The Oyacachi to El Chaco Trek

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The trek is not easy. One must be determined to do it, and be physically fit, as well. I recommend hiring a local guide, experts of the route and its secrets. For the more competitive, it can take up to two days, but for those who take their time enjoying the landscape, three to four. The trail crosses beautiful rolling valleys and an enchanted Polylepis forest of deep greens and rich browns. The trail passes stone constructions, ancient ruins occupied by the village’s early inhabitants. The River Oyacachi is a faithful companion all the way down to El Chaco. There may also be traces of old and new trails possibly created by Spectacled Bears.

Woodpeckers, anteaters, coatis, armadillos and other small mammals and marsupials like opossums scurry round large cedar trees smothered in lichen. It looks like a set from “The Hobbit”. Natural obstacles have to be overcome, including streams and rivers, until you finally reach a dirt road, where sometimes fate (or perhaps The Lady of Oyacachi herself?) may provide a van waiting to take villagers to El Chaco, bringing you back to “civilization” before you would have expected.

I have returned at least seven times – with my family, the same group of friends, and visitors from around the world – whether to enjoy a moment at the Oyacachi hot springs or repeat the trek to El Chaco. Things have improved with regard to tourism, where today you’ll find a modest tourist information center, a gift shop, a wood-carving and painting workshop that encourages young people to pursue the craft of their parents, as well as other small ventures including cheese and dairy producers and community projects that aim to promote local livelihoods. There are a couple of modest, family-run hosterías as well.

Oyacachi is one of those places you selfishly yearn was kept just as you left it, and yet tourism no doubt provides non-destructive livelihoods and strengthens local traditions. I guess I can’t be that selfish, since I’m sharing this (relatively secret) corner of the country with you.

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