Intag is in Andean Highlands.
The town of Apuela in Intag, Ecuador
Intag is a system of inter-andean river valleys 1.5 hours North-West of Otavalo. Intag is known for its spectacular landscape, cloud forest, hot springs, and well-organized community tourism. Intag is also known for its high quality organic coffee and its history of environmental defense. For 20 years community leaders in Intag have opposed the creation of an open pit copper mine in the region, successfully repelling two transnational mining companies. The history of the conflict is compelling, and visitors to the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve or the Junin Eco-cabins can hear it first hand from the activists involved. One result of the environmental conflict is that Intag's communities have organized a remarkable variety of economic alternatives that support their fragile ecosystem as well as their rural livelihood. Visitors can experience the result by visiting coffee farms, artisan groups, natural soap makers, agricultural co-ops,and community-run reserves. The region sits at the edge of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Biological reserve and has some spectacular examples of pristine cloud forest, where visitors can birdwatch hike and swim in waterfalls.
Intag is best reached by bus from Otavalo bus station. The "Transportes Otavalo" and "6 de Julio" bus companies have several daily buses to the region, but do be sure to buy the tickets the day before if it is the weekend. If you are driving take the road that goes past the Lake Cuicocha. It takes 1.5 hours to reach Santa Rosa, where the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve, Intag Cloud Forest Cabins, El Refugio de Intag Cloud Forest Lodge, and Flor de Mayo park ranger reserve can be found. It takes 2 hours to reach Apuela and another 15 minutes to the Nangulvi hot springs. The Otavalo company has buses at 7:30 am, 10:00 am or 2:00 pm. The 6 de Julio company has buses 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM (Subject to Change). Call 062 920 405 - 062 923 677 to check departures (reservations must be in person. Intag can also be reached directly from Quito by bus or private transportation, although the the bus typically only reaches the community of Magdalena Bajo. The bus fare is 2-2.5 USD. More adventures ways of arriving include bike riding from the Paramo above Otavalo down into the Intag valley- several tour agencies in Otavalo offer bike packages including Runa Tupari and Ecomontes. A truly off-the-beaten path way is to drive/hike/horseback ride up to the isolated but gorgeous high altitude community of Piñan then descend into Intag by foot (2-3 days total). Piñan is known for its lakes and skillful horseback riders, they offer accommodations for hikers. Trips are organized by Ecomontes tour and the guide Ivan Suarez 593-62923 383.
Apuela is the most central town in the region, and the nearby Nangulvi hot springs (10-15 min by bus) can serve as a excellent base to explore the surrounding communities. Every community can be reached by the buses coming from Otavalo. There are also small colorful open sided wooden 'buses' called Rancheras that take students to school in the mornings and bring people to and from the market in Apuela On Sundays. Unless they are too full the Rancheras taking students will give you a lift. It is also very common for people to get around by flagging down a car or truck, that will charge 50 cents or so for a 20-30 minute ride. If you have a more ambitious route most in the region who own cars offer 'fletes' and will drive you wherever you need to go, including multiple stops and waiting time, for 20-40 usd.
- The Nangulvi Hot Springs. Nangulvi is well located to visit surrounding sites and boasts 6 pools of thermally heated mineral water as well as an affordable eatery and comfortable cabins. Don't expect a rustic natural experience at these hot springs, they are tiled pools, but the water hot and the pools are often empty on weekdays. Entrance to the pools is $3.00 per adult, you can buy beer on-site and Wi-Fi is available. The site is well located just alongside the Intag River and is surrounded by impressive mountains on either side, it is also noticeably warmer than the higher regions of the valley. Nangulvi has a beautiful restaurant next to the river that serves decent almuerzo style food for breakfast lunch and dinner (warn the kitchen ahead of time if you will be eating dinner). They serve vegetarian options alongside local trout and chicken mains for $2.50. Nangulvi also has an office for Intag Tours, a community run tourism agency that offers bike rentals, coffee tours, and whitewater rafting among other options. Comfortable Cabins are available for $18 per night, and there are several more economic accommodation options available walking distance.
