I left for a two-week trip in Ecuador with Miriam, a friend from the volunteering experience in Vilcabamba. We started by visiting Cuenca and its surroundings. The third biggest city in the country is famous for its well-preserved colonial architecture and its sweet life.
Being back to civilization felt hard after such a long time deep in nature but we still managed to enjoy our time as much as possible in this nice city.
Tuesday 19th February 2019
After a good night sleep, we both felt ready to visit Cuenca. We left with no particular plan, just letting our steps guiding us where we would feel. I always love this way to discover cities, with no special objective, getting surprised along the streets and soaking up the atmosphere.
The first impression we had on our arrival the night before got quickly confirmed; it was quite of a shock to be in town after so much time in the peacefulness of nature: the noises of buses, cars and motorbikes, the bad smells and the exhausts emissions, the music out loud everywhere… we felt aggressed on all sides!
We still appreciated the architecture of the streets and monuments, which colonial style was well preserved. After visiting the cathedral and exploring the centre, we walked along the river Tomebamba, which separates the city in two: on the north the historical centre, on the south the modern part.
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The stroll along the river was nice and it felt good to be a bit in nature again. We passed in front of some small Inca ruins and were then intrigued by a shop with a bike on the front, which basket was full of bread. It turned out to be a real bakery with lots different kinds of sourdough breads; it then exists in South America!
We were reasonable enough to buy only one bread but the temptation was big, and we could have bought everything in this bakery! 😉
Museum and market
We then arrived at the Pomapungo Museum, a free ethnologic museum, apparently the biggest in town. And indeed, we stayed there almost 3h!
Some Inca ruins are to discover in the exterior part of the museum, as well as a garden and an aviary with some beautiful birds and raptors of Ecuador.
The ground floor is dedicated to the Inca civilization, with some superb archaeological treasures; while the second floor presents the different Ecuadorian tribes, showing their costumes, traditions and ways of life. The overall scenography is very well done and makes this museum really interesting.
Back from the museum, we stopped again at the bakery to get another bread – we had already eaten the first one as our lunch – and then went to get our food stocks at the main market. The advantage of going at the end of the day is that one can easily bargain some over-ripe fruits; thus we left full of food for the coming days.
We came back to the hostel feeling over-tired; we were definitely not used anymore to the city! The yoga was our best remedy (Miriam is a vinyasa yoga teacher).
Guided tour of Cuenca
Wednesday 20th February 2019
We left to visit Cuenca in a more extensive way with the city’s free walking tour. A 2h guided tour that enabled us to get to know more about Cuenca’s history, and to discover some patios and monuments that we would not have dared entering otherwise.
The tour finished at the Hats Museum, where we learnt an interesting anecdote. The famous straw hat was indeed known as coming from Panama but it was actually traditionally made in Ecuador! All of this thanks to Roosevelt President, who had declared on the radio that his hat was coming from Panama. It is nowadays still handmade in Ecuador, and the prices vary depending on the weaving’s fineness (from 200 to 800 dollars for the finest ones).
This tour of the city was worth it even though the guide had a terrible English accent (a tour in Spanish would have been much easier to understand but there were unfortunately more English-speaking visitors!)
A nap and some views over Cuenca
As we were both feeling really tired from the city, we went to get some rest along the river, where we fell asleep for a while. We could still hear the sound of the traffic but it nevertheless did us some good.
We then left by bus to Turi’s mirador, a viewpoint located in the south of Cuenca. We had our picnic there and went back on foot to our hostel, which was on the other side of the city.
We arrived at the hostel still so tired… yoga, dinner and some rest would be enough for the evening!
Heading to Ingapirca
Thursday 21st February 2019
We woke up early and left to the terminal to get a bus to Ingapirca, which are the country’s largest Inca ruins, located about 2h north of Cuenca.
We arrived there in the morning and started by a guided tour of the main site (which can’t be visited alone). Our guide was speaking very fast and running from one place to another, without letting us time to digest the information or to take any pictures… definitely not the way I like to visit places.
The site itself is pretty small, and thus the tour was finished after only 45 minutes. We could then move on to another part that was without a guide (phew!), where we could take our time. It felt good to be again in a quiet and green area. The atmosphere and the eucalyptus all around reminded me a lot about Peru (especially the region of Cuzco), even though the ruins themselves were much smaller than the majority of the sites I visited in Peru.
