Tag Archives: waterfall

Skipping to #2 on the Must-Do List

double waterfall in baños, ecuador

It’s no travel secret that we all make lists to help ourselves organize the Top Things We Must See and Do in the city or country we are visiting. After perusing Websites and talking to other travelers to get their advice on what is a must and what is a must-not, that list has been drawn up in a fashion similar to the Bill of Rights. However, certain circumstances in our control and out of our control prevent us from scratching through all those items. This is precisely what happened to me during a recent weekend trip to Baños, Ecuador.

tarabita takes you even closer to the waterfalls - baños, ecuador

The city’s name, which means bathroom or baths, is known for it’s hydrothermal springs that are located all across the region where you can soak in hot or cool water, which are heated by the active Tungurahua (means “Throat of Fire”) volcano or cooled by the fresh spring water. The greenish shade of the spas are due to the minerals and many people (foreign and locals) flock here to dip into the soothing water, especially during the weekend. The city is also known for the many waterfalls that pour out of every crevice in the region.

If Mother Nature decided to visit you during a trip to Baños (as was my case) do not fret because there are plenty of other activities to do.

I skipped to my #2 on the Must-Do List for Baños. My friend had mentioned this awesome bike ride that takes you to quite a few waterfalls. For only $5 you could have an open road to cycle and waterfalls to explore. Sounded exactly like something I would love. I was sold at mountain bike. Who am I kidding? I was sold at the prospect of an open road that made its way past a total of 19 waterfalls. At breakfast the group was still trying to figure out their plans. I was pretty much set-in-stone with mountain biking. The others were deciding between horseback riding, soaking in the hot springs and taking this walk on a trail in the hillsides. We eventually dropped everyone off at their activity destinations. Three ended up going horseback riding. Two ended up taking the easy hike around the town. I was the only one who chose the: La Ruta de Las Cascadas.

One road. One bike. One cyclist. MANY waterfalls. MANY memories.

raging river in baños, ecuador

It wasn’t long after the start that I passed the Agoyan Dam that helps control the flow of the powerful Rio Pastaza, which is one of the tributaries to the Amazon River. It rages through the mountains in Baños, cutting gorges and valleys with its mighty force. As I continued on my way I couldn’t help but stop and stare at all the green I was seeing. You can’t blame me, I’m an Arizona native. All I am used to seeing are saguaro cacti, dirt and rocky mountains. Here, the mountains looked like massive, lush hillsides. The clouds were flying low beneath the peaks and with close attention you could see water trickling down the crease of the mountain ranges as they twisted and turned throughout the land.

cycling the cobblestone ruta de las cascadas - baños, ecuador

Not too much farther along is the first tarabita (a cable car) that takes you right up to two blasting waterfalls. It stops long enough for plenty of picture-taking opportunities and time to take in the organic beauty of nature’s grace. I got back on the bike (the renter’s provide a chain and lock so it won’t get stolen along the way) and headed through a tunnel that opens up along a hillside. The cobblestone roadway creates an ascetic like no other.

I felt like was riding along the mountains and valleys of some European country and not a third-world nation in South America.

 

As I followed the trail, it took me over a few bridges all designed in their own unique style. The one that stands out the most is brightly colored in a yellow that contrasts against the green landscape. This bridge is bustling with buses, people and cyclists for one very important reason: the chance to brave-up themselves or watch fearless others take the plunge off the side and swing over the rushing river. While I was there I saw a girl and man both take the leap. known as “puenting”.

a man preparing for his puenting leap - baños, ecuador

I’ve heard stories of it being an incredibly painful experience because it is just a rope-chord  and not a bungee chord. Apparently you fall and literally snap after the rope catches and swing back-and-forth.  A man underneath will toss you another rope to pull you over to the side and unhook your harness. Anyway, both of them survived. I knew if I took the jump and lived to tell about it my mom would have killed me as soon as I stepped off the airplane back in Arizona so I opted out.

manto de la novia waterfall - baños, ecuador

I kept cycling on to my next tarabita ride to the Manto de la Novia (Mantle of the Bride) waterfall. This waterfall and the next few were not as crowded as the very first and very last. I had to wait a bit for the tarabita because as soon as my group was waiting to get on, the other group was zipping back up to the dock and smoke had started puffing out of the pulley-area. They fixed it within 10 minutes and then I was down on the ground and crossing the bridge to get within the splash-zone of the two waterfalls.

