What to Expect at Cascada Condor Machay

Selva Alegre - the street could be nicknamed Cuy Row as there were several restaurants selling guinea pig, a local delicacy.

Selva Alegre – a guiding point on the way. This street could be nicknamed Cuy Row as there were several restaurants selling guinea pig, a local delicacy.

The gateway to Rumipamba... just so you know you're on the right road.

The gateway to Rumipamba… just so you know you’re on the right road.

Little did we know that the hardest part of getting to the waterfall, Condor Machay, wouldn’t be the hiking but the actual driving directions on how to get to the trail head. We knew we were looking for a road that led from Sangolquí to the back, north entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. Like all Americans, I went to the internet to find better directions. And it was a hunt. Many places offer trips out to the waterfall and tell you to call them for a guide.

Just in case you’re visiting the area and are without your own transportation, here they are:

But since we live locally and have our own vehicle, we really wanted to get there on our own. I finally tracked down a website with brief instructions… so brief in fact that when I try searching for that same website again to share with you, I can’t find it. It’s complicated by the fact that the waterfall also goes by the name of El Nido del Condor, the Spanish translation of the Condor’s Nest, which is what Condor Machay means in Quichua. Luckily between the Cantón Rumiñahui and my imperfect memory, I’ve pieced together a google map that should help any intrepid traveler.

And let me tell you, the trip out is well worth it. The area in this part of Canton Rumiñahui is beautiful – rolling hills, hidden canyons, a river valley, occasional farms, and lots of wild areas. You will need a high clearance vehicle to make the trip, mainly for the road work going on in the small town of Rumipamba. Expect lots of dirt and gravel, a filthy vehicle at the end of the day, and great pictures from your hike.

When you arrive at the parking lot, there will most likely be someone there collecting a small fee for watching your car, especially if you hike on the weekend or on a national holiday. If you hike mid-week, it’s likely your vehicle will be left on its own. Use common sense and don’t leave expensive items in your car. If you must, put them where they can’t be seen.

To hike to the waterfall, you will take the trail immediately to the right of the parking lot. The left trail takes you to other cascades and sounds wonderful as well. If you get there before we do, let me know what it’s like!

The trail is well maintained with several bridges crossing the Rio Pita. Each crossing gives a pretty view of the river and often of the vegetation alongside. Though the hiking is not strenuous, the trail is long. A slow hiker like myself should plan on a couple of hours one way, especially if hiking on the weekend. As slow as I am compared to my 6-ft tall sons, I was still passing people on the trail, however. A beautiful day will bring out all kinds of folks and that means having patience on the trail. It also means picking up little candy wrappers on the way out and back. I wish I could convince all Ecuadorians that even small litter is bad for the environment.

One of the many bridges crossing the Rio Pita.

One of the many bridges crossing the Rio Pita.

Lunch in front of the Cascada Condor Machay.

Lunch in front of the Cascada Condor Machay.

We hiked during the rainy season and the water was pouring off the mountainsides. We saw several cascades coming off the rocks. The river itself was running fast and had some areas had fairly healthy rapids.

Birding was next to impossible because there were so many people. However, we did spy the nest of a Caracara. These large, dark birds often look like vultures high in the sky. We watched one settle on the rock side before it disappeared for a few moments in a small depression behind it. Eventually, it re-emerged and started tearing apart it’s prey. We assume it was feeding a youngster further back in the nest.

We were lucky enough to see a few orchids as well, though it was a tad early in the season. Keep your eyes above the trail, especially in damp areas where the sunlight can penetrate the forest. Orchids like damp but they also seem to love a little sun during the day. We had good luck looking along the rocky mountainside where the stream runs through the mountain.

But the highlight of the trip was the waterfall itself. The rainy days helped swell the stream that feeds the waterfall and it was rushing of the mountainside to the pool waiting beneath. We enjoyed our lunch while seated at the foot of this marvelous natural wonder, the wind occasionally blowing a light spray of water over our tired bodies. A few people bravely stuck their bare feet into the cold water but no one ventured into the pool itself. The strength of that falling water demanded respect.

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