Ruta de las Cascadas

Route of the waterfalls

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 25 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

Baños, located in a valley that is surrounded by volcanic mountains on all sides, is Ecuador’s adventure tourism capital. These huge mountains, located right next to the upper Amazon basin, are thickly covered in vegetation all year around. There is plenty of rainfall and condensation in the area which means all that water has to go somewhere. Therefore, the area around Baños is laden with waterfalls, small and large, and if you travel on the road that runs along the Pastaza River, these waterfalls emptying into the river look spectacular.

↑ The Pastaza River meandering east towards the Amazon basin which is beyond the visible mountain range.

↑ Unfaithful bike. Pedal breaks after 6km, chain breaks after 21k…

Ruta de las Cascadas

Like most travellers typically do, I check a few adventure sport agencies to choose what activity I would prefer to do. Without much deliberations, I rent a bicycle for $5 a day from one of the bike stores and decide to embark upon an ambitious journey beginning in hills of Baños ending all the way to the Amazon basin some 62km east. Well, not quite ambitious, since this is a standard bicycling route called “Ruta de las Cascadas,” or route of the waterfalls.

After a hearty glass of fresh sugarcane juice, I jump on my bike and hit the highway to Puyo. I think I am on a sugar rush because I am trying to compete with car and truck drivers, obviously in vain, for supremacy of the road. Driving challenges for cyclists in Ecuador (or South America) are not that different than what cyclists face on Indian roads, i.e. intimidation and bullying by bigger and bulkier motorised vehicles.

↑ Dam on the ferocious river

My first stop is at a hydroelectric dam about 4km from the town. It had rained quite a lot during the last few days I was here, and the river was soaring. Water gushed out on the downstream side, spraying the entire stretch of road that crossed over the stream. Few more minutes of pedaling and I reach a sexy curved road that offers a beautiful view of dual waterfalls.

Out of nowhere it starts raining and before I can pull my rain gear out, the clouds clear and the sun winks at me from behind. I remind myself that weather in a mountainous region is unpredictable. By the next few kilometers, my shirt is wet again, but this time it’s the sweat and spray from a waterfall. I understand why this route is called Ruta de las cascadas. There are waterfalls everywhere I look.

↑ Crossing the river in a trolley car.

About 18km later, a journey that took me two hours due to numerous stops on the way, I reach Pailon del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron), the most ferocious waterfall I have seen from a close proximity. It is raining hard by now and I am unable to distinguish between the rain and the spray from the waterfall. I strip to my shorts and checkout approach the devil’s closet, reading the signs advising folks to not be too adventurous.

↑ View from a trail that goes somewhere deeper in the mountains. I turned around after 30 minutes.

Getting drenched in a cold waterfall stream is a fantastic experience; what’s awful is when your bike chain breaks and you have to try flagging down a vehicle. Not fun.

I realize there are not many waterfall pictures in this post on the highway of waterfalls. Alas it was raining incessantly and I am too chicken to pull my dslr out. I take a few pictures just to relive the memories… If you find yourself in Baños, be sure to check this route out.