Pailón de Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), Baños

Devil's Cauldron at its fullest glory

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Renowned for its gobs of natural wonders, the Ecuadorian city of Baños boasts more than 60 waterfalls within its canton. While each and every cascade offers its fair share of awe-inspiring vistas, it is Pailón de Diablo that truly reigns supreme. With its wrath echoing throughout a precipitous gorge, the monstrous waterfall plunges into a misty pool as nearby gawkers huddle on a hanging bridge, hand-carved stairway and a claustrophobic passage to witness the stupendous spectacle.

Running along the Pastaza River, between the cities of Baños and Puyo, Ruta de las Cascadas (aka the Waterfall Route) is a 25-kilometer-long stretch of road, whose waterfall-dotted landscape and relatively flat terrain made it a popular route among intrepid cyclists. This scenic journey is awash with multiple lookouts, swings, ziplines and other attractions for adventure sports seekers, yet its crown jewel is a waterfall so powerful, that its roars can be heard from kilometers away.


Surrounded entirely by a lush rainforest, Pailón de Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron) is an 80-meter-tall waterfall that is fed by Río Pastaza, a tributary of the Marañón River that later merges with the Amazon River. The incessant torrent of water violently plunges into a 20-meter-deep pool, and then flows through a cluster of boulders into a second pool, from where the water continues all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.


Located in the townlet of Rio Verde, roughly 17 kilometers east of Baños, the watery beast can be awed in different ways, either from the comfort of a distant vantage point or an up-close experience for pluckier adventurists. There are two entry points to the area around the fall, each of which entails a separate admission fee.


If you wish to gaze at the cascade from high above then head to Nueva Entrada (New Entrance), from where a winding footpath leads to the upper part of the Devil’s Cauldron. Aside from a couple of viewing platforms, visitors can have a spectacular glimpse of the waterfall as they gingerly cross a wobbly suspension bridge that straddles the deep ravine. Better yet, during nighttime, when Pailón de Diablo is engulfed in darkness, its waters are beautifully lit and can be viewed from the bridge, which is open for visitors until 22:30 on weekdays and 23:00 on weekends.

For a closer encounter with the waterfall, take the hiking trail that meanders through the dense jungle along the river. The 3-kilometer-long pathway can be accessed via Entrada Principal (Main Entrance), past a medley of eateries and souvenir shops. As the waterfall comes into plain sight, visitors are greeted with a faux rain that only intensifies the closer one gets.


In fact, further ahead are a series of hand-carved steps and balconies, steeped in perpetual mist. Therefore, those who opt to descend all the way down through the slippery stairway will return soaking wet, as though they were caught in an unexpected downpour. If this wasn’t enough, a ridiculously narrow crawlway reaches a couple of meters shy of the gushing waters, albeit this arduous segment of the trail is definitely not for the faint-hearted.


Curiously, the fall owes its name to the surrounding rocks, which according to some, are purportedly reminiscent of a devilish face. Whether you spot this hard-to-recognize image or not, one thing is clear, Pailón de Diablo is nature’s answer to the dozens of adrenaline-pumping facilities across Baños.