On my last day in Santa Fe, I decided to head out to find El Salto Waterfalls. It was an incredibly hot day and a pretty strenuous hike up some serious hills. However, after arriving in the small village, what I found was nothing short of amazing. El Salto is a collection fo 22 waterfalls (if not more) in the middle of the mountains near Santa Fe. I explored two by foot and one other with the drone. It is possible to explore all of them but takes expert knowledge of the area, ropes and some serious skills and planning.
HOW TO GET TO EL SALTO
From my accommodation, Hostal La Qhia, I walked down to the bus stop. Here there are three buses. Santa Fe Alto, Santiago, and Guabal. For this trip, you can either take the Santiago or the Santa Fe Alto. The Santa Fe Alto is preferable as it will drop you at the trailhead while the Santiago bus means you have to walk an extra 1km. The catch is that the Santiago bus is more regular. I took the Santiago bus and no Santa Fe Alto bus passed me so it was the quickest option although I did have to walk an extra kilometer.
If you take the Santiago bus, ask the bus driver to stop just after the Santa Maria River bridge crossing. There is a defined bus stop there. Walk up the road on the left with a sign that says Santa Fe Alto and it even says Nuca Del Toro & El Salto. Walk up this road for one kilometer until you see a dirt road on your right next to a church with a sign, “Comunidad Misionera”. You will now follow this trail for 5 kilometers until you reach the village in the mountains.
There are a few T-intersections or splits in the road where you will have to make a decision. I found that sticking to the most defined road and most often to the left worked. If in doubt there were a few local houses on the way and I always check in and ask for directions to make sure I am on the right path. All of these intersections needed a left turn if that helps you find you way.
Once you reach the top of the path you will no doubt be out of breath. It is incredibly steep. In the last few kilometers you will make a few stream crossings but on the day I went, it was possible to cross without getting wet. After the stream crossings, you only have less than 1 kilometer to go.
I didn’t find a well-defined village construct but there were a few houses strewn throughout the area. A farmer with a machete too me under his wing and led me to the house of Egberto Soto, the owner of the land where the waterfalls are. He is the tour operator and a really nice guy.
They did ask me if I wanted a guide but after the maze, I was led through to get there I said yes. In the end, from the house, I think I would have found the waterfalls but for $5 they led me straight there and you never know what you will miss if you explore a jungle region like that by yourself. You also wouldn’t know how far is the normal tour to explore safely. I stopped at the first two waterfalls and enjoyed those and flew to the third with the drone.
EL SALTO WATERFALLS
When I arrived at the waterfalls, I was pretty tired. I didn’t think this was such a big trek from the bus stop. I had gone for a 10-kilometer run that morning, which was an indication of what I thought this adventure would be like. The hike in was incredible. There were beautiful views of the mountains in all direction, maybe the best I had in Santa Fe. You can even see several waterfalls on the other side of the valley as you near the village.
I finally, made it up the hill and was ready to see what El Salto had in store. The first falls were a great little spot with two waterfalls coming down into a small pool. This is the spot where I swam in the refreshing water. The striking part about El Salto was the huge boulders that were scattered throughout the canyon. I always love to consider the crazy situations in which these sorts of landscapes were formed. Just imagine the force needed to drop a boulder the size of a house into the river.
The second waterfall was where things started to get very impressive. Three waterfalls streamed down the flat cliff. It was almost like a water feature. It wasn’t a booming fall like Golondrinas, it was an elegant, triple waterfall tucked away in a corner. From the observation spot of the second waterfall, I spotted the third.
Up in another canyon, a third waterfall looked even more impressive. It was the waterfall you could see on the other side of the valley while on the hike. It looked very tempting, but the rocks were very slippery, I was by myself and I just thought it was an adventure for another time. I did, however, explore it quite thoroughly with the drone and it was my favorite of all three waterfalls. If you can it would be explored to explore the third waterfall with ropes or a guide and maybe even more of the 22 waterfalls in El Salto.
After hanging out by myself, with no-one else visiting the whole time, I headed back to the house of Egberto for a coffee and a chat. He explained to me about the maps he had and the 22 waterfalls. Egberto also showed me the sign he had made, completely carved in a strong piece of wood. He had even etched in the URL with a knife, this made me smile and just put our different lives into perspective. That piece of wood was his share button. It was great to chat with them although our discussions were short due to my Spanish.
Egberto and his family never felt pressuring or seemed like they cared much about taking the money. I paid $5 for the guide and $1 for two coffees. I believe they can cook lunch for a few dollars also. I signed the guestbook and saw that they receive about 10 guests per week on average. Most are Panamanians but many are foreigners who are staying in Santa Fe and want to get off the beaten track from the regular tourist spots in Santa Fe (which aren’t crowded at all either!)
If you are up for some exercise, some untouched waterfalls, and amazing mountain views, this is an epic adventure to give you a slice of Panamanian paradise.
The walk back down was much easier as the entire journey is downhill. It was made even easier when a family in a buggy picked me up halfway and dropped me at the Santa Maria river bus stop. It was a huge win and saved me about 45 minutes more of walking, My legs were grateful!
ADVENTURE BAG FROM EL SALTO WATERFALL HIKE
This is an adventure bag. It is full of trash. Every time I go on an adventure I collect one adventure bag full of trash. It’s my small way of saying thanks to mother nature for allowing me to enjoy her beautiful creations. If we have time to go on an adventure we have time to collect an adventure bag on the way back out of the trail once we have enjoyed the waterfall, the hike or the beach. Adventure hard!