Loja Province, Nature Shots

The Loja Province deserves so much time and attention that I wish we could live locally for a year or two. I arrived in the province with the idea that I would see the capital city, Loja, add a few sights on the outskirts of town, and be content to come home. Instead, I left with a list of places yet to see!

After hiking trails towards the Podocarpus National Park, I realized that days were needed to really explore it. I stayed in the famous ex-pat town of Vilcabamba to be near wild places and found that I could have stayed in half a dozen other places more wild and free. And the capital city, named Loja like the province, had its own tame wildness at the local botanical garden just outside of town. And the unique culture of Saraguro is only enhanced by the outdoor attractions surrounding the town. Few have been developed for foreign tourism and retain an authenticity that is to be lauded. Like I said, a few days in this province only managed to whet my appetite.

These photos are what I call Loja Natural. The province has tons of outdoor destinations that are very different from the Andes around Quito in the Pichincha Province. But, like Pichincha, Loja is surrounded by micro-climates, each deserving a visit. Overall, a lower altitude makes for easier hiking, though steep trails made me question that a few times. But for visitors concerned with heart issues, I would definitely recommend making Loja your home base for a trip to Ecuador.

There are many articles to come about my time spent in the South of Ecuador. In the meantime, please enjoy these photos. They barely scratch the surface of this beautiful place.

Click on any photo to open a slideshow with further descriptions of each photo.

Ecuador Por Mis Ojos

Last year, the Instituto Geografico Militar of Ecuador and I released a book of photography, Ecuador Por Mis Ojos. This post shares photos from that book.

If you would like to see other photos from the book, please check out:

Carnaval in Guaranda

Carnaval in Guaranda, EcuadorRumor has it that Carnaval in Guaranda has the best parade in all of Ecuador. Last year, we decided to see if that was true. Of course, planning a trip for any cultural festival is complicated by the fact that very little information can be found online, even when you know the name of the town and the days the festival normally takes place.

In the United States, the only day we hold big parades for Carnaval is on Shrove Tuesday. That’s when the big Mardi Gras festival takes place in cities like New Orleans. But in Ecuador, parades can take place in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.

My research told me that there would be a gathering of dancers for Carnaval in Guaranda on the Saturday before Mardi Gras. We woke up early Saturday morning and left Quito with the plan to arrive in Guaranda around 10:00 am. But we weren’t sure exactly what to expect.

When we drove into town, we knew something was going on. Traffic was at a near standstill. So we decided to find a place to park and follow the crowd walking into town. And I’m glad we did. We started walking with most of the crowd and could see the city below us, looking calm and serene. But the noise was already starting to creep up the hillside, music from the parade starting below.

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La Compania de Jesus, Quito, view towards altar

La Iglesia de La Compania, Quito, La DolorasaThe most famous church in the historic center of Quito must be La Compañia de Jesus. It is famous for being bathed in gold. Just about every imaginable surface is either painted with murals or covered in gold leaf. This church is also one of the few that cannot be photographed by tourists.

But if you write a blog and want to share photos that will help promote the La Compañia de Jesus as a tourist destination, I have a secret to tell. You can photograph the church for a grand hour without other tourists around.

La Compania de Jesus, Quito, Main Altar
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Masked Trogon, Guango Lodge

Guango Lodge SignAs the road drops down from the heights of the Papallacta pass heading towards the lower slopes of the East Andes, there is a small lodge marked by a large dark rock wall with a large painted with a sword-billed hummingbird and the word Guango. This is the Guango Lodge.

The word Guango comes from the Quichua language and has no simple translation into English. It describes a place where tumbling rivers meet on high mountain slopes covered in mystical cloud forest. The rivers scour the land and re-make the terrain every few years as floods come and go with the changing seasons. At Guango Lodge, it is possible to hike the cloud forest and to meander the gravel shores of the fast moving river.

Trails, Guango Lodge

Orchid, Guango LodgeGuango Lodge is close to Quito, so close that a day trip is easily possible. We visited on the return from their sister lodge, Cabañas San Isidro in Cosanga. We arrived mid-morning and were able to get in a short hike along the river and through the lower lying cloud forest before lunch. Our guide pointed out the tiniest orchids nestled into tree trunks, found the skunky smelling Campanulasie flower after we asked what made such a pungent aroma, and led us to a forest filled with Masked Trogons.

Secondary Forest, Guango Lodge

Masked Trogon, Guango LodgeWe must have arrived for mating season because I have never seen so many Masked Trogons in a single day. In fact, a good day in the Cloud Forest might mean seeing a male and a female Masked Trogon at different times and at different places. Here at Guango, in the middle of June, we saw four females and two males, all perched in the same part of the forest. In fact, it was tough to decide which bird to follow for as one left a branch, another perched in a good location. None came very low, so all photos are taken from the ground looking up but considering this was a mid-morning hike and we had no bird blind to hide us, I am thrilled with the shots.

Masked Trogon, Guango Lodge

After the hike, we returned to the Lodge for a hearty lunch. But I couldn’t sit still for very long. The hummingbirds were calling. Immediately in front of the lodge is a hummingbird garden filled with dozens of feeders. They are placed at different heights and each attracts different species of birds. The most aggressive and numerous were the Buff-tailed Coronets and the most exciting were the Sword-billed Hummingbird with its 10-centimeter long beak and the Long-tailed Sylph, with its sweeping neon blue tail.

For $25 each, we enjoyed the excellent services of a local guide, access to the hiking trails and grounds, a hearty lunch, and hours of hummingbird watching. It was a deal and I can’t wait to return and stay the night. I can only imagine the birds I might see in the early hours of the morning.

