After two months volunteering at Finca Sagrada, it was about time to put on my hiking shoes and backpack again! We decided with Miriam – an American friend from the volunteering – to travel together for two weeks; and to start our gateway hiking with François and Honorine, a French couple also volunteering with us.
Back to Vilcabamba
Vendredi 15 février 2019
We said farewell to the Finca (although it would be only temporary for me) and left at the end of the morning with François, Honorine and Miriam.
Susan and Walter’s car was over-full with all our luggage, the weed wacker and the four of us packed behind… it was bumpy on the road and pretty epic!
As we finally arrived in Vilcabamba one hour later, we first went to Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve, where we were told there was a very nice campsite.
We walked about twenty minutes to get there. The place is a bit remote from the centre but so quiet. The reserve belongs to a couple of Argentinian that have been living in Vilcabamba for many years. They created hiking trails in the forest, some cabins of various comforts and an ideal space to set the tent.
As soon our tents were installed, we ran to the river to get refreshed. It was pretty cold but this was the best remedy to be re-energized! We had our lunch there and then left for a small hike to the Cerro Mandango.
I had already been to this mountain on my arrival in Vilcabamba but it was a pleasure to go back there. The view over all the mountains around was ideal and the light was magnificent, as the sun was going down at the end of this beautiful day.
Back in town, we treated ourselves with an excellent dinner at the restaurant United Falafel Organisation. It is normally out of our backpackers’ budget but making a exception felt good… and what wouldn’t we do for some houmous and falafels!
The place itself was very nice, as we were sitting in a small and cosy courtyard behind the restaurant. And not to mention the meals, so delicious! It was definitely worth it 😉
We went back to the campsite feeling full and happy, ready to get some rest for the coming hikes.
Saturday 16th February 2019
We got up early and went straight to river with François to wake us up. We then had our breakfast, unset the tents and prepared our bags, before exploring briefly Rumi Wilco reserve.
We didn’t have enough time to walk on all the reserve’s trails but we did at least one of them, which already offered some nice views over Vilcabamba. We also had a good insight of the flora’s richness, many plants and trees species being labelled by the owner. We can definitely recommend this place, be it for the quality of the accommodations or for the whole reserve’s beauty.
We could unfortunately not stay so long as we had a very busy planning for the rest of the weekend. We left at the end of the morning to buy some food at the market and then took a bus to Podocarpus National Park, where we had planned to hike until the following day.
Arriving in Podocarpus
Once at the entrance of the park, we had to walk 8 km to get to the refuge from where the main trails start. We had our picnic in the grass and started to climb. Some curves during the climb offered some nice views: on one side the valley and the surrounding mountains, and on the other side the city of Loja.
At one point, a few pick-ups full of young Ecuadorians passed; we then started to hope we wouldn’t have to bear their presence at the campsite… and indeed when we arrived, our fears happened to be true! Luckily the guards were very accommodating and let us camp on another area, which was more remote and quiet. We had not come up there to bear the screams and giggles of a whole group of teenagers!
We set up our tents and had our dinner while the sun was going down, illuminating the abundant vegetation with golden colours. It was a paradise for me to take pictures. We then went to bed early so as to enjoy at the maximum our hike on the following day.
A cloudy ascent
Sunday 17th February 2019
We woke up early after a pretty fresh and humid night; had our breakfast and left for a loop that was “only” 5 km long. It didn’t look so much but we quickly understood why it would actually take us a while!
The trail started with a steep climb through the forest, where it was once again a pure pleasure for me to take pictures of the luxuriant vegetation (special mention for the giant orchids, absolutely amazing!). We got to a mirador from where we had some beautiful views over the valley below; and the cloudy mountains where we were heading to for the rest of the hike.
We then started a challenging 3-km climb along the mountains crests, our heads in the clouds and some impressive wind blowing on us and making it harder. We had to climb from 2 800 to 3 400 m above sea level, and the atmosphere felt really special. Unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy the supposedly nice viewpoints in these cloudy conditions but it was nonetheless very beautiful.
The last kilometre took us down through the forest again, where it was already warmer and protected from the clouds and the wind. Once back to the campsite, we folded the tents, had our lunch and it was already time to leave. But now we only had to go down, therefore it was much faster 😉
Farewells with an ice cream
A bus passed as soon as we reached the main road, so we were able to reach Vilcabamba quickly. We were all craving for a good homemade ice cream and were delighted to get some once in the centre. We also had to say goodbye, as François and Nono would come back to the finca, while Miriam and I would continue our trip.
We then left the two of us back to Rumi Wilco, where we had our ultimate reward: bathing in the refreshing river with the last sunrays of the day. Such a delight!
Last morning in Vilcabamba
Monday 18th February 2019
We had fallen asleep very quickly the evening before, and woke up feeling ready to continue our adventures. Impossible not to enjoy the river one last time though; such a perfect way to start the day!
We did some yoga under the sun, before packing again and leaving the campsite. We first took a bus to Loja and then another one to Cuenca. We arrived there at nightfall and reached our hostel on foot. Another volunteer of the finca had recommended us this place, promising that we would feel good there; and I can definitely confirm: very clean, well furnished, with a very familial atmosphere… we should have a nice time over the coming days!
To be continued…
Bus Vilcabamba – Podocarpus : 0,75$, less than 1h trip
Bus Vilcabamba – Loja : 1$, about 1h
Bus Loja – Cuenca : 6$ (negotiated, normally at 7,50$), about 4h
Rumi Wilco Nature Reserve in Vilcabamba : 5$ per person to sleep in a tent. Wi-Fi, kitchen and shower at disposal, river close by to go bathing and trails to walk through the reserve. Also some cabins of different comfort to sleep. The overall atmosphere is very nice, I can definitely recommend this place!
Campsite in Podocarpus National Park: Free to sleep in a tent, with drinking water and bathroom available.
Hostal Mi Casa in Cuenca : 7$ per person in a 6-bed dorm. Very familial hostel, with very nice rooms (individual plug, curtain around each bed…), a spacious kitchen, a space to wash and hang the clothes…
Food & Beverage
United Falafel Organisation: 6,50$ for a copious plate with 5 falafels, houmous, 2 pita breads and a salad. The restaurant is located on the main square and has a very nice courtyard behind. Everything is delicious and the menu makes you want to try everything!
Parc National Podocarpus : Free entrance, you then have to climb 8 km to get to the refuge and do the various hikes (depending on the period and the climate though). The vegetation is absolutely wonderful!