Bad Gastein, Austria two years ago. If you take the snow and replace it with white clouds drifting through the green, you have the alps of Ecuador!
At the entrance to the falls, there’s a parking lot (cost: $1.00), which has a “restaurant,” tienda and gift shop. It’s a great place to “feed and water” before you take a hike. Make sure you bring your hiking books or tennis shoes because this is no place for high heels, although we did see a few Ecuadorian women trying to make the climb in six-inch spiked heels!
We walked a few hundred feet to another checkpoint where we bought our tickets for the waterfalls ($1.00 with our “green card” and $2.00 for non-card carriers). We also had the option of going to the higher falls, but we stuck with level one. This was my first big outing since having the “plague,” so I was determined not to overdo it. The shirtless teenager—who took our tickets—reminded us that we were welcome to enjoy a sugarcane drink (a specialty of the region) after we returned from our hike, but unfortunately we forgot!
Since we’ve had a lot of rain the last couple of weeks, the waterfall was raging. You will need a raincoat; otherwise you will get drenched. The pool at the bottom of the falls looks shallow, but it’s 14 -feet deep and absolutely memorizing. Be sure you hang on to something sturdy when you look down into the pool; otherwise, you just might slip like I did!
Lago de Cristal or head to the Bambu Restaurant in the Yunguilla Valley. We left it up to our friends and they made the decision for us!
They lured me into the van by telling me there was something else I needed to see. Right up the road—within walking distance of the Bambu Restaurant—was a “boutique hotel” which knocked my socks off. It was not what I was expecting; in fact, I think I let out a gasp when I walked through the well-appointed lobby and got a glimpse of the pool. “Oh, my goodness,” I shouted. “Is this place for real?”
While I was dreaming, our hosts met up with some of their friends from Cuenca. Evidently, this place is no secret and many Cuencanos head to the Yunguilla Valley for its subtropical climate and panoramic views. It’s also home to the rich and famous of Cuenca who have “summer” and weekend places in the valley. The sprawling mansions dot the hillsides and the valley floor. I didn’t see any for rent, but I’m trying to figure out how to get a “day job” as a house sitter during the weekdays. I’ll let you know how that goes!
Our weekend escape came to an end—all too quickly—and we headed back to Cuenca. We left at 10:30 a.m. and returned at 7:00 p.m., but it seemed like we had been gone for days (in a good way). The same trip can be made by bus ($1.00 per person). It’s still hard to believe that so much beauty can be found in just an hour’s drive south of Cuenca!
Enjoy the Video!