Parades and celebrations fill the streets of Saraguro, Ecuador in the week leading up to its Independence Day on March 10. It’s a great time to visit this Andean town that’s just one and a half hours north of Loja and just 90 miles (140 km) from the city of Cuenca. By pure travel luck, we found ourselves in Saraguro in the midst of their Independence Day festival where the area’s living indigenous culture was proudly on display. Here’s what the celebrations looked like (plus a must-visit restaurant right on the main plaza).

Saraguro Ecuador dress

Most Andean festivals involve a lot of color, but in Saraguro colorful blouses and bright beaded collar pieces are almost always worn with somber black skirts and shawls.

Saraguro Ecuador traditional dress

These traditional hats are handcrafted from heavy, felted wool which is waterproofed and decorated with black markings.

women Saraguro Ecuador

These ladies have witnessed quite a few festivals in their tme.

traditional dress Saraguro Ecuador festival queens

It’s not a festival until you put a sash on a few festival queens.

Saraguro Ecuador festival

More traditional clothing on display.

Saraguro Ecuador church

A local man hurries past the church on the main plaza in Saraguro.

Saraguro woman Shamui restaurant

Watching the parades from the stylish Shamui Espai Gastronomic restaurant on the main plaza in Saraguro.

portraits Saraguro Ecuador

Native crops, like corn, are also celebrated – often in the form of fermented chicha.

traditional women Saraguro Ecuador

More traditional clothing and the woman on the far left is spinning yarn the traditional way as well.

festival Saraguro Ecuador

Traditional foods were also part of the Independence Day celebrations in Saraguro, including cuy (guinea pig).

children Saraguro Ecuador

Kids on parade are always a top draw.

Saraguro festival reina

Traditionally-dressed celebrants escort a float carrying one of the queens of the festival.

musician Saraguro Ecuador

Almost every man we saw was wearing black cropped pants like these. Not everyone had an accordion.

Saraguro Ecuador desfile

The local culture is known for traditional equality between the sexes and these women are marching with a banner from an agricultural school for women.

Saraguro Ecuador campesinos

If there wasn’t a truck in the background of this photo you might think it was taken many, many years ago.

Saraguro Ecuador

Watching the parade go by.

Where to eat in Saraguro

We did not expect to find remarkable food in Saraguro, Ecuador.  Then we walked into Shamuico Espai Gastronomic run by local chef Samuel Ortega. Ortega moved to Spain with his family when he was 12 and honed his kitchen skills in Europe including time working at Il Bulli.

Shamui restaurant Saraguro Ecuador

Two of the inventive dishes, made by a local chef using local ingredients, at Shamui Espai Gastronomic on the main plaza in Saraguro.

When Ortega was 24 he returned to Saraguro and opened his own place in a 160-year-old building on the square that he restored with his architect sister. Ortega told us that 90% of the ingredients he uses come from the rich agricultural area around Saraguro or from his own small kitchen garden. His sometimes unorthodox needs have even inspired local farmers to experiment with different crops. Grab a table inside a modern dining room with skylights and a view into the open kitchen or outdoors in the traditional central courtyard and enjoy drinks, snacks, or polished full plates at incredibly reasonable prices. We did.

 

Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

Here’s more about Festivals & Celebrations