Finding dog-friendly jaunts in nature that also include transportation is not always easy, but I emailed a few tour companies to see what they might be able to offer.
Arutam Ecotours, emailed me right away and suggested the hike to the Waterfalls of Girón (also called El Chorro) and asked us to swing by the office to chat more about the trip.
As Dave and I crossed the street to the office, we saw a gorgeous dog trot down the street, walk in the door, and disappear below the couch. Chispa was Svenja and Xavier’s rescue dog and he would be coming along on the trek. Perfect.
Run by Svenja, from Germany and Xavier, from Ecuador, Arutam Ecotours offers excursions throughout Ecuador, including to Cajas National Park, the Shuar Community in Limón Indanza in the Amazon Rainforest, and climbing Chimborazo and Cotopaxi. With social and ecological sustainability in mind, the tours they offer reflect the true culture of the region, while respecting customs and the surrounding nature.
We departed from Cuenca around 9am with Xavier and Anke, a friend of Svenja’s visiting from Germany, and the two pups. A 45-minute ride over the windy roads and through the rolling hills put us in the town of Girón, where we stopped for some snacks before zigzagging our way up to the parking lot and trailhead for the hike.
Chispa took off sprinting up the trail, while Sora jealously stayed attached to her leash. Farm dogs and cows roamed the region freely, and Sora cannot be trusted around them. As we wandered along the trail next to farms, we took in views of Girón in the valley below and the serpentine road that lead to the top of the mountain.
Xavier knew a secret overlook and we left our bags at the bottom and crawled to the top, taking hold of vines to use as leverage up the vertical path. Chispa of course, plowed effortlessly through us all, took a peek at the view, and then bounded back down into the woods.
From the view we could spot all three levels of the Waterfalls of Girón, which stands at 2,400 masl / 8,000 feet at its base, the city of Girón below, and green just about everywhere you looked.
Xavier helped us down, pointing out the strong plants to use as anchors. My aluminum water bottle left below to sit in the strong sun burned me to the touch.
Shortly after we reached a small pool where the dogs cooled of for a few minutes and Xavier directed us to a second detour, where we stood at the top of the lower level of the falls. As Xavier squatted on rocks that straddled the mouth of the waterfall, I commented on how it looked perfectly carved to be a natural waterslide. I didn’t realize that the slide would send the rider plunging straight down 200 meters below.
As we continued on, the trail turned more technical and steep. Hiking shape and altitude acclimatization are definitely key for heading to the second level of the waterfalls of Girón.
We ducked under trees and used trunks as handles to assist with large steps up as we climbed. Now that we were deeper among the trees, the leaves provided shade from the intense sun.
The second level shows off two misty falls, thirsty for more water after two weeks with no rain. I clambered up and over large boulders in order to stand below the falls on large nearby rocks, hypnotized by the way the water seemed to lightly brush over the side of the cliff, while I felt the tickle of the drizzle on my face.
We ate lunch on a large, flat rock above a small pool, whose waters Dave tested after our Klean Kanteen lid fell into the chilly stream. A few minutes standing in the sun brought his body temperature back to normal. Sora worked her best magic to convince Xavier and Anke to share their remaining piece of ham. Her persistence worked – Xavi split the slice between the two dogs.
We took a different route on the walk down, meandering through verdant farm fields, crawling over barbed-wire fences, and greeting cows lounging in the grass. Sora found off-leash freedom and tried her best to keep up with two-year-old Chispa, egging her on to play. The two engaged in herding games until their tongues dangled several inches out of their mouths.
Dark clouds began to crawl our way and we could see the rain off in the distance while thunder groaned above. Picking up the pace, we hustled down through the tall grass, but took the time to mire at the waterfalls one more time before reaching the car. As soft rain began just as we slammed the doors of the jeep.
A quiet gem so close to Cuenca, I felt like we had stumbled upon a little secret. The only beings we saw during our four-hour hike, were farmers, cows, dogs, and the birds spotted by Xavier and Anke. Though el Chorro is well known among the Cuencanos, it is rarely visited, especially the more technical upper falls. The Waterfalls of Girón provided the Nature RX we deeply craved after so many months with limited access.
5-98 Honorato Vazquez and Hermano Miguel
Phone: +593 98 197 0361
Hours: Mon–Fri 9AM–6PM
Distance: approx. 8.5 km (5 miles)
Time required: 8 hours (including drive)
Difficulty Level: Challenging – there were times we had to duck and crawl over fallen logs, dig into the dirt to climb over a hill, and the altitude can alter normal abilities.
Optional visits: Museum Casa de los Tratados and Laguna de Busa
Price: $55 (includes transportation and box-lunch, all activities as listed in the itinerary, Spanish, English, or German speaking guide)