Getting Here: Traveling to Loja, Ecuador

Visiting the less-trafficked or remote locales of Ecuador, like Loja, is different than traveling through Europe and North America. It takes a modicum of know-how, but the visitor is rewarded with an uncrowded and very authentic destination. I am of the opinion that more knowledge is better. I want to be sure that you are well briefed on traveling in the Ecuadorian Andes and to know what to expect. Here are some of the basics of how to get to Loja.

International flights to Ecuador

Ecuador has two full-fledged international airports. If you are arriving by air from North America or Europe, in the majority of cases, you will be landing at one of these. Ecuador’s international airports are Mariscal Sucre (UIO) in Quito and José Joaquín de Olmedo (GYE) in Guayaquil. Quito is the nation’s capital in the northern Andes mountain range and is closer to Ecuador’s neighbor, Colombia. Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city (over 2 million, more than double Quito) and the country’s largest seaport on the southwestern coast closer to Peru. Quito airport appears to have slightly more visitor traffic, but Guayaquil airport is new, closer in distance to Loja, and one of the two most highly rated airports in South America.

Domestic flights to Loja

After landing at one of the international airports, you then have a few options of how to connect with Loja by air. The most direct domestic air travel links to Loja from Guayaquil or Quito will take you into Catamayo or Cuenca, with flight durations that are similar. 

Catamayo is the closest airport to Loja. Ciudad de Catamayo Airport (LOH) or Catamayo City Airport is 45 minutes west of Loja by car, taxi, or bus. Catamayo is 24 miles of road from Loja, but only 11 miles of actual distance, so you can see how mountain terrain can affect overland travel times. It is considered the city airport for Loja as well. Catamayo’s airport is a small but new facility built recently during President Rafael Correa’s administration. However, because it is a small airport serving cities in a major mountain range, there are some things to keep in mind when flying to LOH. The geographical makeup of the airport’s location, together with area meteorological conditions that vary according to the time of day and the season, coupled with a lack of radar, means that flight delays to Catamayo are a reality. It is also possible, because of wind or other changing weather conditions in the Andes Mountains, for the flight you are on to be diverted en route to one of the other three airports already mentioned. People traveling for pleasure who have a more relaxed schedule may choose to avoid flying the “windy season” and come into Loja overland from one of the other airports during the winter, which is June through August in the global south. Alternatively, travelers with a tighter schedule may choose an earlier flight to Catamyo, so if there is a delay, cancellation, or diversion, they will still have time that day to adjust their plans for coming to Loja. Although the airport is small, taxis are waiting and readily available on-site for incoming flights. A taxi into Catamayo from the airport should be two dollars USD. From there you can catch a bus to Loja, which is usually under two dollars. You can also negotiate the price of the taxi from Catmayo airport on into Loja. It should cost about $15.

Cuenca’s airport, Mariscal (CUE), is listed as an international airport. The designation likely has more to do with flights coming from Ecuador’s South American neighbors. Global air traffic to Ecuador is routed mostly through Quito and Guayaquil. Cuenca airport is the next closest to Loja after Catamayo. People who connect with Cuenca’s airport from one of Ecuador’s larger International airports will find Mariscal is situated right in the city. From there, Loja visitors can choose to take one of a number of national bus lines, smaller vans, taxi’s, or a private car and driver. The route into Loja, which takes 4 hours, is over well-tended highways and offers views of the southern Andes that are well worth the time. The bus fare to Loja from Cuenca is around $7 USD.

Overland travel to Loja

Quite a number of travelers who have the time will opt to take a land route to Loja once their international flight has landed in Quito or Guayaquil. The most popular mode of transport is the bus lines. Wanderbus, for example, has a pass available that will allow you to get on and off as many times as you like, so you can explore all the interesting stops in the northern and southern Andes on the way to Cuenca, but you'll need another bus to continue on to Loja. Those who would like to go more quickly might choose an overnight bus from Quito to Loja so they can travel while asleep. The bus lines often show movies and some have WIFI to keep you occupied while you travel. It is also possible to take a bus from Guayaquil to Loja in about 9 hours, roughly half the time a direct bus from Quito to Loja would take. Most bus routes from north to south in the Andes mountains come through Loja’s Terminal Terrestre bus station because it is the last urban area before entering Peru. Often travelers will stop off in Loja and stay for a few days to enjoy Loja’s many attractions before going to Peru.

Other types of overland travel options are available from the major international airports to Loja. Train transport is almost non-existent in Ecuador. Some trains do run on limited routes, but for sightseeing only. Van services, taxi’s, and private cars are all possibilities from the major airports. These types of transport, along with local buses, are typically what is used for excursions from Loja to interesting locations nearby such as Vilcabamba and Saraguro in the Andes, and Zamora in the Amazon.       

For those who are independent, or enjoy less conventional ways of traveling on land from the major airports to Loja, there are bicycle tours, motorcycle tours, and car rentals. Just so you know, burros and horseback are a common means of transport in rural areas, but most visitors will prefer a faster mode of travel. These alternative ways of coming to Loja are a little more complicated, however, so you are welcome to contact me to answer any questions you may have and help you make your travel plans for southern Ecuador.


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