- The Nangulvi Waterfall Hiking distance from the Thermal baths is a spectacular waterfall double waterfall surrounded by native forest. It takes approximately 30 minutes to reach the waterfall and does involve scrambling up some steep slopes. To reach the waterfall heading in the direction of Apuela along the main road until you reach a large metal gate, through the gate is a bridge, the people who live by the gate will charge you $1.00 per person to pass and will point you on the right direction for the waterfall.
- Wariman Temple of the Sun A mere 20 minutes from Nangulvi is Wariman, the region's most important archeological site. The site is located on top of an impressive flat-topped mountain ridge that affords spectacular views of the valley below. Wariman has a ramped earthen pyramid, several smaller burial mounds and a small museum of artifacts discovered on the site. Wariman was once the center of either Yumbo or Cara culture (archeology in the region is poorly studied) and the brothers who run the site often organize ceremonies on the solstices with local shamans. Wariman also offers a tour of their farm, a hike around the perimeter of their mountaintop, and Ecuador's longest Zip-Line. The zip-line will shoot you across the river valley, and if you ask they will stop you in the middle so you can take a picture. The view is unbeatable. Prices at Wariman range depending on the activity: Entrance is $2 per person, a tour of the earthen pyramid is $5 and the zip-line is $10-15. Ask at Nangulvi about how to get there, the easiest may be to hire a car.
- Rio Intag Coffee Co-op and Roaster, ☎ 062 566 029. usually open Monday through Sunday at 7:30 am or 10:00 a.m. The Rio Intag (or AACRI) organic coffee co-operative has its headquarters in Apuela and offer tours of the processing and roasting center as well as tours to nearby farms. The processing center is unique in that you can see the process from parchment bean to roasting and hear about the social and environmental mission of the co-operative. You can buy their coffee at the headquarters or drop in on their coffee shop in Cotacachi on the way out of town, Otavalo also has a store and that sells it. The tour costs $10 and includes two cups of coffee. edit
- The Sugar Cane Process and more in Pucara The Pucara community is 20 minutes by bus from Nangulvi. They offer impressive community-run tourism with a range of options that include the impressive Traditional Sugar Cane Processing,Tours of Agroecological farms, and Cabuya artisanship. Prices range,
- Visit the El Rosal Soapmakers El Rosal is a small picturesque community 1.5 hours from Nangulvi. The women of this community have organized themselves into a natural soap makers association, and further support their community by offering tours and accommodation for travelers. The women are extremely welcoming, and will show you their family fields (that include tilapia ponds and coffee) as well as their production center. You will be able to see the medicinal plants and trees they are growing for their soaps and cosmetics and if you ask them about mining these fierce activists will give you the whole story. If you have time they also offer a cooking workshop on how to make Yucca bread in traditional woodfired ovens. To set up a visit talk to the administration at Nangulvi or call Intag Tours 06 3016135. A day trip costs $20 per person including lunch. To stay the night (the families will host you in their homes on comfortable beds) it costs $40 which includes three meals and all activities.
- Bike to Coffee Farms The Coffee co-operative in Intag partners with a local guiding service to offer bike tours of the coffee processing plant and several coffee farms. The tour ends in the Nangulvi hot springs.
