Peguche Waterfall, the perfect place to experience the Inti Raymi ritual
January 1, 1970
by Ralou Babiss
Peguche Waterfall is one of the main tourist attractions in the Otavalo area and undoubtedly one of the treasures proudly held by Ecuador. Even though a small country, Ecuador has what it takes to make you include it on your must visit countries list. Located in the Imbabura region, the waterfall is one of the top attractions of the region. In order to reach the waterfall, first you have to go to Otavalo, which is a very beautiful indigenous little town, surrounded by the peaks of 3 amazing volcanoes: Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda. The best day for going to Otavalo is definitely Saturday, when you get the chance to witness a proper indigenous market which delights your eyes through the items they sell such as traditional clothes, handmade blankets, gem stones, leather goods and many many more. I got there last Saturday with a friend from the US and I was absolutely astonished by the beauty of this place. Not only the things they sell are astonishingly beautiful but the people who sell them and the stories behind are even more beautiful than the products itself. If you get tired of too much shopping and talking to the local people, there are many coffee places around where you can rest for a while.La Cosecha is one of them, a very charming coffee place where you can taste some really amazing smoothies or try the local ‘sanduche con queso’.
When you had enough of the local market and you want to head towards the waterfall, there is a local bus direction Peguche, for only 0,35$. The journey takes about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the traffic.
You can also jump into a cab for less than 2$/ one way, or rent a bike from the renting service in Otavalo, which you can leave right at the entrance of the Waterfall as it is a protected site and no bikes are allowed. You can even choose to walk from Otavalo to Peguche, that if it’s a sunny day outside. It is a very beautiful walk, that takes you through a little forest and then goes up the hill towards Peguche. It can take you between 30 to 40 minutes depending on how fast you walk and you will have a chance to see the indigenous people working the land or carrying various plants and vegetables.
As you get of the bus and start to walk towards the waterfall, you start to feel a sensation of peace and unity with the surrounding nature. There is something magical in this whole area, and many of the visitors share the same unique experience. The view is just spectacular.
There are some little shops right at the entrance ,where local people would sell local snacks such as chochos and chifles. You might get to listen to some traditional quechua music live as well right at the entrance in the park, that if you are lucky enough.
The Solar Calendar
There is another thing that caught my attention, right next to the entrance. A solar calendar carved in massive stone. For those who don’t know, a solar calendar is one calendar whose days indicate the position of the Earth in its revolution around the sun. Not only it’s beauty but the ‘functionality’ and its ‘features’ attracted me as well. As you walk to the very centre of it, there is a strange thing happening, noticeable only if you are talking. A sort of reversed echo, which can be heard only by the person who speaks. There is also a sort of sound vibration that comes along with it, and the sound is isolated, the others cannot here what you are hearing. Probably it was used in ceremonies and old rituals that nowadays we cannot understand entirely.
As you step inside the reservation, you notice the multiple paths that can lead you to different places of the site. Not only the waterfall is beautiful, but the surrounding nature as well. There are very beautiful tall trees standing everywhere around and everything seems to be perfectly arranged, giving you the impression that no matter which path you choose you’ve made the right decision. My friend curiously asks me: ‘which path do you want to take?’ Without hesitation I knew which one I want. The one that goes down hill.
Following the path, our eyes start to get stuffed with wonder and curiosity. What we found at the the end of it was a round beautiful basin filled up with hot thermal water. Lots of people were enjoying a good bath right in the middle of the nature. Isn’t it amazing?
Just a few meters away from the so called ‘pool’ we get to see the water coming down from the waterfall and as we approach we feel it splashing our faces, literally and figuratively. ‘Oh wow, this is truly beautiful’ I silently said to my friend. Usually these kind of places are stuffed with tourists and you can’t really get in touch with what you are viewing mostly because there are so many energies floating around. But this wasn’t the case. I immediately felt at peace with was I was witnessing. I felt very connected.
I am a very curious human being and usually when I visit a new place I try to soak in as much information as possible. Looking at the grandeur at the waterfall I started to ask myself: where does this water come from? Curiously I dragged my friend and hiked up the hill. We discovered that the waterfall takes its waters from a river called Peguche too which seems to be changing its name into Jatun Yacu ( the big river in translation) once it reaches the bottom of the waterfall. Once you’re up, you will discover that there is another smaller waterfall, very charming as well, and you can even take your shoes off ( as we did ) and rest your feet into the clear water. There is also a small cave and a little tunnel that leads to it. It seemed to me that the whole site of the Cascada de Peguche is somehow similar to a maze, full of hidden paths. Exactly when you think that that was it, then surprisingly, you find out that there is more to see. Right as we were descending the hill, we stumbled upon a beautiful long bridge which actually connects the other side of the site. You can hike up and down the hills for the whole day if you are willing to do so. I did and it was a great experience!
Indigenous people from the Andes have a very special relationship with the surrounding nature. Hundreds of years ago, before they got Christianised, they used to pray to the sun and consider it the ruling God. They consider the mountains, the trees, the water and the earth as human beings and so they treat them accordingly, with respect. The tradition is to go to the waterfall at night during the summer solstice and have a bath into the waters. They are thanking to the mother earth and the sun for the year that passed and are asking for blessings for the new cycle that begins right after the summer solstice. The ritual is called Inti Raymi and it is celebrated by the indigenous people around this area and not only.
There are several legends circulating about the waterfall. One of them says that there is a golden pot inside the waterfall which is carefully guarded by the devil and his two black dogs. The devil holds some sand in his hands, waiting to be washed away by the water of the waterfall until it vanishes away. It is said that once it is emptied, the devil will take the soul of the person who enters the waterfall. Luckily it did not happen when we were there 🙂
Cascada de Penuche offers a series of amenities. Obviously you cannot ride your bike inside the forest as it is a protected site but you have several other facilities such as camping, cabin renting and restaurant which are absolutely amazing. The bridges and the walking paths have been reconstructed earlier this year as there has been a massive storm on the hills bordering the waterfall which destroyed a lot of the area. There have been massive trees falling down the waterfall and the local authorities have decided to use the fallen trees as material for reconstruction.
Luna is a one of the friends that you will make once you go to the Peguche Waterfall. She is a very friendly llama who will often look at you very charmingly. But sometimes she doesn’t and that’s when she looks like a kangaroo.
What I like to do in most of my trips is to sit down at a local bar and assimilate the experience I just had. This being said, I went to the restaurant/bar I have found right next to the exit. The scenery? Still amazing. The restaurant? Traditional indigenous, with a great variety of local dishes, teas and smoothies. Prices? Almost as much as you would pay for a cafe latte at Starbucks.
I invite you to come and experience Peguche Waterfall and I hope your experience will be at least as enjoyable as mine. I guarantee it will!