San Luis de Pambil is a small town in the Guaranda canton of Bolivar Province in the warm Andean Highlands of Ecuador, or at least in the foothills of the Andes mountains as they slope downwards towards the coastal lowlands. The small, laidback town is the main access point to the stunningly beautiful Piedra Blanca region. San Luis is one of many rural agricultural communities in the area, cultivating crops such as plantains, oranges, sugarcane, coffee and cacao (chocolate) in the fertile soil and sub-tropical climate. The area was once all virgin rainforest, which was partly destroyed by the original settlers, around 50 years ago. The remaining forest is threatened by logging, though environmental awareness is gradually increasing and new ecotourism projects are trying to create alternative sources of income and conserve the forests.
By bus, travel to Zapotal (between Quevedo and Babahoyo, on the main route from Quito or Santo Domingo to Guayaquil). This takes around 5-6 hours from Quito, or about 3 hours from Guayaquil. From Quito take any bus heading towards Guayaquil, from Guayaquil take any bus heading towards Quito and get off at Zapotal. Zapotal is just a small collection of restaurants and shops on the main road - get off here and wait at the T-junction for the local buses to San Luis de Pambil (the journey takes just over one hour, buses depart every hour and the last bus departs around 6pm). The other, far more adventurous, way in is the 2 day hike down from Salinas de Guaranda, in Bolivar Province - go with a local guide.
On foot. Or hire a horse to explore higher up the valley. Or arrange for a private vehicle to take you to sites of interest. Hitchhiking here is very easy as the locals are all very friendly.
Mountain valleys, waterfalls and streams, the rainforest, monkeys, hummingbirds, toucans, local life in an agricultural community in an area of wonderful natural beauty.
A plentitude of rainforest animals, virgin rainforest, waterfalls, ancient stone inscriptions, ancient burial mounds, local markets, indigenous villages, stunning local landscapes, aguardiente farms, organic farms, riverside bathing pools, salt mines, traditional Ecuadorean villages, religious shrines, firework workshops and ancient trekking trade routes.
- Piedra Blanca is a small community found in a stunningly beautiful rainforest valley in Bolivar Province, Ecuador. Backpackers often rave about the place and most visitors discover the region by word of mouth. The local community is aware of the great tourism potential of the region but tries to keep a low profile (it's not in any guidebooks yet) as it does not want a huge influx of visitors that might overwhelm the community and delicate ecosystems. A community run ecotourism project provides an alternative to logging as the locals accompany tourists to the rainforest, local cultural sites of interest, other local villages and on rafting expeditions of pre-Inca design.
Walk, trek, photograph, bathe in waterfalls, relax, watch birds, hire a horse, visit productive charity projects in local communities...
Go river rafting on a traditional-style balsawood raft.
Trek in the forest or up to the white rock (piedra blanca) with a local guide.
Visit Aguardiente farms and distilleries.
Not a lot, so make sure you bring anything vitally important with you. Food supplies are easily available, but there is little in the way of souvenirs or luxuries. There is no bank, so bring enough cash for your trip.
Market day in San Luis is every Sunday. Other markets in nearby towns can also be visited.
There are a handful of simple restaurants in town, most of which are around the plaza. There's also plenty of street food.
Food is basic, mostly made from local ingredients - chicken, beef, rice, plantains, sweetcorn, avocadoes, etc.
Aguardiente - this 'firewater' is made from sugarcane, which is crushed, fermented and then distilled into a clear, potent 60 proof drink. Bolivar province is well known for having some of the most potent, high quality aguardiente in all South America. CADO, a local cooperative has achieved organic certification for their sugarcane plantations and can take you on a tour to see how aguardiente is made and taste the results.
There are a couple of decent bars in the town, including one beautiful bar overlooking the river.
There is one small hotel, Hotel El Pambileno, with eight decent but un-inspiring rooms on the main plaza in San Luis. The cost is about $5 per night. No need to book in advance - there's almost always space. The hotel can arrange guides etc. for you.
Alternatively head up the valley to the Piedra Blanca Ecolodge.
By bus to Quevedo (and change bus to travel onwards to the coast eg. Manta), or there are plenty of direct buses to Guaranda (~5 hours), Santo Domingo de los Colorados (~3 hours), Guayaquil (3-4 hours) and Quito(~6 hours).
If you are fit and adventurous, take the beautiful two day climb up into the Andes to Salinas de Guaranda. You'll need a guide, and probably a horse to help with your baggage.