Everything is old in Loja. Of course, that’s not literally true…but stroll through the historic colonial heart of this city in southern Ecuador and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
If you wish away the cars and buses and try not to see the youngsters with their stylish hair-dos and piercings (this is a university town, after all), you can sense what this city must have been like, oh…nearly 500 years ago. (Loja was founded in 1548.)
Imagine peering at passersby from the inside of a horse-drawn carriage that whisks you down a narrow cobblestone lane…and through a massive arched doorway and into the courtyard…where the horses are watered and left to graze while you take care of business inside the casa, with its wide wooden balconies supported by huge stone columns.
The adobe walls are nearly three-feet thick, keeping the rooms nice and cool, helped along by giant shuttered windows flung open to catch a welcome breeze.
Not-to-be-missed in Loja, Ecuador
Loja inspires such fantasy, with block after block of buildings such as I’ve just described, and plaza after shady plaza, each anchored by an imposing Catholic church, like San Sebastian.
The cathedral at Plaza Central is one of the largest in Ecuador. Days can be spent exploring these and the many historic district museums—yes, full of lots of “old” stuff.
One not-to-be-missed is the Museo Arte Religioso Madres Conceptionistas. Housed in a convent built in the 16th and 17th centuries—and still in use today—it’s full of gold-gilded, fear-inducing religious art and self-flagellation tools. (Imagination runs wild…)
On a happier note, the Museo de Musica hosts old photos, antiquated instruments, artifacts and tributes to the city’s musical legends. (Loja is known as the Music and Cultural Capital of Ecuador.) You may be lucky, as I was, to eavesdrop on a tutoring session or two. I chanced upon both a marimba lesson and a vocal class.
What to eat in Loja, Ecuador
And be sure to poke into the mustard-colored San Sebastian church built in 1650 in honor of the Blessed Virgin Immaculate of Lourdes. It overlooks Plaza de la Independencia where passionate politicos and zealous citizens rallied to plot their revolt against Spanish colonialists in the early 1800s.
After all this time travel, a treat is in order. From Plaza de la Independencia, stroll down Calle Lourdes. Along this old-worldly cobblestone street lined with ancient adobe buildings painted in rainbow shades of blue, orange, turquoise, gold and pink, you’ll find plenty of shops and cafes—the perfect place to stop for tamales lojano, the luscious corn-meal tamales Loja is famous for.
Stuffed with pork, chicken, cheese and more, at just 75 cents each, two of these are more than enough for a full meal, and you can wash it all down with a rich, satisfying cup of freshly brewed coffee. Some of Ecuador’s very best export-quality coffee is grown nearby. It’s easy to remember the name—Café Loja.
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