Miracle Cure in the Thermal Baths of Baños, Ecuador

This entry is part 13 of 18 in the series Ecuador

Still ragged from my bout with altitude sickness in Chugchilan, Ecuador, I dragged my weary bones off the bus and headed directly for my hostel in Baños de Agua Santa. My intention was to climb right into bed and sleep through the afternoon and night but the sight of a spectacular waterfall behind my hostel in Baños, as it is commonly known, got the better of my curiosity. I turned the corner at the end of the block and came face-to-face with a long ribbon of cotton candy cascading down the flanks of Tungurahua volcano, at the foot of which squatted the reason thousands of visitors flock to this tiny village in the Andes Mountains: Piscinas de la Virgen, the most famous of the town’s five thermal pools.

Waterfall cascades down mountainside and is channeled into Termas de la Virgen thermal baths in Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador
Waterfall cascades down mountainside and is channeled into Termas de la Virgen thermal baths in Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

I had specifically come to Baños de Agua Santa for its hot springs, which range from 64 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit and are reputed to have healing properties. Hoping for relief from debilitating knee and hip pain that had plagued me ever since sustaining an injury in a Yoga class in Mexico nearly two years earlier, I planned long soaks in the curative waters. Cautiously, I climbed the slick, spray-soaked rock steps leading to the top of the icy waterfall and stepped onto a viewing platform. Baños spread before me, backed by lushly carpeted mountains that shimmered like emeralds in the golden late afternoon sun. Directly beneath me lay the swimming pools of Termas de la Virgen, filled with water heated by molten lava deep within the active volcano.

Largest pool at the thermal baths has medium-hot water from the volcano
Largest pool at the thermal baths has medium-hot water from the volcano

The following morning, I retraced my steps just as the sun was cresting the surrounding hills, paid my $1.50 entrance fee and took the required shower before using the facilities. Though I had my pick of baths scattered around the town and surrounding valley, I opted for Termas de la Virgen, not only because it is the most famous but also because it is popular with local Ecuadorians. Choosing the hottest of the three swimming pools on the top floor, I eased into the ocher-colored water up to my chin and closed my eyes, allowing the super-heated water to work its magic. Believing that mineral waters can heal maladies is not a stretch for me; I theorize that if Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate crystals) provide relief from stiffness and sore muscles when dissolved in bath water, thermal springs that contain naturally occurring chlorates, sulfates and magnesium must have even better efficacy. Indeed, within minutes my tight muscles began to unwind. I rested my neck on the concrete lip of the pool and let my body float effortlessly, enjoying a blissful state of relaxation.

Termas de la Virgen is the thermal baths most popular with the locals, but they welcome visitors with friendly waves. The pool on the right is medium hot, while the one on the left is hot hot.
Termas de la Virgen is the thermal baths most popular with the locals, but they welcome visitors with friendly waves. The pool on the right is medium hot, while the one on the left is hot hot.

The pools soon began to fill up and I spent the rest of the day chatting with locals who had traveled from all over Ecuador to enjoy the healing waters, learning about life in this tiny country and polishing up my Spanish. Everyone was amazingly friendly and only too happy to pose for photos when I hopped out and grabbed my camera. By afternoon the stress of full time travel had been washed away, leaving me refreshed enough to walk several miles around town and up into the hills.

Can’t view the above slideshow about Banos, Ecuador? Click here.

Delighted that some of my pain had abated, I returned to Piscinas de la Virgen two days later to try out their hottest bath, a small pool on the first floor that is only open after 6 p.m. because its water is too hot to stand while the sun is shining. I hopped in without first testing the temperature and howled. The volcanically heated water gushes from the bowels of the earth at a scorching 122 degrees and it cools only four degrees by the time it reaches this smallest pool. Almost immediately I became light-headed from the heat and had to sit on the edge to cool down. Over the next hour I alternately plunged in and jumped out each time the heat got the better of me.

