Zaruma is the type of place that puts a travel writer in a tricky situation—a wonderful destination that remains largely undiscovered by foreign visitors. Would it be better to keep it a secret or to tell people to seek out this hidden nugget?
I’ve decided on the latter course because, while Zaruma’s beauty cannot be contained, its remote location means it’s unlikely to be spoiled by floods of visitors.
Locals have known about Zaruma’s charms for years—steep, winding streets, colonial balconies, and a dramatic hilltop location with sweeping views over the valleys. The town, which sits at an elevation of 1,200 meters with an ideally warm climate, also has an interesting history.
The discovery of gold here led Spanish King Felipe II to establish Zaruma as a mining base. The gold boom lasted for many years, and Zaruma was the first capital of El Oro province in 1882. In the early 20th century, however, British and American companies plundered the last of the gold, and Zaruma began to decline as an economic center.
There are still mines in the surrounding area, and the town’s main mine only closed in 2004, to be reopened as a tourist attraction.
Getting to Zaruma
Zaruma is well connected to major cities in Ecuador despite its remote location. There are two bus companies in town, Trans Piñas and TAC, both of which have offices on Honorato Márquez on the way up to the center. Both companies run hourly buses to Machala (2 hours, $3), passing through Piñas; two daily buses to Quito (13 hours, $12); and several buses daily direct to Guayaquil (5 hours, $6.50), Cuenca (6 hours, $7), and Loja (4 hours, $5).
Getting around town is easy, and you can walk to most places. There are taxis that will take you around the main attractions and some outside town ($5–10). Taxis in town cost $1.
© Ben Westwood and Avalon Travel from Moon Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands, 5th Edition