Hiking to the Waterfalls of Rio Colorado

On Wednesday, Eric and I set off from Cafayate for a hike to the waterfalls of Rio Colorado. We had read many blog posts and TripAdvisor reviews of this hike advising that it was a must-see and indicating there was a guide option available for ~$10, but that many people had elected to do it without a guide. There are seven waterfalls along the trek of increasing size, with the seventh, most impressive, waterfall having a fall of 20 meters. We caught a taxi from our new hostel, Casa Árbol, for 150 pesos ($3.94) to the trail head and were immediately accosted by people trying to sell us a guide. They handed us a sheet of paper that indicated the cost for waterfalls 1-3 was 250 pesos ($6.58) per person; waterfalls 1-5 was 350 pesos ($9.21) per person and waterfalls 1-7 was 500 pesos ($13.16 per person). Normally hiking doesn’t come with a fee, and if it does, it’s nominal, but we were looking at more than $25 for this hike, which seemed a bit crazy considering we saw Iguazú Falls for just over $35.

We said, “That’s ok. We’ll go without a guide.” To which they responded, “You have to have a guide. That’s why there are police and cameras.” Ok, if that’s the case, we thought, we’ll just ask the police to confirm we need a guide. We went to talk to the police officers who seemed totally confused about why we were talking to them; of course, if you want to do a hike without a guide, you can do it. The guides, realizing they had been caught and were about to lose a sale, rushed over and said, “ok, ok, 500 pesos en total, siete cascadas”. While $13 still seemed a bit pricey for a hike, even for seven waterfalls, we agreed to that price for both of us combined, and were pushed into a group with two people from Buenos Aires.

One of the early waterfalls

The four of us left with Pablo, our guide, who led us to the first three waterfalls, crossing back and forth through the water. Shoes you don’t mind getting wet are a must! At the third waterfall, you either have to walk along a cliff edge or swim in water up to your chest to see it. The boys went first and reported that the swimming was really cool, so we girls went next and it was pretty awesome. You have to climb up a small waterfall to get to a small pool where the actual waterfall is and you can feel the power of the water falling. To get back down, you have to jump into a pool of water under the smaller waterfall which is definitely a bit terrifying, but no big deal once you go for it.

Eric under waterfall #3

When we were done swimming, Pablo indicated it was time to turn around. To get to the remaining waterfalls would require much steeper hiking and more cliffs. Since none of us had agreed to see only three waterfalls, we insisted we keep going. He did take us to the fourth waterfall, but there he told us he wouldn’t go any further. We would have to pay another guide to take us further if we wanted. The couple from Buenos Aires agreed to pay the next guide 100 pesos ($2.63) per person to go further, having paid 300 pesos ($7.89) per person to get to that point and left with the guide.

We were frustrated because we had so clearly agreed to a price at the bottom to go with a guide to begin with and now we were being told we had to pay more. We told Pablo we would return to the bottom with him to avoid paying more. A few steps down, Pablo stopped and asked us how much we wanted to pay to the fourth waterfall and told us if we paid him, we could continue the rest of the way on our own without guide (which confirmed to us that you don’t need a guide after all). We agreed to give him 400 pesos ($10.53) and continue on.

Wading across the river

We found the fifth waterfall pretty easily on our own, but the path from there was pretty challenging to find. We took a wrong turn twice and only found the right path because some locals pointed us in the right direction, so it’s possible a guide is useful in some cases. However, after that we found the sixth and seventh waterfalls without any issue. At some point, we crossed paths with the guide who had led our Buenos Aires friends to the seventh waterfall coming back down alone. He told us that Pablo doesn’t like to do guided tours, especially through the more difficult bit, and that’s why he bailed half way through. The fact that the guide came down alone also indicated a guide isn’t really necessary. If you can make it down alone, presumably you could make it up alone too.

Scenic hike

The seventh waterfall is cool! It’s a pretty large waterfall with a good size pool underneath it and you can swim there. We took turns going under the waterfall and cooling off. Afterwards, we wanted to see if it was possible to continue hiking more, so we scrambled the mountain to the left of the waterfall, but it quickly started to feel a bit more treacherous than anything we had done up to that point, so we bailed and headed back down the trail.

Jess under waterfall #7

We enjoyed the trek but wish the negotiations with the guides hadn’t been so unpleasant. Even though, we ended up doing the whole trek for 400 pesos ($10.53) total, it was hard not to feel like the whole thing was a bit of a tourist scam. We suspect the guides purposely take you on a more difficult path so you think a guide is necessary. We noticed we paid way more attention to our surroundings when we were alone making our way from waterfall 4 to waterfall 7. On our way down, we saw waterfalls 7, 6, 5 and 4, but we never saw waterfalls 3, 2 or 1 because we had been blindly following the guide on the way up.

Successful hike!

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