Contact Guango Lodge

  • by phone – 593-2-2891880 or 2891883
  • by email – info@guangolodge.com
  • offices at Avenida Siena 318 y Calle A, Edificio MDX, oficina 310, La Primavera in Cumbaya
Loja Province, Saraguro

On my first visit to the Loja Province, Saraguro, I stayed at a small, family-run hostel just down the road from a friend’s childhood home. It was an adventure that introduced me to a new Andean culture, Saraguro.

I spent a week hiking local trails and heading into town to watch the Independence Day. I roamed city streets, ate Andean food, and photographed hundreds of people in local costume. I enjoyed collecting pictures of the iconic wool hats painted in black and white, of short dark pants protected by off-white muslin covers, of long dark wrap-around skirts, and of brightly embroidered blouses. But most of all, I enjoyed collecting smiles.

The people of Saraguro are proud of their heritage and the costumes I saw during the parade were also on display, if in a more sedate form, throughout the week. Saraguros are not unused to tourists or photographers but the entire process of taking photos of the population is certainly made easier when a parade is taking place.

I highly recommend staying in a single location in a smaller town in the Andes, especially if you are hoping for pictures that capture the culture. Saraguro is not high on the list for luxury tourists, but for those of you with a little patience, a spattering of Spanish, and a desire to explore, it has a lot to offer.

There are many articles to come about my time spent in the South of Ecuador. In the meantime, please enjoy these photos. They barely scratch the surface of this beautiful place.

Click on any photo to open a slideshow with further descriptions of each photo.

Ecuador Por Mis Ojos

Recently, the Instituto Geografico Militar of Ecuador and I released a book of photography, Ecuador Por Mis Ojos. This post shares photos from that book.

If you would like to see other photos from the book, please check out:

Imbabura Province, Ibarra

The Imbabura Province around Ibarra, the White City, is an area I hope to explore more deeply. We have visited for the famous Cacería del Zorro, a horse race named for the English practice of hunting foxes with a unique twist all its own. We have watched the grand parade that takes place along the city streets of Ibarra on the morning of the race. This single event is a great way to get to know the culture of Ibarra because it shows the blending of cultures that so define the area. There are grand horses and riders, in European-style riding gear, and small ponies mounted by chagras, local cowboys. The parade includes the youngest citizens, often toddlers sitting on the saddles in front of their parents, and the oldest, proudly smiling while astride their lovely horses. Everyone wears their finest gear, whether it is the latest polo shirt of their club, the traje típico of their native culture, or fine dresses and long coats of old.

On these visits, we have walked around the city center eating helado de paila, an ice cream dish sometimes compared to American sherbert. We have explored the church, the central plaza, and some of the smaller shops dotting the center of town.

I have a wish list of places and events I still want to see like the Paseo del Chagra which takes place in May every year. The small community of Zuleta is famous for its embroidery and the road to take us there lies just outside Ibarra. There are high mountain lakes, hiking trails galore, and a hacienda or two that just beg for our attention. If you have a favorite place in Ibarra that you would like us to see, please let us know in the comments below!

We know these photos barely scratch the surface of this beautiful province.

Click on any photo to open a slideshow with further descriptions of each photo.

More Articles about the Imbabura Province, Ibarra

If you would like to read more about the Imbabura Province, near Ibarra, check out these articles:

Ecuador Por Mis Ojos

Recently, the Instituto Geografico Militar of Ecuador and I released a book of photography, Ecuador Por Mis Ojos. This post shares photos from that book.

If you would like to see other photos from the book, please check out:

Pichincha Province, Tandayapa

I have a love affair with the Tandayapa Valley. It was the first place we visited after moving to Quito, Ecuador. It was a magical experience, leaving the big city, driving through the dry and dusty valley of Mitad del Mundo, and then winding through mountains thickly covered with cloud forest. The high mountain slopes are a stunning dark green with an occasional bright spot of purple flowers growing on a vine or the flashing silver of the leaves on a cecropia tree.
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Imbabura Province - Otavalo

The Imbabura Province is best known by tourists for the market town of Otavalo. Visit on a Saturday to visit two completely different style markets. One is the Feria de Animales where farmers come to buy and sell animals. Locals can buy everything from a well-trained horse to an edible guinea pig, from a fighting rooster to a cuddly puppy, and everything and anything needed for the farm. The second is the market that takes over the city streets of Otavalo. It is part tourist market with vendors selling local blankets, instruments, and artwork. And it is part practical, with vendors selling shoes and clothes for school kids, underwear and socks for all, chains of golden beads, embroidered blouses, and long black skirts, all worn by local women.
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The Wild Horses of Cotopaxi are one of the best reasons to visit this national park just outside of Quito, Ecuador.

The History of the Wild Horses of Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador Por Mis OjosBefore the arrival of horses to South America, native tribes walked everywhere and used pack animals like llamas and alpacas to carry heavy loads. Horses arrived with Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, precipitating a change in culture. Part of that change included the creation of large haciendas which covered huge expanses of land. The land supported large herds of cattle which grazed on mountain pastures for most of the year. The haciendas needed horses to herd and corral these heads of cattle.
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Día de los Difuntos, Otavalo

On the days of November 1 and 2 throughout the Ecuadorian Sierra, families and friends will gather to celebrate Día de los Difuntos or the Day of the Deceased. Although the celebration is reminiscent of the Day of the Dead festivities found in Mexican and Mexican-American communities, it has a flavor all its own.
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