition-with-a-flair covered. The town is touristy, but not suffocating. The locals are friendly, but not over-the-top. Days filled with street shopping and café-hopping, massages and medicinal baths melt into wild nights of dancing and drinking to the thump de thump thump of Reggaeton and disco-tech. Yes, the weekends can be a bit mad, but is that such a bad thing?

 

Call it dirty, call it a tourist trap, but Baños has a pro for every con. And if your hunger is more for authentic cultural encounters than handmade candies and crafts, then head to one of the local Spanish schools. Or, better yet, sit and chat with a local store owner.

 

Like the locals, this place has kept things real, developing its own authentic identity in the process. In a place where even the street dogs are friendly, it’s hard not to just relax and—don’t tell anyone—enjoy being a tourist for a while.



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