Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend Escape

It has been said that Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America and I believe it!

And to prove our point, we took a weekend escape to see some of the countryside and explore Giron. Everything I had heard about this place was absolutely true and the scenery was simply breathtaking—almost alpine-like. It’s hard to believe that in one hour, you can be transported to another world. On our way, we passed by banana palms and papaya trees which were all indicators that we were headed south!
First stop was “Giron Falls,” which is a lovely drive south of Cuenca (one-hour by car). As we headed into the park entrance, we could already see the waterfalls cascading off the mountain. Since we made the trip with some Ecuadorian friends, we let them lead the way!

Our trip up the mountain probably would have been much shorter, but I kept shouting, “Stop the car; I need to take a picture!” Be forewarned: There are “mini” waterfalls before you actually get to the big waterfall—all of which are compelling. The scenery was reminiscent of my trip to 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!

The hike up to the waterfall was a series of steps (sorry, I didn’t count them) with guardrails the entire way. Half way up, there is a look-out area which is a perfect place to take pictures. As you peak through the foliage, you can get an amazing view of the falls with the wooden bridge in the foreground.

I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who want to visit, but let’s just say that it’s going to be one of those moments that you will remember for the rest of your life. We now affectionately call it our “Niagra Falls” in Ecuador.

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!

Afterwards we made our way back down—the same way that we came up—and took some more pictures of the landscape. Since we worked up an appetite, our next decision was where to have “almuerzo”: 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!

We dined at the Bambu Restaurant which is a not-to-be missed experience. Pedro—the owner—is a landscaper and chef. He has created a peaceful sanctuary and a tropical paradise, which leaves you with the impression that you have visited “Hawaii” instead of the Yunguilla Valley. I guarantee that you won’t want to leave this place. Our friends had to drag me back to the car—kicking and screaming!

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?”

Unfortunately, no rooms were available; otherwise, we would have spent the night ($38 – including breakfast). I already had my room(s) picked out—one with a terrace and one with a balcony. I pictured myself lounging by the pool, sipping something with an umbrella in it, and soaking in the panoramic views of the valley.

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!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Enjoy the Video!


Jim said...


This was wonderful. Thanks for the great pics and the video. I almost on the spur of the moment went there this weekend with a friend, but we decided we better plan our excursion better. Do they have rain coats available for rental at the site, or do we have to buy rain coats in Cuenca? Thanks. Jim Mola

Connie Pombo said...

Hi Jim,
I can't believe it took us a year to get to this marvelous place. It's definitely #1 on my list and will remain there. They don't have raincoats to rent, but it sure would be a good idea! It was very muddy and I'll be cleaning mud off my shoes for quite some time. But it was worth it all. Some folks have been to the falls when it is drier and there's less of a splash effect. My goal is to make it to the upper falls, but would probably do that after the rainy season. We saw some Ecuadorians with bags on their shoes and over their head, but I wouldn't recommend it! ;-)

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