A paved road heading east connects Loja with the small town of ZAMORA, sitting 64km away in foothills on the edge of the Oriente, the other side of the Sabanilla Pass which, at 2700m, is one of the lowest crossing points in the Andes. For most visitors Zamora’s main use is as a base for visiting the lower section of Parque Nacional Podocarpus, but the bus ride here is itself worthwhile, with the road snaking down from the sierra past numerous waterfalls, giving occasional views onto miles of densely forested hills. As you get lower, the air becomes warmer and moister, and the vegetation becomes increasingly lush, with giant ferns hanging over the road. At 970m above sea level, Zamora has a subtropical climate, with an average temperature of 21°C – a stark contrast to the coolness of the sierra.

Sitting at the confluence of the Zamora and Bombuscaro rivers with a backdrop of steep, emerald-green hills rising over its rooftops, the town’s setting is lovely, yet the town itself is unattractive, with sprawling grid-laid streets and functional, cement-built houses. Despite having been founded by the Spaniards in 1549 it’s still, at heart, a modern, rough-and-ready pioneer town, its main function being to service the local gold-mining industry – which it’s being doing on and off for four hundred years.

Although visitors to Zamora mainly use it as a base from which to visit Podocarpus, there are a couple of other sights to take in while you’re here, including a 1600-square-metre clock – apparently the largest clock face in the world – in the hillside above the market, where it glitters like a fairground at night. A block from the parque central is the Refugio Ecológico Tzanka, on Tamayo and Mosquera, once the town rubbish dump, but now a small zoo and orchid garden.

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