Cascada de Ratera was kind of our waterfalling excuse to make the visit out to the lakes of the Espot side of Parc Nacional d'Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. This waterfall was sourced by a creek fed from the natural lake called Estany de Ratera (from which the falls got its name) and ultimately emptied into the much larger man-made lake of Estany de Sant Maurici. Thus, I believe this was a permanent year-round waterfall. Now while the interpretive sign by the Cascada de Gerber suggested that the Cascada de Ratera was 50m tall, as you can see from the photos on this page, it was really more like the main drop of the falls was much smaller than that, but then there was a long series of cascades that perhaps comprised the remainder of its overall height (and then some).
Visiting this waterfall took a little bit of logistical planning primarily because the access road to the park from Espot was under a jeep taxi system, where private vehicles were kept out. That meant that we essentially had to test our Spanish-speaking abilities (since we were hopelessly unable to communicate in Catalonia's native language of Catalán) in order to arrange for a jeep ride up into the mountains along the L'Escrita River. I'll get into more of the transport logistics of this arrangement in the directions section below. By the way, speaking of Catalán, the word estany (which I think is pronounced "es-TAH-nee") meant lake. The language itself was an interesting mix of French and Spanish (e.g. sortie + salida = sortida in Catalán) though a friend who had lived in Spain said the language might be closer to Italian.
Although it would be easiest logistically to arrange for an out-and-back transport to the first lake (Estany de Sant Maurici), where it would be possible to hike the 60-minute out-and-back trail (30 minutes in each direction minimum) to the mirador de Cascada de Ratera, we actually acted on an even better suggestion courtesy of the very friendly staff at the Roca Blanca in Espot. And this alternative is what we'll be describing on this page. By the way, when I said "easiest logistically" I was primarily referring to the minimum number of jeep passengers, because there was no passenger minimum to get up to the first lake. However, there was a minimum of six passengers to get up to the second lake (Estany de Ratera), which was the starting point of the alternate suggestion we're about to describe.
So once the 4wd jeep dropped us off near the Estany de Ratera, we then briefly hiked opposite the flow of the L'Escrita River towards the mirador over Estany de Sant Maurici. This hike (which was not necessarily part of the one-way hike we were about to do to Cascada de Ratera and ultimately to the first stop by Estany de Sant Maurici) only took us about ten minutes there and ten minutes back. However, the view of the first lake was very impressive as I always contended that lakes tended to be best experienced from above, which was the case here.
Back at the taxi dropoff point by Lake Ratera, we then followed the bumpy jeep road alongside the shores of the second lake where we also noticed some segmented cascade spilling towards the lake from the notched mountains above. I don't think that cascade had a name, but it certainly caught our attention as it was towered over by jagged mountains that seemed to be one of the signature features of this national park in addition to the lakes. Once we went beyond the Ratera Lake, we then briefly descended the 4wd road until there was a signposted trail cutting away from the road and towards the L'Escrita River.
After about 45 minutes from the drop-off point by Lake Ratera, we'd eventually get down to our first partial but misty glimpse of the Cascada de Ratera. Now while viewing the falls from here seemed like a somewhat impractical and dangerous proposition (due to the steep rock scrambling on very wet and slippery rocks that would be required), we kept going downhill away from the falls where five minutes later, we arrived at the official mirador de Cascada de Ratera. It was from here that we were able to capture the picture you see at the top of this page.
During our visit, the mirador was a little bit flooded (or at least the L'Escrita River was flowing partially over the area where the wooden railings were), but it was shady and cool enough that our morning views looking back up at the falls were against a deep blue cloudless sky that contrasted the bright white of the water and the green of the vegetation surrounding it. When we had our fill of this mirador, we then slowly continued downhill on the main trail alongside the Sant Maurici Lake, which yielded plenty of photo ops of the big lake backed by jagged mountains. Some of the photo ops included grazing cows, which again was kind of strange to us considering that we were supposedly in a national park, where we'd think whole ecosystems should be protected and left intact.
It wouldn't be until about an hour later when we'd finally make it to a shelter where we could clearly see the dam that was holding up Estany de Sant Maurici (another instance of an infrastructure that seemed to go against what we were used to in terms of National Park principles). However, the open area where we were supposed to meet the pre-arranged return taxi was actually a few paces further down the trail from the shelter. That pretty much ended our one-way shuttle hike, which seemed to take in the best of the area within a reasonable amount of time and effort. Plus, it was a good thing we had left about 3.5 hours from the moment we left Espot to the moment we were to be picked up so we really took our time doing this excursion with our little daughter, who managed to make it without the need for a child carrier.
Since the route to Espot from Torla was already described on the Cascada de Gerber page, we'll punt you over there for the way we self-drove to that town. However, for the route connecting Espot to Barcelona, we'll describe it briefly here.
From Espot, we drove 7.5km on the Lv-5004 road back to the C-13 road. Turning right onto the C-13 road, we then followed it south for about 26km until we turned left onto the N-260 road. We then followed the N-260 for about 83km east to its junction with the C-16 road. We then turned right onto the C-16 road and followed it for about 137km into the heart of Barcelona as this road eventaully became an autovía with lots of tunnels and hence lots of tolls as well (i.e. it wasn't a very cheap stretch of road). This drive took us roughly on the order of 3.5 hours.
As for the logistics of the jeep taxis from Espot, this was what we did. We first walked to the jeep taxi kiosk a few paces south of the center of town. There were four main options to choose from. The first was to get to the first lake, the second was to the second lake. The other options were to get up to the higher lakes. The cheapest and easiest option (because there was no minimum number of passengers) was obviously to do the first lake as an out-and-back as taxis frequently showed up at the end points between that first lake and the kiosk in Espot (it was 10.20 euros round trip per adult and 6.30 euros for a kid under 11 years).
However, we did the second option in the "combined" manner, which was to go up to the second lake, then get picked up at the first lake. We were very fortunate that the jeep taxis accommodated us as there were only four out of the minimum six people that wanted to go to the second lake while the last couple to fill out the jeep only wanted to go to the first lake. Nonetheless, that costed us 16 euros per adult and 13.50 euros for our daughter in order to do the transport arrangements this way. They only accepted payments in cash.
The jeep taxi up to Lake Ratera took about 35 minutes. The jeep money was well-earned because the road was a true 4wd one once we went above Estany de Sant Maurici (it was a very tame up to the first lake). The return from the first lake back to Espot only took us 20 minutes. Overall, this entire excursion took us about a little over 5 hours.
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