My most frightening experience came during the Tarabita San Pedro ride. I hiked along a river near the top of the waterfall until I stepped down a steep staircase and found a serene solitude right at the bottom of it. No one else was round. This was probably my most favorite waterfall out of all those I saw.

the stair case I climbed down to reach this waterfall solitude

I walked through a beautiful mini-forest with a variety of multi-colored flowers, was pointed to the hike by random, home-made wooden signs posted on the wall and porch of a house, trekked through mud and water along the river, was so close to the waterfall drop I was clinging to the railing and muddy hillside, stepped down the steel ladder and was  by myself with such an amazing spectacle. Nature is truly appreciated when alone.

The scary part: during my tarabita ride back, the little girl who opened the door had seemingly forgot to lock it properly. As soon as I had started moving and was hundreds of feet in the air, the door swung open! I was shocked and didn’t know how to close it so I had to hold it shut for what seemed like a 30 minute ride back. When the guy came to let me out, I easily opened the door and stepped down. I didn’t even look at him to see he had shown any sort of concerned expression. Instead, I went and unlocked my bike and rode off wanting to forget about my near-death puent out of a tarabita.

view from a tarabita - baños, ecuador

During my journey along the Route of Waterfalls I was passed by cars, go-karts (you can rent those in Baños) and even by a man leading his mule. You truly get a taste of Ecuador as you pass through small towns such as Rio Negro and Rio Verde, seeing stray dogs and clothes hanging out to dry on their rooftop lines.

This road is full of culture just as much as adventure.

Rain, which started trickling down early in the morning, got heavier during my ride. By the time I reached my final destination I was soaking wet. That didn’t stop me from making the hike through a well-maintained system that promotes water consevation down to: Pailon del Diablo. This is the main waterfall attraction in Baños. Known as the “Devil’s Cauldron”, not because of it’s super fury of water that falls into a whirlpool before gushing down the river around massive boulders, but because it is said you can see the devil’s face in the rock formation near the side.

el pailon del diabo - baños, ecuador

There are three platforms you can walk down stairs to reach. No matter what level you are standing on you will get soaking wet from the waterfall’s power. The best part, you can climb (well crawl) through these uphill tunnels and squeeze yourself to another area closer to the waterfall. A few people at a time can climb more stairs that lead you directly behind Pailon del Diablo to see it from a different perspective.

I was waiting for the raging waters to cause a landside and trap me. I did not know how the rocks were still in place.

 

After I spent my few precious moments appreciating the amazing image before me, I took my soaking clothes and squishy shoes back out to unlock my bike. One of the lovely perks of riding your bike on La Ruta de las Cascadas is people know you’re probably tired afterward. There is an area where flat-bed trucks wait for a group of cyclists to load up in the bed of their vehicle to drive back to Baños for about $1.50 USD. It’s convenient and you get to talk with other bikers about their day and their ride.

behind the pailon del diablo waterfall - baños, ecuador

My day ended up being brilliant.  Probably more fun than soaking in a crowded hot spring. I got muddy and I got soaking wet. As a girl who would rather get dirty by exploring this planet, I can honestly say that having my #2 end up in the #1 position was not a bad move at all.

In fact, I would  write La Ruta de la Cascadas in Baños, Ecuador as number one on any of my friend’s must-do list and also remind everyone to keep their own list’s open to revisions.

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Chasing Waterfalls: La Ruta de Las Cascadas

You can rent a bike in Baños, Ecuador to cycle the route that takes you along the mountains and valleys where numerous waterfalls are located. A majority have tarabitas that you can ride for $1-1.50 USD to get really close to the falls, or to a bridge where you can walk to the waterfalls or even hike. Definitely worth a few hours of your time. Especially the end, where you can see the powerful Pailon del Diablo.

