One of Southern Ecuador’s best kept secrets is the flowering of the guayacanes. Every year for just a handful of days the guayacan bursts into color, a glorious shade of yellow, in fine contrast to the desert soil, which is a red color. Here we explore what is going on, why it happens, where you might get to see this beautiful event and when to do, as well as some practical recommendations about taking a trip here.
The flowering of the guayacanes is a natural event that occurs once a year in the southern region of Ecuador and northern Peru, in an area of relatively dry, desert-like land. The name guayacan is a generic one, and the actual name of the trees in this area is Tabebuia chrysantha.
The trees blossom and the landscape bursts into color, with a visual feast of yellow across the forest. The reason that the flowering happens in the way that it does, is because the plant lives in an environment that is usually very dry. It needs to hang onto water in order to survive, and so during the dry season it is completely bare. Once the first rains come, the trees blossom. Once the blossom falls, the trees sprout leaves, and these remain with the tree until the rainy season comes to an end.
The plant flowers for just a few days. After the peak period of blossoming, the flowers fall from the trees and get eaten by the goats that local farmers own.
The number of people that get to see this amazing phenomenon only amounts to around 10,000 people per year. This is due to the rather unpredictable nature of its happening, meaning that most visitors are domestic, and typically from cities like Quito and Guayaquil. However, it is a long drive from Quito, estimated at around 16 hours. The Ministry of Tourism in Ecuador started drawing attention to the event around 10 years ago, and the visitors have been coming ever since.
The weather does have an important influence over the flowering process and the extent to which the forest blossoms. When the rains are heavy then it is usually the case that the whole woodland will flower at around the same time, within just a few days. On the other hand, if the rains are not so strong, then trees will blossom a few at any one time. Some will flower earlier and some a bit later.
If you hope to see Ecuador’s guayacan tree in flower, you need to visit the Southern Ecuadorian area of Mangahurco, which is in the Loja province of the country. The flowering can also be seen across the border in northern Peru. Very few people live directly in this area, and there aren’t a lot of tourist services in these parts. In fact, the locals have been somewhat surprised by tourist interest in the event.
Getting to see the guayacan tree flower its brilliant yellow in Ecuador will involve a bit of luck, since the plant only does so for around five days each year. Unlike the better-known cherry blossom season in Japan, Ecuador’s own blossoming is a little harder to predict. Given the importance of the weather in the flowering process, when the spectacle occurs and the extent of it can vary significantly. The process can start as early as November, and sometimes it happens in December, though most typically it is seen in the month of January.
Since the flowering of the guayacanes is so reliant on the weather, we do not recommend that you plan your trip around seeing them, otherwise you could end up being very disappointed. What you could do however, is plan to spend some time in Loja and Vilcabamba around January and ask your guide to keep their ear to the ground about the flowering. If it happens to occur while you are there, you could take a trip, and don’t forget to take your camera to capture the beauty. You’ll want to stay somewhere more touristed anyway, as there is very little in the way of accommodation and other services in this not very populated part of the country.
It is worth noting that if you do get lucky enough to take a visit to this area for flowering season, beware that the roads around here are dirt and gravel only. The area does not have a lot of infrastructure, as few people live here.
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