Loja & Vilcabamba

  • Altitude: 2060 meters
  • Inhabitants: 180.617
  • Region: South-Andes
Loja and Vilcabamba are located in the Loja province, in the far south of the Ecuadorian Andes cordillera. Loja, the capital, has been long isolated from the rest of the country and developed its own character. The town of about 180.000 inhabitants is functionally and culturally self- sufficient, home to important universities and cultural centers. Vilcabamba, once an isolated village, although it is only 38 km south of the city of Loja, is today the pot of gold at the end of Ecuador’s gringo trail. It has an ideal climate and idyllic surroundings which combine to create a special feeling of tranquility. The Saraguros, proud people who maintain their traditions, are today the only indigenous group in the province.

Loja’s Gates and San Sebastian Church

The gates of the city are modeled after the Coat of Arms of the city, presented by King Felipe II of Spain in 1571. A stunning view of the city is found by climbing the clock tower. Loja contains a number of historic churches such as the San Sebastian Church. In 1660, the city of Loja was consecrated to St. Sebastian in order to prevent destruction by earthquakes. The present church dates from 1900. Perhaps the most notable landmark of Loja stands on the Plaza San Sebastian (also called the Plaza of Independence).

Podocarpus National Park

The National Park is located in the Zamora and Loja provinces. The park contains an exceptionally diverse flora, and has been considered the ‘Botanical Garden of America’. The high and low mountain-forest ecosystems and its very humid mountain and premontane forests have more than 4,000 species of plants and trees like the Cinchona – the national tree of Ecuador – and a huge variety of orchids. 68 species of mammals live in the park such as the mountain tapir, the jaguar or the spectacled bear. 560 bird species (6% of all birds registered worldwide) have been registered in the park.

Mandago, the sleeping Inca

Mandango is a mountain overlooking Vilcabamba and an ancient retreat for Incan royalty. The mountain is also called the Sleeping Inca due to its resemblance to the profile of a resting person. Over the centuries, some local inhabitants have believed that Mandango protects the surrounding valley from earthquakes and other natural disasters

Tapichalaca Reserve

The small Tapichalaca Reserve, 75km south of Vilcabamba, protects one of Ecuador’s most rare and endangered birds, the Jocotoco Antpitta (Grallaria ridgelyi), which has under 20 known breeding pairs. Some of the birds have been habituated to eating grubs put out by the caretaker, however, so a sighting is likely. The rest of the reserve is an oasis of cloud forest and the hummingbird feeders are abuzz all day.

Insiders´ tips

  • Across the road from the Parque Universitario, 5km south of the center, visit the botanical garden which has nearly 900 plant species.

  • Vilcabamba’s Valley is also called the Valley of Longevity. It is believed that the local inhabitants are living longer than anywhere else (up to 100 years old or more). If your Spanish abilities allow it, try to meet the locals and learn about their longevity secrets.

  • Have a relaxing stay and enjoy massages and treatments at Hosteria Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba.  A great place for yoga lovers or to discover the area hiking or horse riding.

Restaurant tips

  • Riscomar. Serving some of Loja’s best seafood, Riscomar prepares delicious ceviches. Address: Rocafuerte y 24 de Mayo, Loja. More info: http://www.riscomarloja.com/

  • El Jugo Natural. Pure, all-natural juices, yogurt shakes, and fruit salads make up the menu and number one meeting-up spot for old-timers. Address: Eguiguren 14-20, Loja. More info: +593-7-257-5256

  • Hosteria y Restaurante Izhcayluma. Bavarian specialties and classic Ecuadorian dishes are the fare here. Izhcayluma also offers excellent vegetarian substitutions for the meat dishes. Address: south of Vilcabamba, uphill. More info: http://www.izhcayluma.com/

Medical attention

  • Clinica San Augustin. Address: 18 de Noviembre 10-72 y Azuay.  More info: +593- 7- 2587339

  • Hospital Vilcabamba. Address: Calle Sucre y Miguel Salvador. More info: +593-7-2640128 or +593-7-2640188