Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ecuador, A Wonderful Introduction to South America
(Part 2: Cuenca)

I remember when my parents told me that they were moving to Ecuador.  Although they were … and still are avid travelers, it came as an utter shock, as they’ve lived in Houston, Texas for most of their lives.  However, I knew that lifetime of dealing with over 100 degree heat, 99% humidity and erratic episodes of tornados and rainstorms that can have devasting effect on their home on any given day was wearing them out.  

They have been looking for a place (domestic and international) to move to and to retire for quite some time, and after a business trip to Ecuador to scout a property for a client, they were determined that Cuenca would be the place.  

Before my parents told me about their decision, I’ve never even heard of Cuenca and knew very little of Ecuador.  There were few places in South America that were on my bucket list of travel: Argentina, Santiago, Iguazu Falls, and the proverbial Machu Picchu, but never Ecuador; however, when my parents told me that they were moving to Cuenca, I was intrigued.
Nestled in the Andes Sierra, Ecuador's core, Cuenca is a gorgeous little city filled with stunning colonial architecture, bustling highland markets and diverse mix of people.  

Walking through the city’s Old Town with its narrow cobblestone streets and a rich collection of colonial-era churches, plazas, and buildings, you feel as if you’ve been transported to a different place and time. And the presence of its diverse cultures and various indigenous population (Incas and Cañaris) only heightens this magical setting.  

It’s no wonder that most locals regard Cuenca, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as Ecuador’s most beautiful city.

  the city's main plaza, Parque Calderón
Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción
Church of El Carmen de la Asunción & the flower market
Plaza de San Sebastián
Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno
Church of Santo Domingo
Plaza San Blas
the grassy banks of the Río Tomebamba, where some of the locals still wash their clothes
One of my favorite thing to do was taking walks along the Río Tomebamba admiring the graffiti art.  As part of Cuenca Mayor's effort to clean up city's graffiti, artists were hired to paint and display some of the finest works of art along the walls of buildings, much like the graffiti art project in San Francisco.  Vibrant culture and art is one of the things that has really impressed me about Cuenca, and everywhere I looked, there was so much creativity and beauty.  It’s easy to see why this paradise that has lured thousands of Americans away from home. 
Museo del Banco Central, this comprehensive museum sits right next to Pumapungo archaeological site, which was an Inca palace.  I was able to see and learn the history of the Indigenous people in Ecuador, as well as see archaeological artifacts found in the area.  I realized how important it is for the indigenous people in Americas to have such institution in remembering and maintaining their cultural heritage and their pre-Colombian identity.
The Todos Los Santos archaeological site that literally symbolizes the three layers of history, in a single area, you'll see structures built by Cañari, Inca, and Spanish settlers.
the magnificent view of Cuenca from Mirador Turi
Eduardo Vega Studio
la Casa de la Mujer
one of the local markets, Feira Libre Mercado, full of vendors who sold everything from fresh produce, meats and seafood, animals for pets to flowers.  I've been to  many great outdoor markets all over the world, and I so enjoy them, as it's always a great introduction to the local people and culture. 
Recommended restaurants:
Ecuador’s third-largest city also has a modern edge with a great selection of international restaurants, art galleries, cool cafés.  Here are some of my favorites.
  • Fabianos (President Cordova 4-84)
  • La Fornace (Antonio Borrero & Mariscal Sucre near Hotel Santa Lucia, tel. 072847246)
  • Lojano Cafeteria (Calle Sucre, just west of Padre Aguirre)
  • Oro Mar
  • Raymipampa (Benigno Malo 8-59, tel. 072834159)
  • Red Crab (Luis Moreno Mora 3-63 & Francisco Moscoso)
  • Corvel (Simon Bolivar 8 -37, Paute, tel. 072251556) – a lovely restaurant about 45 min. outside of Cuenca in the town of Paute.  Corvel looked like a 5-star restaurant in Manhattan, and the food is well worth the drive.
  • El Agave (Panamericana Sur Km 17.5 via Cuenca-Giron, tel. 4035065) – located about 30 min outside of Cuenca about half way to the town of Giron
Recommended day trips from Cuenca: 
Cuenca is located in the midst of the most breathtaking landscapes in Ecuador, stunning turquoise lagoons nestle in extinct volcanic craters and riders on horseback traverse lush national parks and cloud forests that will take your breath away. 
  • Ingapirca, Ecuador's most impressive Inca ruins
  • majestic Cajas National Park, full of scenic hiking trails and peaceful blue lagoons
  • Centro Ecuestre Bellavista
  • The valley of Gualaceo and 4 villages known for its specialty craft items: Gualaceo, a town known for its leather goods; Chordeleg known for their silver; Sigsig, famous for their handmade hats; and San Bartolome, a picturesque little village perched on top of the Andes, famous for their handcrafted guitars
  • El Chorro de Giron, an idyllic waterfall located about an hour away.  The thunderous sounds of waterfall was massive, and what made the whole experience even more special was to sit out on the veranda soaking up the breathtaking scenery, which was an absolutely a perfect moment!
For more Wonderful Day Trips From Cuenca  
Ecuador, Part 1: Quito
Ecuador, Part 3: Guayaquil & the Coast


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