Its hard to believe that I keep traveling Ecuador and keep finding new gems nearly two years later! I have yet to visit the Galapagos nor have I gone deep into the Amazon, but still I am fascinated by Ecuador’s beauty everywhere I go. This time around we wanted a relaxing getaway for a three-day holiday weekend that was closer to Cuenca than our usual treks. Planning another trip on our dependable Royal Enfield, we wanted to find a place that was a shorter driving distance (within 4 hours), someplace that was calm and relaxing, and this time we really wanted somewhere warm.
We chose to check out Zaruma, a small town that lies between the Pacific Coast and the Andes Mountains. If you’re reading this and haven’t heard of it I’m not surprised. While Zaruma is so beautiful and has a lot of potential to be a tourist destination, it really is not known to be visited by Ecuadorians (unless they are coming from Machala) nor foreigners. Historically Zaruma is famous for its mining industry. The “El Sexmo” mine got its start when the town sent a three pound piece of gold to Spanish royalty on behalf of the colony, spurring much interest in the town’s wealth. Thus, Zaruma became quite developed for the small town it was and experienced a great deal of economic growth. Although the industry is not booming these days, Zaruma still holds wealth and that is very clear when you see the middle-class population that you don’t typically see in small Ecuadorian towns.
What to Do (and Eat) in the Small Town
While there is not technically much “to do” in Zaruma, we really enjoyed ourselves and would totally recommend it. Our ride to Zaruma was stunning. We (accidentally) took the long route, which actually turned out to be the most scenic route, with jaw dropping views as you ride up from the sea-level coast up into the mountains and over the clouds. If you’re taking the bus instead of riding or driving, definitely expect a longer trip since its a lot of curvy roads (you’ll need to transfer buses at Machala or Pinos). Once you get to Zaruma the climate is so ideal with the mix of mountain altitude and coastal heat (that means no bugs either, sweet!). We stayed at [Hotel Presidente] and requested a room that faced the mountains instead of facing town. We watched in awe every night as the sun set over the rolling mountains.
Our couple of days in town included sleeping in, scouting the best tigrillo and coffee, and touring the small town. If you haven’t tried it, Tigrillo is a typical Ecuadorian coastal dish made of mashed plantain, eggs, and pork, and Zaruma is famous for having the best tigrillo in the country. Zaruma is also well known for its coffee given its rare climate – warm temperatures at a high altitude. As a gal with a mild coffee obsession, I can definitely vouch for the micro roasters who make a delicious cup of coffee! If you’ve traveled Ecuador you’re familiar with the tendency to have instant coffee in many restaurants – not in Zaruma!! Get your fill of coffee and tigrillo, and eat your heart out when it comes to mariscos (seafood) – they are delicious!!
As far as daytime activities, we really enjoyed walking around the small town and appreciating the rich history and colors in the architecture. Eduardo enjoys photography, so we took our time strolling through the old narrow streets. We loved hiking up to the top view point of the city, which was a steep incline hike of about 30 minutes from the town. Check out the photo below to see the gorgeous view.
We also spent an afternoon at the mines! While the mines are no longer super active, they have opened up a tour where you can go into the mines with a guide, who explains the history of the industry and all that you can find in Zaruma. Its a fun activity where you can put on your helmet and boots and walk about 500m into the dark mine. While you’re at the mines check out the cute little local cafe and try the yuca empanada – its to die for!
Also in the Area
We didn’t stay in town long enough to tour around the area, but they say there are more nature treks and waterfalls in the area. You can also head to the nearby town of Pinos and, better yet, stay a night or two at Buenaventura, a nature lodge that is set in protected land. It is about 30 mins away from Zaruma and is famous for its birdwatching, treks, and the old cobblestone path that runs through the park which used to connect all the way to the coast.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me! Happy exploring <3