Intag Cloud Forest Reserve in Ecuador
- Visit the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve Located at the head of the valley near the town of Santa Rosa, the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve (also known as Reserva La Florida) is a 860 acre cloud forest reserve and education site. Those doing a day trip can hike and bird-watch in the reserve. There are several loops hikers can make the longest is 4 hours and will take you high into primary cloud forest, the lightest is 20 minutes and goes to a gorgeous waterfall. The site has cabins but only accepts groups of 6 or more. Groups are treated to delicious vegetarian food that showcases regional crops, lectures by environmental activists, and guided hikes. Visitors can also see a rare Cock-of-the-Rock lek. Entrance to the reserve is $10, contact Sandy at 062 3015 842 for group rates. Smaller groups can also rent one of the cabins on Airbnb. Also in Santa Rosa is El Refugio lodge, with beautiful cabins that borders the river and is a 40 minute walk from the reserve. El Refugio is run by an avid birder and and features Intag's most comfortable accommodations. See the 'sleep' section for more information. To get to the reserve take a bus to Santa Rosa and take a 45 minute walking path next to the schoolhouse. Please do not visit the reserve without making a reservation.
- Visit the Flor de Mayo Reserve, located in Santa Rosa, ☎ 06 3015 673. this cloud forest reserve is run by a local group of volunteer park rangers. The rangers offer environmental education trips for local schools but also accept requests from visitors looking to visit or volunteer with them. edit
- Visit the Los Cedros Reserve At the other End of the Intag valley from the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve is the Los Cedros Reserve. This one is not recommended for a day trip but for those able to stay on site it is well worth the hike in. Los Cedros features a different ecology than the high altitude cloud forest found in the rest of Intag. It sits within the Choco region of Ecuador, known as one of the world's most biodiverse and wet, forests in the world. In Los Cedros you can see Spider Monkeys as well as an astounding number of birds. Their is a lodge facility that offers accommodation, guiding and meals. The reserve does accept volunteers. You can access the reserve from the community of El Chontal (1 hour from Nangulvi).
Making sugar from cane in traditional wood-fired mills
- Visit the Junin Community and Reserve Junin is a small community that has long been the center of Intag's environmental activism as it sits directly on one of the mining concessions. The community owns and manages an extensive reserve and runs a very well managed eco-lodge. Visitors can sit down with inspiring local activists to discuss environmental threats and alternatives. Guided hikes to some of Intags most spectacular waterfalls and visits to sugar cane mills are also in the books. Junin is approximately 1.5 hours from Nangulvi. Accommodation at the Junin Eco-cabins is highly recommended, the bamboo cabins are an example of well-run community tourism and are nestled into the forest.
- Visit el Chontal for Chocolate, Oil Birds and Orchids The community of El Chontal has seen a recent growth in unique options for tourism. For wildlife enthusiasts the community offers tours of a cave that has the rare 'Oil Birds" the tour can also include a visit to a nearby waterfall and a Cock of the Rock Lek. For more information see the community website. You can also see some of the incredible diversity of Orchids that thrive in Intag's forests by visiting 'Don Darwins Orchid Farm.' Don Darwin is also a cacao producer and will illustrate how chocolate is made, visitors can try the fresh fruit. Tel: 063051230 // 063051108 // 0969881718
- Visit An Agroecological Cooperative in Magdalena Not far from El Chontal, the community of Magdalena is a small community that is raising the bar for social entrepreneurship in Intag. Corporacion Talleres del Gran Valle is a successful agricultural cooperative that supports hundreds of farmers in the region who produce everything from their on variety of bean to tilapia and Lufa. Visitors to co-op can learn about their model and visit artisans who grow and work with Lufa products. Contact Intag Tours in Nangulvi to arrange for a visit.
The women's artisan cooperative Mujer y Medio Ambiente, in Intag Ecuador
- Visit the Artisan Women in Plaza Gutierrez 40 Minutes from Nangulvi is Intag's oldest town, where a group of women have organized and impressive artisan association. The association, Mujer y Medio Ambiente, weave products from Cabuya a local fiber that is dyed using a remarkable range of natural dyes from the surrounding forests. The women offer demonstrations of their crafts and sales of their products with are also available in Nangulvi, and La Casa de Intag in Otavalo. Tel 59363015673 // Email:. [email protected]
- Hike the Machete Trail Before their was a road into Intag there was the Machete Trail. The trail drops from high in the Paramo above Otavalo to the historical community of Plaza Gutierrez. The hike can be done in one day although it can be physically demanding. Various tour agencies in Otavalo, including Ecomontes Tour, will organize the hike if you are starting off in Otavalo. If you are starting off in Intag you can get in touch with Intag Tours based out of Nangulvi or visit Plaza Gutierrez and ask around. You can stay the night in Plaza Gutierrez (see below).
