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Whilst once upon a time, Loja was the thriving base from which Spanish conquistadors set off to invade the jungle just over the mountains, now Loja's main lure is its proximity to one of Ecuador's most diverse protected areas, the vast Parque Nacional Podocarpus, south of town.

But Loja's center has plenty of appeal too. Its cuisine, its musical traditions and its university are known across Ecuador and beyond. Its streets, some of which are pedestrianized, might at first seem a tad tame after Cuenca, but offer inroads into the local culture its more famous rival to the north cannot. Lying dramatically along the bottom of the Valle de Cuxibamba, Loja's surrounding slopes are fringed with the country's main coffee plantations, and several miradors (viewpoints) offer unforgettable city views.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Loja.