“ Address: Luis A. Martinez y Rafael Vieira Baños, Tungurahua, Ecuador / Tel: +593 32742725 „
Baños is a spa town a few hours from Quito, and we spent a number of days there during Carneval, a public holiday that left my mother with a few days off work. Knowing that during a long weekend a place like this (which is popular at the quietest of times) would fill up fast, she asked a Quito travel agency she'd used before to recommend a hotel to us, and this was their suggestion. It's quite a new place and doesn't feature in many guide books yet, but is a little gem of a place I would highly recommend.
Arriving in Baños by bus places you front and centre in the town. From here it's 5 blocks up and a 5 blocks over to the hotel, and just as you start to wonder whether you're actually about to walk out of town, it appears. The location is, in fact, excellent - and better than we initially realised. For one thing, while it's close to the main Plazas (where you'll find the church and museum, its restaurants and bars and the supermarket) it's not directly in the centre of this small town, which can get rather noisy at night, especially during a festival like Carneval. What's more, the main draw of Baños - its thermal baths - are literally on your doorstep. If you think of the town as a square, the important / larger baths are all in the top left hand corner, which is exactly where this hotel is too. The town's small enough that nowhere is a real trek, but when you're wandering around in flip flops and with wet hair, perhaps just with a towel over your swimsuit, being that little bit closer is actually quite a bonus.
We arrived about 2pm and after our reservation was found, scrawled in a notebook (no fancy computer systems here) we were shown to our room. This might have been because there were no signs pointing out which rooms were in which part of the building, but it was a nice, personal touch too - he could just have pointed us in the vague direction, after all. The hotel offers 3 categories of room at 3 different prices. You're quoted a per-person rate and this is $6.50, $7.50 or $8.50 per night - ridiculously cheap by any westerner's standards. We had the most expensive and, for our combined $17 per night, got a large twin room with en-suite. Other cheaper rooms had more beds - some had bunks - but all were en suite.
Our room was on the first floor at the back and the only thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the fact the only windows looked onto the interior courtyard. With stairs right outside you could, in theory, worry about people reaching in through an open window to grab belongings (though safety catches made climbing in impossible). When we wanted to leave the windows open while we were out (which was some, but not all of the time) we made sure we left the curtains drawn and also moved the table away from the window, so nothing would have been within pinching distance.
Aside from this, the room was excellent. The beds were large and extremely comfortable, not to mention colourful - think mismatched flowered sheets, cartoon character pillows, bright Aztec print bedspreads and so on. We had a joint bedside table with a small lamp, and the aforementioned table, plus two chairs. These were made of plastic, garden-furniture style, and while they were a bit of a contrast to the nice wooden bedsteads, the patterned tablecloth plopped on the top did bring a touch of character to the furnishings. Though there was no wardrobe, we did have a series of hooks and coat hangers. The overhead light was not very strong (Ecuadorian electricity and energy saving light bulbs are not the best mix), so we tended to use it in conjunction with the bedside lamp, or simply open the curtains when we were in the room.
The shower room was well equipped with a large shower cubicle and the most powerful shower I came across in Ecuador. It also had masses of hot water - a real bonus for Latin America - and I felt they were justified in advertising "constant hot water" as one of their features since it never let us down, and we showered more than normal thanks to our various spa trips. The toilet and sink were modern and white, while the shower had a tiled base and walls and a wall mounted spout that belied its power. The bathroom definitely had character, and there was no mistaking the fact you were somewhere a tad exotic. The main room, too, was attractive, and I particularly coveted the shiny hard wood floors.
We slept well in the room and had no troubles with comfort or noise at any point. In this respect, it was the perfect place to stay for a nice, relaxing break if you're willing to go rustic for a few nights (no air con - not that we needed it - and no TV etc) You do get all the absolute essentials, and the odd extra as well - the second mirror in the bedroom was much appreciated and quite unexpected.
We didn't spend too much time in the hotel except in the evenings but did briefly explore the other facilities. Having checked out their website in advance I knew they claimed to have a pool and while this isn't a total lie, at present it is lacking in water which is quite an important thing for a pool to have, when you think about it. The owner explained that this was because pools were very expensive to maintain, but from a health and safety point of view I thought it could have done with some kind of cover or barrier. While the owners' young children seemed well trained enough to stay away from the edge, I'm not sure the same would have been said for any kiddies in residence (or tipsy adults for that matter), and the deep drop to the bottom had broken bones written all over it.
