Cascada San Rafael is Ecuador’s highest waterfall. It is situated in Río Coca on the border between Provincia de Napo and Provincia de Sucumbios. I can’t really tell how high it is as that information is different in different books and on different web pages, but the figures I have seen are between 131 – 160 metres. The waterfall has got two drops.
After I had eaten lunch at Hostería Reventador I walked down the road towards the starting point of the trail to Cascada San Rafael. There is a house there were you should register and pay an admission. It was closed when I arrived and even if I stood there under the roof for some time while it was raining no one appeared. When I returned back from the waterfall there was still no one there.
Just as I started to walk the trail I met three people, but after that I didn’t see anyone along the trail or at the waterfall. It is a quite nice feeling to walk all alone on the trail surrounded by lush green vegetation and only hear the sounds of nature. The trail is not very long, only 1.5km, and it took around 20 minutes to walk to the viewpoint of the waterfall. There are two viewpoints of Cascada San Rafael, a few minutes apart. The view is stunning and you can hear the roaring sound and see the force of the water.
In my guidebooks I had read there were two different trails, both longer than the one I took. I couldn’t find any other trail and was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t take a longer walk, and I would also have liked to see the waterfall from below as well. It might be that the road down to the trail head was not paved before, and thus counted as part of the trail. As there was no one else around I couldn’t ask for another trail, but maybe that was just good. I had recently had a terrible cold with temperatures and was not yet feeling well, and while walking back to Hostería Reventador the rain started to pour down, and it continued the whole afternoon.
About 20km upriver from Cascada San Rafael a hydroelectric dam and power plant is being built. It will start to operate in 2016. Some people say it will not affect the flow in the waterfall while many others disagree. I do really hope it will not ruin the waterfall.
After I had arrived to Hostería Reventador it was time to eat lunch before going to Cascada San Rafael. I ordered the set lunch menu, which was $5. The soup was good with lots of potato and vegetables. For main course it was rice, a potato cake, a quite small piece of meat (with a good sauce) and some salad. To drink I got a jar of fresh fruit juice, and after the meal I got an apple, which I brought on my walk to the waterfall.
In the evening I ate the set dinner menu and in the morning breakfast. They were $5 dollars each. I thought breakfast and lunch was a bit expensive and had a look in the menu to see if I had paid the right price, and I had. Besides the set lunch and dinner menus there is an a la carte menu.
I don’t know of any other place to eat in the vicinity, but maybe there is.
After breakfast, just after 8am, I went out to the road outside Hostería El Reventador and sat down to wait for a passing bus. It is the Quito – Lago Agrio road that passes the hotel so eventually a bus from Lago Agrio to Quito would pass. I waited around 35 minutes until a bus came and luckily I got a seat. Further along the road the bus stopped for more people and the bus soon got full with standing passengers too. The bus to Quito was $5 (August 2012).
Next to me there was a family standing. The man was carrying a small child and I felt I should stand up and let my seat to them. At the same time I had taken out the pins from my broken wrist only two days before and I could still not use it to hold on to things. It was a very curvy road and I hoped someone else would stand up instead, but they didn’t. When the older child throw up and looked really pale I asked him if he wanted to sit and I stood up (someone helped me with my luggage and put it on the shelf above the seats). The mother took the small kid and sat down so the sick child had to continue to stand up. There were plenty of healthy, not very old people around, and I think someone else should have left their seat too. Well it was not very far to El Chaco where many people got off the bus and I got a seat again. I got help with my bag again so that I could have it in my knee. It is not a good idea to put your luggage on the shelves above the seats in a full bus in Ecuador (or in many other countries either of course), as there are thefts.
The rest of the journey I had a window seat with good view over the beautiful landscape. After 1.5 hours we passed Baeza. Soon after the bus stopped and everyone’s luggage was searched.
Approaching Quito I thought it would probably be much better for me to get off the bus somewhere else than the end stop Terminal Quitumbe, which is in the very south of Quito. But when the bus stopped and several passengers went off I was not quick enough to ask if this was a good place for me to get off at too. The bus continued for maybe 15 minutes and then stopped at the side of the road. It turned out it had got a flat tyre.
Many passengers went off the bus to find other ways to continue. Some people took me in a black taxi further down the road where they let me off at a bus stop. From the other side of the road I could take a blue bus to La Marin ($0.25). That bus went up the road, in the opposite direction from where I had come. Eventually it passed the stop where many people from the Lago Agrio bus had gone off (so that’s where I should have gone off in the first place). From La Marin it was not far to walk to my hotel.
To go to Cascada San Rafael you shall take one of the buses passing Baeza for Lago Agrio and Coca. They pass by on the highway down in Baeza Colonial, 2 km from Baeza Nueva where I stayed. I only had a small backpack so it was okay to walk and it took around half an hour. When I came to “La Y” I didn’t have to wait many minutes before a bus headed for Coca arrived. It stopped and I went aboard. The bus was full so I had to stand up for a while, then I sat down on the stairs.
In El Chaco the bus stopped for half an hour for people to eat and go to the bathroom. After El Chaco I got a seat in the front and could see the beautiful scenery with green hills. It was a winding road and many people come up to the driver to get a bag to throw up in.
Before visiting the waterfall I was going to Hostería Reventador so the bus stopped outside the hotel. If you are only visiting the waterfall the turnoff is just a little bit earlier. From Baeza to Hostería Reventador it took two hours, including the stop in El Chaco. For the bus ride I paid $2.50 (August 2012).