(“Florecimiento de los Guayacanes”)
In southern Ecuador, just once a year, an awesome phenomenon occurs – the guayacán trees come into full bloom.
After a nine-month dry season, the rains begin, and trees that have sported bare branches for most of the year erupt in canopies of brilliant yellow flowers.
It takes the guayacán trees about 200 years to reach a height of 50 feet, but in less than a week, they flower and then drop their petals, covering the ground with a carpet of bright yellow. Viewed from a hilltop above Mangahurco, the valley below is a magnificent sight, with yellow umbrellas stretching as far as the eye can see.
Depending on the beginning of the rains, this spectacle usually starts in January but can happen as early as December and as late as February. In 2017, the guayacanes flowered in mid-January, and we traveled 6 ½ hours on a bus through the southern Andes from Loja to the hot, desert-like town of Zapotillo.
Zapotillo is a small town on the Rio Chira, which forms the border between Ecuador and Peru. Many areas of Ecuador have unique cultures with different foods. We were fortunate enough to enjoy “chivo al hueco”, or “goat in the hole” in Zapotillo.
Pieces of marinated goat meat, along with “camote”, a sweet root vegetable, are placed on top of hot coals in a hole in the ground, covered, and baked for 4 to 5 hours or longer. It’s delicious – don’t miss this treat while you’re in the area!
For a refreshing drink, try the chilled coconuts, served with a straw, that are available almost everywhere, and “Bar Cinco Estrellas” (Five Stars Bar) has the coldest beer in town.
*Tip: In 2017, there were no automatic tellers in Zapotillo – be sure to take cash.
We hired Marco, a local driver, to take us on a 2 ½-hour drive along dirt roads to see the famous guayacán trees near Mangahurco. Check out this Map of Ecuador for the location. Along the way, we saw miles and miles of amazing wooden goat fences and different types of cactus. Herds of goats and cattle, and little pigs walked along the roads and village streets.
Ceibo trees with their huge trunks and green canopies appeared regularly. They’re my favourite tree – each one is unique, most with green trunks, some looking like they were moulded from concrete.
We stopped in a few villages along the way for food and beers, and after enjoying the drive through the dry forest, the first guayacanes came into view.
The dry forest of southern Loja province was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on June 13th, 2014. The 40,000-hectare preserve is the largest forest of its kind in Ecuador. After losing over 95% of the woodland due to logging, the residents of the area now realize the value of the standing forest as a strong tourist attraction. The vitamin-rich petals are foraged by livestock – goats produce more milk after eating the blossoms of the guayacanes.
Horseback and cycling tours through the guayacán forests are available, and you can camp among the blossoming trees. We visited a camping area at the base of a canyon where there is a small river with pools for swimming, a hiking trail – you can even watch lizards and iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks.
It’s vital to visit the area at exactly the right time. Remember, there is only a window of about a week to experience full flowering – and you don’t want to miss out…
It can be difficult to get accurate reports of when the guayacanes begin to flower – especially without fluency in Spanish. We found the tourist office in Loja lacking in this respect, and very little online info. The group mentioned below is one accurate source of information.
Lodging is available in Mangahurco at local residents’ houses if you know whom to contact. There is an adventure group in Loja that offers camping and canyon rappelling tours, with transportation from Loja to the Mangahurco area. Their name is LojAventura and they have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lojaventura/
The flowering of the yellow guayacán trees is a spectacle worth experiencing and one you won’t soon forget. We plan to return to Mangahurco to camp among the guayacanes as they transform the landscape with their vivid yellow flowers. We’re also looking forward to eating chivo al hueco again…