The province of Loja in Ecuador’s southernmost highlands is a wonderful area, still undiscovered by mainstream tourism. The city was founded by the Spanish captain Alonso de Mercadillo in 1548 and is therefore one of Ecuador’s oldest. Sadly none of the earliest buildings have survived, but buildings from the 18th Century can still be enjoyed.
- Soak up the Saraguro culture at the lively Sunday market
- Hike to rarely visited lakes & waterfalls in the Podocarpus National Park
- Hang out in laid back Vilacamba, the Valley of Longevity
- Enjoy the plants in the Reinaldo Espinosa Botanical Gardens
- Wander around the beautiful colonial churches & shady plazas
Loja is also the departure point for visiting Vilcabamba and its legendary elders, known to the world as the Sacred Valley of Longevity, whose inhabitants supposedly live to 100 years or more.
Saraguro, a small town named after the Saraguro Indians who are said to have been relocated from Lake Titicaca by the Incas, is only a short drive from Loja and worth a visit on a Sunday when local Indians show up in their traditional black clothing.
Another day trip from Loja is the stunning Podocarpus National Park, one of the most important biodiversity areas in the world. The park was created in 1982 and it covers a wide range of habitat, from lake covered mountains at an altitude of 3600m to rainforest at an altitude of 900m and it is possible to see a wide variety of rare animals and plant species within the park. It is also home to the famous cinchona tree, from which malaria-fighting quinine was obtained.