5 days - February 2019
After the capital Quito and the markets of Otavalo time to discovera new facet of Ecuador: the colonial city of Cuenca.
We decided to go by plane to save us a 10 hours’ bus ride. To get to the airport, we jump on a bus for 90 minutes and when we asked if he stops at the airport the driver leaves us on the highway. A little dubious we cross the highway running with our big backpacks and a new bus passes 30 seconds later, bus that will take us straight to the airport. It worked !
A 50 minutes’ flight and a beautiful sunset later, we arrive in Cuenca where we will stay 5 nights.
The city is built like a chessboard with airy street. Many buildings are inspired by the French style because at the beginning of the 19th, Ecuadorians exported panamas to Europe and brought back many materials from France.
In addition many French people crossed the Atlantic to calculate where the famous half of the world ("Mitad Del Mundo") was and left behind them some buildings. (Between us, we have never seen this type of buildings and materials in France !)
There are also many sidewalks, crosswalks and even traffic lights for pedestrians, so rare in Latin America that it is worth mentioning!
On the main square is the old cathedral which is now a museum and the new cathedral still under construction which contains marble similar to the one that can be found in the Vatican. A mass to launch the carnival festivities was underway with many politicians and army members attending. Here the carnival celebrations are primarily religious.
We climb to the top of the Cathedral to have a panoramic view of the domes and the city. Quite nice!
Behind the cathedral is a patio built in the 18th century (before the cathedral) where you can see the domes of the Cathedral coming from the Czech Republic (strange influence ...)
In addition there is the oldest street of Cuenca with stones remains of the Incas. Unlike Peru where they left many buildings, in Ecuador they stayed only 60 years and left very few memories. Indeed they defeated the Canaris in the early 16th century (Canaries who only used wood for their construction) and they were defeated by the Spaniards who destroyed everything in the process 60 years later ...
In Cuenca we will test our first "Almuerzo" - the menu of the day - with corn / potato soup, fruit juice, meat in sauce (usually chicken or guinea pig-yes it's eaten here!) and a fruit for dessert. All for $ 2 USD, what else?
Who says eating says market! At the 10 de agosto mercado, every Tuesday and Friday there are Ecuadorian Mama who whip people with vegetables! Strange, we ask what is happening and it is actually to purify the body and soul. If it's to purify then ...
There are also many guinea pigs (yes it is eaten here ...) and pigs grilled with the skin, potatoes and rice, the dish is called "papas locas", the crazy potatoes!
We also visit the museum Pumapungo with a very beautiful exhibition on the different cultures and ethnicities of the equator. What we will remember: the presence of miniature heads, a practice that took place until the 60s. An enemy? Catch him and reduce his head, how come you didn’t think about it earlier?
The gardens are nice and there are Inca ruins (not Machu Picchu style;) ) and especially domesticated llamas - we will learn later that all llamas are captive and domesticated. Quick selfie session with the lamas!
Finally, during the free walking tour, we went through a manufacturer of Panamas, these famous white hats. They do not come from Panama but from Ecuador! Roosevelt is at the origin of this confusion. Indeed, during the construction of the Panama Canal, many Ecuadorian workers were employed and worked with a hat on their head. Roosevelt went there and bought a hat. Upon his return to the United States at a press conference he was asked where this beautiful hat came from, he answered “from Panama” and the hat took that name.
The most expensive can be worth $ 1,000 USD and take a long time to manufacture (apparently one year).
Another reason we came to this city: Cajas National Park.
Like everywhere else in Ecuador, we hop on a bus that leaves us on the edge of the road, at the entrance of the national park, an hour later. Efficient, we like that!
The entrance to the park is located at 3,900m and a public bus passes at this altitude, crazy is not it?
We sympathize with a group of teachers on holiday in Ecuador and go for 4 hours of walking through beautiful landscapes.
As in Colombia, part of Ecuador's ecosystem is Paramo (explanations here!). We walk through tall grass, there are beautiful lagoons, we try an ascent to the summit but we get lost quickly.
We return on our steps and after enjoying bright sun we get rain, hail, fog, many times we end up with mud up to the ankles. An adventure ! The atmosphere becomes very mystical with the clouds, the fog, the vegetation so typical of Paramo and in all that our small group of French hikers. It's like being on the moon!
We also cross a forest of paper trees, very beautiful.
4 hours later we are on the main road of the country (the Panamerican that begins in Alaska and ends in Ushuaia) and 2 minutes later we hop on a bus that takes us back to our beautiful hostel type boutique hotel, very design.
A great stay in Cuenca and its surroundings, we thoroughly recommend!
# Quito-Cuenca by plane, 50 minutes for 40 euros and many less bus hours!
# to climb to the top of the cathedral: $ 2 USD.
# we stayed in Selina Cuenca: an amazing hostel, very design, large rooms, with even a curtain around the shower, soft sheets and a hair dryer! Pure luxury, we enjoyed it a lot. $ 26 usd per night, a gold deal!
# the Pumapungo Museum: free. Exposure to the upper level is recommended for the cultures and ethnic groups of the equator.
# we visited the Homero Ortega museum which is more a shop than a museum.
# we recommend the free walking tour which takes place every day from 10h to 13h.
RDV on the square of the cathedral.