Historical City in the Andes Mountains
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Cuenca is a remarkable historical city in Ecuador. The city is particularly known for its beautiful buildings from the colonial era of the Spanish. This gives the city its own unique atmosphere. You can find many churches there, but you can also experience numerous traditional customs. I travelled around the city for three days. These are the most enjoyable sights and attractions of Cuenca. There is also much information about the various excursions in and around the city.
The city is located in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of about 2,500 meters. This gives it a moderate climate, which means you can experience both sun and rain in a single day. The city is approximately 400 kilometers south of the capital Quito in the Andes Mountains. It is the third largest city in Ecuador after Quito and Guayaquil.
On Tuesday and Friday, you can witness something remarkable at the local market of Cuenca. Local residents come for a Traditional Spiritual Cleansing. This involves being cleansed of 'bad luck' or misfortune. For example, your head is vigorously rubbed with branches and leaves. And all the while, various incantations are spoken by the 'healer'. You also receive various ointments that are applied to your skin. In the case of children, a substance is even spit on their heads. It is very intriguing to see.
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This impressive cathedral dates back to the 16th century. It was built in the Mudéjar style, which only exists in Spain. It is a unique blend of Moorish and Christian architecture. This cathedral combines Mudéjar, Romanesque, and Gothic elements. It is one of the city's most important historical attractions. The Catedral de Cuenca houses several valuable works of art and relics.
This cathedral is a beautiful example of Neo-Gothic architecture and is considered one of the city's most important landmarks. It is located in the historic centre of Cuenca and is open to visitors. The Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción is definitely worth a visit. Climb to the roof, from where you have a good view over the city. Especially in good weather, this provides great photo opportunities. Unfortunately, I had rain, which literally put a damper on it.
The Seminario San Luis was built at the beginning of the 19th century. It has several patios that offer a beautiful view of the domes of the neighbouring cathedral. You can enjoy a drink in various cafes and shop in local shops. You can also walk through the gardens with different bushes and shrubs.
A local market is always a sensory experience. In Cuenca, you can find various markets, but the Mercado 10 de Agosto is the largest. This covered market is a great place to try local food and buy souvenirs. You will find vegetables, fruits (including many unknown to us), as well as fish and meat. The market is located in the historic center of Cuenca and is open every day.
This museum is housed in the old building of the Banco Central (Central Bank) and contains a collection of pre-Columbian art, such as pottery, statues, and utensils. The museum also provides information about the history of the city of Cuenca and the region.
Guinea pig is a popular meal in Ecuador. There are specialized restaurants, called Cuyerias, where you can taste this delicacy. The animals are stripped of their fur and then roasted on a barbecue. Usually, the entire animal, including the head, teeth, and legs, is served. However, as a tourist, you can also choose to only have the middle part. Ecuadorians eat pretty much everything from the cuddly animal known to us. It's up to you whether you want to give it a try.
This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of Cuenca. It allows you to see the entire city with the surrounding mountains. These are mainly extinct volcanoes, but they are impressive nonetheless. It is located on a hill just outside the city and is a popular spot for both tourists and the local population.
In the middle of the city, you can find old Inca ruins. These extensive ruins are the remains of the 15th-century Inca city of Tomebamba. The largest remains are the palace of the leaders of the Kañari tribe. According to archaeologists, most of the other structures have a religious and ceremonial significance. The remains extend in terraces along a hill towards the Rio Tomebamba below. Together with Ingapirca, these are the most northern Inca ruins in the country. Next to the road, you can see a statue of Huayna Capac, an Inca emperor who ruled here.
The adjacent Pumapungo Museum primarily showcases the various peoples of Ecuador, including the Jivaro tribe. After a battle, they would remove the skull from the skin of their opponents. They would then dry it, causing the skin to shrink, and carry it with the hair intact as a kind of trophy. It's macabre, but also unique. You can see some shrunken heads in the museum.
This river flows through Cuenca and is a popular place for walking, picnicking, and other outdoor activities. There are several bridges and parks along the river, including Parque de la Madre, Parque Calderón, and Parque de la Madre.
This botanical garden is located just outside Cuenca and features a collection of orchids and other tropical plants. It is a great place to learn more about the local flora. You can also enjoy a delightful walk among the many colorful flowers.
Cuenca is a hotspot for traditional artists. I went in search of various artisans, who often have a studio that you can visit. I visited two potters who are over 80 years old and showcase their work all over the world. I also visited the famous artist Eduardo Segovia. Additionally, I stopped by a silversmith who mainly made rings and earrings in the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, the famous guitar maker Luis Uyaguari Quezada was not at home. Ask locally if you can visit these people. It's a delightful way to see passion and craftsmanship. And you'll have a souvenir that's truly worth it.
This museum is dedicated to pre-Columbian art and culture and features a collection of artworks from the region. It is located in the historic center of Cuenca and is open to visitors.
The cuisine of Ecuador is very diverse. The main meal of the day is lunch, which is enormous, so you often don't need to eat much in the evening. In Cuenca, you can take various cooking workshops. I took one at Warmikuna Cocina Taller to learn how to make several traditional lunch dishes. Potatoes, corn, vegetables, and lots of spices are at the centre of these dishes. There are multiple cooking classes, so ask on-site which ones are available during your trip.
Chicha is a drink that is over 5,000 years old, made and consumed by the original inhabitants. It is essentially fermented corn with a low alcohol content. It is still consumed, although Chicha almost disappeared. Mainly due to the Spaniards who brought their own beer and wine. You can try the drink in various places in Cuenca. Inquire locally about the options.
The Panama Hat originally comes from Ecuador and is still seen everywhere on the streets. The name originated from American President Theodore Roosevelt, who wore this handmade hat during the opening of the Panama Canal in 1913. Since then, it has been mistakenly called the Panama Hat. Many of these hats are made in Cuenca. Local residents can submit their handiwork to one of the various Panama Hat Museums in the city, where the final process takes place. You can find hats ranging from 15 euros to over 500 euros. The price depends on the fineness of the hat, which can be seen in the fine weaving. You can visit the Museo Del Sombrero De Paja Toquilla, Homero Ortega Hats, and Barrancos Panama Hat Museum.
The city is delightful to stay in. You will find countless small and large hotels, hostels, and bed & breakfasts at reasonable prices. Just make sure to check the distances, it's smartest to sleep near or in the city center. That way, you can easily take a taxi to the various museums, for example.
Just outside Cuenca are numerous hot springs. You can swim in wonderfully warm water, take a bath in volcanic mud, or enjoy a cold and hot water bath. I had a wonderful massage which is great for tired muscles or simply to keep everything running smoothly.
This is an old Spanish colony located about 15 km from Cuenca. It is a small village with beautiful colonial houses and a picturesque church. It is a popular destination for day trips from Cuenca, where you can see how the local population makes cheese or other food products.
One of the excursions you can make is to the nearby Parque Nacional Cajas. It is located at high altitude in the Andes Mountains, well above 4,000 meters. There are several hiking trails, including ones that pass by various high-altitude lakes. I did multiple treks there and was amazed.
Read my article on Cajas National Park