Pailon del Diablo will make you a believer

Surprise in the jungle near Rio Verde, Ecuador.

Slippery stairs lead to the viewing deck midway down the falls.
  • Slippery stairs lead to the viewing deck midway down the falls.

Rio Verde is a small Ecuadorean puebla in the center of the country. Nestled between two tunnels on a mountainous road, the one and only entrance can be easily missed. Fortunately there are signs and often tour buses to guide you in. The town is nothing special, but what is hiding below is simple magnificent.

A young man with a red towel vigorously waived us into a parking lot and charged us $1 dollar for the privilege. He then informed us there were no other restaurants than what was in front of us. Reluctantly we lunched on a bad empanada and an avocado salad minus the avocado. When we brought this up to the waiter she agreed to reduce our bill by 25 cents. So as we headed for the entrance of Pailon del Diablo, this travel writer was not in the best of moods. It’s not often I get taken in, but when I do it is especially hard to swallow. Pun not necessarily unintended.

"Be prepared for a surprise. God exists!"

"Be prepared for a surprise. God exists!"

Pailon del Diablo

From the entrance of the attraction the path goes down. It is part trail, part stairway that the rainforest is trying somewhat successfully to reclaim. With each step down, the track becomes wetter and the roar of the unseen river increases.

Not far along a sign above the trail states “Estos preparado para una sorpressa?? Dias existe!!!“ In my mood, the irony was not lost in the connection between the falls' name and the sign.

We trudged on and after about 10-15 minutes came to a small development consisting of a ticket booth, restrooms and, of course, a restaurant. It is here that you get your first glimpse of the waterfall and the fast-moving river it creates. Tables in the eating establishment sit looking out on the waterway disappearing around the bend. Food and beverages are available and far superior to what is found on top.

For the cost of $1.50 each you're given a ticket and directed up the stairs to the right. Here you begin to climb, accompanied with a constant spray. Many people had raincoats, but most choose just to get wet. Each step takes you higher until conversation becomes difficult due to the sheer volume of the waterfall. Shortly you arrive at a viewing platform where you get the first full feel of the significance of the falls.

Two viewing platforms lie below, but with each step lower the amount of spray increases proportionally. Prepared to be soaked if you opt for the lowest.

Another option is to move higher: Carved into the side of the mountain is a stone pathway. This traverse could best be described as a cross between moving through a mine shaft or soft spelunking. Whichever you choose to call it, know it is wet. In addition, you must be limber; in many spots you have to bend completely over or go on all fours to pass under the downward sloping rock formations. That said, it is well worth the effort.

Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador

After what seems longer than only a few minutes, you emerge and are once again able to stand upright. Here a viewing site places you next to the power of the falls. One is taken in by the thought that if the trajectory varied even slightly, how quickly it could sweep you to your death in the depths below.

A few steps higher the route ends with the opportunity to stand partially behind the roaring water as it thunders down in front of you. There's yet another breathtaking view of the plunging water’s force and magnitude.

Back to (relative) safety

Returning to the ticket booth and restaurant, you're directed to the left. Here a swinging bridge spans the canyon and leads to the other side. Cabanas are planned here but are still in the construction phase. In the middle of the expanse is the best place to capture photos of the waterfall.

View of Pailon del Diablo falls from the bridge.

View of Pailon del Diablo falls from the bridge.

With an unobstructed view you can see the entire falls and how it splits around a large volcanic outcropping. Be prepared for movement as the wooden bridge bounces up and down when others are walking on it.

Almost always we have a "aha" moment in our travels. We'd been in Central Ecuador a few days and had not yet experienced it, but Pavilon del Diablo turned a grumpy traveler’s mood in an instant. Regardless of your religious leanings or lack thereof, it's hard to discount the sign’s message when nature leaves you stunned by its grandeur.

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