The road from Machala on the coast of Ecuador to Loja in the Andes passes through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. The mountains in this region jut up at very steep angles, and are every shade of green due to the lush natural vegetation and planted crops. Add to that the clouds dipping over peaks and through the gaps between with the deep blue of the sky – well, some things have to be seen to be appreciated.
If you take this drive, it is well worth making a small detour to explore the “Orchid of the Andes”, the small village of Piñas. Stop first at the Parque Central, which has a
beautiful fountain in the center. Prominent at the edge of the square is the uniquely designed Iglesias Matriz De Piñas and its slotted steeple. This structure has stairs inside you can climb to four different lookout balconies, giving spectacular views of the valley.
The town is built in steps going up the side of the mountain, so there are many flat levels connected by sometimes very steep roads. These streets are also connected by crisscrossing flights of brightly painted stairs for pedestrians, making it very easy to walk around and explore – and a good cardio workout!
Piñas is blessed with a very mild climate, with its position at about 3500 feet giving it year-round highs in the upper 70’s to low 80’s. Most of the time it is a quiet little town, and we found the locals to be very friendly and happy to work with our struggling Spanish. But several times a year, crowds arrive for big festivals, the biggest being the National Festival of Orchids on November 8th.
The region prides itself on making the best tigrillo in Ecuador. This is a breakfast meal (mostly), made from various combinations of plantains, eggs, cheese, and sausage, formed into loose patties and grilled to a light crisp on each side. You also must try a repe, which starts as a creamy green banana soup and then goes wherever the chef takes it.
If you have time to stay a day or two, just outside of town is the Buenaventura Forest. It is a private nature reserve, with footpaths and interpretation stations to guide you. Over 30 species of hummingbirds live on this preserve, and you find orchids growing wild everywhere. The El Oro Parakeet makes it home there, as well as other rare species.
Getting There: From Guayaquil or Machala, take E25 to Santa Rosa and get on E50 towards Loja. At Saracay take the E585 turn off, which will take you to Buenaventura Preserve and Piñas.
From Loja, take E50 towards Machala, and turn right onto E585 at Saracay.
If you do not have a car, frequent buses run from Machala in the west and Loja in the east.
Where to Stay: Beautiful location, Wi-Fi, Breakfast, and friendly family owned Hotel Florecer, tel. +593 (98) 346-4235; e-mail email@example.com