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“We’ve been told there’s a waterfall up the Zamora Huayco river, but nobody ever goes up there. Do you want to go scout it out with us tomorrow morning?”
I was on the phone with Diego, one of the founders and leaders of LojAventura, an outdoorsy adventure and tourism group based in Loja. We first discovered LojAventura through Facebook toward the end of our 2014 stay.
That first trip took us to the remote Cantón Espíndola in the southernmost part of the Loja province, where we discovered a national park virtually untouched by tourists and big, powerful waterfall at the end of a beautiful country trail. (You can read more about that adventure HERE.)
Naturally, one of the first things we did when we returned to Loja in late 2016 was to reconnect with Diego and LojAventura, and let them know that we wanted to participate in any activities they had going on!
On Christmas Eve (2016) we struck out on our first adventure with the group: a hike to the summit of Cerro Zañe (aka Sañe), on the northern outskirts of the city (the hike begins at the end of the L-2 bus turnaround. CLICK HERE to see my post about the city buses).
We walked along a dirt road, passing country homes and powering up a steep hill leading to a church on the very edge of town, overlooking Loja.
The road turned into a trail as it continued up the mountain, beyond more homes only accessible by foot, pack animal or dirt bike. People tending to their gardens, animals, and laundry waved at us as we hiked on.
The route morphed from remote farm fields and grassy hillsides to thick vegetation with orchids and bromeliads.
Up we went, marveling at the beautiful plants and landscape until we reached the white cross at the summit.
It seems a lot of summits around Loja have crosses on them, and people from the neighborhoods hike to them once or twice each year in a mini pilgrimage.
Everyone pulled out fruits and snacks and began passing them around, sharing a big, friendly potluck.
We sat and relaxed while everyone shot photos and videos with their smartphones. Here’s a video that one of the hikers put together:
On the way back down, we paused once again under a small tree, crowding into the shade and admiring the view of Loja while we chatted.
Our next adventure with LojAventura was the unofficial event—a scouting trip with the organization’s leaders to see if we could find the Zamora Huayco waterfall. We followed the trail along the river past homes and farmlands until we reached the place where the city collects its water.
From there, the thick jungle prevented further exploration by land. We hopped into the stream and sloshed onward. A couple of the guys led the way with their machetes, cutting away vines and branches impeding our progress.
We came upon several obstacles that seemed impassable at first glance, but we found our way around each of them. Our hiking companions seemed surprised that we were willing to keep going.
Then we reached a waterfall. Not THE waterfall, we surmised, but a big enough waterfall coming through a narrow enough rock canyon that without the aid of a ladder, there was no going forward.
I flipped on the GPS on my phone so that we could map our route on the way back, and discovered we had covered just over 5 kilometers from the trailhead to the mini-waterfall. From the satellite images, it does look like a bigger waterfall exists farther up. It would be fun to return with better equipment and explore more!
After the waterfall scouting trip, Diego invited us to scout another spot—some cliffs on the north end of town that they wanted to rappel.
In addition to great hikes and camping adventures, LojAventura also ventures into the extreme sports arena with rappelling and other activities.
It was a sunny, but very windy day that found us heading up another steep hill to the cliffs in the Carigán neighborhood.
I had my doubts as we picked our way across the ground, churned up by hundreds of thousands (millions?) of years of earthquakes and landslides.
People who build in this part of Loja struggle to keep their homes from sinking into the soft ground. We’ve seen several alarmingly lopsided buildings—some of which have been abandoned even before being completed.
On the hillside, we saw several landslides in the making—huge sections of the hill which had fractured and just needed one strong torrent to bring them down onto the road below. These events are a regular occurrence in this part of Ecuador.
The cliffs themselves were not hard rock, but rather hard dirt which crumbled at the touch.
“Are you guys sure about this?” I asked.
Once we reached the top, the guys walked back and forth for a long while, looking for potential spots to rappel from. Amazingly, they found two very well-rooted anchors to which they attached the ropes, and the first brave pioneer put on the harness and stepped off the crumbly cliff. The wind whipped up dust and gravel as he put his feet against the wall and rappelled to the ground below.
Another adventurer followed a few minutes later. Then Keith went down. I walked over to the anchor points and inspected them closely. They still held strong, and a spotter held onto the rope as well for extra security, so I decided to go for it.
I felt the dirt and gravel hit my face, lifted by the wind hitting the cliff and shooting straight up as my feet crunched at the edge of the crumbly wall. I leaned back into the wind and kicked off, sliding down the rope, reveling in the thrill of the sport and the beauty of my surroundings.
