The Yunguilla Valley is southwest of the city of Cuenca on a long downslope through Azuay Province that leads to El Oro Province and coastal areas like Machala. The valley runs mostly east-west, so it gets full sun in the daytime during most of the year. After Santa Isabel, the valley continues due west all the way down to the coast. So everyday during the late afternoon to sunset, the eastern wall of the Yunguilla Valley is brilliantly illuminated. Even on cloudy days, the sun manages to peak under the cloud layer during “golden hour” and give the valley a magical orange glow.
Taking the highway “Panamamerica Sur” (E35) past Tarqui, the road splits to continue on to Loja or to take the “Cuenca-Passaje” (E59) road towards Giron. The road itself is only two lane and not really safe for “highway speeds.”
The first 10km after the redondel is a sprawling pastureland full of milk cows; this area is actually known for milk and cheese production. The headwaters of the Rio Tarqui run through this area and the runoff from the mountains has flooded this entire area during heavy rains. To the west of the road lays the small, agricultural town of Victoria del Portete. There are several small restaurants and a gas station before getting to the next section of road into Giron. This area is still pretty high up, at around 2700 meters (8860 feet) above sea level.
At the end of the stretch is the small village of El Portete. It is on the edge between the high valley and the lower valley. Look for the “Via a Pongo” from here, there are some hiking trails and a memorial of the Battle of Tarqui. The dirt road to Pongo winds its way up past Tioploma, and along the ridge to the east rim of the valley looking back at Giron.
The village of Pongo is just under 3100 meters (10,170 feet) above sea level, so tourists and visitors should be advise to stay hydrated and take it easy while hiking. Remember, not only is the air thinner and the altitude much higher making it harder to breathe, but the thinner atmosphere and makes the sun’s ultraviolet rays very intense. It is best to cover up your bare skin and wear a large, sun-blocking hat. Also, be advised that cloudy days can be just as bad as sunny days, so don’t take the fact that you can’t see the sun as the same as being protected from ultraviolet rays.
Past Pongo, there’s a trailhead that goes to Jeca Peak (3012m or 9882ft) where you can have a spectacular view to of the valley to the southwest.
After El Portete, the descent into Giron begins. There are a few vista points at the top, but depending on the day’s weather, you may or may not be able to see anything. Often, this part of the road gets socked in with a thick layer of clouds that prevent any views. On the other hand, on a clear day — when the sun is just right, you will be treated to a 15 mile (25 kilometer) view down the length of the valley that will surely take your breath away.