Located in the Loja province, Saraguro is a hidden village marked by mountainous beauty and traditional culture.
It’s set in the Southern region of Ecuador and is nestled among the rolling green hills of the Andes.
You’re likely to feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a secret here, although I will say that it has steadily become a more popular tourist destination in recent years.
Saraguro is an iconic Ecuadorian canton for its rich preserved heritage. It’s home to an authentic Indigenous community known for its many grand traditions.
Most people seem to think that the Incans are the only ancient peoples of Ecuador, but actually, there were a lot of other ethnic groups living here before the Inca and many that continue to thrive today.
The Saraguros are one significant example of such communities being able to successfully preserve unique customs and a way of life after surviving the Spanish conquest.
Every Indigenous group in Ecuador has very specific clothing.
In Saraguro you will see the people of the Kichwa nation dressed all in black wool. This is to represent their longstanding mourning for the last Incan empire of the Atahualpa.
Their most distinctive accessory is likely their white hats with wide brims and large black spots decorating them underneath.
Many ancestral beliefs have been carefully maintained within the culture of Saraguro, ranging from religious practices to more mythical legends.
Attending daily services at the local church is a regular and revered custom within the community. Treasured stories and proverbs have been passed down and preserved carefully for centuries as well.
You can see the Saraguro culture reflected in their music and dance as well as the elaborate woven beaded artwork.
These are a people that are proud of their heritage and are widely considered to be warm and welcoming.
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Saraguro is also very famous for having the best cheese in the whole country. The environment of the area meant that there was a lot of pasture land available.
Naturally raising cows became the main economic pastime in the community.
However, milk as a commodity product wasn’t making much money, and it was becoming tough for the family farms to survive.
The local dairy outfits then formed a collective and started making cheese with shared equipment and techniques.
Saraguro has been seen as an example of how to succeed in dairy farming all throughout Ecuador ever since, and the proof is in the delicious product.
Things to Do in Saraguro
The ancestral town of Saraguro is not necessarily known for having a ton of activities and attractions to see and do per se.
Many stop over here on their way to or from Cuenca and spend only a day or two.
That being said, it offers an idyllic way to get a break from the cities and the crowds so that you can slow down to soak up all the rich heritage that Ecuador has to offer.
Due to its beautiful mountain backdrop, you will find that there is an abundance of hikes to go on in Saraguro. This is always a great way to explore the natural wonders of the area.
They range from easy to strenuous, so there’s an option for every skill level and ability.
Check out the gorgeous nearby lagoons of Cocha del Puglla, Culquiyacu, Yuluc, el Muerto, and el Corral if you have time.
It’s important to note that trails here can get muddy during the rainy season and in the dry season the sun can be very strong. It’s best to always plan ahead and be prepared before heading out for a trek.
Cascada de la Virgen de Agua Santa
Also known as the Virgin Waterfall of Holy Water in English, is one of the most popular places to visit when in Saraguro.
It’s easy enough to arrive, either by car or bike, as it’s just a short trip from the city center. It’s considered a sacred site and there’s a small sanctuary chapel nearby.
It’s open during the day to visit as well before venturing out on the trail to the dramatic falls.
Many purification rituals, locally called limpias, have been carried out at this cascada as well in accordance with local folklore.
There’s a little restaurant if you hike up an appetite and several rest points along the way that also serve as overlooks.
It’s famous for having the image of the Virgin impregnated on the rock face of the hidden cave. In general, it’s just such a scenic spot to explore all the vast and lush natural splendor of Saraguro, Ecuador.
Banos del Inca
Banos del Inca is another scenic stop with a reputation for enchanting wilderness.
To get there you can either walk a mile from the city center or you can take a taxi, which won’t cost very much at all. This hike is an uphill trek that should only take around 30 minutes.
The payoff is a breathtaking view of a decent sized waterfall and a nearby cave. It’s considered a sacred site as well so remember to be respectful of that while enjoying the stunning vistas.
Traditional Holidays in Saraguro
Saraguro is home to many prominent Indigenous festivals that are held in town throughout the year to reflect and honor their strong sense of Indigenous culture.
There are four Raymis each year, one for each of the seasons: Inti, Kulla, Kapak, and Pawkar. It’s not a bad idea to plan a visit to Saraguro during one of their other religious festivities as well.
They tend to be very elaborate and it’s a great way to experience the shared culture of such an important Indigenous community firsthand.
Best Saraguro Restaurants
Cheese stores are everywhere in Saraguro. If you’re a queso lover like me, you’ll want to stop into several of them as you wander around town to partake in some serious snacking.
The most famous kind of cheese here is called queso Andino and comes in a variety of flavors, from basil to red pepper.
However, when you’ve reached your dairy limits and are ready for a full meal, there are a few famous restaurants to try out in Saraguro.
Quesos Saraguros is one of the most esteemed cheese mongers in the region, it’s a collective of local dairy farmers. And it has a pizza shop as well.
It’s a quaint and relaxing spot with a warm environment. They serve thin crust style pies, and all are of course topped with the tastiest artisan cheeses in the country.
Cuy in Ecuador
You can also pair your pizza with regionally made wines like the wild mortiño berry, a favorite local beer, or one of many other traditional Ecuadorian drinks.
There are plenty of places to grab some grub all around the main square of Saraguro. This green space is the center of village life.
Spending some time here just watching the community interact is always a pleasant pastime.
You’ll find a few traditionally run cafes serving up classic Saraguro cuisine as well as local haunts serving fares from other parts of Latin America.
Ceviche in Ecuador
One of the most famous eateries in all of Ecuador. It’s run by a beloved local chef named Samuel Ortega.
He’s globally renowned for gourmet gastronomy and has cooked at some of the finest restaurants in the world in Spain.
The concept is farm-to-table and the tasting menu here is the way to go.
Traditional dishes of the region are made with a modern twist. It’s a one-of-a-kind eating experience from the space to the presentation to the flavors.
Tupay is more of an everyday local haunt and is a great go-to for almuerzo.
This is typically the biggest meal of the day served in the afternoon with a set menu that includes soup, a main, and a drink. You can also order a tasty meat dish here which will come with veggies, rice, and plantain mash.
This is a great spot to try a glass of chicha too, a typical local drink that is something like a wine spritzer made from fermented corn.
Every Sunday in Saraguro there’s a massive local market to enjoy.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that they sell everything you might imagine. With an eclectic range of fresh juices, plates of hot food and handmade baked goods and Ecuadorian desserts.
It’s a regular smorgasbord of scrumptious bites to taste test. My best advice is to go hungry and be ready to take some doggy bags home with you.
I like to indulge in a little bit of everything, so I try not to fill up too much at only one stall.
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How to Get to Saraguro
Saraguro is located only two hours outside of Cuenca on the way to Loja. It’s about 90 miles north, and it’s conveniently just off the main road as well. This makes it a very simple day trip or stop over from the city.
There’s a Loja bus that departs almost every hour from the main terminal in Cuenca and the tickets are very affordable, to say the least.
Guayaquil is around five hours north of Saraguro by car. As this would be quite a far and expensive taxi ride, so going by bus is much cheaper.
That ride is closer to seven hours and travels via Catamayo and Loja.
Many also choose to fly into Cuenca for a reasonable price and then take the shorter bus journey from there.