In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark. I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks ago and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less-than-spectacular view.
Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head. Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.
Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between. So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the trail (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!
With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.
It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something. I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath… He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!
However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁
Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.
It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful hike along a very well maintained trail that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.
You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).
The trail is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.
There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain
Amazing, sheer walls covered in plants
And, of course, several smaller waterfalls
including this one that falls right beside the path.
It took us about 1hr 45mins to hike out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way. The initial view of the waterfall is amazing
and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!
We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school students out on an excursion. Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well, I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!
I couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.
We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started hiking back. The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park. Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!
Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito.
This is a really beautiful and easy hike not far from Quito. Great day trip!
How to get there:
From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents). Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead. It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand). You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.
Time: about 3.5 hours to enjoy the waterfall. There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it. Add in another hour each way to get from and to Quito (Playon Marin) on public transport