Nicknamed the Ciudad Castellana, Loja revels in its Spanish colonial roots and Catholic traditions. It is home to the second oldest university in Ecuador, has a vibrant city center with many well-preserved historic buildings, and has a rich cultural heritage. In fact, Loja may be one of the most underrated locations in this small Andean nation. Here are the top 10 things to do while visiting the city.
The City Gate
Loja is the only city in Ecuador to have a city gate, la Puerta de la Ciudad. The castle-like edifice, built in the late 1990s, is also home to a small museum, café, and the metal sculptures of Don Quijote and his faithful companion, Sancho.
The Río Malacatos
The Río Malacatos runs through the city of Loja, providing several opportunities to walk trails and explore lovely parks along its banks.
Plaza Parque Central
The heart of Loja revolves around Central Park, a huge plaza with well-designed gardens, relaxing places to people-watch, and historic monuments. Some of the most important historic buildings in the city stand beside this colorful plaza.
The Loja Cathedral
The architectural style of the Loja Cathedral is eclectic, in part due to three different periods of restoration. The structure, originally constructed in 1920, remains one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Ecuador.
A short distance outside of town lies the University of Loja’s botanical garden, a collection of native and non-native flowering plants and trees. The extensive grounds are home to meticulously designed gardens, an excellent collection of native orchids, a working farm, and examples of the only native species of pine tree in Ecuador, the Podocarpus.
Jardín Botánico Reinaldo Espinosa, Loja, Ecuador, +593 7-254-7275
The narrowest street in Loja provides a great opportunity to photograph picturesque Spanish colonial homes and an example of a traditional filigree metal gate.
Santuario de Nuestra Señora de El Cisne
Many Ecuadorians make an annual pilgrimage to the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de El Cisne, located a couple of hours outside of Loja. Don Diego de Robles carved by hand the Statue of the Virgin del Cisne in the 16th century. For six weeks beginning in May and culminating in July, local Lojanos celebrate the Virgin with festivals and special masses.
Vilcabamba has long been on the list of favorite expat destinations in Ecuador. Located in a green valley with access to many hiking trails, Vilcabamba makes a great home base for exploring the Southern Andes.
Cascada de Los Incas
A never-ending list of outdoor destinations surrounds Loja, including the Cascada de Los Incas near Saraguro, Ecuador. This waterfall fills a natural basin used since ancient times for sacred bathing during the equinox and solstice celebrations.
Podocarpus National Park
The Podocarpus National Park protects the only native pine in Ecuador and is home to hundreds of species of native birds and animals. Many easily accessible trails and roads into the park lie just outside of Loja’s city limits.