First successful hitchhiking
We took the time to have our picnic and then started to watch the departures from the parking lot, as we were hoping to come back hitchhiking. We were actually lucky because the first couple we asked to immediately accepted.
It was a German couple, André and Laura, who happened to be heading to Cuenca too. We spent the whole trip talking with them, and even agreed to go with them to Guayaquil in two days. It was indeed on our way to go the coast and we were thinking about going hitchhiking, so that would make it much easier!
Some rest and shopping
Friday 22nd February 2019
Not such an interesting day for you dear readers, as it was mainly dedicated to chilling, working on the blog and buying some food the next coming days!
Cajas National Park
Saturday 23rd February 2019
André and Laura came to pick us up at our hostel early in the morning and we then left first to Cajas National Park, which is located one hour from Cuenca and is on the way to Guayaquil.
This huge park covers a mountain range located between 3 000 m and 4 500 m above sea level. It is known for its always green forest and not less than 165 lagoons, its rich fauna and flora, but also for it rigorous climate, especially at this period. Lots of wind and rain, which feel even worse with the altitude.
We first went to explore a small lagoon accessible from a first entry that is less visited than the main one. As soon as we arrived, we were amazed by the place’s quietness and serenity, and we were quite lucky with the climate so far. We had a walk all around the lagoon, fully enjoying this calming place. The vegetation was abundant and the birds flying on all sides; this place had won our hearts.
We then took the car again to go to another entry of the park, located a few kilometres further. However this one is the most frequented as it leads to the park’s most famous lagoons. The parking lot was thus full and we couldn’t park there. We were then forced to go on and stop a bit further, at the Mirador Tres Cuces, which overlooks the different lagoons below. The wind was freezing at this height (4 200 m high) so we didn’t stay long and continued our road.
When the rains changes the plans
As we started to go down the road after passing this peak, we entered a deep cloud that was covering all the view. The rain would start our plans of picnic. We had indeed offered with Miriam to offer the lunch to our nice drivers; but we finally had to eat in the car, as it was pouring rain outside.
Once full, we started to drive again; we still had 2h to go to get to Guayaquil. From the cold and the rain of the mountains, we finally arrived to a road crossing huge fields of banana trees, and it was suddenly surprisingly very warm. What a radical change!
As we were getting closer to Guayaquil, André and Laura offered to drive us to a national park located about 20 minutes on the other side of the city. We had though about sleeping there as it is free to camp. They were so adorable with us!
Unfortunately the rain changed our plans again and we arrived there under a real deluge, which was not engaging to set our tent.
We thus decided to go back to Guayaquil and find the cheapest hostel we could to spend the night. We didn’t want to go to this city at all (it’s the second biggest in Ecuador), especially as we had been told that it was dangerous and very unpleasant, but we didn’t have so much choice.
We split with André and Laura after thanking them a lot, and went to a miserable and terribly noisy hostel. The heat was unbearable, the traffic never ending, there was music out loud for the whole night… it would definitely not be the best night of our trip (if not the worst!) but by the following day we would be able to enjoy the ocean, and we were really looking forward to it!
To be continued…
Bus au sein de Cuenca : 0,25$ par trajet
Bus in Cuenca: 0,25$ per trip
Bus Cuenca – Ingapirca: 2$, about 2h trip
Hostal Mi Casa in Cuenca : 7$ per person in a 6-bed dorm. Very familial hostel, with well-furnished rooms (individual plugs, curtains around the beds…), a spacious kitchen and a space to wash and hang your clothes. Worth it!
Hostal Berlin in Guayaquil: 13,50$ for two people with a double bed and private bathroom. Kitchen available. Very gloomy and extremely noisy hostel (music out loud all night long and never-stopping traffic), really not a pleasure.
Pomapungo Museum: Free entrance and best city in town. It is located on some Inca ruins (still visible), has a big garden, birds, a part dedicated to archaeology and the Inca, and the second foor focused on the different tribes in Ecuador. A must!
Ingapirca Ruins: 2$ for a guided tour (mandatory). It’s the biggest Inca site in Ecuador, although it looks quite small when one knows the Peruvian ruins. Count on 45 min for the guided tour and about an hour for the free part.
Cajas National Park: Free entrance, with various entrances. Buses leave everyday from Cuenca (1h bus trip). It’s possible to camp there for free. Bring some warm and waterproof clothes.