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Why hostels are a lot more all-inclusive than a hotel or resort

the secret garden hostel in the cotopaxi province of ecuador

In the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador is the Secret Garden. It takes a 30 minute taxi ride, then a 45 min bus ride and then another 30 minute truck ride to reach this remote, eden in the middle of vast plains coated in all shades of green and interspersed with rolling  mounds. The red paint of the hostel walls make it stand out vibrantly against its surroundings. Each building serves its own unique purpose: the dormitory for travelers, the camping awnings, the outhouse, the jacuzzi solitude, the stables, the greenhouse and the main building where most of the visitors spend their time. There is a fully-loaded kitchen where chefs are baking all day, the two dining rooms, living room with a fireplace, and the adjacent shower and toilet room, which is connected by a door.

hammocks for guests to relax and enjoy the breath-taking scenery

Why is this hostel loads better than your typical hotel or resort? Because The Secret Garden hostel offers top-notch service, breath-taking views, all meals and provides you with enough daily activities in one complete spot. What hotel or resort could give you a family-like feel the second you step onto the gravel driveway and close the door to the truck that picked you up at the bus stop? None that I can think of off the top of my head. The smiling hostel greeter came out and shook our hands, welcoming us inside while asking numerous questions to get to know us immediately.

We barely had time to set our bags down before she ushered us to the table for lunch: a delicious kale soup and plenty of home-made rolls with currents of steam emanating from their brown edges. As soon as we began slurping she let us know that one of the hostel volunteers would take us on a waterfall hike after we we got the chance to settle into our room. Once again I must ask, has any hotel or resort clerk done this for you? I didn’t think so.

the trekking boot collection at the hostel

The two volunteers took us to our dormitory room and figured out the beds that would be free that night and let us get organized. As soon as we walked back into the main house, we were told to go get our trekking boots. They had plenty to choose from and we each found our size. We were asked if they were comfortable and then set off down the path, over the hills and through an opening in the forest that only a guide would know of its location.

Our boots trekked through streams, over boulders, up hills, through mud, over trees, under trees, down hills, and along cliff sides to see two cascading waterfalls flow into clear ponds. The rushing water couldn’t be heard outside of this hideaway haven of nature that was only being captured by our eyes and lenses. As soon as we left the forest refuge, the candles were being lit and sparkled in the windows of the dining room where the table was being set for dinner. Were candles lit at the last dinner you ate at your resort? Did they even provide a free meal with dessert? Probably not.

one of the waterfalls we saw during the trekk

That evening, a wood-burning fire crackled in the living room where all the hostel guests sat on couches, in chairs and on the rug on the floor journaling, reading, listening to music, looking through pictures and conversing with one another. The hostel owners arrived with their children at that time and welcomed everybody like they were part of their family. The kids ran around playing for a bit before being told to get ready for bed. Last we saw of them was them in their pajamas and bare-feet running off to their bedroom. The hotel volunteers stood up and told us of the itinerary planned for tomorrow. If anyone was interested in  horseback riding they were asked to sign up. My friends and I did. Each only $30. One by one each traveler departed through the bathroom door to get ready for bed.

Soon, we did the same. By the time we got to the dormitory and opened the door we felt the heat embrace us from the burning coals in the heater that warmed our room. We climbed up and slid into our individual bunk beds and enveloped our bodies within the thick, down comforters before we let our heads hit the pillows. Once the last of our bedroom guests did the same, the candles in the windows were blown out and darkness folded over our eyelids.

horseback riding in the cotopaxi province of ecuador (photo: rachel tavel)

In the morning, we ate our breakfast, which was served earlier for those going horseback riding before the regular time. We brushed our teeth and all met at the stables where we selected our horses, were fitted for the stirrups and made sure we were comfortable before setting off on the six-hour ride. We were allowed to go at our own pace, which meant most of us were galloping away.

Once we reached the top of the Rumñahui Mountain, we got to see the Cotopaxi volcano from a closer distance. The guide served us tea and some sort of cake to warm us up because of the freezing and harsh, blowing winds we faced at such a high altitude. Did your hotel or resort hook you up with tours like this? Oh, right, they just passed you a bunch of brochures from other people in the area they most likely know nothing about.

cotopaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world

We were met with fresh rolls and steaming soup once we returned to the hostel. After that, we got in the back of a truck that took us all the way back to Quito for the same price as the taxi and bus. We saved time and our bodies from more pain after six hours in the saddle. My final question is, did your hotel or resort have this much to offer in terms of service and value? Or simply, atmosphere and people?

