Little did we know that the hardest part of getting to the Cascada Condor Machay wouldn’t be the hiking but the actual driving. We knew we were looking for a road that led from Sangolquí to the back, north entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. Like all Americans, I went to the internet to find better directions. And it was a hunt. Many places offer trips out to the waterfall and tell you to call them for a guide. After all, this is how local tourism companies make their money.
I finally tracked down a website with brief instructions… so brief in fact that when I try searching for that same website again to share with you, I can’t find it. It’s complicated by the fact that the waterfall also goes by the name of El Nido del Condor, the Spanish translation of the Condor’s Nest, which is what Condor Machay means in Quichua. And more recent searches lead me to a Condor Machay near the Cascada Rumibosque instead of where I think it should be. Google Maps now shows a Gran Cascada del Pita instead. Even with multiple trips on this road, I am confused but the signage on the road supports the conclusion that Google Maps has the two waterfalls confused. I’ve managed to put together directions in the map at the end of this article. They include driving to the small community of Selva Alegre, in Sangolqui (just past the well-known Redondel de Colobrí), following the road signs to the waterfalls, and then passing the community of Rumipamba.
And let me tell you, the trip out is well worth it. The area in this part of Canton Rumiñahui is beautiful – rolling hills, hidden canyons, a river valley, occasional farms, and lots of wild areas. You will need a high clearance vehicle, particularly if there has been lots of rain. Expect lots of dirt and gravel, a filthy vehicle at the end of the day, and great pictures from your hike.
When you arrive at the parking lot, there will most likely be someone there collecting a small fee for watching your car, especially if you hike on the weekend or on a national holiday. If you hike mid-week, it’s likely your vehicle will be left on its own. Use common sense and don’t leave expensive items in your car. If you must, put them where they can’t be seen.
To hike to the waterfall, you will take the trail immediately to the right of the parking lot. The left trail takes you to other cascades and sounds wonderful as well. If you get there before we do, let me know what it’s like
The trail is well maintained with several bridges crossing the Rio Pita. Each crossing gives a pretty view of the river and often of the vegetation alongside. Though the hiking is not strenuous, the trail is long. A slow hiker like myself should plan on a couple of hours one way, especially if hiking on the weekend. As slow as I am compared to my 6-ft tall sons, I was still passing people on the trail, however.
A beautiful day will bring out all kinds of folks and that means having patience on the trail. It also means picking up little candy wrappers on the way out and back. I wish I could convince all Ecuadorians that even small litter is bad for the environment.
We hiked during the rainy season and the water was pouring off the mountainsides. We saw several cascades coming off the rocks. The river itself was running fast and had some areas had fairly healthy rapids.
Birding was next to impossible because there were so many people. However, we did spy the nest of a Caracara. These large, dark birds often look like vultures high in the sky. We watched one settle on the rock side before it disappeared for a few moments in a small depression behind it. Eventually, it re-emerged and started tearing apart it’s prey. We assume it was feeding a youngster further back in the nest.
We were lucky enough to see a few orchids as well, though it was a tad early in the season. Keep your eyes above the trail, especially in damp areas where the sunlight can penetrate the forest. Orchids like damp but they also seem to love a little sun during the day. We had good luck looking along the rocky mountainside where the stream runs through the mountain.
But the highlight of the trip was the waterfall itself. The rainy days helped swell the stream that feeds the waterfall and it was rushing of the mountainside to the pool waiting beneath. We enjoyed our lunch while seated at the foot of this marvelous natural wonder, the wind occasionally blowing a light spray of water over our tired bodies. A few people bravely stuck their bare feet into the cold water but no one ventured into the pool itself. The strength of that falling water demanded respect.
The WRONG Cascada Condor Machay
This has been mismarked in Google Maps.
Use the Redondel Colobrí in your GPS to get you close to the backroad you are looking for. Then proceed on the E-35 for one more traffic circle.
Barrio Selva Alegre
Drive into Selva Alegre, passing many restaurants selling grilled guinea pig on Francisco Guarderas. At the end of the one-way road, take a left turn. Then you will take a right turn on what feels like a fairly major road, Juan de Salinas.There should be a sign directing you towards the Ruta de los Volcanes.
Calle de Los Liberatadores Lucas Tipán
Stay on Calle de Los Liberatdores Lucas Tipán (straight). There should be another sign to further waterfalls.
Back to gravel and dirt road.
Gateway to Rumipamba
This is a large stone gateway to Rumipamba… you can’t miss this for two reasons: the gate and a paved road.
Back to dirt and gravel
The road turns back to dirt and gravel.
Another Waterfall Sign!
Another sign to the waterfall!
The REAL Cascada Condor Machay
Although you will note a different road going to this waterfall, don’t believe it. The best access is the directions I’ve given and then a hike in from the parking lot.
Turn off for Cascada Condor Machay
The turn-off for Condor Machay is on the left-hand side.
Information For Your Trip
Driving – The road can be bumpy and during bad weather, a 4 wheel drive can be handy. It is possible to do it without but drive very conservatively.
Hiking – Be prepared for hiking in all weather as storms can appear quickly in the Andes. Carry plenty of water, bring high energy snacks or a lunch, and wear sunprotection. The trail can be muddy in the rainy season.
- Direction by Car, use WAZE to get to Barrio Selva Alegre, Sangolqui, Ecuador. Then follow the directions on the above map.
- Direction by Public Transportation for buses to Sangolqui, use the Google Map link and click on get directions. Use the public transportation option to find the best from your current location. From Selva Alegre, you will likely have to hire a taxi though there are bus stops along the road out to Condor Machay.