Trip to Yacuri National Park and Amaluza in Espíndola
Not long before we were scheduled to leave Loja, I found a group on Facebook called “LojAventura”—a large group of adventurers who went on hiking trips around the province of Loja. They advertised an upcoming hiking trip to Amaluza and Yacuri National Park for the celebration of World Water Day—March 22nd, 2014. In order to register, we had to obtain bus tickets to Amaluza for 4:30 a.m. and then send a photo of the tickets along with our names and ages to the event organizers. The deadline was just a few hours away.
We talked it over and decided to do it. Keith ran out and took the city bus to the bus station to buy our Amaluza tickets ($4.75 each) and we submitted our registration.
We rose at 3:00 the next morning and called one of the only taxi companies in Loja that operates at that time of the night (Andina Sur) for a ride to the bus station, where we met up with the growing crowd of adventurers.
At 4:30 the bus backed out of its slot and we were on our way over the mountain to Catamayo, and south to Amaluza—close to Peru. The ride from Loja to Amaluza takes 4 hours by bus, and the final stretch of the journey is on a dirt road—currently in the process of being paved.
Upon arrival Keith and I decided to extend our stay by a day to give us more time to explore the area. Arcesio, a local man who was in charge of leading the day’s adventure, showed us to a hotel (Hostal Escorial, $20/night for a double room) where we checked in and left a few of our things behind.
Back at the bus station we waited quite awhile for the rest of the group to arrive on the next bus, and as soon as they did we loaded into the rancheras (pickup trucks that have been converted with a bunch of seats in the back—a type of rural bus) for the 2-hour or so ride up into the mountains to Yacuri National Park, which borders Peru.
Chilled from the misty ride to the high altitude park, we all crammed ourselves into the park headquarters building to register and drink a cup of extremely diluted—but hot—coffee.
After a brief orientation and safety chat, all 40 of us began ascending the trail to the Lagunas Negras. A subset of the hikers proudly bore an enormous flag, marching it up the trail and across the countryside.
As we hiked along, Keith and I chatted with various hiking companions, making some new friends and learning more about Loja and Ecuador in the process. We crossed a stream over a bridge as we approached the high mountain lake.
A few minutes later we reached the lake, the first and lower of the two Lagunas Negras.
Here our group split up, with some hiking to the upper lake around the right side of this lake’s shore, and others turning toward the left to ascend the steep hill to the giant rocks overlooking the lake. We joined the second group and hiked up into the mist. The clouds parted long enough for an awesome view of the lake below, once we had reached the rocks.
Many of us took out our packed lunches and enjoyed them from our rocky perch. After sitting in the wet wind for awhile, I felt chilled all the way through. Others seemed to feel the same way, and we began our descent back to the lake.
After pausing for group pictures and a few more minutes of fun, we returned to the rancheras at Park Headquarters and began our return to the town.
The air warmed up even as the sun began to set, as we drove lower and lower back to Amaluza.
It was well after dark by the time we pulled in to Amaluza. Our group flooded into the restaurants around the town square for dinner, and then Arcesio led a starlight tour of the town.
The highlight of the tour was a stop at the house of one of Arcesio’s friends. The two men are passionate about preserving the cultural and archaeological history of the area and have been collecting artifacts with plans to create a mini-museum in the future. Arcesio’s friend had all of the pieces on display in his living room, where we gathered around while they told us about their significance and the plans they had for their preservation.
It was now 11 p.m. and the bus would be coming soon to take the rest of the group back to Loja. We all returned to the town square in front of the cathedral and waited. And waited. I could not stay awake much longer, so I said goodbye to all our new friends and excused myself to go back to our hotel. Keith decided to stay with the group and see them off.
The bus finally showed up well after midnight to take the sleepy Lojanos back home.
Arcesio seemed very pleased that we would be staying an extra day and arranged to meet us in the town square at 9:00 the next morning and show us around Cantón Espíndola. (Note: Ecuador is divided into provinces, and each province is subdivided into cantons. Espíndola is the canton where Yacuri National Park and Amaluza are located, and it is in the southernmost part of the Loja province along the Peruvian border.)
As promised, Arcesio met us the next morning and took us in his car, along with his young grandson, to a trailhead a few kilometers out of town. We hiked along a stream, passing country homes (with no road access), fruit trees and beautiful orchids along the way.
Finally, Arcesio climbed up onto a little hill and pointed off into the distance at a beautiful waterfall called Cascada La Cofriada.
We kept hiking toward it, enjoying the beautiful views as we got closer and closer and the roar of the water became louder.
Finally I had to set my camera aside as we approached the mighty waterfall and stepped into the spray. Standing in the strong wind and spray of the roaring waterfall, I couldn’t help but throw my hands into the air and give a joyous shout. Woo hoo! What an amazing rush!
As we walked back toward Arcesio’s car, he stopped to interview us about our experience. Here is the video he put together afterward (if you can’t understand the Spanish, just enjoy the scenery).
We continued down, and again Arcesio stopped, this time to climb a chirimoya (custard apple) tree and pick some fruit for us.
We were overwhelmed by Arcesio’s friendship and generosity and wanted to at least give him some gas money, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Finally we asked if we could at least take him out for lunch, and this he agreed to. So we enjoyed a happy meal together, and then Arcesio gave us a ride to the bus station and we returned to Loja.
The Espíndola region of the Loja province is virtually untouched by tourism, and it was obvious by the stares we received that the locals around Amaluza are not accustomed to seeing foreigners in their midst. They are very friendly and welcoming and want more people to come and see the treasures they have to share with the world.
Amaluza and Yacuri National Park may not be as easy to reach as some other more popular tourist destinations, but it is so worth the trouble to go if you’re the type who enjoys nature, hiking, birdwatching, orchids, pristine high mountain lakes, majestic waterfalls, and treasures well off the beaten track. Arcesio tells me that there is also some excellent fishing and opportunities for homestays with locals on coffee plantations where you can learn all the details of the coffee growing business. Keith and I definitely plan to return and explore this beautiful place some more in the future.
Here’s a video I made of our trip to Espíndola:
Want to know more about Amaluza or any of the places I mentioned in this post? Share your questions in the comment box below and I’ll write a reply! If I don’t know the answer myself, I’ll ask Arcesio—we are still in touch and he would love to help answer any questions about his hometown and encourage people to visit.
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.