During one of these cool-down periods I noticed that others bathers were alternating between the hot pool and a small spa a few feet away, which I learned was a plunge pool filled with ice cold water piped directly from the waterfall. I’m not a fan of cold – be it weather, water, or icing sore muscles – but I decided to give it a try; perhaps it would allow me to stay submerged in the hot water for longer periods. I tested with my big toe and immediately yanked it out; they weren’t kidding when they said it was icy. Taking a deep breath, I lowered myself via the steel ladder, wincing with every step, but when the frigid water reached my knees I fled. Back in the hot pool, every square inch of skin that had been in contact with the ice cold water tingled like it was being pricked with a million tiny needles. Blood rushed to my skin and my knee and hip literally vibrated. The next time I grew overheated, I immersed in the cold water up to my waist. By the end of the night I was submerging in the cold pool up to my chin for two to three minutes at a time.

Banos, Ecuador as viewed from the flanks of the active Tungurahua volcano
Banos, Ecuador as viewed from the flanks of the active Tungurahua volcano

The next morning I woke feeling marvelous and decided to take a tour of the waterfalls around Baños de Agua Santa, at the end of which I hiked a steep trail to view Pailòn del Diablo waterfall. An hour and a half after beginning, my knee had not so much as twinged. I later learned that the practice of immersing injured muscles alternately in ice water and scalding hot water is a technique used by many professional athletes because cold tricks super-contracted muscles into releasing. It’s been six weeks since my visit and my knee remains miraculously healed. Whether it was the ice water or the hot mineral waters that effected the cure I’ll probably never know, but since I was on the verge of losing my ability to hike completely, I am thankful beyond words that I had the opportunity to visit Baños.

Visitor Information for Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador

Arriving from the Quilotoa Loop or Cotopaxi Volcano by Bus:

Take any local bus to Latacunga, which is the transportation hub in this part of Ecuador. If coming from Chugchilan or Quilotoa, take the Iliniza bus through Zumbahua rather than Sigchos, as it offers more impressive scenery (the views from the left side of the bus are better). Fare $2.50. Transfer in Latacunga to a direct bus going to Baños.  Do not go to the Terminal Terrestre to catch this bus; ask the locals to point you to the street corner where the buses to Baños de Agua Santa all stop. Any of the companies will do, as long as they are a direct service. Fare: around $4.00, paid on board.

Where to Stay in Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador:

Initially I stayed at Hostel Chimenea, which offers shared and private sleeping accommodations: from 4-6 beds dorms with ensuite bathroom and hot water all day, to private rooms for 1-3 people. My private room with two twin beds and ensuite (private) bath cost just $10 per night. Hostel Chimenea is the first and only hostel in Baños with a swimming pool, steam health bath, jacuzzi, spa-body massage, panoramic terrace, internet and wi-fi, guest kitchen, on-site breakfast facilities, bar/cafeteria, laundry, luggage storage, board games and dvd, books exchange, private parking and tours/travel desk. Highly recommended for the budget traveler.

On my third day in Baños I moved to Hostal La Posada del Arte. This lovely guest house has 15 rooms, nine of which are in La Posada “Classic,” the original hotel on the site. Six rooms are located in a relatively new addition, “The Blue House,” which is separated from the main lodge by a garden and patio. All rooms are decorated with original Ecuadorian art, and have private baths with hot water 24 hours per day. Their sala (common room) encourages guests to relax, read, listen to music, or watch TV. The gentle rush of the waterfall, which tumbles from the mountains just a half block away, filters through a skylight, providing a soothing background for reading or relaxing before a crackling fire. Posada del Arte also serves gourmet food in their on-site restaurant, and their amazing breakfasts are included in the price of the room. Prices for a single range from $29-32, double from $55-59, and triple from $77-83. The higher priced rooms within each category have extra amenities, such as jacuzzi, fireplace or private balcony. Highly recommended for those who prefer mid-range accommodations.

