Post last updated: 22/05/2018
One of the things mentioned in my Mini Guide to Baños on a Budget was cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas.
The chances are, if you’re reading this post right now, you’ve actively been looking for information about the Ruta de las Cascadas or how to rent a bike in Baños. If so, that’s great! Stick around because you’re definitely in the right place!
On the contrary, some of you may have happened upon this post by chance. Perhaps you were looking for information about Angel Falls in Venezuela, or maybe even the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls, and accidentally stumbled into a hole of beautiful South American waterfalls. Maybe you were looking for something completely different, totally non-waterfall related, and not even in South America. Whatever the reason and however you found yourselves here, you may be scratching your heads and wondering “What is the Ruta de las Cascadas?” So before you grab your things and scoot on out of here, let me explain.
What is the Ruta de las Cascadas?
The Ruta de las Cascadas (English translation: Route of the waterfalls – top marks to whichever creative so-and-so named that!) is a popular and very picturesque route, or track, that runs between the two Ecuadorean towns of Baños and Puyo. Baños – full name Baños de Agua Santa – which is nestled in between not one, not two, but four colossal volcanoes is a haven for all things adventure in Ecuador, and despite being just a few hours drive from the capital city of Quito, staying in Baños really does give you the sense of being totally off the grid.
The Ruta de las Cascadas runs for approximately 60km between the two towns, giving you plenty of scenic views of your Jurassic-esque surroundings along the way, and more waterfalls than you can count! The dramatic setting is especially great because it means the views are spectacular even in poor weather. It’s a fantastic route to cycle – even for the less than keen cyclists among us – but if you really don’t want saddle sore in the morning, don’t worry there are other options for you! We’ll go into those a little later on.
Honestly? While the route as a whole is absolutely beautiful, most of the waterfalls you come across aren’t anything special. Think less of the monstrous, gushing sounds of Iguazu Falls and more of the little trickle of water you get when you don’t turn the tap all the way after washing your hands. The main exception to this is the big guy (Paillon del Diablo) at the end of the route. The rest are just waterfalls.
But what makes the Ruta de las Cascadas so spectacular is the scenery and views you get to experience along the way.
Hey, if you really don’t want to take TLC’s advice and you just can’t stay away from waterfalls, why not try these on for size?
- Venezuela: A Journey to Paradise Falls
- 17 UNESCO Heritage Sites in South America You Need to Add to Your Bucket List
- Brazil’s View of Iguazu Falls
- 3 of the Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Paihia, New Zealand
- Marokopa Falls – One of New Zealand’s Best Kept Secrets?
How can I experience the Ruta de las Cascadas?
My honest recommendation would be if you can, rent a bike and cycle the route. Cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas is undoubtedly the most fulfilling, enjoyable and relaxed way to experience it and, you know, you get to be at one with nature and stuff. If you’ve come over all hot and sweaty at the thought of physical exercise, grab yourself a cold towel, take a few deep breaths and believe me when I say: it’s not that hard. You don’t have to cycle the full 60km – you can stop and head back whenever you feel like it.
Trust me on this; my physical fitness just about peaks walking up two flights of stairs, so if I can do it any Average Joe can!
If your back sweats haven’t dissipated yet and you’d rather eat live crickets than cycle, there are several other options. If you’re feeling wild and crazy, have no plans for the next week, and don’t mind your feet becoming two giant blisters, you could walk the route. I mean, 60km isn’t so far, right…?
Related: A Mini Guide to Baños on a Budget
Or alternatively, there are tours available — either on a normal everyday people bus or a super exciting but at the same time kind of gimmicky and cheesy Chiva bus. The Chiva bus option should cost anywhere between USD$5-10 (I’ve heard differing accounts, and haven’t done it myself to be able to give a definitive answer) and includes a guide who will give you a little insider info on the area as you drive along.
Still, if you ask me cycling definitely is the way to go.
How to rent a bicycle in Baños
Renting a bicycle in Baños is easy. Almost every single tour company based in Baños offer them, even if they aren’t obviously advertised in the windows. Think a specialist kayak equipment store won’t have bikes available? Think again, my friend. When I say almost every single tour company, I mean almost every single tour company. And there are a lot of companies around!
It’s worth noting that when renting a bike in Baños, they will ask you to leave your ID in the tour agency. Luckily they don’t seem picky on what sort of ID you give – driving licence, passport, student ID…heck, I don’t think they’d even mind if you give your library card as long as it has your name and photo on it!
A reputable bike rental shop (or a kayak rental shop with that added twist) will also provide you with a helmet and a portable repair kit (i.e. a bumbag, or fanny pack, with a bunch of random tools and screws shoved inside and no diagrams). I did try to tell the man in the shop that giving me a repair kit was about as useful as telling a penguin to fly, but apparently it’s a thing he has to do!
Important: If your helmet doesn’t fit, or your bike isn’t comfortable, let them know before you cycle off. From experience, they’ll be more than happy to let you try out different sizes and models to get the best fit for your frame.
