Loja is a small and peaceful city in Southern Ecuador, known as the capital of culture.
As you walk through this charismatic city, you will be surrounded by striking colonial architecture, multiple cultural centers, museums and music coming from small cafes.
Colorful and lively, with a small population of 150,000 approx.
Loja has streets, plazas, churches, and monasteries from colonial times, such as the Cathedral and the churches of Santo Domingo, San Francisco and San Sebastian. The plazas, surrounded by these ancient buildings, host many artistic performances where you can enjoy every type of music.
Two rivers cross through Loja: the Malacatos and Zamora, which give a unique personality to the city. Walk along the pedestrian walkways that follow the riverside and encounter the friendliest locals, who are very proud of their city and will happily show you around.
Loja’s surrounding valleys, with their temperate climates, organic markets, and small towns are famous retirement destinations!
The buildings of the main civil and ecclesiastical authorities: the Provincial and City Governments, the Episcopal House and the Cathedral surround the plaza. Although the original architecture of most of these buildings has been modified, they still portray their Spanish legacy. The building that houses the Central Bank Museum preserves its original architecture.
MUSEO DE LA MÚSICA
This museum displays musical instruments, pictures and awards of famous musicians from Loja.
Open Monday thru Friday from 9h00 to 13h00 and from 15h00 to 19h00. Free admission. Phone: 2561342.
A stroll through this street sets you in an old colonial city! Observe the well preserved wooden balconies, interior patios, and cobblestone streets; and stop by the small shops where you can find a little bit of everything, including handicrafts.
Visit the “Cera” neighborhood to observe the production of ceramic handicrafts.
CENTRAL BANK MUSEUM
This museum holds an archeological display (mainly of the Macara and Catamayo cultures), religious art of the XVIII century, an ethnographic exhibit on the Saraguros, and a small display on the history and applications of the “quinina” plant. The museum also houses temporary exhibits on the first floor, and there is a concert every month
Open Monday thru Friday from 9h00 thru 13h00 / 14h00 thru 17h00. Free admission.
At the South of the city you can find a Botanical Garden that is the only botanical garden at 6,560 feet above sea level in the inter-Andean region. It is over 50 years old and holds more than 1.000 plant species!
Monday thru Friday 8h00- 17h30, Weekend 13h00 – 17h30.
Entrance fee: $1.
Right to the south of the city, the charming Malacatos town has colorful wooden houses that surround a main square where live music is played every Sunday. At this site you can visit a sugar cane “molienda”. “Moliendas” are open Monday thru Friday and you can observe the workers throughout the whole process of manufacturing raspadura (sugar scraping), using the same machinery that has been used for generations.
On the way to Vilcabamba, you will observe a hill in the shape of a “sleeping Inca”. This hill is called Mandango, and it is believed to have been sacred for the Incas.
This charming valley located approximately 1-hour South from Loja city (25 miles) has become a favorite spot for tourists, especially young adventurers on their way to or from Peru. The name Vilka Bamba or Huilcopamba means “Sacred Valley” in the indigenous tongue Quechua. This area was reserved by the Incas for the main noble authorities, since it is a peaceful and quiet place. Perhaps the environment of tranquility is the reason why locals live to an old age. It is common to find healthy people of over 100 years that live here and still work in agriculture.
There have been many investigations conducted to determine the reason for the longevity of Vilcabamba’s inhabitants, and some factors have been identified: temperate weather, access to water that is rich in minerals, a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber and magnesium, the peacefulness of the valley and extensive physical activity. People that suffer from heart disease move to Vilcabamba to imitate the lifestyle of its inhabitants.
From Vilcabamba you can arrange horse and bicycle excursions throughout the valley or in the nearby Podocarpus National Park. The Municipality has opened an information office at the corner of the main park.
PODOCARPUS NATIONAL PARK
This National Park is located 11 miles South of Loja city. The park was named after a tree species commonly known as “Romerillo” (Podocarpus montanus). This is a gigantic Coniferous that has adapted to the tropical Andean forests. These trees can reach a height of 131 ft. and live up to 1.000 years. The Podocarpus or Romerillo is in danger of extinction because of the over-exploitation of its valuable wood. Now the trees can only be found at the Sabanilla region near Loja and at the Podocarpus National Park.
Podocarpus National Park is home to 3,000 – 4,000 plant species and more than 600 bird species (including Macaws, Cock of the Rock, hummingbirds, toucans, tangaras, etc). You can also find endemic bird species such as the Jocotoco Antpitta (Grallaria ridgelyi)!
The park has an area of 361,452 acres and has several different ecosystems that range from the Paramo or moorlands at 12,073 ft, down to the low mountain forests at 2,952 ft. Among the plant species are bromeliads, orchids and ferns, Cecropias, and bamboos.
From “El Refugio” it is possible to choose any of the four following trekking routes: “Spectacled Bear” 437 yards, “Cloud Forest” 765 yards, “View Point” 1 to 3 miles up to Sabanilla at 11,482 ft., and “Compadres Lagoon” 9 miles (here you can find a fluvial system made up of 105 lagoons, 3 of which are easily accessible.)
Open every day. The entrance fee to the park is $10 and $5 for children under 12. It is better to hire a guide in Loja, since there is no information offered at the park entrance.
A special site for birdwatchers has been built in the Tapichalaca Reserve that belongs to the Jocotoco Foundation. Tapichalaca has an area of 9,386 acres. It borders the Podocarpus National Park and is located right next to the Loja-Zamora Province border. It is named after the Tapichalaca hill.
Jocotoco is the common name of a bird species (Grallaria ridgelyi) that was recently discovered (1997) at this site. This bird spends more time “walking” on the bushes than flying and makes a sound similar to a dog bark! There are bird feeders surrounding the house at the entrance, where an amazing diversity of hummingbirds (of all colors and sizes!) welcome visitors.
Tip: Don´t forget to try “Cecina” with “Horchata”!