Signs proclaim Oyacachi to be “the land of water”, and the waterfalls gushing down the mountainsides, the streams that trickle through the village, the river that rushes around it and the bubbling hot springs are clear evidence of this.
One of Oyacachi’s famous attractions is its hot springs. The healing waters boil up from under the nearby Cayambe volcano, and have a temperature of 70 degrees when they emerge from the ground. The thermal pools, just over the river from the community, are kept at a more temperate 38-40 degrees, and their rich mineral content (calcium, sulphur, iron and magnesium) is said to be beneficial to sufferers of arthritis and rheumatism, as well as alleviating digestive problems and stress. Surrounded by immaculately-kept flower beds and the impressive green peaks of Cayambe-Coca National Park, it’s easy to imagine the soothing properties if these bubbling, hot pools.
Situated high up in the humid paramo - Andean moorland - this traditional Kichwa community has clung to its ancient traditions, way of life, and sense of hospitality. The words “Buenos dias! Buenos dias!” are carried on the clear mountain air, as locals greet each person they meet. Dairy and trout farming are the most common occupations. Try the fresh fish and homemade cheese in one of Oyacachi’s intimate little restaurants, but don’t forget to ask in advance - food is only prepared if pre-ordered!
Woodwork is the community’s other well-known export, and visitors are invited to explore the craft shop, where each item is numbered according to the artist. Roughly-carved wooden bowls, giant ladles and shallow trays are the most traditional items, though the beautifully finished dishes, lidded pots and carved chopping boards demonstrate the true skill of the artisans. During the week, the community workshop is open for visitors to watch the artisans at work. The most impressive and intricate example of the artisans’ talent, and of the remarkable community spirit, are the three totem poles on display in the main plaza. Native species such as spectacled bears, sloth, birds and flowers emerge from the twisted trunks of the Quishuar tree, carved largely by teenage girls from the community, over a period of six months.
Those who wish to delve further into Oyacachi’s history need go no further than a short trek down the road. The crumbling remains of a stone chapel now house nothing more than timid grey deer, but beside the chapel is a traditional Kichwa dwelling. Also built of stone, with a straw roof, the one-room house still contains the items necessary for daily life - hand-carved wooden bowls, a tray for grinding flour, a low wooden stool, a wooden bed covered in straw. But the most remarkable thing about this house is that it was the childhood home of one of Oyacachi’s current residents - Hector, the amiable guide. This is not a relic from some ancient age, but a reminder of the recent past, abandoned less than 30 years ago by its still-living inhabitants.
The community run a hostel, the hot springs and offer guided tours of the ruins and the surrounding reserve, which has excellent opportunities for birdwatching.
A modern addition to this isolated community is its use of sustainable energy. Appropriately for “the Land of Water”, all Oyacachi’s electricity is generated by a hydroelectric plant further up the slopes.
$2 per person to access Fuentes Termales thermal springs
Easy - Available for any age and fitness levels