One thing you can’t miss while you’re in Baños de Agua Santa is biking the Ruta de Las Cascadas, also known as the Waterfall Highway. The path follows the road from Baños to the town of Puyo, along the Río Pastaza canyon. The route leads you past seven waterfalls, culminating in the mighty Pailón del Diablo, or Devil’s Cauldron.
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Where is Baños?
Known as Ecuador’s “adventure capital,” Baños de Agua Santa is situated about 3 hours south of Quito, in a valley among 4 volcanoes – most notably the Tungurahua, just south of town.
Ruta de las Cascadas Stats + Tips:
- Duration: 2-3 hours one-way
- Distance: 18 kilometers (11 miles) one-way to Pailón del Diablo and the route is 60km to Puyo
- Difficulty: Flat and easy ride, but be aware that roughly the first third of the ride is on a heavily transited highway, and you’ll have to go through a few covered tunnels
- Costs + Fees: $10USD bike + helmet rental; $2USD entrance fee to Pailón del Diablo waterfall park; $3USD bus ride back to Baños from Rio Verde. Make sure to bring sufficient cash, preferably in singles.
- Best time to do this bike ride: Year-round, but the weather in Baños can be temperamental, so make sure you pack a rain jacket!
Renting a Bike in Baños and Hitting the Road
If you walk out to the main road in the town center of Baños, there is no shortage of shops where you can rent a bike. The price per day for the bikes is often posted on the door, so we recommend choosing a shop that has the price openly displayed. A good guideline for what to pay is around $10USD per person, give or take a few dollars. Aside from the price, the shops are largely the same, and you can’t really go wrong with which one you pick.
As you are going through the process of choosing your bike, be warned that you will likely be asked to relinquish or at least show a form of identification before being allowed to leave the shop. This is simply meant as a theft prevention method, as many of the shops have experienced a spate of bike robberies in the past and are naturally seeking to avoid that.
In addition to your bike (and of course helmet!) the shop should also provide you with a lock, a tire patch kit, and a small handheld pump, held in a little drawstring bag that you can wear as a backpack. However, it’s absolutely crucial to check your bike well prior to leaving, and it is even worth doing a few laps around the area to get adjusted and make sure the tire pressure, brakes, seat height, and alignment are all in proper order. While the bikes we rented were in really great shape – very clean, fairly new, and in great working order – the last thing you want is to get stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire! That would absolutely put a damper on your experience, to say the least.
Lastly, be sure to request or take a paper map of the route, so you have a general idea of what to expect and where to go. As we’ll show you later on, it’s really very straightforward, but it never hurts to have a map! Now you’re feeling good and your bike is ready, you can hit the road!
Biking La Ruta de las Cascadas
To start your bike journey, exit the center of town and head out onto the main road going east. While we would classify the entirety of this journey as a very easy ride as far as the terrain goes, it’s important to note that the beginning of the route can be a bit tricky, as you are pretty much immediately biking on the side of a very busy highway and it can be tough to get your bearings.
While the road is incredibly well-paved and seamless to bike along, it can be a bit scary to have cars and 18-wheelers speeding by you, as there isn’t much protected bike lane in this portion of the ride. It’s worth noting though, that despite being a bit nerve-wracking at first, once we got into the rhythm of the ride we felt better, and we never felt unsafe.
Traveler Tip: As mentioned above, the route mostly follows the Rio Pastaza canyon area, and you’ll be able to peek down to your right most of the time and see the river beside you. If you just follow the river, you won’t get lost.
After biking along the highway and going through a few (again, slightly nerve-wracking) covered tunnels (a necessary evil to go through what was once a mountain!), you’ll see a turn off on your right which merges onto a bike path. You have now arrived at what we would argue is the best bike path we have ever seen, full stop. Perfectly paved and smooth, with beautiful rock hangings and incredible views of the river below, this is the part of the Ruta de las Cascadas that makes the whole thing worth it.
