Touring Yacurí National Park near Amaluza, Espíndola, of Loja Ecuador

Yacurí National Park, Loja Province, Ecuador

When planning a hiking vacation in Ecuador, places like the mighty snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano near the country’s northern capital of Quito, or Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park) close to the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, come to mind. Even our home in the southern province of Loja has the very popular hiking destination of Podocarpus Park between the city of Loja and the sunny resort town of Vilcabamba.

Unlike the trekking spots famous with hikers and mountain climbers of the world, Life in Loja’s team went off the beaten path recently to hike in the remote Sierran canton or township of Espíndola near its main city of Amaluza. The purpose of the excursion was to create new tours for this seldom visited destination. We believe that the area has great untapped potential for weekend get-aways, and we were not disappointed. In this blog we will share the highlights of the trip and many pleasant surprises we encountered.

For those not familiar with Ecuador, Loja is the southernmost province bordering northern Peru with Loja, sharing the name with its province, being the last city before reaching the border. Espíndola comprises the furthest protrusion into Peru on Ecuador’s southern border, and the town of Amaluza is the most urbanized part of the remote canton. Amaluza has a very comfortable mild climate, similar to Vilcabamba, with an average temperature of 24°C (75°F). Time stands still here. We found some very picturesque houses made of adobe and wood -  some of them abandoned. The city feels very safe. All the inhabitants seemed to know each other and were friendly. You sense and breathe the clean air. It is definitely a place to get away from your routine.

The high point of the excursion was our visit to the Yacurí National Park further southeast of Amaluza. From our accommodations, it took about an hour by car to reach the entrance of the Park. Yacurí has an average altitude of 3000 meters above sea level, so the temperature dropped quite a bit from our weekend house in Amaluza. The park’s temperature averages between 6° to 12°C. (43° to 53°F). When we were there, the temperature reached a low of about 7°C. Yacurí is the conservation area for the Andean páramos watershed, providing a pure water supply for nearby towns. Here we saw 48 immense lagoons of glacial origin.

Laguna Negra

To get to the first lagoon known as "Laguna Negra," or the Black Lagoon, we walked approximately 25 minutes from the entrance to the park on a moderate trail. Hikers in good physical condition can do the walk without much difficulty. Our guide at the park told us that shamans often travel from Peru to this lagoon to perform rituals, spells and purifications. In fact, as we were arriving at the lagoon we found a shaman presiding over a ceremony that included bathing his subject in the cold waters of the lagoon. Some say that many people come here with photographs of loved ones and wash them in the lagoon to purify their souls and protect them from bad energy.

Another highpoint was the view from the Black Lagoon, which is spectacular. The rock formations around the romantically named lake have unusual shapes, because it is located in the crater of a dormant volcano. While we stopped to rest during our hike we were in awe of the huge stones that surrounded us. We had the feeling of being on location for a movie or TV series like "Game of Thrones" or "The Lord of the Rings."

After our visit to the lagoon, we decided to take the “picachos” scenic trail. Picachos are very jagged rocky mountains. This two-hour walk had a higher degree of difficulty. The Picachos trail is challenging and long. Large rubber boots are a necessity for the conditions we encountered. The terrain is uneven with a steep uphill grade. The altitude made us a little short of breath, but that was because we hike only occasionally without any prior conditioning. Worth the effort? Of course it was! From the peaks we could see two of the lagoons. They are both beautiful and the pictures that can be taken from there are priceless.

After this adventure, we decided to return to Amaluza. We stayed at the vacation house of a young architect on the outskirts of town. We were pleasantly surprised by the weekend-get-away country home he designed and built. The house has enough space to host four people and perhaps more if they camp outside. To know more about this property we recommend you watch the following video.

One of the best aspects of the house’s location is how quiet it is. The feeling of being surrounded by pure air and nature is ideal to forget the hustle and bustle of city life.

The architect’s mother was a skilled cook. All the meals at our lodging were produced right there. The food was organic, pure, and delicious. Many of the dishes we had were cooked with a small outdoor wood-fired oven the family also designed and built. At the end of one of our meals we were given an unusual honey treat for dessert, that is not for the faint of heart. The dessert had pieces of honeycomb in it, and some bees as well! As I said, everything was very delicious and good.

The next day we left for more new adventures. On our second day, we went to a waterfall known as "La Cofradía" (‘The Brotherhood”). The path on this walk was also quite challenging like the day before, but not impossible. We walked for about two hours uphill. The views during the hike were also spectacular. In the distance we could hear the roar of falling water. "La Cofradía" falls is 70 meters high. One of the members of our team dared to walk the ledge of the falls to feel the refreshing mist at its best. Without a doubt, the falls is another little-known attraction that hikers and nature lovers will want to visit in the province of Loja.

To visit the natural wonders of Yacurí National Park, and stay in the Amaluza vacation rental bed-stay shown in the video, contact us. We specialize in creating customized tour experiences for visitors and expats in the province of Loja.

This blog post is an example of how the team at Life in Loja helps tourists and visitors, expats and immigrants, to better appreciate the many aspects of living in Loja, Ecuador. If you would like to know more about our custom tours and relocation services then contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.

Image credits:  Lead image by Lucy Guerrero. Rental house video by Nathaly Poma. All other images and videos by Nelson Guarnizo.


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