We had been reading and hearing wonderful things about Girón and its famous waterfalls in the Yunguilla Valley for some time. So, my wife and I took a day trip from Cuenca to El Chorro de Girón to see if it lived up to its reputation. It did that and more. In this article, I will share a bit of what we experienced, some practical tips, and an interesting legend I learned about the waterfalls being haunted.
The canton of Girón is about fifty kilometers south of Cuenca. The elevation is substantially lower and the weather is often warmer and sunnier in the valley than in Cuenca which are other good reasons to strike out in that direction for the day. About five kilometers outside the canton is El Chorro de Girón. This waterfall drops approximately seventy meters (about 230 feet) and is breathtaking. It is surrounded by magnificent hills thick with vegetation. Natural beauty surrounds you, and everywhere you look you can find cause for wonder.
If you enjoy nature and history, this trip has plenty to offer.
Arriving at the Falls
Later in this article, we share how to get to the falls.
Once there, at the foot of the path leading to the falls, there is a ticket office. Tickets cost $2 for adults and $1 for children and the elderly. From there, the trail to the base of the falls is not long, but it is a bit steep with quite a few stairs. Along the way, you will see signs indicating a swing at an overlook and ciclo canopy, which is a cable-mounted bicycle that allows you to literally ride through the treetops.
My wife and I did not check either of those options out, so I cannot offer more information about them, but they did appear interesting.
About halfway to the falls, there is a small section to the side of the trail. You can see the falls from that point, and there is a circular construction with a seat. You can climb up to the seat using the provided ladder and have a photo taken with the waterfalls as a backdrop.
There is also a bridge that spans the chasm over the river below the falls. This is closed unless you pay for a guide, and might not be an option for anyone who fears heights, but it looked like a fabulous adventure if you’re up for it.
Pictured here is a friend of ours, Tema, on the bridge from when she visited the falls. You can also check out her blog.
The area around the waterfalls is filled with natural wonder. From the verdant hills and mountains to the river and the waterfalls that span both. The falls rush down the side of a cliff for about seventy meters. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to closely capture the magnificent height, size, and experience of the falls in photos or video. So, I recommend you go see it in person!
They hit the bottom of a pool with tremendous force. Standing on the bridge next to the pool is an experience. I stood out there for a few seconds, taking some photos and filming the falls. The wind whipped my jacket around, and the water drenched me in moments.
This viewpoint at the base of the falls is the lowest of the three. There are two others higher up the falls. According to what I have read, the trail to those is much more difficult, and my wife and I did not feel ready to attempt that hike.
In the parking area by the ticket office, there is a sign that says, “Whichever path you hike, you will take away happiness,” and that does not seem like an exaggeration to me.
Food: Try the Trout
There seem to be two restaurants at the base of the falls, though the larger building appeared closed when we were there. Next door to it is another, and it was open. My wife had a large meal of trout, rice, mote pillo (hominy and eggs), and vegetables. I opted for a grilled cheese sandwich. She drank a canelazo, and I had hot chocolate.
If you are unfamiliar with canelazo, it is a hot drink common in the Andes made with aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol), sugar or panela (another sugar cane sweetener), and cinnamon-infused water. While those basic ingredients are relatively consistent, the specific flavor and alcohol content varies from place to place.
The food and drinks were, at $12.50 a tad expensive, but they were excellent. My wife, who usually eats small meals and takes leftovers home, ate the entire trout and enough of the sides that we had nothing left to bring home. She said it was some of the best trout she’s ever eaten, and all the food was well-prepared.
My sandwich was basic but good, and the hot chocolate was fantastic, even by Ecuadorian standards, and I have enjoyed a lot of excellent hot chocolate here.
There is also a type of bread unique to the area called “pan de Girón” (Girón bread). It is a traditional bread that has been made in the region for centuries and is famous throughout the country. The bread is made with wheat flour, water, and yeast, and is usually baked in a wood-fired oven, giving it a unique flavor and texture. The bread is known for its crispy crust and soft interior and is often served with coffee or hot chocolate.
Additionally, you can find sweets in Girón called Dulce Achira or Pan de Achira. These are made from the achira plant, which is related to ornamental canna lilies. They produce starch from these plants and use it to make sweet bread with cinnamon and honey. In recent years, the cultivation of achira has waned, and Girón is one of the few places you can still find these treats in Ecuador.
Return to Girón
When we arrived in Girón, it was raining in town. It was not raining at the falls, but it was still gray and overcast. When we left, though, the sun had come out, and it was a beautiful day. We decided to walk back to Girón.
Girón sits in a valley below the falls, and the region is a cloud forest. As we began our descent, the town was obscured by a low-hanging cloud, and it was a stunning sight.
Not far from the entrance to the main falls, there is a sign for La Cascada II, which is a second waterfall. As far as we could tell, there is no fee to hike to the second fall but, from what I have read, it is a pretty strenuous hike, and you can find more information about it in other online articles.
The walk back to Girón was about 5.6km (3.5 miles). It was all downhill, and not that difficult for us since we are used to walking. I would not personally want to walk up that route.
In town, with Movistar cellular, we had a strong LTE signal. We were able to use the marker my wife had set on her phone to find our way back to where the buses arrive and depart.
I do not know how frequently the buses to Cuenca run, but they were frequent.
Getting to El Chorro de Girón
The cheapest way to get to the waterfall is to take a bus from Terminal Terrestre in Cuenca to Girón. The office for Cooperativa De Transportes Girón to purchase tickets opens at 8 AM. When we went, the office actually opened at 8:20 am and the bus departed at 8:30 am. It cost us $1.25 to get to Girón, $2.50 for both of us, and there was no senior discount. There is also the standard ten-cent fee for the turnstile to get to the buses.