How much does it cost to rent a bike in Baños?
Renting a bike in Baños will cost you anywhere between USD$8-15 for the whole day.
Obviously, as is the case in most of South America, you can bargain your little heart out to get the price down but please, before you bully someone into renting a bike out to you for $1, have some consideration and remember this is their livelihoods.
I actually only paid USD$6 but that’s because I’m definitely not a morning person so didn’t actually rent it until midday.
Cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas
Starting in the town itself, just beyond the church on the main square, the route is pretty easy to follow. There’s just one road really, and you have to share it with pedestrians, cars, and other bikes, so be careful and watch where you’re going or you just might swerve to avoid an oncoming lorry, then fall in a ditch.
The best part about cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas as opposed to going on an organised bus tour is that you can take it at your own pace. Cycle as slow or as fast as you like (making sure to avoid the other traffic, of course, let’s be road safe), stop as much or as little as you need and take photos as and when you wish! And you will want to take a lot of photos, trust me. The scenery is absolutely stunning and if you’re able to catch five minutes alone on the side of the road, it’s easy to imagine you’re a non-dinosaur extra on Jurassic Park.
A lot of the waterfalls along the Ruta de las Cascadas actually have names, but without a guide or prior research into the area, you aren’t really going to know which is which! One of the most notable of these named waterfalls is one I unfortunately didn’t actually get to see up close “in the flesh”. The Cascada Manto de la Novia (or Bride’s Veil in English) is a set of twin waterfalls situated on the opposite side of the valley to the road you take when cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas. So if it’s on the other side of the valley, how do we get there?
By very wobbly and rickety old cable car, of course!
When you’re cycling along the Ruta de las Cascadas, keep an eye open for the cable car. It’s pretty noticeable but be careful as there are a lot of money-making schemes along the way (zip-lining, cable cars, even bungy jumping) which aren’t exactly safe and most don’t even offer a ‘Wow!’ view at the end. If you get the right cable car, though, you’re in for a treat!
The highlight of the day, and the end of the road for most people is the Paillon del Diablo. Meaning Devil’s Cauldron in English), this monster definitely lives up to its name.
My photos of Paillon del Diablo aren’t the most fantastic, but that’s because the water was so powerful that I didn’t want to risk losing or breaking my camera or phone, so I kept a fair distance from it while snapping away. For a true *oh my gosh, look at that* moment, though, just do a quick Google search of Paillon del Diablo and let those images speak for themselves!
There are two different ‘entrances’ to the Devil’s Cauldron – one let’s you view it from the top (you can see the little wooden footbridge at the top of the first photo) and the other allows you to go almost to the foot of the waterfall (that’s where my photos were taken from). You do have to pay an entry fee to the waterfall, which is only a couple of dollars (USD$1.50 when I visited), but it’s definitely worth it! There are a lot of bike racks at the top of the entrance, just outside the little restaurant where you can safely lock your bike up while you explore the waterfall.
Returning to Baños with your bike
Paillon del Diablo doesn’t have to signal the end of your Ruta de las Cascadas journey, but for a lot of people it does. By this point, after cycling who even knows how many kilometres, walking all the way down to the bottom of Paillon del Diablo and back up again (there are a lot of steps!), even the most physically fit among us are probably aching a little!
If the thought of having to cycle all the way back to Baños makes you want to dive head first into the base of Paillon del Diablo and stay there, I have some good news for you! For a couple dollars per person (negotiable with the driver depending on number of passengers, weather and how much they like you), you can load your bike and your person onto the back of a camioneta, which is like a pick up truck with a roof, and enjoy the luxury of riding back to Baños in 15 minutes as opposed to the 15 days it would inevitably take you and your burning thighs on a bike.
One of the major attractions of the Ruta de las Cascadas is that, on the contrary to some activities available at Baños, you can do it come rain or shine. You’re going to end up looking like you’ve dived head first into the Pacific Ocean when you get to Paillon del Diablo, so does it really matter if a little rain joins you on the way? It actually rained on and off the whole afternoon I made the journey – as you can probably tell in some of the pictures – but I’d even go so far as to say it made the whole experience more enjoyable!
Tips for Cycling the Ruta de las Cascadas
- There aren’t many (read: none) tiendas along the route, so make sure you take enough water and any snacks you may need for energy
- Don’t wear jeans – just trust me on that one, you’ll regret it.
- The weather in Baños can be more unpredictable than Wales, so if you can, take a little raincoat or poncho in your bag
Looking for more things to do in Baños and beyond? Check out these posts:
- Mini Guide to Baños on a Budget
- How to Visit the Swing at the End of the World
- 17 UNESCO Heritage Sites You Can’t Miss in South America
Finally, are you looking for comfortable budget accommodation in Baños? I’d highly recommend Hostal Princesa Maria – conveniently located in a quiet area, with the sweetest owners and really good WiFi!