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Saraguro

Arriving in Saraguro is a one-of-a-kind experience; there is no place like it in the world. What makes this small town so unique are the inhabitants, the Saraguros. The Saraguros are distinctive in their dress, traditions and history, and are unlike any other indigenous group in Ecuador.

Originally from the Lake Titicaca region in Peru, the Saraguros were moved to their present location by the Incas as part of the Mitimae system. As a result, the Saraguros have maintained their age-old traditions and have become leaders in the indigenous movement, both in Ecuador and internationally, and remain the best-preserved indigenous group in all of Ecuador. In fact, Saraguro is the only indigenous group in the province of Loja to survive Spanish conquest.

Saraguro is famous for its beautiful weaving and jewelry, which can immediately be observed upon arrival. The typical dress of the women includes a long black pleated skirt, which covers a more colorful embroidered one, together with a black shawl held closed by an intricately designed metal tupu, or pin. Around their waists are brightly woven belts, and their colorful, beaded necklaces are often so large that they hang over their shoulders. The dress of the men is most notable for the calf-length black pants and ponchos. Both men and women traditionally wear heavy white wool hats with flat, wide brims—but many now wear short-brimmed black hats instead—and their hair in a long braid.

To really get a feel for Saraguro, it is worth hiring a guide take you not only through the city, but to the surrounding towns, which hold just as much culture. Saraguro also refers to the canton that encompasses all of the small communities around it, including Namarín, Las Lagunas and Ilincho. In these towns, you can visit a traditional weaving workshop, a workshop that makes traditional Saraguro hats, organic gardens that grow medicinal plants, and sacred waterfalls where traditional ritual cleansing is still performed.

It is not possible to visit these places independently (except for the baños de Inca/Inca baths $2.50), as you need permission from the communities first and transportation can be complicated. These tours should be booked at least a day in advance through Saraurku, the only tour operator in town (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. Ca. 18 de Noviembre s/n and Av. Loja. Tel: 08-594-7476/07-220-0331, E-mail: saraurku@turismosaraguro.com, URL: www.turismosaraguro.com).

Saraurku works closely with Fundación Kawsay (URL: www.kawsay.org), which set up the community network "Saraguro Rikuy," a community tourism project to promote sustainable tourism and funnel money back into the communities themselves. The profits of this organization go directly to the different communities visited, so you know exactly where your money is going. And if you have a hankering to pick up some Kichwa, this is the place to do it, as most people in the area, especially in the surrounding towns, speak this native language.

One of the more interesting aspects of the community tourism project is the ability to arrange a home stay with one of six local families. Also organized through Saraurku, home stays cost $27, and include accommodation, three meals a day and family activities. Meals are made with ingredients from the family's garden and are mostly vegetarian. Grains, corn, potatoes, mote (hominy), cheese, quinoa and empanadas are common. Family activities may include tending to the family's garden and animals, helping cook meals, assisting with carpentry project or making typical jewelry.

Alternatively, if you would like more independence during your stay in Saraguro, you can stay instead at the community-run hostel, Hostal Achik Wasi (Tel: 07-220-0058), which has a capacity for 34 people (rooms: $17-75). The hostel has the most luxurious rooms in the area with Direct cable TV, private bathrooms with hot water, and pretty views of Saraguro and the surrounding countryside. There is no WiFi in the rooms, though. A continental breakfast is included in the room price.

If you would like to come on a weekend and take advantage of a home stay or local tours, be sure to do so in advance. On Sundays, Saraguro has a nice produce market that may be of interest. Another special time to come visit Saraguro is during its annual Inti Raymi celebration, or Festival of the Sun, each June 20-21, when locals bath in sacred baths, host cultural events and dancing ceremonies, barbecue cuy (guinea pig) and drink chicha (a drink made from fermented corn).

In the town of Saraguro, there are a few hostels, restaurants, ATMs, pharmacies, artisan shops and Internet cafés on or near the main plaza. Saraguro's iTur office (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m. Av. 10 de Marzo, near Av. Loja, on main plaza. Tel: 07-220-0100) also has a small exhibition about Saraguro culture, music and dress. A decent place to eat is Mama Cuchara (Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Corner of Av. El Oro and Av. Loja. Tel: 09-9329-9342), which has cheap set lunches for $2-2.50.

The only bus office in Saraguro is for Viajeros Internacional (Av. Azuay and Av. El Oro). Buses to Loja (1.5 hr, $1.75) leave every hour-1.5 hour from 8 a.m.-9:45 p.m., and buses to Cuenca (3-4 hr, $5) leave every one to two hours from 6:30 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. The 4:45 p.m., 7:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. buses also continue on to Quito ($13). There are no direct buses from Cuenca to Saraguro; just take any Loja-bound bus and ask to be left off in town.

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Other places nearby Saraguro: Guamote, Sigsig, Cuenca, Jima, Gualaceo, Baños (Cuenca), Chordeleg, Girón, Vilcabamba and Loja.







By Jena Davison

I am a curious, passionate and free-spirited travel writer, currently working as a Staff Writer and Editor for V!VA. Shortly after...

24 Oct 2012

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