There is a universal enchanting quality about colossal waterfalls that attract people from every corner of the world. Like Hawaii, Ecuador is jam-packed with these powerful and majestic waterfalls throughout the entire country. This is due to the incredible variety in Ecuador’s geography, in tandem with the sheer amount of water found within this tropical country.
Many of these Ecuadorian areas contain numerous cascades, allowing you to hit three or more grand waterfalls within a half-day. At the bottom of some of these falls, you’ll also find gorgeous swimming holes, that is if you dare brave the chilly waters (Some aren’t too cold). Read on to see some of the powerful and stunning waterfalls of Ecuador.
Table of contents: ()
- Ecuadorian waterfall tips
- Waterfalls near Quito – Ecuador’s waterfalls
- Waterfalls Surrounding Baños de Agua Santa
- Southern Ecuador Waterfalls
- Ecuador’s Coastal Waterfalls
- Podcast – Travel to Ecuador
Ecuadorian waterfall tips
- Bring a camera. However, bring a plastic bag or camera case. You’ll get wet!
- Bring water shoes, tennis shoes with a backup or tough sandals. Lots of trails to Ecuadorian waterfalls are rocky, slippery, and at high elevation.
- Have a sweater and towel in a waterproof bag. The waters can be cold, and the mist will spray you even if you don’t get in. You’ll want a warm jacket and some sweatpants for the journey home.
- Bring water for the hikes. Many of them have decent elevation gradients and you’ll want to hydrate.
- Take your time on these waterfall hikes and listen to your body, as the elevation can be tough.
Waterfalls near Quito – Ecuador’s waterfalls
This waterfall is close to the town of Otavalo, where you will find the famous animal markets and one of the largest indigenous textile markets in the country. You can easily take a bus from Quito, and enjoy all the city and nature areas have to offer. The waterfall is a ceremonial site for the Inte Raymi (Sun and Harvest) yearly festival. Legend states that there is a bowl formed of gold within the waterfall. Two black hounds sitting beside the throne of the devil protect this bowl. This devil holds a small plate of sand, which is slowly washed away by the waterfall. It is said that when the last grain of sand disappears from the plate, the soul is taken of whoever enters the waterfall.
Great pita waterfall – 18 waterfalls
This great Ecuadorian waterfall in the heart of the Andes is an impressive sight and is one of eighteen waterfalls along the pita river. This one is the tallest, at 60 meters, making a wonderful photo. The best part is this is only an hour outside of downtown Quito, making it an easy day trip if you want to get out the concrete jungle and into nature within minutes.
Condor Machay Waterfall
This Ecuadorian waterfall is a quick hour drive from Quito, and the area is both pristine and powerful. The title translates to the nest of the condor, which is the emblematic Ecuadorian bird species symbolizing a protector on the national flag.
The highest area offers Baños magnificent scenery, overlooking the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a famous route of volcanoes along the Andes ranging from massive snow-capped volcanoes to lesser but still impressive peaks.
Along the path starting at the “Caldera,” you’ll find gorgeous orchids, trout swimming the crystalline river in their natural state, the zebra-striped caracaras, and a forest full of natural vegetation. The whole hike lasts between 3-5 hours round trip depending on your pace.
Direction by Car, use WAZE to get to Barrio Selva Alegre, Sangolqui, Ecuador. Then follow the directions on the above map.
Direction by Public Transportation for buses to Sangolqui, use the Google Map link, and click on get directions. Use the public transportation option to find the best from your current location. From Selva Alegre, you will likely have to hire a taxi though there are bus stops along the road out to Condor Machay.
Waterfalls Surrounding Baños de Agua Santa
Baños, the waterfall capital, is a quaint town 2.5 to 3 hours from Quito with a lot of activities to do including rafting, mountain biking, canyoning, zip-lining, and more. However, what really captured my attention when I spent the new years here was all the spectacular waterfalls. The best part is that we were able to easily see three in one day, and we left without seeing all of them.
Pailon del Diablo – Ecuador’s waterfalls
This is without a doubt the most recognized and famous waterfall in Ecuador. It’s easy to get to, the trails are beautiful, and the waterfall is an absolute monster. The significance of the name in English is “The Devil’s Cauldron.” It is the tallest waterfall of the Ecuadorian Andes, and the waters plunge 200 feet into a cauldron shaped gorge below. One aspect that makes this Ecuadorian waterfall so spectacular is the steep winding staircase bringing you closer and closer toward the waterfall until you have a spectacular view. But wait, it gets even better. Keep walking the path until you will actually stroll behind the waterfall, and feel the roaring of the water plunging and the mist will definitely get you wet. The clear waters of the Río Verde feed this waterfall. Although this waterfall is a little touristy, I still highly recommend it.
Machay – Waterfall of Baños
You’ll find this waterfall with a 20-30 minute winding bus drive from Baños. This waterfall has a 15-minute downhill hike with tons of beautiful flowers and interesting tropical leaves. A few minutes into the trail, we could hear the rumbling of the waterfall. This is a common tantalizing experience you’ll have with many of the other trails leading to these giant waterfalls, as most require a short hike that obscures the vision until the last moment.
I went in the evening, and I was able to capture some great photographs of the flowers with my camera phone. The Machay waterfall is actually composed of two waterfalls. The first is a very tall cascade falling down a rock face full of tropical vegetation and trees. I don’t recommend swimming in the first pools, as the rapids are strong and a few meters after the first began the second, a smaller 10-meter waterfall with lots of rocks. You can climb down a flight of stairs leading to the river below, and you’ll find a spot with a rope crossing the river. You can hop off a rock into the middle of the rapids, which was a ton of fun. It also wasn’t too cold, an important added bonus.
