The city of four riversWhile living in Naranjal, we used one of our weekends for a day trip to Cuenca. The colonial city is located in the highlands of Ecuador on 2500 meters above sea level and counts around 400.000 inhabitants. By many ecuadorians it is considered as the most beautiful city of the country, its center is listed as UNESCO world heritage. With its 4 universities it attracts many young people and is also a popular destination for backpackers.
To reach Cuenca it takes just two hours by car from Guayaquil and already the way has a lot to offer. It is very steep and leads along awesome mountain ranges, forests and national parks. Even though it’s not that far from the coastal area, it almost feels like entering another country. It appears to be way colder because of the altitude, during the day it’s nice and sunny but after sunset the temperatures can fall below 10°C. With the change of climate comes the change of culture, like in the Andes, many inhabitants wear colorful ponchos and bowler hats, have their own accent and eat different dishes. The plates are bigger, richer and often contain ingredients like corn, potatoes and meat . Typical dishes are ceviche de choklo (ceviche prepared with toasted corn instead of fish), mote con huevos (scrambled eggs with the Andean typical huge, white corn), horneado (kind of pulled pork) and cuy (roasted guinea pig).
The city offers plenty of things to explore. Already the UNESCO site, which expands between the streets Gran Colombia, Hermano Miguel and General Torres until the river Tomebamba in the south, is worth a day trip. In this area you can visit many historical buildings, cathedrals and monuments. Don't miss the Iglesia del Sagrario, Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción, Monastery el Carmen de Asuncion with its beautiful flower market in the atrium and the Monastery La Concepcion. Park Abdon Calderon is located between the two big cathedrals and is a great opportunity to get a little rest of the city and enjoy its tranquility. We also recommend to stop by at the museo de las Culturas Indigenas, which contains a free exhibition about the life of different native tribes of Ecuador. Once there, you should also take a walk through the museo Pumapungo, which is located right on the backside of the building on a small hill. It is actually more an archeological site than a museum and contains several ruins of the Inca time and a great view from the center over all the city. For a bit better view you could take a bus or taxi uphill and visit the mirador Turi, to get an overview of the whole valley including the city.
The independence day of the city, which we crashed in accidentally, finds place on November 3rd. or on the following weekend. The festivities include concerts, street artists and food venders. Basically all the inhabitants of Cuenca are spending a great time in the center and is definitely worth a visit too.
Also the surroundings of the city offer many activities. Jima for instance is a great hiking spot, at the foot of two beautiful green mountains at 2700m altitude. It is the starting point for hikes of all skill levels, including a 3 day hike from the peaks of the Andes down till the rainforest of Amazonia. Another great destination is El Cajas, a national park with plenty rivers, streams and lagoons including the famous mirrored lakes. It is also one of the best spots for birdwatching in Ecuador. 65km outside of the city is the Cañar plantation, with a colorful market and Ingapirca, the largest complex of Inca ruins in Ecuador. Also the capital of the Cañar province Azores, is definitely worth a visit with - its colonial atmosphere and the Franciscos convent, built on the summit of a sacred mountain by the the prehispanic residents leaves an unforgettable memory.
Fore more visual impressions please check out our image gallery here.
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