Sadly, we were unable to join LojAventura for a trip to Zapotillo at the end of January. They went to see the flowering of the Guayacanes—a once-a-year event in a special part of the Loja Province where the trees burst into blooms of flaming yellow for a week or two before the flowers fade away for the rest of the year.
The event attracts thousands of spectators, and I had hoped to be among them, but our time in Ecuador had come to an end. I can’t wait to go back and participate in more adventures with LojAventura!
If you’re interested in joining in on some adventurous outings with LojAventura, you can find them on Facebook at facebook.com/lojaventura or on their brand new website at lojaventura.com (still under construction as of this writing). Get in touch and see what kinds of adventures you can experience with the locals!
By the way, if you're thinking about a trip to Loja, why don't you pick up a copy of my Loja packing list? CLICK HERE to get it.
Are you planning an exploratory trip to Loja and wondering what to pack?
I’m a nerd when it comes to packing. I’ve honed my skills over the years from my own multiple trips across the globe, beginning early in life as a child fugitive. I also have many good friends who are avid travelers, and we geek out on this topic.
When Keith and I found out that his mom and sister would be coming down to visit us for a week in Loja, I created a packing list for them, and now I'd like to share it with you!
First, I’ll share a set of basic packing principles I abide by when I travel, and then I will share my suggested packing list at the bottom of this post. I hope you find it helpful!
This is my #1 principle for many reasons.
First and foremost, traveling is far more enjoyable if you’re not packing around two, three, or more large pieces of luggage.
Unless you live in a city with direct flights to Ecuador, you will likely have at least two or three different flights (your city to a city that flies to Ecuador, that city to Quito or Guayaquil, and, if you choose to fly, a final leg to Loja). If you choose to ride a bus from Quito or Guayaquil, packing light will be even more important.
When you need to get from the airport to the bus station, and then from the bus station to your accommodations, you don’t want to have to carry 80 pounds of stuff, or try to figure out how to move it all when you only have two hands. Especially if you’re planning a multi-city trip!
If you choose your items wisely and follow the other principles I outline below, you should be able to get everything on my packing list into a carry-on bag and one personal item.
Second, you will potentially save some money on checked bag fees.
Most airlines now charge at least $25 for the first checked bag, and sometimes even more for the second one. That could mean at least $50 to $100 round trip! Use a carry-on bag and save that money to do something fun in Ecuador!
Third, when you have all your luggage with you there is no risk of lost or delayed luggage.
On our previous trip to Ecuador, our first flight was delayed several hours. Thinking we had missed our connection, we approached the customer service agent at the intermediate airport to ask about alternate flights.
“The connecting flight is boarding now,” she said. “You could make it if you ran, but your luggage wouldn’t make it.” She started to look up alternate flights.
“We didn’t check anything,” I said.
“That’s all you have?” she asked, looking at our day packs and small duffel bags with wide eyes.
And so we made it to Ecuador on our originally scheduled flights.
Do we always only travel with carry-on luggage? No, there are some exceptions to our rule. We are avid wilderness backpackers, so if we’re planning a trip involving some backpacking and camping, there is not enough space in our carry-on luggage for our tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, mess kit, stove, water filter, and wilderness backpacks.
Also, some items, such as pocket knives, wouldn’t make it through security in carry-on luggage. We’ve also checked bags to bring gifts to people in other countries. But in general, for the average trip, we never check a bag!
If you’re physically able to use a backpack, you’ll be able to get around much more easily. Ecuador’s uneven streets and sidewalks could wreak havoc on your rolling luggage wheels. I have a Tortuga backpack and would recommend getting one of those or something similar. I like the Tortuga because it is built to the exact maximum dimensions for carry-on luggage for most major airlines (not the budget carriers), and it opens up like a suitcase which makes it much easier to access your stuff.
Here are a couple of highly-rated travel backpacks:
Tortuga Backpack - (Use my special promo code "TBE10" to get 10% off your order.)
In addition to a backpack, I carry a “personal item” which is either a smaller backpack or my purse. Having a light day pack that you can use on the ground in Ecuador is really nice, and it’s also nice to fill with snacks and entertainment and put under the seat in front of you for the flight down.
Even if you’re planning to spend three months in Ecuador, only bring the clothes you would wear for one week of travel.
You’ll have easy access to laundry facilities in Loja. Many Airbnb apartments are equipped with washing machines, or you can drop off your clothes at a laundry service. These laundromats are common around the city. Simply drop off your clothes and for a few dollars you can have them washed, dried, and folded!
