Sitting at 2060m above sea level in the Cuxibamba Valley in the south of Ecuador lies a hidden gem, in its cloud forest with two rivers running through it. Loja, formerly Ciudad de la Inmaculada Concepción de Loja (City of the Immaculate Conception of Loja), is the capital city of the Loja Province, and it surprised us during our visit, and has us itching to go back for more.
We spent only two nights in Loja and it was definitely not enough. There are plenty of things to see and do in the city and the surrounding area. The city’s motto, Loja Para Todo (Loja is for Everyone), rings true the second you enter the streets. For more on our experience in the city, click here.
This post is about some of the many fun things to do in the city of Loja and it’s surrounding area, but it’s just the start! We weren’t able to get even close to everything done in our two days, but if you only have a short amount of time, you won’t regret ticking these things off the list.
We stumbled across this modern-day food-truck foodcourt and found not only the best ceviche and jugo de coco (coconut juice) in town, but the most amazing hosts/owners. It was the perfect welcome into the city and set the scene for the wonderful hospitality Loja had to offer. Verde & Mar are on the bottom floor (underneath Shamrock, which is on Google Maps), amongst many other tasty spots, there’s something for everyone, but don’t pass on these guys!
We haven’t been able to find proper jugo de coco outside of the Loja Province, and we’ve tried to make it on our own but it just isn’t the same. If you do nothing else in Ecuador but eat ceviche and drink coconut juice, your trip will have been worthwhile.
Modeled after Loja’s Coat of Arms, which were presented by King Felipe II of Spain in 1571, the gate feels like that of a fairy tale. You can climb the clock tower, the gardens are kept to perfection, and the building itself has four galleries (two showcasing contemporary Lojano artwork; a cafeteria; and gift shop).
It may look like Disneyland, but there are no rides. It’s a cultural and historical site, and it’s free! We enjoyed the atmosphere and the coffee, all they needed was some minstrels and horse and carriages, and we would’ve been completely transported back in time.
There are multiple historic churches in Loja, and before you yawn and say “no way,” let me let you in on a little secret. Starting at La Puerta de la Ciudad, you will find a big orange stripe on the sidewalk. This is the Loja Board of Tourism’s way to keep the tourists interested in the Spanish-Catholic architecture. By following the stripe through the city, you will find yourself on a tour of all of the main historic churches and squares.
We didn’t do this (as we had little time and are not multiple-church enthusiasts), but we did visit The Church of San Francisco and caught a wedding, and saw the Cathedral of Loja from the outside. It was beautiful, but we only had so much time and there was plenty of food to be eaten.
There’s an endless supply of restaurants, bars ands cafes in Loja, a number of outdoor food courts, and marisquerías (seafood restaurant) galore, all very well priced. They even have a sushi stop, Sushi Cat! So good.
If you wander Avenida Orillas del Zamora or Calle Segundo Cueva Celi, where they meet, you’ll have great luck. But most spots open after lunch time. Once it’s dark is when it really comes to life.
Traditionally a coastal Ecuadorian dish, the city of Loja has become renowned for these crispy-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside treats. Made with dough of green (verde) plantains (a large, solid, starchy relative of bananas), and filled with cheese, meat, chicken or seafood, it’s a taste like no other. We almost wished there had been no Sushi Cat, then we would’ve been able to eat more empanadas!
If you speak Spanish or are learning, you’ll love this spot! If not, maybe opt for the museum’s cafe. But admission is free! So you can do a tiki tour and feel cultured, even if you understand very little.
The museum pays tribute to the history of music in the Loja area and their local artists. Free museums are our favorite kind, but sadly we missed out on this one because it was closed the weekend we were there! So do us a favor and check it out on our behalf, we’ve heard great things!
The Virgin of the Swan is a symbol of Mother Mary, and as the story goes, she protected a medieval knight by appearing in swan form. The statue itself was carved in the 1500s and lives in a Lojan town bearing the same name, El Cisne, for the greater part of the year. But each year on the 15th of August, about 500,000 pilgrims begin the celebrations in El Cisne and make the pilgrimage with the statue to Loja.
She stays in the main cathedral until 1 November, and then the fiesta reverses directions. So if you’re in the area during the pilgrimage, it’s worth doing, even if you’re not Catholic!
North of the city, Parque Recreational Jipiro sits on 10 hectares of land, complete with an amusement park, lake and a bird island. Swans swim around and you can paddle boat beside them. There’s little shops with snacks and a restaurant, or you can pack your own lunch.
They’ve recreated some of the world’s most famous structures amongst their incredibly groomed gardens, adding to the fairytale vibes. Sadly we missed this as well, due to gloom and rain. I can only imagine how fantastic Parque Jipiro would be on sunny day.