A while back I was at a launch party for a Cuenca business and there was a famous indigenous Youtuber and TikToker there called Nancy Risol. I had never heard of her, but she drew quite the attention. Later, I found out she boasts at least 4.5 million followers across her social media channels. When I looked into why her content drew such interest, it was because she has made a great career out of sharing her Saragureña life, culture, traditions, clothing, food, and much more.
She is the golden child of the Andean town of Saraguro, located 3 hours south of Cuenca on the road to Loja. After watching some of her videos, I was very, very curious to visit her town and enjoy what it might have to offer. I gathered some friends – Danny, Kevin, Stacey, and Wes, and it didn’t take much convincing to get them to come with me. With the promise of a waterfall, caves, and legendary Hornado, we were all on the same frequency and ready to begin this adventure.
Cuenca Terminal Terrestre
Danny, Wes, and I arrived via taxi, with Kevin and Stacey turning up at the exact same time via tram. We withdrew some cash, bought our bus tickets (around $4 one way), purchased some snacks (I love the cheesy yuca tortilla), and went to our anden (platform) to wait. Since there are loads of buses taking the Panamericana down to Loja and beyond, we didn’t have to wait too long. If it’s your first time traveling from Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre, simply find a security guard, tell them where you’re going, and they’ll point you towards the correct ticket office.
Once on the bus, we waited for the inevitable salesman to finish his pitch before we napped our way to Saraguro. Delayed by traffic in Cuenca, it took us the best part of 40 minutes to get out of the city, then reaching Saraguro in a further 2 hours and 20 minutes. I’m convinced anyone with a car could do the drive in two hours fairly comfortably, traffic permitting.
Arriving in Saraguro
The big green bus dropped us off on the side of the road and we headed into the town, asking locals along the way where we could find the famed Sunday Market of Saraguro. After a quick toilet break (the bus toilet was locked shut), we entered the market at the far end, passing through a quarter-mile of stalls and vendors before reaching the Central Market.
The first thing you notice is that the percentage of indigenous people and people wearing traditional clothing is much, much higher than in Cuenca. I’d go as far as to say 50% of women wore the traditional skirt, shawl, and hat, with perhaps 20% of men in traditional wide-brimmed hats and ponchos.
Bananas in abundance, cuys for sale (guinea pigs), and the wafting scent of sizzling meats all greeted us harmoniously. A little bird had told me that Saraguro’s food scene is one of the best in Ecuador, and another little bird said that the Hornado is unmissable. This slow-roasted pork dish, accompanied by hominy, salad, and mashed potato, is one of my personal favorites, and many foreigners in Ecuador are instant converts too.
All 5 of us ordered the Hornado lunch menu, which included a hearty soup starter and a glass of freshly-made juice. The Hornado plate was huge, which made the $3.50 price tag for the whole meal quite hard to believe. Total bargain. The equivalent meal in Cuenca would be $5 at a very minimum.
We weaved our way through knock-off designer goods, street dogs, and fruit stalls and headed over the Panamericana and down the start of our trail. Following our mapping applications, we knew this was the right way to…
Baños del Inca / Inka
Whilst Inca is traditionally written with a ‘c’, I kept seeing signs spelling it with a ‘k’, so it seems both apply. Baños means baths, or toilets, but in this case, it most likely referred to the pool formed at the bottom of the Jizikaka waterfall. We descended from Saraguro down a winding path, past a herd of cows and local farmers, over a sketchy wooden-plank bridge, around a big bend, and into a small tienda for snacks. We bought some beers and Powerade to provide extra strength before the uphill section.
Opposite this tienda, I spotted the ‘Baños del Inka’ sign for the first time and we officially joined the route up to the waterfall. At the base of the waterfall, a few people were swimming and others were standing around the water’s edge, wondering what a bunch of gringos might be doing here. I continued climbing the path adjacent to the waterfall’s major pool, and soon found myself a good twenty meters above, nervously footing a slippery ledge. Not wanting to endanger myself, I retreated and warned my friends against this path. Fortunately, to my back was another path, this time leading to…
Cuevas del Inka
I was not expecting a megalithic open-air cave complete with its own miniature waterfall and cooling spray, nor was I expecting the majestic wooden viewing platform giving us a front-row seat to appreciate the valley, with Saraguro hanging on the horizon.
We drank our beers, I launched my drone, and then we came back the same way to Saraguro and headed to the bus stop. A family of four was waiting at the bus stop before us, and when the first bus rolled up, it only had space for two of them. After that, the next five or six buses were totally full and the conductors wagged their fingers at us.
Eventually, after about an hour of waiting, a bus slowed to a stop and asked how many were in our group. They had exactly five seats left. The two family members who had been left behind earlier were overlooked in favor of our group of five. We felt a little bit harsh as they had been waiting longer than us, but we didn’t want to argue our way out of seats, and the driver’s assistant was keen to get the bus moving in order to make good time.
Arriving Back in Cuenca
The bus dropped us off at Cuenca Sur, which is where the Panamericana splits with the 582 and Avenida Loja. It’s very typical to get dropped off here, and if you live in the south or west of Cuenca (as most of the foreign population does), you’ll save yourself a chunk of time. With the Cuenca Terminal Terrestre being located in the northwest of the city, there’s simply no point battling traffic across the city only to double back on yourself.
There we have it. In summary…
- Three hours and $4-5 each way on the bus
- Lots of indigenous people, goods, and clothing to admire
- Amazing waterfall and cave system
- One of Ecuador’s best places for hornado (slow-roasted pig)
Have you been to Saraguru? We’d love to know your thoughts either in the comments below or in our Cuenca Facebook Group. Thanks for reading!