The more time we spend in Ecuador, the more we get used to the altitude, the more we like and can enjoy hiking in the high mountains. Loja offers us a nice town with beautiful church, lovely town square with its famed clock tower and with some lively celebrations on the streets, perfect to spend some nights and a good base camp to go and visit the surroundings.
Vilcabamba is a village at 40km from the province capital of Loja hidden between two mountain ranges known as Valley of Longevity, assuring a quite live and lots of years to live that live.
This town is well-known for its older population that seem to have forgotten the day to die. In this spot on earth people get bored by celebrating the 100th birthday of one of the inhabitants and get barely excited when one of the dwellers reaches 120 springs. It is remarkable to see at 3 o’clock in the afternoon a disco filled with greybeards and grannies shaking their skeletons at the rhythms of a Pasillo or a Yavarí. The National Institute of Gerontology Investigation must have thought the same, the day they decide to build an investigation centre right next to the centre of the village. As far as we know, it’s proven that the bones of those old buggers are comparable with those of teenagers but the mystery of their almost immortality is still unfound. We buy a bottle of local water in the hope to gain at least some minutes.
We have a great time in Vilcabamba wondering around in the green surroundings and letting the peaceful ambient entering our soul… which must add at least another minute of live! 😉
The enjoyable green surroundings and healthy fresh mountain air are one of the main features of Loja. And when we talk about green, we talk about the 1462 square kilometers big National Park Podocarpus. The park, divided in 3 explorable sectors (Cajanuma, Vilcabamba and Bambuscaro) gives us an infinite combinations of visits to do; from just a walk to lose yourself for a week of hiking without contacting any civilizations, from an entertaining exploration to professional investigations, from mountain over fog covered forest to hundreds of lakes and from fauna and flora spotting to the observation of rests ancestral knowledge. Together with the German travel companions Lara & Sophia we decide to explore the northernmost Cajanuma Sector, at 13km from Loja.
From the free entrance of the park we walk 8km with stunning views to the refugee at 2750MASL. From there we start our odyssey through the cloud forest of Ecuador. There is a loop to do with different side paths for some extra kilometers… and we decide to do them all. First, the declivitous ‘Sendero Oso de Antiojos’ with an extension of 400m, then the even steeper 700m upwards ‘Sendero Bosque Nublado’ and finally the almost vertical ‘Sendero El mirador’ of 5km which follows the sharp mountain edge. It’s a hard track to do and takes more time then we calculated. So right at the very Mirador Cajanuma, after a short check on Lara’s out smoked lungs and after a democratic voting we decide to go on and fulfil the hike. (to watch video click here)
It goes more and more up, clouds are pushed up the hillside by cold wind gusts and drop down as soon as they pass the edge. Sea of clouds floating under us are hiding the deep, by river erosion out shaped, valleys just a step away from the path. Our full adventure heads to a climax, just after the long downhill on creepy overgrown in mist covered slippery paths, as the last rays of sunlight fight their way through the dark, heavily charged, rainclouds. The divine is with us and sends us a sight that ships emotions straight to the heart, almost too great for the mind to comprehend or recognize.
Hours after the day departed we finally reach the main road and with the last strength we have left in our muscles, burning the last calories left in our feeble bodies, we raise our thumps in the dark night and get lucky the fourth time that they are lightened up by the headlights of a truck. Once in Loja again, after two big empanadas, one litre of fresh squeezed fruit juice, French fries and a soup each we go back to our dear Aguilera International Hostal, our save and soft nest for the last two nights. We fall asleep with the José Bolivar castle, the gateway to the city, glowing in the night just out the window, shielding our night rest and safeguarding our dreams.
– For outdoor lovers, trails in Sector Vilcabamba, Bombuscaro and Cajanuma are well indicated, and depending of the extra loops you do it goes from beginner to advanced. All entrances are for free. For the pros there is an extra trail to do (only open from October till January) for about 14km till ‘Lagunas Compadre’ an area with more than hundred crystalline lakes. For this trail you are obligated to go with guide and takes between three and five days. Here prices depend on your needs (Spanish or English speaking guide) and your negotiating skills to lower them. We paid 0,75$ pp sharing a taxi with 4 persons to get till the entrance of Cajanuma.
– Vilcabamba is, in our opinion, not worthy to spend the night as hostels are more expensive. It is very small and easy to reach from Loja and to see in one day. Unless you want to live forever of course. 😉 There are regular buses from Loja at 1,15$
– For a good night rest we recommend Hostal Aguilera International. Prices go from 15$ for clean rooms, Wi-Fi, breakfast and hot water of course. The hostal even has a sauna and Turkish bath for their clients! We assure you that, after a long day of mountaineering, you will not forget it fast!