The road that branches off east to the province of Morona Santiago from Gualaceo, known as the Limón–Indanza, is said to be the closest access route to the Amazon Basin from the Andes highlands. The towns within this “canton”, including its capital General Plaza, commonly known as Limón, offer quite a mix, populated by people that long ago colonized the area from the neighboring Cuenca belt, greatly influencing the native communities and creating a unique hybrid culture whose most noticeable influence lies in their cuisine.
You will find the same maize patties (tortillas), guinea pig (cuy), pork hornados and hominy (mote) as in Cuenca, although some are accompanied with typical Amazonian ingredients like yucca, or exotic accompaniments such as chonta worms (or muquindes), which are fat, white larvae that feed on hard wood, considered both a caviar and a miraculous cure for a million- and-one ailments.
There is a distinctive pride that the colonos keep in honor of their colonized lands, which you can experience during foundation festivities in late November, and the festival organized around Carnival, otherwise known as la Fiesta de las Orquídeas y las Cascadas (the Orchids and Waterfalls Fest), during which a number of parade associations get together and express their inspiration for native Shuar-culture folklore.
Yungantza river and Yananaz waterfall.
The Shuar nation, one of the most representative groups in Ecuadorian Amazonia, offers an inter- esting festivity called Uwi Ijiamtamu (the Chonta Worm Festival), sponsored by the municipality, which takes place every year in April in different communities. This year, the event was held in Chiviaza, east of Limón, and has become a fascinating receptacle of living culture, in honor of Nunkui,or Mother Earth.
The most fascinating aspect of the route is, however, its natural dimension. It transects some of the best-preserved montane forests in Ecuador –conveniently reachable along a general access road– penetrating two internationally recognized Important Bird Areas: Montañas de Zapóte–Nadja (1,700-3,350m) and Bosque Protector Moya-Molón (2,800-3,500m). The extreme habitat diversity it crosses from the temperate Gualaceo Valley into the waterfall-laden foothills is also part of its natural appeal.
You begin by climbing to quasi-páramo (the feel of shrubbery and cold high-elevation mountain weather is all there, but technically at a somewhat lower elevation) and drop down into the elfin forests of the Cordillera de Patacocha, at about 20 km from Gualaceo. You then continue the winding descent and pass through the southernmost limits of the Tinajillas Río Gualaceño Municipal Conservation Area, now in the province of Morona-Santiago. You can access this beautiful protected area at Cerro Bosco, (to the left of the main road) an excellent site for birdwatching, although the entire route offers equally good conditions.
You will finally reach a fork in the road that either takes you north to General Plaza or south, towards Gualaquiza, where a humble livestock fair can be of interest, near the town of Indanza. From Indanza, a dirt road heading west and then south (5 km.), takes you to the largest petroglyph complex in the region, at Catazho.
This is one of the species you can find along the route: an Acropternis orthonyx.
An impressive show of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures appear carved into large boulders, testimony to the ancient cultures of the area. If you feel adventurous, you can head even further south to Colchay, and “Macaw Cliff”, Peña Guacamayos, which offers a view of a dramatic rock wall that is reputedly visited by Military Macaws who feed on the minerals found within the crevices.
For a day trip out of Cuenca, you couldn’t fit too much else in, before getting back in reasonable time. The same happens if we were to head north at the previously mentioned fork to General Plaza (Limón). This is a land of waterfalls and many beautiful examples lie to the left (east) of the road (Yavintza Falls, Santa Rosa Falls, along 1851 with Santa Clara Falls and its lake).
Past General Plaza, and heading east, you reach Coloradas Waterfall, a truly wonderful natural site, recom- mended, as well, for its birding opportunities. The community and cantonal government have become surprisingly active in their efforts to create sustainable ecotourism ventures, recently pitching a fitting motto Limón-Indanza: Natural y Arqueológico”. Continuing north, many a bend and bump later, you reach the provincial capital, Macas.