I’ll confess that this article and the accompanying video were an accident. My friends, Guillaume and Romina, and I had been planning a trip to Nabón, about an hour and a half south of Cuenca. However, when we got to the bus station on Sunday morning, we were told that we’d missed the bus.
All of the online timetables were wrong. We had two options:
1. Wait two hours for the next bus to Nabón, which had a big question mark over its head because nobody seemed sure if it would come at all
2. Quickly change our plan to ‘carpe diem’
Fortunately, I have a long list of places in Ecuador that I want to visit, and just below Nabón was Oña. Thanks to this, you’re now here learning about this fantastic day trip from Cuenca.
Taking the Bus from Terminal Terrestre to Oña
Ecuador has a big road that runs right down the middle of the country. It’s the same road that connects Quito to Cuenca and Cuenca to Loja. This Panamericana Highway is a blessing for getting around Ecuador, and it would make for a very easy trip to Oña, which is located about a fifteen-minute walk from the drop-off point along this road.
We bought some snacks at the bus station, including Tortilla de Yuca con Queso, highly recommended and just $1. Then we boarded the bus headed for Loja and watched a movie for about 2 hours, before arriving in Oña. I missed the ending, but if you know what’s common on Ecuador’s buses, it was either a Liam Neeson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, or Steven Seagal movie with plenty of punches and little dialogue.
Arriving in Oña (or Close Enough)
The bus dropped us off at the side of the road, where we headed straight into a café for some coffee and toast. After replenishing ourselves, we crossed the Panamericana Highway and descended the hill to the town center, passing several cows and farm dogs. As we arrived in town, the sight of colorful Chinese lanterns hung over the road, well-looked-after buildings, and wide avenues were all a friendly sight.
Next, we walked into the central plaza, did the done thing, and took a couple of pictures with the giant ‘letras’ – the colorful letters saying Oña, and admired the beautiful baby blue church. Guillaume, eagle-eyed as ever, spotted the word Oña carved into a mountainside several miles away.
Whilst we had a rough idea of what we wanted to do on this day trip from Cuenca, the ‘Mapa Turístico Cantonal’ – regional tourism map, was very useful. We settled on visiting the Cascadas de Rodeo – Rodeo Waterfalls, which we’d already saved on our map and earmarked as the likely activity for the day.
Hiking to Rodeo Waterfalls, Oña
We used our Maps.me application to guide us the right way out of town, passing many well-kept old buildings, and one important heritage site that had unfortunately fallen into disrepair. The Belle de Paris – Beauty of Paris – building was highlighted on our Google search and seemed to be one of the few landmarks in town. We asked a local how the building earned this name and he said that it simply used to be the most beautiful building in Oña. Not anymore, by any stretch of the imagination.
Soon we were out of town, following dirt roads and forest-lined paths, passing through tiny villages, and greeting elderly locals who sang back to us in their friendly local dialect. After about an hour and a half, we reached where our maps said we would find the Rodeo Waterfalls, except… It was just a big dusty hillside. Rather than turn around, we decided to press on, and soon we would come across a small food truck, a wooden bridge, and a bunch of street dogs.
We had arrived. A few street dogs took us for softies and we obliged by buying them some snacks. We learned from the bridge keeper that after paying the $1 entrance fee, we’d have to keep walking for another 15 minutes or so. We kept the river to our right until we came upon a bridge and an information board with some additional details about the waterfalls. Then we saw it, the first waterfall, a large, wide, loud cascade. Descending a very steep path, we took precautions not to slip, until we made it to the water. This path would not be suitable for older visitors to climb down or back up, but the view is best appreciated from the top.
The narrow valley created a path just wide enough for one person, so we walked single-file until we reached the end of the path, which culminated with a huge, beautiful waterfall. The route down to the water’s edge has wooden handrails and earthen steps, and whilst not difficult, requires great care so as not to tumble. At the bottom, one massive boulder was being climbed on for photo opportunities, so we couldn’t help but join in the fun and get up there too!
Returning to Oña
Minutes after arriving at the waterfall, it began to rain, and with the route ending here, we happily turned back in pursuit of the beautiful town that had welcomed us. Guillaume, friendly as ever, befriended a German man who was visiting the waterfall with his children. This same man invited us to ride ‘en balde’, meaning to go in the cargo bed of his pickup truck. I loved this idea after first doing so in Loja, where I hitched a ride at night down a mountain and could appreciate the stars, windmills, and silhouetted mountain ranges.
Before jumping in the truck, we bought some salchipapas (french fries and hot dogs) from the family who seemed to manage the bridge to the waterfalls.
That 2-hour walk equated to little more than a bumpy ten-minute ride back to town, where we bought ice creams and descended via a different route to the roadside pick-up point for the bus. Unfortunately, Sunday afternoons are when all those who escaped the city for the weekend start to make their way back.
The driver of the first bus wagged a finger at us. They were full. Then a second. The third took those who had been waiting before us. The fourth didn’t acknowledge us. The fifth bus stopped and said we could stand for the rest of the journey. We decided to try our chances at hitchhiking.
As all this was going on, I’ll admit I wasn’t much involved in the bus affair, as I had befriended Peter, a North American with an incredible bicycle, panniers (bike baskets), and stories in abundance. This man had cycled from the bottom of Argentina all the way up to Ecuador and was headed for Colombia, his destination. The best part of a year spent on two wheels and he happened to be grabbing a juice in Oña whilst a pack of unlucky foreigners ‘thumbed it’.
Eventually, a car picked us up and we were on the way back to Cuenca.
Arriving in Cuenca
I’ve now hitchhiked back to Cuenca a few times and not only are the locals quite happy to pick up foreigners, they often want to practice a bit of English, talk about Ecuador, and play real Andino music. I’ve also come to learn that there’s a common drop-off spot if you’re coming back from the south. It’s right where the Panamericana splits off to the east to go around the underside of Cuenca, and where it becomes the 582 heading to Las Americas or Avenida Loja. From here, it’s really easy to get a taxi, and you likely won’t be the only person standing there.
In an ideal world, there would have been space for us on the buses, but sometimes you have to go with the flow, accept that buses do get full, and not get stressed out. There are loads of buses and weekend trippers using this road, so if you can’t get a bus, you can hitchhike. On this occasion, the driver asked us for $4 each, which seemed fair, as it was about the same price as a bus ticket.
Worth the Trip?
Would I go back to Oña? For sure! I saw just one tiny hiking route and I’m sure there are plenty more to be enjoyed.
Guided Tours to Oña Waterfalls
Prefer to have a guided tour of Ona’s waterfalls and surrounding area? YapaTree Card Partner, Amazing South American Tours, offers this and many more tours around Cuenca. Fill in the form below and they’ll contact you within 24 hours. Don’t forget your yapa – YapaTree cardholders receive 5% off all tours.