Manto de la Novia – Ecuador’s Waterfall
This roughly translates to the Veil of the Bride. The name derives from the beautiful double waterfall resembling the headpiece worn by brides before tying the knot, and it really makes for a spectacular photo. You can choose between a $2 cable car or walking a suspension bridge. To do this, you can take a tour from the city center of Baños, or simply do it yourself with a 50-cent bus. Add the waterfall on Google maps, and then tell the conductor to get off at the waterfall (Cascada)
Ulba and Silencio Ecuador Waterfalls
This hike contained two waterfalls, and it was very easy to traverse the hike. Less than 10 minutes from the entrance, we got to the first waterfall, and five minutes to the second. You’ll have to cough up 50 cents a person to get to the waterfall, so remember to bring some small change. The Ulba waterfall isn’t very tall, but for what it lacks in height it makes up for in power. The water was exploding from the river into the pool below. Taking a dip in this one is definitely doable, with a little bit of caution. If you got too close to the right side, you could get sucked into the rapids so stick to the edge of the left side if you want to brave it.
Silencio was a five-minute walk from the Ulba waterfall. This was more of a slow-moving cascading waterfall. We also got to watch a fun and exhilarating spectacle from the bottom. An adventure tour agency was taking guests on a canyoning adventure, where daredevils rapidly repelled down the waterfall wearing wetsuits, helmets, and climbing gear.
Waterfalls of Coco Cayamye
This park marks one of the entrances to the Amazon rainforest, and it was a ton of fun. I went on a tour that visited three waterfalls, and two of them were truly spectacular. It was lightly raining for most of the day, but it didn’t dampen our spirits because of it very warm in the Amazon regardless of the temperature. These waterfalls were really unique because of the sheer force, size, and volume of water expelling from these beasts.
San Rafael Waterfall
Update April 2020: A sinkhole collapsed changing the water source for this waterfall which has caused the San Rafael Waterfall to largely disappear.
This was one of Ecuador’s truly colossal waterfalls, standing at 150 meters of height. This was a half-hour stroll from the road. The tropical leaves were massive, and the birdlife was very active. It was a little misty that day, so every few minutes we would get a clear gap to take stunning pictures. The water thunders down from above, causing the mist to spit up and circle from the pool below, creating an extraordinary picture. Moreover, the forest surrounding the river from above is truly wild. From the trail we took, we weren’t able to walk to the bottom. However, the view from across the way was breathtaking, and definitely one of the coolest waterfalls I’ve seen in my life. However, I think the next one might have taken the cake for me.
Rio Malo Waterfall
Of all the waterfall experiences in Ecuador, this might be my favorite. The Cascada rivaled San Rafael in terms of power, but not in height. It was about 20 meters-30 meters tall. You could feel the mist of this powerful cascade from 50 meters away. What made this Ecuadorian waterfall truly special was that you could get up close and personal, and even swim in the waters below. The water was a little chilly, but I was able to swim pretty close to the base of the waterfall and even sit on a rock nearby. The volume of mist spraying and the powerful gale caused by the waterfall made me feel as if I was standing in a hurricane. I then floated down the river for a few meters, which was very relaxing.
Southern Ecuador Waterfalls
This is a small Ecuadorian mountain town 45 minutes to an hour from the city of Cuenca. Note that the elevation is pretty high, so make sure you are acclimated to the higher altitude before doing on any hiking, otherwise, you may end up with a pretty good headache by the end. This adventure has delicious trout to eat, and a waterfall that is absolutely gorgeous. From the parking lot, you will go on a short hike leading to some stairs. These stairs take you to the base of this Southern Ecuadorian waterfall. Bring a raincoat or poncho, or a towel in a dry bag, as you will get misted by the waterfall. If you are feeling extra adventurous, you can do an extreme 2-hour hike to an upper platform that leads to wonderful views. Otherwise, you can do zip-lining or trout fishing for reasonable prices.
This Ecuadorian waterfall is a little more secluded than the rest, located within the Podocarpus National Park. This park lies 4 miles from the city of Zamora, the capital of Zamora-Chinchipe province. You can hike to the top and bottom of the 70-meter waterfall and get wonderful pictures. Moreover, there are camping areas for backpackers.
Ecuador’s Coastal Waterfalls
Jama Coaque Reserve Waterfalls
This area was the first place I visited in Ecuador, and it had some truly stunning waterfalls. Moreover, this destination has extraordinary biodiversity of monkeys, hundreds of birds, and a beautiful bamboo house on the property. For ten dollars, you can go on miles and miles of hiking trails. A few cross paths with the pristine river Camarones (shrimp), and you’ll find a few beautiful cascades with various types of hummingbirds fluttering between the various flowers along the way. This area isn’t the easiest to get to, with an uphill hike of 1.7 miles from the town of Camarones. But the reward of the biodiversity and waterfalls is definitely is worth the trip.
Las Cascadas de Manuel – 8 waterfalls
This is another beautiful coastal waterfall, leading to a grand waterfall with an awesome swimming pit. Go with shoes that you can get wet. Moreover, there is a nice little restaurant/hotel nearby. Here, you can also spend the night and have a full day and night of relaxation.
Hear Keenan talk more about Ecuador on Travel to Ecuador – Amateur Traveler podcast episode 695: