Friday, November 29, 2013

Loja, Vilcabamba and Zamora, Ecuador


Road trip to Loja

Had a great two night three day trip to Loja which is just a three hour drive south of Cuenca. We took Ellite shuttle service rather than a bus, they leave every hour. It was just $12 each and just seven people in the van, somehow being the tallest and biggest guy on the van I ended up in the middle of the third row of seats! It was a tight fit but considering the rough ride over windy mountain roads I did not get bounced around to much. It is great that all the roads in Ecuador are new and in good shape.

Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador founded by the Spaniards in 1548 declaring its independence in 1820. The city is located in a valley at 6758 feet elevation (2060m) the average temperature  is around 70 degrees (22c)  and has a population of 200,000 people. It was the first city in Ecuador to get electricity in 1890 provided by a hydroelectric-dam.

 The gate to the city

Being Bryan is the marketing manager at the San Juan Hotel in Cuenca he got us a great discount on two rooms at the Howard Johnson Hotel. Normal rate is $123.00 per night and we got two rooms for $50 per night. The Hotel is located on a hillside overlooking the city and was complete with gym, steam room, pool and Jacuzzi. Also provided a fantastic buffet breakfast at not extra cost!

 Hotel entrance

 Front desk

Lobby Bar

View of Loja from my room

Pool and Jacuzzi

The Turco steam room - I managed to use this three times during our stay as well as the Jacuzzi. Wish I had one here in Cuenca!

My room

After we got settled in our rooms we decided to hire a taxi to take us to Vilcabamba which was just a 45-minute drive south of Loja. It was $10 an hour and took us three hours all together. I was more than happy to pay it rather than finding our way to the bus station and dealing with all that. The taxi driver also took us through a couple of small villages and gave us a tour of Vilcabamba.

Vilcabamba was the playground for the Inca royalty - also known for the longevity of its residents due to minerals in the water and a tranquil lifestyle. Our taxi driver did stop at the residents of a 100 year old man who is the oldest know man in the village, but he was not home.

Vilcabamba is about 5000 feet elevation (1500m) with an average temperature between 65 and 82 degrees (18-28c) Coffee is a main product as well as fruits and vegetables. All of the Loja region is know for its pork production. I had some great BBQ ribs!

   Although the Vilcabambans did not enjoy greater longevity than the rest of the world, researchers noted that the Vilcabamban lifestyle, which included hard work in a high altitude combined with a low-calorie, low-animal-fat diet, did seem to keep the villagers healthy and vigorous in their old age.

Foreigners and other tourists are increasingly buying property to build homes. Tourists have created problems for the locals, including rising prices as well as increasing drug and alcohol use. Some locals say that the peace and simplicity of their lives, to which they attributed their longevity, has been lost. The massive influx of western processed food is evident in nearly every local 'tienda', and people are visibly more obese than those seen in photos from only a few decades ago.

However, other locals report appreciation for the foreigners and tourist who also bring jobs and improvements to the area.

Restaurants and stores around the main village square

A couple of friendly locals inviting us for a beer

Main square and church

Beautiful cathedral in Malacatos

Back in Loja we decided to tour the center of town and ran across a very old Cathedral across from the place where we ate. I could not find any information on-line about it but when I was taking pictures a priest stopped and told us it was built in 1660 and is not in use at this time, hopefully they will restore it.

Our great BBQ restaurant across from the hotel was closed so we ate at this chicken place in El Centro - grilled flattened chicken, rice and fries!

I would have loved to see the inside!

After dinner we headed to the Main square

Monument to Manuel Carrión Pinzano, a founder in 1853 of the Federalism movement in Loja.

The Church of Santo Domingo was built in 1557; the entire edifice was once in the Gothic style, but after an earthquake in 1867 only the twin spires remained standing. The church was refurbished in the colonial style, but the spires were left as a reminder of the former facade. The church was painted and decorated by notable Lojano Fray Enrique Mideros.

The next morning we enjoyed a great buffet breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Zamora in the Amazons! 

We walked down the street from the hotel and stopped a couple of taxis before we found one that was willing to take us to Zamora, we agreed on $10 a hour and heading out for the Amazons. Again a windy mountain road ride, but the roads were all new concrete and of course the lush mountains with their hillside farms and houses is common all over Ecuador.

Roadside water fall

Zamora is a small town of 12000 people and of course much warmer at 900 feet elevation and know for it's gold mining. Human habitation dates back to 4500 BCE. The Spaniards found their way to Zamora in 1548  

El Centro Zamora

Zamora Cathedral Main town square

Hillside clock Zamora

New recreation center with a large swimming pool

Zamora is the gateway to the amazons, the highway to the amazon river is paved now and a 360 km drive. I would like to drive it someday. There are many beautiful places to see in Ecuador and I will eventually see it all. A trip to the amazon jungle will be another exciting adventure probably better done in our winter months July-Sept.!

Taxi ride back up to Loja (6000 feet) about a 50-minute drive

Back at the hotel for another Jacuzzi and steam bath and a relaxing night

After another great buffet breakfast we headed for the shuttle office and on the way they called and offered us an earlier departure which turned out to be 3 people in a car! Much better than the van ride down.

Another scenic ride through the Andes back to Cuenca in just three hours

Until next time hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

Gary Sisk

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  1. loved all the new travel stories and pictures! keep them coming. i'll have to plan a trip to visit sometime. the small town of zamora appealed to me about the size i'm used to along with the mining heritage i'd feel right at home.

    1. At 900 feet it can be hot and humid in Zamora, but I did like the small town of 12000. I worked in the Climax mine in Leadville, CO back in the 70's! Let me know when you are in Cuenca and we can meet for coffee!

  2. Gary that was wonderful. What a great trip. The amazon will be very interesting.

    1. I am looking forward to a drive from Zamora to Maca, it is 360 kms but the roads are new.

  3. I'm planning on moving to Ecuador in October or November. I'm having a knee replacement before I come. I notice all the stairs throughout Cuenca & wondered if you thought the city is ok for people who have a bit of a problem navigating at times. I'm active, but do have problems at times. I chose Loga as a second city to live in, and was very happy to see this blog. Thank you for all the info. I'll be checking out the entire country, but wanted an early bit of info before arriving. Is Cuenca ok for walking if you use care? I do that here. Thanks, Barbara

    1. Cuenca does have some hills with stairs and narrow sidewalks but can be walked okay! Loja is warmer and smaller, very clean city!

    2. Also, Barbara, taxis in Cuenca are plentiful and cheap. We walked almost everywhere in the central city, and occasionally took a taxi when we had a time crunch, which fortunately doesn't seem to happen often in Ecuador.

  4. Gary, we need more stories. This was a good one. Keep writing please. George

  5. Thanks for the trip narrative, Gary. We met some people on the coast in Santa Elena who suggested that we think about retiring to Loja instead of Cuenca. We're still gathering information, and this really helps.

  6. You might as well check it out before you decide where you want to stay, Loja is warmer and smaller then Cuenca!

  7. What a great article! Thank you for posting. Also the pictures were great.

  8. What would be your advise on traveling from Quito to Vilcabamba?

  9. You can fly to Cuenca then take a bus or shuttle to Vilcabamba!

  10. Thank you ...flying is not an option for me...what bus and shuttle you advise?

  11. I cannot advise you on that but there is just one bus line here and you will fine several suttle services!

  12. Thank you for this helpful article it is a good share. I am very amazed by the information for Buy Man City Tickets of this blog and I am glad I had a look at the blog.

  13. Gary, How are the mosquitoes in Zamora? and are they constant or more seasonal?