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Waterfall Trekking & Horseback Riding

My friends and I spent the weekend in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador. It is home to the Cotopaxi volcano, which is the second highest summit in the country. We stayed at the gorgeous Secret Garden hostel, which had a guide take us trekking in the forest and along the streams to waterfalls. We also went horseback riding for six hours up to the top of a mountain for a closer look at the volcano. Here is the video:

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Zipping and Hiking Through the Mindo Cloud Forest

This weekend my friend and I took a weekend trip to the small town of Mindo, Ecuador, which is a 2.5 hour bus ride out of Quito. The bus, which leaves every hour and costs $2.50,  drives on a curvy rode through the mountains, offering breath-taking views of the green land.

A word of advice: Do not fall asleep on the bus or stare out the window too long. The bus driver picks up and drops off people all along the route. My friend didn’t realize until we were at our hostal that someone on the bus had cut a hole into the side of her backpack and stole her estimated $1,000 camera. Always hold your backpack on your lap with your arms safely around it. Never in-between your legs or tucked under the seat in front of you.

After spending a few hours with the Mindo police, attracting quite a few people at the bus station (who later knew us as the (chicas gringas con la camera problema “the white girls with the camera problem) and checking into the Casa de Cecelia hostel (which I highly recommend), we got to exploring some of the Mindo Cloud Forest.

We didn’t do what Mindo is most known for: the butterfly preserve or bird watching. Instead, we opted for the active, adventure tour of Mindo (we already are planning on going back to visit the butterfly preserve and go tubing) and decided on zip-lining in the canopies and hiking to see the waterfalls.

the mindo canopy adventure offers a thrilling flight on 13 different cables

The Mindo Canopy Adventure, which is also the most popular, provides fun and thrilling zip-lining way above the ground below on 13 different cables. None of which require you to slow down. They are just fast enough to enjoy and are long enough to allow you to simply glance around at the mountains and floor below while cruising through the air. Bi-lingual tour guides accompany you the entire time as you hike up and down the mountain trails to each line.

Some cables are long and some are short, providing enough variation to keep it exciting. At one point, they pull up and down on the cable to have you bouncing along to the other side. Another perk that just adds to what this company has to offer is the chance to do two unique forms: the mariposa (butterfly) or the superman.

all geared up and ready to go!

The mariposa has you flying upside down with your legs straight up (the guide is keeping them steady) in the air and your arms hanging down, so all you see is the sky above you or the grown below, depending on where you’re looking. As for the superman pose, your legs are wrapped around the guide’s waist and you stretch your arms out before you and soar along the cable like the popular hero.

I highly recommend the Mindo Canopy Adventure to anyone visiting Mindo. They are safe and secure, and for $10 USD, make sure everyone has a good time.

The next morning, my friend and I took the Tarabita, or cable car, across the forest to the trail heads that lead to six different waterfalls of equal magnificence.

the tarabita cable car that takes you from one side to the other

For $5 USD, hikers can walk through the magical forest covered in moss to each waterfall in the Santuario de Cascadas. To visit each waterfall would take an entire afternoon, which my friend and I sadly did not have. So we chose to go in the direction of where the majority of the falls were in close proximity.

The elevation made the hiking incredibly a mission for someone even in my fit condition. You go over hills and tree roots, up and down stairs, having to be extremely careful because the ground is wet and muddy, making it easy to slip.

enjoying the cascada guarumos

The scenery was unbelievably magical. All the vines hanging around made me wonder if I would hear Tarzan’s signature yell “OhhHhHhHh” and see him swinging through the giant trees. Mushrooms are growing on the trunks and all shades of the color wheel seem to paint the plant’s leaves. Along the way, you can hear the rushing water hinting that you are getting closer until you see the wooden, rickety bridge that leads you to the majestic waterfall (or maybe, just maybe the mythical land of Terabithia? I wish).

If the weather cooperated, it will be warm enough to actually get in for a bit to experience the crisp, refreshing water but make sure to cover yourself right back up so the mosquitoes don’t attack!

Here is a complete video of my weekend trip to the Mindo Cloud Forest, a special spot that is becoming known for its eco-tourism and friendly atmosphere.

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