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Oyacachi &
Cayambe-Coca
Oyacachi village
A young craftsman in Oyacachi learning woodcarving
Oyacachi church
The hot pools at Oyacachi
Oyacachi cheeseThe bus to Oyacachi
The village of Oyacachi
is situated in the Cayambe-Coca Reserve
and is renowned
for its wood carvings.

Oyacachi & the Cayambe-Coca Reserve - Ecuador Destinations

Oyacachi has been inhabited for more than 500 years, well before the establishment of the Cayambe-Coca Reserve in which it is now situated.  The population of around 130 families is mostly descended from just 2 kichwa families who orginally settled near the hot springs in the area and they maintain a traditional way of life in this tough but beautiful landscape at an altitude of 3200m above sea level.  Oyacachi is starting to develop a small tourism industry, but is still well off the beaten track and well worth the effort for those with enough Spanish language skills and determination to get here.  (If you don't have enough time to visit Oyacachi, you can enjoy the hot springs in Papallacta on an easy day trip from Quito instead).
Wood carving is a skill passed down through families in Oyacachi and carved wooden products such as traditional "batea" trays have been traded or bartered for necessities from outside the village for many generations.  The village woodcarvers have joined together in an association to jointly sell their work through the cooperative shop which is easily spotted thanks to the carved tree-trunk, totem-like sculptures outside.  In addition to functional items such as bateas, wooden spoons and bowls, some carvers also produce sculptures and ornamental carvings with a modern twist, though many incorporate traditional motifs such as owls, bears or hummingbirds.  Some of the craftsmen decorate their wooden goods with pyrography, designs burnt into the wood.
Oyacachi's hot pools (fuentes termales) are a real treat.  Fed from natural hot springs, the warm sulphurous water is piped into a series of attractive open air pools with views of the forested mountains.  Entry is $2 and there are changing rooms.  During the day during the week you may well have the pools to yourself.  Locals bathe here in the late afternoon (virtually no-one in the village has hot water in their homes), and at weekends the pools can be crowded with day-trippers from Cayambe.
There is no hotel in Oyacachi, but the tourist office (near the path leading to the hot springs) will help you find a homestay with a local family, which will probably cost around $7 or $8.  Alternatively, you can camp near the hot springs - arrange this with the tourist office and expect to pay around $5 or 6.  There are several places to eat lunch and dinner at weekends for around $3, but on weekdays you need to give them a couple of hours' warning to cook for you - again, the tourist office can help you arrange this.  Trout is a local speciality.  There are a few small cheese factories in Oyacachi that you can visit.
Oyacachi has no banking facilities, so take sufficient money for your stay, remembering that you may wish to buy some woodcarvings as souvenirs.  If you miss or choose not to take the 4am bus, you might need $20 or $30 for a camioneta back to the main road.
The Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve sprawls across 4 provinces: Pichincha, Imbabura, Sucumbíos and Napo (where Oyacachi is found).  The highest point, 5790m above sea level at the top of snow-topped Volcán Cayambe, is almost on the equator and locals are proud to point out that both the latitude and the temperature here are zero.  The Reserve includes a range of habitats down to just 600m above sea level on the edge of the Oriente.  The Cayambe-Coca Reserve offers some great hiking, for example the Oyacachi - El Chaco trail, a 2 or 3 day walk down to the Oriente.  You will need a tent and a guide - ask at the tourist office in Oyacachi to arrange a guide.  Bird life is abundant in the area and wildlife also includes the spectacled bear, puma, agoutis and otters.  If you don't have the time or fitness to walk all the way to the oriente, there are some ruins of the earlier settlement to see just a short walk from Oyacachi - the tourist office can provide trail maps.
Getting to Oyacachi:  Getting to Oyacachi is easier than leaving....  Buses leave Cayambe around 3.30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the $1.50, two-hour journey to Oyacachi, also at 2.30pm on a Saturday and 8am and 4pm on Sundays.  The bus stop in Cayambe is on Junin street, between the Banco del Pacifico and the Banco ProCredit, roughly behind the Akí supermarket.  The bus leaves Oyacachi to return to Cayambe at 4a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with an extra bus at 2p.m. on Sundays, though this is often full of day-trippers.  Buy tickets in advance to ensure a seat, ask at the tourist office in Oyacachi for helping in finding the unsignposted community bank from where the tickets are sold. (Information correct as at December 2009).
Useful Spanish Vocabulary for an excursion to Oyacachi, Ecuador:
Artesanías de madera: wooden handicrafts
Fuentes termales: hot springs
Oso: bear
Trucha: trout - the local speciality
Ecuador Destinations: Oyacachi and the Cayambe-Coca Reserve
Tourist information for a visit to the isolated village of Oyacachi and the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve.
Website www.ecuadortravelsite.org, text and photos by Sarah Clifford.
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