The trip through the countryside from Cuenca to Girón has magnificent views of mountains and lush valleys making the ride very enjoyable. The bus arrives near the Girón town center. Make sure to take careful note of where the bus drops you off so you can return to that area when you leave.
From there, you can hike to the falls. It is about 3.5 miles, and it is mostly uphill. If you are up for it, that is an option. We opted to take a taxi to the falls. Finding a taxi in town was easy. It cost us $6.00. Another option is a Transporte Mixto, which might be cheaper if there are other riders.
If you do not want to walk back to town, make sure to get your taxi driver’s phone number so you can call them to pick you up. There is no cell signal at the waterfalls, but you should be able to call from a landline in the ticket office at the base of the falls. There is also a parking lot at the base of the falls which makes it a convenient destination to drive to if you have a car (Google Maps Pin).
If you prefer a guided tour, there are plenty of local companies for that. Search: “Turs de Giron Ecuador” and many will roll up on your screen.
When to Visit
Weekends tend to be busy in Girón and at the falls. If you want to avoid crowds, you should visit on a weekday. We went on a Monday, and there were no crowds. The town was quiet, and we only encountered a handful of other people on the trail and very little traffic on our walk back to Girón from the falls.
The town of Girón was founded by Spanish colonizers in 1537, but the area has always been important as an agricultural region.
Advanced Pre-Columbian Agriculture
It also has a rich history of indigenous cultures that predate the arrival of the Spanish. One of the most prominent of these cultures was the Cañari people. The Cañari inhabited the region for centuries prior to the arrival of the Inca and were known for their agricultural prowess, especially their skill in terrace farming.
They also developed an extensive system of irrigation to cultivate crops in the Andean highlands around Girón. This system of irrigation allowed them to grow a variety of crops, including corn, potatoes, and beans, which were central to their economy and way of life. They built canals and reservoirs to collect and distribute water from rivers and streams, which helped them manage water resources for agriculture.
This system of irrigation is still used in the region today and is considered to be one of the most impressive examples of pre-Columbian engineering in South America.
Spanish Appropriate Indigenous Infrastructure
When the Inca empire began expanding into the region in the late 15th century, the Cañari fiercely resisted their incursions. Despite their resistance, the Inca were eventually able to conquer the region and incorporate the Cañari into their empire. The Inca continued to develop the region’s infrastructure, including an extensive network of roads and bridges, which would later be used by the Spanish.
When the Spanish arrived in the region in the early 16th century, they encountered a complex web of indigenous groups, including the Cañari, the Puruhá, and the Saraguro. The Spanish initially encountered resistance from the indigenous groups but eventually were able to subdue them through a combination of military force, disease, and cultural assimilation.
Today, the descendants of these indigenous groups continue to live in the region and maintain many of their traditional customs and practices, including their unique forms of dress, music, and dance. They also continue to speak their native languages, such as Kichwa, and many communities have formed cooperatives and other organizations to promote and preserve their cultural heritage.
War and Peace
Girón was also the site of several important battles against the Spanish in the 1800s. The most notable, The Battle of Girón, helped solidify Ecuadorian independence and is celebrated on November 7th.
The House of Treaties, or Casa de los Tratados in Spanish, is a historical building located in Girón. It was built in 1860 and served as the site where the final peace agreement between Ecuador and Peru was signed in 1942, putting an end to the long-standing territorial dispute over the Amazonian region.
It is considered a national monument and is open to the public as a museum, showcasing the history and significance of the peace negotiations that took place there. It contains various artifacts, documents, and exhibits related to the border conflict and subsequent peace process.
You can explore the building’s grand halls and chambers, which have been restored to their original condition, and learn about the cultural and historical significance of the site. The House of Treaties is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history of Ecuador and its relations with neighboring countries.
Ghosts of Girón
According to legend, a group of Spanish conquistadors decided that gold and riches were to be found in the mountains near Girón. They began mining operations and pillaged the surrounding region. The indigenous inhabitants of the region, enraged by these actions, attacked. These fierce warriors forced the Spaniards to retreat.
They wound up at the top of the El Chorro waterfall. Cornered and outnumbered, the Spanish soldiers made a fateful decision to ride their horses off the cliff, preferring to die by their own hands rather than be killed by the natives or face the wrath of their own superiors for failing in their mission.
Legend says the spirits of these fallen soldiers haunt the area to this day, and visitors have reported hearing the sound of horses’ hooves and ghostly cries in the surrounding hills.
My wife and I heard no such sounds, but let us know if you do!
Nearby, Laguna de Busa
Many people, including Rick Snyder, a YapaTree contributor, have paired their trip to Girón with a visit to nearby Lake Busa. Lake Busa is about 35 minutes drive (22km) west of Giron Falls passing through the town of San Fernando which is just east of the lake. Get an idea of activities on Lake Busa’s Facebook Page. The level and roughly hour-long hike around the lake offers some beautiful lake and pine forest views with great photos and horseback riding. Camping is available as there are cabins (cabañas) to rent, plus a restaurant near the entrance. Tourist information is available at Whatsapp: +593998608316
Whether you encounter any spirits or not, the trip to the falls is worthwhile. Getting to the falls from Cuenca is easy and inexpensive. The people in Girón were kind and very helpful with directions, even when we asked where public restrooms were. We enjoyed the entire experience, and cannot recommend it highly enough. Ecuador is considered one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and the area around Girón is rich with natural wonders.