Thermal Hot Springs:

There are three municipal pools that use hot water from the volcano within the town limits and one outside of town, however I only visited Termas de la Virgen. It is located at the foot of the Caballera de la Virgen waterfall (the only waterfall in the center of town), at the junction of Juan Montalvo y Martínez Streets. Facilities include three hot water pools, one regular pool, a cold plunge spa, hot and cold showers, and changing rooms. Towels can be rented for $.80 however the service does not begin until 8 a.m. The facility is open every day of the week from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m., closes for one hour and then opens again from 6 to 10 p.m. The hottest pool is open only during evening hours. Daily admission (daytime hours) is $1,50; evening admission is $2.50.

Spa Services:

Baños de Agua Santa is bursting with day spas, yoga studios, and massage therapists. I asked for a recommendation of a therapist who could do deep tissue massage and was referred to Geoffrey and Edith Holmes, owners of Stay In Touch Therapeutic Massage, which is located just across the street from Hostal Posada del Arte. I had a one-hour deep tissue sports massage ($30) and, on a separate occasion, a facial combined with a head, neck and shoulders massage ($32). They also offer Neo-richean, Swedish, Esalen, Accupressure, Reflexology, Shiatsu, and spinal adjustments, as well as herbal facials and other natural treatments that utilize locally sourced herbs and ingredients, all hand-prepared by Edith. The services were outstanding and the owners are currently expanding to add private and shared accommodations, as well as a Yoga studio.


Series NavigationLive Radio Interview About EcuadorQuenching the “Throat of Fire” in Banos, Ecuador
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18 thoughts on “Miracle Cure in the Thermal Baths of Baños, Ecuador”

  1. Hi Barbara,

    Thank you for sharing your experience in Banos. Our family is traveling to EC for 4 weeks, Peru for 1 week, and I wanted to try Banos in the beginning and end of our voyage. Now I’m convinced!

    How far in advance should one be concerned with making reservations?


  2. Great narrative.
    Speaking about alternating between hot and ice cold water, it is a procedure employed in the treatment of vascular diseases ( especially varicose veins ) since the temperature
    difference will act on the venous walls in a similar way to vigorous walking, biking, etc. It is also highly recommended in the treatment of neurasthenia (chronic mental and physical weakness and fatigue ), CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity), SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) and ….YES….. DSD ( Depressive Syndrome Disorder ) with all its array of symptoms ( sad and/or irritable mood exceeding normal sadness or grief, negative thoughts, moods, and behaviors ) but also by specific changes in bodily functions (for example, crying spells, body aches, low energy or libido, as well as problems with eating, weight, or sleeping ) changes often called “neuro-vegetative signs/symptoms”.

    Think that in what we call “western medicine” the treatment would automatically be “a prescription” of psycho-tropic drugs, with negative “side effects” which would greatly surpass whatever perceived benefits.

    The “thermal water ” alone will impact in a beneficial way the organism especially keeping in mind that the “dissolved minerals” will be absorbed via the skin in a proportion which will be decided by your own body, depending on it needs. ( similar to absorbing the Mg. from the Epsom salts )

    I bet you that depression runs at a fraction ( with a very large denominator ) in Ecuador in general. ( lifestyle, food,, cultural factors, etc. etc.) For those who will read these lines before you start popping SSRI medication or any other combination take a 2 -3 weeks and employ the procedures Barbara was talking about in her story, or until you are able to do this alternate 10-15 times hot with cold …showers, in the morning and in the evening before going to bed. End with a longer cold shower in the morning and with a longer hot shower before bed time. You will be amazed ! In fact you can do this every time you feel blue or have unpleasant thoughts ( including suicidal ones ). I guarantee you that if you finish with a long cold shower ( after alternating for 10-15 times , 20-40 seconds at the time a) YOU WILL COMPLETELY FORGET …TO FEEL BAD.
    If that happens again in 2-3-4 hours … repeat the procedure ! :-))) You’ll never again have to take …an antidepressant, for the rest of your life.

