Ecuador travel blog by Mark Berman -
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I heard a little rumor about a place called Zaruma, one of those little fairytale towns you occasionally come across while traveling, like Guatape in Colombia. I
felt that if I didn't come here I would be missing out on something special! Zaruma is not particularly close to any major cities in Ecuador, but tucked away high
in the mountains roughly halfway (distance wise, not timewise) between Machala (100kms, 2hrs 30mins bus) and Loja (130kms, 5hrs 45mins bus). Zaruma with its
colonial architecture is a place with much charm!
Zaruma, with a history of gold and silver mining that continues to this day in the local mine called El Sexmo
(tours available) has its charm in its streets and old colonial wooden buildings. You feel like you are in a movie from the wild-west around the buildings with
their wooden front patios, wooden doors and window shutters and wooden staircases. The streets are quite antique with dated facades with old clocks, streetlamps,
wooden signs and with flower pots hanging from the wooden balconies above.
The historical center of Zaruma is at the top of the street that winds up through the
town up to Independence Square (Plaza Independencia). The plaza itself is beautiful with a central fountain and landscaped gardens and trees. Around the plaza
are some very interesting and beautiful buildings including the church (Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Carmen) and the museum. The church is made from wood
and was built between 1912 and 1930 by a local who used a photograph of a church in France as a reference. The interior has some amazing oil paintings and a gold
and silver plated alter, it's quite spectacular inside. The most eye-catching building in town is the large green one on one side of the park which has cafes and
shops on street level. From the park, the streets head off in all directions up and down where the fun really begins exploring old Zaruma.
Museum (Museo Municipal Zaruma)
The Municipal Museum in Zaruma has
an amazing collection of black and white photographs, many from the early 1900's. Also there are photographs of many of the petroglyphs found in nearby Salvias.
Petroglyphs are forms of writing and drawing that show memories of ancestral peoples, ideographic signs, geometric figures, anthropomorphs, spirals and figures of
animals. The museum in Zaruma also has a dedicated memorial to Jose Antonio Jara Aguilar
(1922-1976). Affectionately called Chaso, he was considered to be the most
important Orense Ecuadorian singer-songwriter, his musical heritage still remains alive in the hearts of the people of Zaruma. Open since 1974, the museum in Zaruma
contains a large historic wealth from the town and areas surrounding. The museum has preserved displays of archeology, religious art and mining artifacts.
Lookout Point & Nearby Places
Zaruma has a lookout point high on the hill called Mirador Turistico 'La Colina', you can take a taxi up and walk back down. There is also a cross high on the hill
that you can see from the town, this is where I went up to. The views are fantastic of the town and area surrounding. The hills seem to go on forever and you can
see nearby towns such as Portovelo in the distance. The area around Zaruma is also worth exploring, there are various places you can visit including Abanin where
you can see archeology and human-shaped monoliths, Arcapamba for orchid gardens and artisanal quartz mills, Guanazan for archeology and Paltacalo mountain,
Guizhaguina to see waterfalls and lakes, Huertas for handicrafts and waterfalls, Malvas to see the church and eat sweets, Muluncay for handmade bells and bronze
pots and Salvias where much of the museums petroglyph photos come from, for archeology, rivers and waterfalls.
El Sexmo Gold Mine
The El Sexmo gold mine is the heart and origin
of Zaruma. Where the miners once found a gold nugget weighing 3.5 pounds and sent it to King Phillip II of Spain as a gift. Before this, the miners paid a fifth
of their gold findings in tax to the crown. After the gift, the crown reduced the tax to a sixth (sexta), so the mine was therefore named El Sexmo. The El Sexmo
gold mine is open daily from 8am-12pm, then from 1pm-4pm, entry is free. A 30 minute tour will take you down around half a kilometer of tunnels. You will be
wearing gumboots and a hard-hat provided. The guide will explain about the mine throughout the tour. The mine is within walking distance from town or you can take
a taxi. In the town itself is the Miners Monument about 200 meters down the main street from Independence Plaza. More about the mine
Off The Beaten Track
Zaruma is definitely off the beaten
track with its location. It's best accessed from Machala
being just 2hrs 30mins away by bus. The journey from Zaruma to Loja
or vice versa takes 5hrs 45mins and
really is quite a drag at 20-25kms per hour. However you get to Zaruma, in the end it won't matter because there is a lot to enjoy here!