Get ready to be enveloped by constant, non-stop mountain vistas, the sound of birds chirping, and the roar of the river below as you glide along on your bike. While it may seem silly to mention, be sure to remember to stop and take photos! The greenery in the mountain area is so lush and verdant, and you will likely not even break a sweat thanks to the year-round cool breeze that Baños is known for.
Before embarking on our cycling adventure of Ruta de las Cascadas, we were told it is possible to see between seven and twelve waterfalls. The five that you are most likely to see are Cascada Agoyan, Cascada Agollan, Cascada la Piedra, Cascada Pailón del Diablo, and Manto de la Novia (also known as the Bride’s Veil), which is a double waterfall! We definitely think we whizzed by a few by mistake, potentially they were a bit small to be seen from the road directly!
While the waterfalls are certainly neat – especially Pailón del Diablo, (we’ll get to that one in a bit), what we found really special about this bike route was the overall scenery, probably more so than the waterfalls. The views of the mountains were our favorite part for sure, and you’ll definitely love them, too.
Depending on your speed, after you’ve been biking for an hour or so in total (maximum an hour and a half to two hours) you’ll reach the small town of Rio Verde, home to the Pailón del Diablo waterfall and park area. There’s a place to park and lock your bike at the entrance to the park, and you can also pay your entrance fee here. It should cost about $2USD per person.
Pailón del Diablo Waterfall Park Guide
Even if you feel like you’ve seen enough waterfalls by this point, Pailón del Diablo is the pinnacle of the waterfall experience, and you absolutely cannot miss a visit to this park. Not only is the wildlife absolutely beautiful, but the waterfall is massive and truly remarkable. When you first arrive and start making your way down the trail towards the waterfall, you’ll begin to see a large gorge. We guarantee that you will hear the waterfall before you see it!
As you get closer, you’ll see a little staircase practically carved into the rock, along with a little tunnel to crawl through on your hands and knees. While this is definitely a bit claustrophobic, it isn’t very long, and you’ll be in and out in no time. Almost right away, you’ll be met with the sight of this majestic waterfall, with the sounds of rushing water surrounding you as it cascades into the pool with a crash way down below. There are several angles and viewpoints around this area, and we really enjoyed the ability to get so up close to the waterfall.
Once you have had your fill of the waterfall, check out the suspension bridge nearby for a fun photo op and more views of the area. There is not really anything to do on the other side of the bridge, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Getting Back to Baños
Once you’re finished looking around the park, you may be ready to start heading back. While you absolutely can bike the ~11 miles back to Baños, chances are it may be getting dark by now if you visited in the afternoon, or perhaps you’re tired and not really wanting to brave the highway section again.
At any rate, the sun was rapidly setting for us, and we were distinctly wary of biking back on the highway in the dark. Thankfully, for $2-3USD each, you can just grab your bike and hop in the back of a truck (locally known as a camioneta) for a ride back. While definitely not a luxurious ride, we were very grateful to have the option of taking the truck back rather than biking back in the dark.
The truck goes back and forth very regularly, and has an area in which to strap your bike in, as well as bench-style seats for as many people as are meandering around to pile in. The truck drops you off right in the town center of Baños where you began, and you can drop your bike back off easily from there.
Are There Tours of Ruta de las Cascadas?
If cycling isn’t really your thing or you’re afraid of getting a numb bum, there is the option to take a tour of Ruta de las Cascadas. Mainly, these tours come in the form of Chiva buses, brightly colored party buses which pump out banging tunes no matter the time of day. They aren’t the most relaxing of tours and you might not get an English speaking guide but they are sure to be an experience nonetheless! These cost between $5-$10USD per person depending on where you book.
Alternatively, if you’d rather skip out on a Chiva bus for something a bit quieter, there is a local bus that follows the same route. Look out for the blue bus which leaves from the centre of town and stops at all of the major attractions along the route. It will cost you somewhere between 50 c and $1USD.
There is also a zip line and a cable car which many of the tours will stop at. If you want to partake in these additional activities, you will have to pay another fee when you arrive.
Have you cycled Ruta de las Cascadas yet?