Loja is the provincial capital with a population of 175,000 but it still feels quite small and relaxed. Everything is a little more organised here than in other Ecuadorian cities. The streets are cleaner, the bus terminal is orderly, the buses stop to let you off and the drivers are more civilised. It is possible to walk or ride a bike happily around Loja, especially in the park which extends towards the north.
The delights of Loja remain undiscovered by many Ecuadorians due to its isolation. It is many hours by road from Guayquil and Cuenca along tortuous but spectacular mountainous routes. However this is also the attraction of the place - you are in a different part of Ecuador and the Lojaños are proud of it and pleased to welcome you.
Perhaps the quality of life is linked to climate - it isn´t ridiculously hot or high here like most cities. October to December is the best time to visit but June and July are wetter.
Loja has a compact centre of narrow streets with a decent amount of colonial buildings and colourful churches. The Parque Central is usually busy. You can visit the cathedral and a small museum. Five blocks south, the Plaza de la Independencia is also nice and you can visit the wooden Church of San Sebastián. Another block south is Calle Lourdes which is the oldest street in Loja and lined with low colonial buildings, now cafés or shops.
There are a few other central squares but it is nice to go and sit in the proper parks. To the north, the Parque Recreacional Jipiro has a miniature city, lakes and paths. You can also hire a bike at the entrance and head onto Parque Orillas de Zamora which stretches out along the river and includes a zoo. The Botanical Garden in the south of the city has over 1000 species.
Loja isn’t really famous for any particular crafts. If you want a shopping experience head for the central market which is by far the most hygienic I have seen in Ecuador, with separate rooms and stalls for about 50 women selling vegetables and even more selling meat - all with the same hat and same products. At least there shouldn’t be any need to queue!
Where to Stay
There are no good hostels. The Hotel Metropolitano looked like a reasonable budget option. There are lots of mid-range hotels including the América, the Acapulco and the Podocarpus and a few nicer ones.
Click here to find out where to stay in Loja.
Where to Eat
There are lots of good places to go for lunch in the centre. You can find parrilladas, pizza, Mexican but there are also a few local specialities you should try including tamales lojanos ( a corn dumpling wrapped in achira leaves), repe ( a chesse and plantain soup), cecina (barbecued pork with yucca). At weekends head to El Valle (north of the centre) where the locals go to eat cuy.
Click here to find out where to eat in Loja.
The university students keep the nightlife interesting. Apparently lot of musicians come from city so it´s worth seeing if there are any gigs on in the bars.
Last time I was there we saw an excellent acoustic guitarist on Friday. We drank some probably hideous concoction called Loja Spirit which was hot, came in a massive jug and had a negative effect the next morning when it was a struggle to walk up to the mirador. By the evening we had recovered to look for more music. We sat down in a bar which advertised live music outside. At about 22:30, we started to wonder where the band was, then a group of ruffians got up from the corner and played really good music and turned out to be nice guys. The owner of the place insisted they play more songs - by midnight they had clearly run through entire repertoire so had to repeat the same ones again. By that time no-one minded and by the time we left we were friends with everyone.
The airport is at La Toma in Catamayo valley, 30km away. Flights from Quito and Guayaquil are quite expensive. It’s possible to take a shuttle bus or a normal bus from Catamayo to Loja.
The bus station is a little north of the centre. Unless you are going south to Vilcabamba or east to Zamora expect a long journey. You can travel south to Peru via Zumba, Macará or take a direct bus to Huaquillas. Long-distance buses head into the Oriente, to the coast and north to the Andean cities several times a day.
Read more about the routes to Loja: Cuenca - Loja and Loja - Santa Rosa.
An important religious procession takes place in August and November when the Virgen del Cisne, a wooden sculpture by Diego de Robles is carried on foot first to Loja and then back to Cisne, 70km away accompanied by many pilgrims. Further processions are held for the Virgin on September 8 in Loja.
November 18 is the day of independence of Loja.