    As for you Barbara, I imagine judging by the type of knee injury, and how you got it, you are way past your 20-ies :-))))
    Should you still have problems with your knee I’d recommend a visit to “Baile Felix” , Bihor County, Transylvania, Romania.
    You’ll encounter there similar “healing waters” …with a twist.
    The waters are oligomineral, yet slightly “radioactive”. To understand what happens as a result of bathing in the water, Google the phenomena of “hormesis” ( radiation hormesis ).
    The location is famous since a lot of European football ( soccer ) teams send all their injured players to this place for fast recuperation of muscle, tendons, and ligament ailments.
    In fact your reparatory functions are put in high gear while your immune functions will experience a “low dose stimulation and a high dose inhibition” ( effective in auto immune and degenerative diseases – arthritic phenomena, arthrosis, rheumatismal afflictions. etc. ) As a result the “healing process” is sped up 2-3 times the “normal”, and that is on top of other beneficial effects (improved health, stress tolerance, growth and longevity)

    In the summer the local language is changed to Hebrew as half of Israel occupies the local hotels. The spa is also visited by Italians, French, Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns,
    Dutch, Spaniards, and many other.
    What people do in the winter ( usually very mild ) whenever it snows, is to get out of the hot outside pools, roll in the snow, and then re-enter the hot water. Something similar to what you were mentioning in your story.

    If you need some more details send me an e-mail and I might be able to recommend some very reasonable hotels.

    Should you be interested I’ll share with you a personal story where close to a year and a half of “conventional therapy” having the orthopedic surgeon throwing his arms in the air, and telling me he didn’t know what else to do ….where “HEALED” in Felix ……….. IN 3 DAYS ! Yes, you read correctly ! JUST …. 3….. Days !

    • You definitely got my attention, Steve. I was in Transylvania last year and would love to go back, but now more than ever with what you have described. I’m a big fan of thermal baths and mineral springs, so I’d love to know more. Will email you directly.

  3. Hi Barbara, Enjoyed reading about Banos. Do the baths get crowded in the day? How clean did you feel the water was and were there lots of children at any time. Does anyone have more information on the other baths. I am planning to go in June.


    • Hi Nora: More people use the baths in the day than the evening hours, but when I was there they were never crowded. I felt that the waster was quite clean, especially since it is constantly renewed with fresh water from the hot springs from the volcano. There were also plenty of families with children, though they tended to be there in the daytime.

  4. hi there!
    I am in Banos right now and just had a massage at Stay in Touch, by Geoffrey. It was wonderful. I didn’t know they do yoga there, I will have to ask about that. Thanks for this post!

    • Hi Shelley: Thanks for letting me know that Geoffrey is still there and they have expanded their facilities as planned. I’ll be staying there if and when I go back. Make sue you go to the banos in the evening and try the really hot pool (only open in the evening) and the smaller cold plunge pool next to it (water piped in from the icy waterfall).

  5. You’re obviously not religious or you might be putting your miracle cure down to higher powers than the water temperature – it’s not called the Piscinas de la Virgen for nothing!

  6. What great memories. Banos was like a piece of paradise to me with its great walking and cycling outside the town, the surrounding volcanoes and the wonderful thermal baths. I’m with you – I think they have superb curative properties whether it be the natural salts, the heat or simply stopping to soak, I was a customer of the very same baths every day I stayed in Banos.

    • Hi Travel Wonders – Couldn’t agree more! Sadly, Tungurahua volcano has roared to life with a vengeance and the town is covered with ash at the moment, with little sign that its renewed activity will abate any time soon.

  7. Great post, Barbara! Have you ever been to the hot springs in Costa Rica, fed by the Arenal Volcano? I’ve been to tons of spas all around the world, but the waterfall at Tabacon Hot Springs remains one of the best massages I’ve ever had to this day…

  8. Dear Barbara,

    Your article brought me back lots of found memories from Banos and its surroundings. I stayed there quite a few days in … yes… a long time ago. No matter when, I’m sure the water temparature is still pretty much the same. I loved to be in Ecuador, especially after the intensity of Columbia! Further down, we enjoyed a few days on the Coca River. On th way back we stop at a natural mud island where we could not stop running and sliding on the slippery mud. You are having a good trip, an experience that will last forever.
    Keep going!

    Denis Plamondon


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