So just bring a few clothing items and then wash as needed.Here are a few more packing tips for clothing:
Avoid bringing extra clothes and items you think you might need, because it's 90% certain you actually won't need them in Loja. Most essentials can be bought cheaply if you find yourself missing something. (Obviously there might be exceptions if you have a special medical condition or something. I like to carry a backup pair of hearing aids.)
Do not bring expensive jewelry or other things that make you look like a rich gringa or gringo, and be careful about flashing your expensive electronics in public while traveling in Ecuador. Many people in Ecuador have smartphones and tablets and carry them publicly, so not a huge deal, just be careful and aware of your surroundings because those are items that are more likely to get stolen.
Also, split up your cash and cards into different places on your person and in your luggage so that if anything gets lost or stolen you still have more elsewhere. Make copies of your passport to put in different bags and also leave a copy with a friend or store it in the cloud (online) so you can access it if anything ever happens to your original.
For the record, we've never had a problem in Ecuador with anything being stolen and it is quite a safe country. We have found most people in Loja to be extremely honest. It's just a good idea to be careful and aware of your surroundings, just as you would be in any big city in the US or anywhere else. Petty theft is definitely more common in Latin America than in the US, but violent crime is rare.
Avoid bringing anything huge like hair dryers, irons, etc., unless it fits comfortably into your carry-on bag after packing everything else. Many women in Ecuador just let their hair air dry, and if you pack wrinkle-free clothes you won’t need an iron. If you really need one of these types of items, bring a travel-sized one, and if you’re traveling with others, coordinate with each other and just bring one to share.
Here is what I suggest you bring on your trip to Loja:
Would you like a handy printer-friendly PDF version of this packing list? CLICK HERE to have it sent straight to your inbox!
I hope this list is helpful. You’ll need to tweak it a little for your own needs, but this is basically all most people would need for a few weeks in Ecuador.
Do you have a must-have gadget you like to travel with? (Mine is my buff!) Anything you usually pack but never use? Share your packing tips and stories in the comments below!
During our latest trip to Loja, I visited the transportation office and the tourism office, begging for a complete map of the Loja city bus system.
Although the buses run along established routes at regular intervals, no complete map seems to exist outside of an Android app called SITU Loja, but since I have an iPhone I wasn’t able to test it.Continue Reading
I’ve written a lot about Loja as a potential place to live. It’s the main focus of my book on Loja, and will continue to be a major focus in the second edition of the book. But what about the city and province of Loja as a destination for travelers? I’ve explored this theme in more depth in the second version of my book! (CLICK HERE to learn more if interested!) In this post, I'll share 33 things to do in Loja--both the city and the province (and one thing outside the province, but close to Loja).Continue Reading
When I found out we would be returning to Loja (unexpectedly, see 2016 Holiday Letter), I downloaded The Visa Chase and Other Fun Stories of Ecuador, by Diana Cevallos to my Kindle. Diana is an expat from the United States who has been living in Ecuador since 2011 and in Loja since 2012. She spent the first few years trying to obtain Ecuadorian residency visas for herself and her son. I had interviewed Diana for my book, Live Like a Local in Loja. She has a wealth of knowledge about the city of Loja and culture of Ecuador. […]
Dear Readers, Friends, and Loved Ones,
Happy Holidays from Loja, Ecuador! When I wrote the first draft of this holiday letter, less than two weeks ago, I had no idea that a few days later I’d be on a flight to South America! Let me back up to the beginning of the year and fill you in on how we got here. […]
What follows is a story from my childhood. The brief background: when my sister and I were six and eight years old, our mother kidnapped us (at our request) to protect us from our abusive father, who had won custody of us. We lived as fugitives for seven years. Five of those years were in Mexico. This story took place during our time in Mexico.
May 1990 – Pátzcuaro, Mexico
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Last winter, Keith had a job up in North Dakota. While he worked up there, Lee (Keith’s dad) made arrangements for roofers to come and put the roof on, since the earthbag walls were complete. […]
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Anniversary #1: Seven years ago this week, Keith and I started dating after a very fun weekend hiking and camping at Zion National Park. […]
My husband and I are nomads, having lived in over a dozen U.S. states, plus Mexico, Antarctica, and Ecuador. I write. I recently released the 2nd edition of my 2nd book, "Live Like a Local in Loja," and I'm looking for a publisher for my third book, "Seven Years Running"--the true story of my fugitive childhood.