- Apuela Apuela has a number of small Almuerzo place that will serve up soup a main and a juice for $2.5-3.00. On Sunday more will open but two or three places are available during the week as well. They are all quite similar in terms of options and quality.
- Nangulvi Nangulvi has a beautiful restaurant next to the river that serves decent almuerzo style food for breakfast lunch and dinner (warn the kitchen ahead of time if you will be eating dinner). They serve vegetarian options alongside local trout and chicken mains for $2.50.
- 'Chontal, Garcia Moreno ect.. Most medium sized communities will have a dedicated eatery just ask around!
- Festivals Intag does not have much in the way of bars but if you happen to be in the region during one of the communities founding festivals be sure not to miss the party. The festivals are true rural celebrations often with a local brass band, horse riding competitions and Hervidos- a mix of hot fruit juice and cane spirits. The larger festivals for Apuela and Garcia moreno feature several days of revelry including amateur bullfighting, go cart racing, and traditional games.
- Plaza Gutierrez You can stay at a simple albergue in Plaza Gutierrez for $ 25 per night, For reservations: Contact Dona Sylvia: 063015671
- El Refugio de Intag Located in Santa Rosa near the main road El Refugio offers guests beautiful cabins along the picturesque Intag river. The property has a number of well-maintained trails and is a great spot for birding with highlights that include nesting cock of the rocks and torrent ducks. Meals and guiding are included. Reservations can be made via email: [email protected] http://www.elrefugiocloudforest.com/contact.htm
- The Intag Cloud Forest Reserve This Reserve and Educational center has rustic cabins that can sleep up to 28 people. However only groups of 6 or more are accepted and reservations must be made ahead of time. Its educative focus makes it is ideal for student groups. See above for further details. Reservations via phone to 06 3015 842 or [email protected]
- Nangulvi Visitors can stay in the cabin in the Nangulvi complex for $18 per person including Pool entrance.Cabins are comfortable and electric showers. There are 6-8 other accommodations nearby including the Cabanas Rio Grande and Rio Verde, many of these are more economical than the Termas Nangulvi accommodation with the only downside of being a short walk away along the main road. Tel. 06 3015 892 Emailing will get a quick response: [email protected]
- Junin Ecocabañas The Junin cabins are a community-run venture that is inspiring in and of itself. The a stay at the cabins includes meals, hot showers, and access to the well-maintained trails surrounding the cabins. Visitors can arrange for guided tours of the community reserves, birdwatching, visits to local farms and talks on mining activism.For reservations contact Mrs. Rosario at 0988871860 or email Marcia [email protected]
- El Rosal El Rosal offers homestay style accommodation in their very welcoming community. The families have very clean rooms available for guests and include cultural activities such as making Yucca bread in traditional woodfired ovens. To set up a visit talk to the administration at Nangulvi or call Intag Tours 06 3016135. Costs average $40 which includes three meals and all activities.
- Others Basic sleeping accommodations are available in most medium sized communities in Intag, including Apuela, Garcia Moreno, Chaguayaco. The community of Magdalena has a 'hostel' style accommodation. Homestays can be arranged in Plaza Gutierrez through the women's artisan group.
Buses headed for Otavalo go by every hour to two hours with the last bus usually leaving at 3 PM or earlier. There is a new Bus service that will take you directly to Cotacachi as well. On the weekend ask when the best bus to catch is and people will tell you one that will have available seats. If the buses are full on the weekend there are plenty of families heading out that are willing to pick up people for the equivalent of a bus fare (2 usd).