A hidden paradise just two and a half hours outside Quito experiences the pandemic in a different way. For a moment, we can relax while walking peaceful trails, observe birds wherever our gaze wanders, learn the local traditions like milking the cows, and even enjoy the sunrise on horseback. This wonderful place called San Francisco de Borja is in the Napo Province.
Cheese Production, San Francisco de Borja, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

The privilege of living in Ecuador, the nation of the four worlds

Ecuador is known for the immense biodiversity found in each and every one of its four regions which are often separated by mere kilometers. In these times when we live in mandatory isolation, it is especially important to organize a relaxing vacation with the necessary biosecurity measures and the greatest optimization of time.

The most sought after destinations or places are outdoor spaces and an experiential trip makes planning a weekend getaway ideal to share with the family. For a moment, we can take part in the joy of living.

If you are a person who lives in or near Quito, you should know that your location is strategic. The short trip to San Francisco de Borja means enjoying a unique landscape as you travel through the cold and mountainous Sierra. From Quito, starting at 2850 meters above sea level, you will enjoy the contrast of crossing the highlands of Antisana, reaching an approximate height of 3300 meters at the pass where you might be lucky enough to spot an Andean Bear. When reaching the Oriente, with a tropical climate and a natural evergreen tapestry at 1489 meters above sea level, you have arrived in San Francisco de Borja in Napo Province.

San Francisco de Borja, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

An incredibly genuine experience from start to finish

The Parish of San Francisco de Borja is the ideal place for those seeking tranquility and security, especially in times of pandemic. Although it is a hidden paradise that is not well known or visited, that makes it more attractive and to some extent practically exclusive.

This adventure takes place in the Quijos Canton, which has the luck and privilege of being in the middle of three Protected Nature Reserves: Cayambe-Coca National Park, the Antisana Ecological Reserve, and the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve (declared by Unesco in 2000). This is a valley surrounded by mountains, forests, and waterfalls. An interesting fact, the Rio Quijos Canton hosted the World Rafting Championship in 2005. This adventure sports competition took place in one of the most suitable rivers for whitewater rafting and provided an unforgettable landscape for its participants.

A paradise for adventure sports as well as nature lovers, fans of birdwatching, and explorers looking for off-the-beaten-track experiences.

Waterfall, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

Total enjoyment while the crossing from the Sierra to the Oriente.

From the start of the journey, it is inevitable to stop and take photos of the unique landscape. Sometimes the mountains are covered in mist and sometimes they are totally clear. However, once you arrive in San Francisco de Borja, you will notice the change of climate from the Sierra to the Amazon. Then, in a two-hour, round-trip hike, the adventure begins as waterfalls welcome us to the region. You will renew your energy in the abundant spray of majestic waterfalls. Furthermore, you will be surprised to discover colorful birds that stand out from the leafy trees that make up the constantly green rainforest.

Even if you are not an avid birdwatcher, you have nothing to worry about. Merely seeing these birds will make you curious to know their names. With patience and luck, you might find the Cock of the Rock, the Golden-Olive Woodpecker, or the Red-breasted Meadowlark among many other species of birds.

Red-breasted Meadowlark, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

Experiencing livestock and cheese tasting

The dairy farmers of Ecuador’s smallest parish, Sumaco, are happy to share all their knowledge and traditions with visitors. One of the best traditions is milking the cows by hand. This is especially memorable if you lived your childhood in the countryside and miss those days or if you have lived in the city and never milked a cow before. This is the opportunity to learn with the most experienced milkers because the local farmers milk the cows and prepare the cheese and yogurt every day of the year. As a prize for having participated in this activity, you will get to enjoy a country breakfast that includes the products made from the fresh milk you helped collect.

The Parish of San Francisco de Borja provides milk to small and medium-sized companies producing local cheeses, some made using traditional recipes such as Dutch Edam. In addition to being exotic in the Ecuadorian highlands, this Dutch cheese is highly sought after in the city of Quito for its original recipe and flavor.

The preparation of cheese is a thorough and interesting process for the producer and for those who visit this place of production. Here, visitors also taste the delicious results of this cheese-making knowhow. In addition, it is important to know that this wonderful product is made possible by the hand of a Dutch citizen based in Ecuador and a local producer of San Francisco de Borja who joined forces and knowledge to create what they have called Monarkaas, “Dutch tradition, made in Ecuador”.

Milking by Hand, Sumaco, San Francisco de Borja, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

The sunrise from the back of a horse

Waking up with the singing of birds is an incomparable experience. Knowing that you will see the sunrise from the highest hill of the place “El Panecillo” on the back of a horse makes it even more interesting.

The connection between the trainer and his mule goes back over 100 years to the trade of products between the Sierra and the Amazon. Consequently, it is easy to understand and admire the historic and cultural legacy of this town for all its inhabitants. In fact, San Francisco de Borja was awarded recognition as a Cultural Heritage Site of Ecuador in 2018. Called the “Camino del Arriero”, this area is the first to receive this recognition in the category of Cultural Travel.

Dawn horseback riding with Germánico at the helm

Germánico, our cowboy guide, was ready before dawn and his horses too. The rooster had yet to welcome the beginning of the day when we began our horseback ride in the darkness. After a formal presentation between the horses and the guests, the cowboy guide paired each horse with its rider according to the personalities of both. He then clearly explained how to control the animal with a few keywords of command. After a short practice of familiarization, we began the ascent at 5:30 in the morning.

As we rode to the top of “El Panecillo,” the sun began to show its first rays. Additionally, we saw signs of the tiny species that live in the countryside and start the day at dawn. I felt like a real cowboy because in less than thirty minutes, we are already at the top and could see San Francisco de Borja in all its splendor. We admired a landscape worthy of a postcard. Lilac colors, roses, blues became real as the sun rose. So beautiful was the landscape that even the Sangay Volcano told us with a fumarole that was also present.

Dawn from Horsback, San Francisco de Borja, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

Serenade surprise

After enjoying the sunrise from horseback, you might think that we had completed our experience, but no! At this moment, Germánico surprised us with his grand voice and breaks out in a passionate and manly performance of local tales sung in verse.

Now yes, we could say that our experience was complete! We were ready to warm up with something other than the soul-warming sun. It was time to start our descent with the satisfaction of having experienced a little more of this hidden paradise, San Francisco de Borja.

Germánico Vinueza, El Vaquero, San Francisco de Borja, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

To take into account

San Francisco de Borja is located two and a half hours from the city of Quito and thirty minutes from the Papallacta Hot Springs.

From Baeza, it is less than ten minutes from San Francisco de Borja. From Tena, it is an hour and a half one way.

The climate is tropical and unlike other places in the Amazon, it is not very humid. It is important to always prepare for rain.

It is recommended to arrive in San Francisco de Borja around 3 pm on Friday afternoon.

This surprising destination follows health and safety protocols to deal with the current pandemic and, of course, maintains a warm welcome that will make you feel at home.

Waterfall, San Francisco de Borja, Napo Province ©Jacqueline Granda

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