The hotel harps on repeatedly about its "Early morning steam baths" which, they helpfully point out, "Can replace you morning shower" but even so I had no desire to try these out having seen them. They look like small wooden boxes, the size of a washing machine, and the idea is you sit in one with your head poking out of the top while the steam does its stuff. To say they looked dated and dubiously Eastern European is no overstatement and I didn't see anyone in them at any point during our stay.
Around the (empty) pool were some hammocks and sun loungers. Others could be found on the roof top terrace, which was a real sun trap and a place I hung out several times while my mother was resting or changing in our room. Behind reception was the internet area, including 3 free PCs for guests' use. You were supposed to reserve a time in advance, but if one was free you could also just jump on and have 30 minutes at any point. Wifi is also available for travellers with laptops, but this is only advertised as being on offer in the reception area, so I guess the signal strength is less good in the guest rooms. The internet I used was ok but a little slow, and the age of the computers didn't help this. For something free it was more than adequate, but you wouldn't want it to be your main access to the web for any length of time.
This area had a few sofas and comfy chairs, and a book exchange, though nothing of any interest was currently on their shelves. Their sofas, however, were another story, and one morning I came down about 7am to find the whole place covered with sleeping bodies. I'm not sure who they were or how they got there (though I did know the place was fully booked that night) but it was almost like walking into some kind of disaster relief zone, such was the state of disarray, with people curled up in twos (and the odd three) on the seats and on the floor. We went out for breakfast and a walk and when we came back a little later they were still there, though I know some had woken up as we passed the first time. They had disappeared by lunch time, and did not return on subsequent nights, but it was still a bit odd.
The hotel boasted a roof top breakfast café but we found plenty of other places to try when we first arrived. On our last day, however, we decided to go for a dip in the nearby pools before breakfast, and thought it might be easiest then to stay on site for some food prior to checking out. I wasn't expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, the service was excellent - the best I experienced in my whole stay in a country not known for its speed or smiles in food service places. The menu was extensive - more so than in a famed café where we'd eaten the day before - and the food freshly prepared in what seemed an impossibly small kitchen (in one corner of the place, entirely open so you could see everything that was going on). My mother ordered their signature double fruit pancakes which showed up as a veritable mound of food - thick, American style pancakes with masses of fruit layered between, and granola and yogurt, plus more fruit, on top. I had their French toast with sugar cane syrup (a local delicacy, and a great variation on Maple). We had two fruit juices and one hot drink between us, and the whole thing cost under $6 / £4. The café is open from 7.30am until 11.30am daily: after this time the space is still open and you can get drinks, but no food is available.
While it wasn't much to look at generally, the restaurant area did have one stand out feature, a beautiful hand painted chimenea that served as a centre piece to the room. This could be where the hotel got its name from, but my impressions of the county as a whole made me think it could also have been an after-thought - a sort of, "Oh crap, we've called ourselves Chimenea...better get one in here somehow".
The hotel operates an honour bar system, which struck me as a little too trusting given the other guests we came across. On check out the group before us were asked how many beers they'd had and seemed to be calculating the smallest number they could get away with paying for, coming out with a hesitant "4 or 5?". We, on the other hand, received a bill with drinks on that were not consumed by us, and weren't asked the question of how many or what we'd helped ourselves to (answer: nothing). When I queried it, they took the item off the bill but it's worth bearing in mind since the prices are so low you might not notice a discrepancy, especially as it was marked as something else, I think "extras", not as "Drinks from the honour bar"...
The hotel had rooms on 3 floors and while no lift was available, there were quite a lot of ground floor rooms that could be requested if needed. The path up to the hotel is also nice and smooth, though it's through their small car park and into the garden, so who was parked up at the time would dictate how easy it was to get through - on several occasions while coming and going we had to squeeze ourselves round big SUVs. The gardens are colourful in an over grown way, and this theme continues inside where plants can be found all over - growing up from floors, down from ceilings, out of walls - literally everywhere. It certainly gave it a nice, tropical feel but what thrilled me most was the medium sized pot we had in our room which added a touch of colour and life to the place.
The rooms do not have phones but you can receive calls for free on their main line if you can somehow communicate this number to those trying to reach you. Another quirk is the fact they offer free video rental, though I have no idea what you would watch a VHS on unless you happened to be travelling with a TV/Video combo stashed in your backpack.
You can book the hotel through various online sites including hostelbookers.com Advance reservations are not always essential, but highly recommended during peak periods.
We very much enjoyed our stay here, with no complaints. The price is lower than many other places in Baños but in those you're paying for a slightly more central (= noisy) location and maybe TV in the rooms, something we certainly didn't miss. The hotel had all the facilities we could want and an excellent location and seemed safe and secure at all times. Highly recommended, this place offers great value for money and friendly, personal service.