Ecuador gives travelers of all walks of life the luxury of exploring a diversity that goes beyond the ordinary. Fixed by points on the map start at the equator and continues to the Galapagos Islands, the far reaches of the jungle, the high vistas of volcanoes, and the lush landscape of the cloud forest.
For many, the country begins and ends with a plane ride in and out of Ecuador’s cities, Quito and Guayaquil. While in transit, intrepid travelers fly over natural attractions that echo times past in the modern world; making discovering the nooks and crannies of the small nation an adventure that can surpass expectations around every bend and corner.
When planning a trip to Ecuador, consider stopping at these swimming holes and waterfalls to rediscover the natural world. Keep reading for four waterfalls and swimming holes to visit while in Ecuador.
Otavalo is a bustling market town a few hours from Quito surrounded by hills, valleys, lakes, and volcanoes. Within short journeys from town are two waterfalls that balance the flurry of activity of the stalls found in the streets of the city.
Cascada de Peguche is within walking distance from the edge of Otavalo, located on a 40-acre reserve run by a local indigenous community. The trail-head to the falls begins at a welcome center where you pay a small fee to enter the park.
The trail zigs and zags over bridges and through the forest, passing pools and streams before the falls come into view. The roaring river of water plummets from above, majestically falling into a pool at their base. Another trail continues upward, ending at a scenic vista overlooking the surrounding countryside. For the adventurous, there is a tight tunnel that leads under the rock cliff to a tributary on the other side.
The falls are the site of a purification ritual during the Inti Rami Celebration at the end of June. The sun and harvest festival brings people from miles away and takes over the town of Otavalo with music, dancing, and competitions.
After returning to the beginning of the park, there are stalls selling souvenirs and trinkets, and a community center that is funded in part by the money collected from the park fees.
Cascada Taxopamba is on the way to Mojanda lake, ten minutes by taxi outside of town. The secluded falls are half an hour from the trailhead and are a great spot for a picnic. Take water and wear sturdy shoes, as there are no shops nearby and the trail winds and twists through rugged farmland.
The trek starts next to Casa Mojanda and continues downward, overlooking the whole of Otavalo and the mountains and volcanoes of the other side of the valley.
It can be a bit confusing to keep on track as the route isn’t marked; a rule of thumb is to keep to the left and stay between the boundaries of the farms that line the path. Don’t be surprised to see horses and cows at close range, curiously observing the people who wander down the trail.
After crossing a few narrow parts of the path, at steep descent leads to the falls. Tall cliffs enclose the base of the falls, creating an amphitheater where nature takes precedence.
The roaring falls drop into a shallow pool at their base, a fun place to dive in for a dip on warm, sunny days. There are no facilities along the path or at the falls, as they are a local’s secret not regulated by the Ecuadorian park system.
The thriving town of Baños is the outdoor adventure center of Ecuador. Its streets are lined with coffee shops, international restaurants, and rental outlets. Outside of town are rivers to raft, cliffs to climb, and The Ruta de Casada.
The Ruta de Casada is a ten-mile downhill bicycle ride that takes you to scenic vistas, across rivers by cable car, and above the canopy soaring in the sky on ziplines. The route consists of ten waterfalls, each worth the effort for their pristine views.
At the end of the route is the Devils Cauldron, a power waterfall that is reached after an enthusiastic hike through the forest. The falls are a great final stop on the journey, a stunning sight that gives you a new appreciation for the natural world of Ecuador.
San Rafael Falls is Ecuador’s answer to Victoria Falls in Africa, Kravice Falls in Bosnia, and Khone Phapheng falls in Laos. The towering falls are located at the beginning of the Amazon jungle, reached by heading towards Lago Agrio, the gateway to the Oriente.
The entrance to San Rafael Falls starts at a turn off of the main road and continues down a route that is flanked by small waterfalls and crosses rivers along the way. The last leg of the adventure begins at a building where you need to show your passport and register your details. After the formalities are dealt with, the path continues over three bridges and ends at a wooden overlook that gives way to an awe-inspiring view of the roaring falls cascading down thousands of feet into the valley below. The spectacle stuns all the senses and pulls you out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary natural world. The scene goes beyond description and is one of the moments that need to been experienced firsthand to be believed.
Traveling to Mindo is a two-hour journey from Quito and puts you in the middle of the cloud forest, surrounded by lush woodlands and amid thousands of birds. The small six-block town offers solace from the busy streets of the country’s capital.
Within a short journey from the village is the Santuario de Cascadas, an active excursion that takes you to out-of-the-way waterfalls where you can swim and slide down rock formations into the water.
The trek starts with a cable car ride over a rushing river. Trails on the other side of the valley lead through dense forest alive with the calls of birds overhead.
Cascada Nambillo is a peaceful waterfall where locals and visitors alike jump in the waters of the pool at the base of the falls. It’s a chance to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings, making the effort to get there well worth the hike.