Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Loja to Vilcabamba
We took a bus from Loja (Transportes Vilcabambaturis) for $1.40pp taking about 1.5 hours in between many pickups and drop offs.
Vilcabamba is a village located 45km South of Loja in the south of Ecuador. The village is well known for the longevity of its residents, claimed to be due to the freshness of the mountain air. It also provides a great base for hiking and access to other areas of Podocarpus Park. When we arrived at the bus station we instantly saw Hostal Mandango across the road and decided to check it out. At $10 total for private room, we couldn’t say no.
As we were hungry we also checked out the local market, located directly next to the bus station and bought the meal of the day for $2.50.
Our next step was to check out the hiking trails in the area. We visited the tourist information center located adjacent to the central park, in which the woman at the counter was very helpful and even provided us with a map of hiking trails in the area.
We didn’t have a lot of time as Toby wanted to watch the Semi Final world cup game between Germany and Brazil starting at 3pm. We chose to do the Mandango trail since it was meant to be fairly quick and easy to do in under 2 hours.
We both agreed afterwards that this was one of the scariest hikes we had done on this entire trip. We thought it was going to be an easy hike, as advised by the woman at the tourist office. Rodora didn’t even bring anything, which she later regretted by all the cuts on her leg.
The start of the hike wasn’t easy to find, even though we had a basic map. We ended up asking quite a few construction workers who were more than happy to point us in the right direction. We were pointed to a street that seemed to completely end at a house, but if you look carefully, right next to this house is a small trail heading up (this is not easy to see).
We then started climbing the trail through the forest. Now and then we would come across clearings in the forest with magnificent views of the town below. After about 1 hour we finally made it to what we thought was the top, a large cross.
However when we finally reached the cross, we could see the trail continued onwards. As we weren’t tired yet, and our map indicated the trail could be completed in a loop we decided to continue on. This may have been a mistake. We then hiked on top of a ridge with 360 degree viewpoints of the valley below to Mandango rock.
According to the map it looked like we had to go around the rock. We followed the trail, which seemed to get narrower and narrower around the rock until the trail went upwards onto the rock. We contemplated going back due to the sheer drop offs and fragile state of the trail that seemed to have collapsed in places due to landslides. One wrong step could mean falling off the cliff with some not so fun consequences. The trail was so narrow that we had to actually place one foot in front of the other in a straight line, rather than side by side. As we did this we grabbed onto the long and wet grass on the side of the trail, holding on for dear life as a safety net in case the ground gave way. To our relief we finally made it all the way to the top.
Wow what a view!
From the viewpoint we could see the trail continued along the ridge. From here we had two options;
1. Go back the way we came.
2. Continue on and finish the loop.
Toby didn’t like the sound of option 1 as his large feet were struggling with the size of the trail and going down would be worse so we decided on option 2 to continue on and finish the loop. From far away the trail along the ridge looked easy, but as we started to descend it wasn’t the case. It was really windy high up on the mountains and Rodora was having difficulty staying on the trail as the wind was blowing her from side to side. This can be extremely scary when all there is, is sheer drop offs on both sides of the trail. Descending was also more dangerous as it sometimes caused small landslides of tiny rocks so we had to give each other ample space and descend very slowly. Some parts were so steep we had to go down on our bums for fear of falling off the cliff. I definitely do not recommend this hike if you are afraid of heights.
We continued walking on the ridge and followed the barely visible trail as long as we could. There were a lot of animal tracks that looked like trails and it was hard to pick what looked like the right way. The only bonus is that being so high; you could always see the town and knew roughly the direction you should be going in. We finally found a descending trail so decided to take it. This was definitely not the main trail, as it was completely overgrown and we ended up having to bushwhack through thick shrubbery most of the way down. Rodora ended up with cuts all over her arms and legs
Later on from reading online we found out if we continued on the ridge it would have eventually gotten better. The total loop is supposed to take 4 hours and it took us around the same time, mainly due to the bushwhacking and taking it very slowly down the narrow ridge trail. It is also meant to be a hike for experienced hikers only, we now realize the woman at the tourist office was just talking about the hike to the cross not the whole loop.
We missed the game, but with Germany winning 7-1, we didn’t miss much. It was worth missing as it was one of the most beautiful trails we have ever been on. Not only is it heart pumping as you’re on a dangerously tiny trail on top of a ridge with sheer drops below, but you have a 360 degree view of the spectacular valley below making you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Podocarpus trail – East of Vilcabamba
The next day we decided to try the riverside trail East of Vilcabamba, which can be seen above on the map given to us by the tourist information centre. The start of the trail is a bit out of town and involves following a paved road that then changes to dirt road. However, even though you’re on a road, the scenery is spectacular as you can see beautiful views of Vilcabamba in the distance.
The further we hiked the rougher the road got, from being nice and paved, to rocky and bumpy. When we finally reached the river, we unfortunately read the map wrong and went the wrong way. We crossed the first major bridge that we saw crossing the river and continued towards another small river.
We ended up on private property thinking this was the gate we had to go through and let ourselves in and started walking on someone’s land. There were dogs there that didn’t like this so kept barking at us who got the attention of the owner and the next minute the owner came running down to talk to us. Woops! When he realized we were just stupid lost tourists he was more than helpful and pointed us in the right direction.
We then realized where we went wrong; we were meant to continue along the initial road until the next bridge and cross that. Here’s a photo of the clearly visible start to the trail.
The trail then steeply ascended, going through mini canyons along the way giving us sneak peaks of the beautiful view we would see on the way up.
Along the way were spectacular views of Vilcabamba and of Mandango rock where we hiked yesterday. The photo below shows Rodora posing with Mandango rock in the background. Yes this is what we were hiking on top of; unbelievable!
After puffing and panting we came across the first gate. Here we made the decision to go up for a nice view point for lunch instead of going down to the waterfall.
We decided on the way back to head back to town rather than hiking further to the waterfall as Toby wanted to get back for the football. The hike took us around 4-5 hours with stops and losing our way and was a lot easier than the Mandango trail. It gave us spectacular views of Mandango rock which gave us an amazing perspective on how crazy our hike was yesterday.
On our last day we decided to check out the Izhcayluma trail loop. The owner of Hostel Izhcayluma provides excellent directions on hikes in the area including the loop along with having some amazing views if you were looking for somewhere to stay.
The start of the trail was well marked with a sign indicating the start of various trails and which direction to go.
We headed into a small creek for a short while before coming up on a dirt road for over an hour. Along the way there were painted branches, stones in blue so it was a very well marked trail and easy to follow.
After a few hours we finally made it to the top. Wow what an amazing view.
We continued along the top of the ridge for about 20-30 minutes. Instantly we could tell it was going to be a repeat of day 1; scary ridge hiking!
To our surprise the ridge hike was a lot easier than Mandango as the trail was wider and there were only a few tricky places where you had to be careful.
The ridge hike however provided spectacular views of the valleys below.
It was then time to descend into the valley. This was the hardest part of the hike. Not only were the rocks very loose, so it was easy to fall, we were still on a cliff so one wrong move could mean tumbling down the side of a hill. To make matters worse, a group of wild horses kept following us down, threatening to stampede us on the trail.
We eventually made it down, maybe taking longer than normal as there were a few slips along the way.
When we finally made it to the bottom we came across a dried up river bed.
We followed this for a bit over an hour until we finally came across the road.
All in all this was another spectacular hike, offering diversity as it goes through the countryside, villages, ridge tops and riverbeds.
In summary all three hikes were spectacular but in their own ways unique and offering different views of the beautiful countryside below.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates.http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/