Our last stop in Ecuador was Cuenca. This is a pretty colonial city with spring like weather which was a nice change from the humid and cloudy coast. It sits at about 2500m above sea-level so it took us a few days to get used to the altitude again. There are many things to do in Cuenca such as exploring the colonial architecture, visiting the high altitude Las Cajas National Park and visiting a museum of Ecuador’s famous export – the Panama hat!
Colonial architecture of Cuenca
Overall we liked Cuenca but I think 2 to 3 days is probably enough time to spend exploring the city and surrounds. We found it difficult enough to find cheap restaurants, especially on Sundays so check opening hours as you wander around the city.
What we did in Cuenca
Las Cajas is a national park with over 230 lakes and lagoons at altitudes between approx. 3000m to 4500m. It is a perfect day trip from Cuenca which can be easily done on your own. It is located about 40 minutes from Cuenca.
Stunning scenery of Las Cajas
To get to Las Cajas
We went to the Terminal Terrestre bus station and got the Occidental bus at around 9.20am. When I say got, I mean we ran after the bus as it was pulling out of the bus station. Thankfully one of the security guards helped us stop the bus and we hopped on. There is a fee of about 10 cent / 1 dime to leave the terminal and we paid $2 on the bus for the journey to Las Cajas. Ask at your hostel for bus times or head to the terminal before 9am so you wont have a running after experience and you will have more time to ask around. To return to Cuenca we waited no more than 30 minutes on the side of the road until a bus stopped for us.
The flora at this altitude is a lot different!
What route did we take
As it was cloudy the security guards suggested we walk around Toreadora Lake so it ended up being a very short walk. We saw others climbing up the side of a mountain though and that did not look like fun especially with the wind. It is free to enter the park but you must register with the rangers. There are different trails to chose from but the routes are not well marked which is a bit to very frustrating. Take a picture of the routes in the registration office and it might help.
The scenery in the national park is amazing!
Tips: Bring a packed lunch, water, warm clothes, rainjacket, suncream so basically be prepared for all types of weather!
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, also known as the New Cathedral has an amazing door which took us a few attempts to capture with no cars passing by. It is located in Parque Calderón and hard to miss. It has three beautiful blue domes too so make sure to look up.
The amazing door of the cathedral
You can go up the tower for $2 but don’t bother it’s not worth it. There is building material thrown around and you may find a group of selfie obsessed girls taking pictures while setting off the very loud motion detector alarm consistently which may end in you motioning for them to MOVE OFF! Like why have a motion alarm that rings continuously and the security guard doesn’t bother coming up to check what is going on!!
A view from the Cathedral tower
And changing the subject slightly, here’s a fun fact, the towers were never completed and so do not have bells. There is a picture of present state versus planned state of the Cathedral which is located on the upper level of the tower so who knows if they will continue with the build in years to come.
The domes are pretty amazing if not covered in scaffolding!
Get lost in the city and wander
Beside the cathedral look out for Parque de los Flores where beautiful flowers are for sale and it smells great. Walk along river Tomebamba to escape the city for an hour. Hang around and relax in Parque Caledron.
Santo Domingo Church
Sombrero Museum – Museo del Sombrero Homero Ortega
If you want to see lots of different colourful sombrero hats, otherwise known as Panama hats then head to the Sombrero Museum. It is more like a shop than a museum but you can watch some of the processes that go into making the hats and also try some on. There is a café / mirador at the back of the shop as well if you fancy a break after browsing.
Lots of Panama Hats!
We came across lots of different markets during our walks throughout the city selling souvenirs and artesenal goods. Head to Centro Municipal de Artesanias for a look around. If you are heading to Peru however it may be worth waiting to buy your goodies there as it is much cheaper!
Pumapungo Museum and Park
We headed here on a Monday only to realize the museum was closed but thankfully the park behind the museum was open. We visited some of the Cañari ruins, a pretty park and watched some llamas munching on some grass. There is also an aviary on site with parrots, hawks and parrokees. Cost to the ruins and park is free. Museum is open all days except Mondays and I believe the entrance is free.
Pumapungo and it’s llamas!
Other things to do in Cuenca
Mirador Tutu for a view of the city, visit some Museums – CIDAP, Modern Art, Remigio Crespo Toral, Sightseeing Tour bus is $8.
Food and Cafés
We headed here to kill a few hours on our last day. They have good internet and have English tea that actually tastes great. We got desert Salphur which was a major let down so maybe try a different desert.
A Colombian café which give really good portions and fresh food. We tried the merienda for $3 and it was well worth it. It was probably tastier than most food we had in Colombia. The owners hail from Medellin. Almuerzos cost $2.50. They have a range of arepas also but we didn’t get a chance to try them.
Burgers and chips and drink for $4. Tasty. We headed here for almuerzo and we got some raw brocolli, cauliflower and carrots for the salad portion which was both random and tasty.
We got our clothes cleaned and it was one of the first times they smelt nice. Head to Calle Estevez de Toral on the intersection with Calle Gaspar Sangurima and look for Lavenderia Los Angeles and you will the find the laundry man.
Where we stayed
We stayed 5 nights in Cuenca as we were not feeling great so needed time to recover and prepare for country number 11, Peru. We stayed in Hostel Lidice which had comfy beds, a great breakfast and a tv in the room which was part of the essential checklist for watching the World Cup games.
Sidenote: Rabies shot in Cuenca
It is possible to get a rabies vaccination in Cuenca for free but it does involve a lot of waiting. Below is our experience!
We were due our rabies shot booster (one year after initial vaccination) so headed out to Centre de Salud 2 which is near the river and Musuem Pumapongo. After queuing for 30 minutes to talk to some one at reception we were then told to go straight to the vaccination room at the back of the center. There we had to wait another 40 minutes as we had arrived at lunch time, thankfully it coincided with a world cup game so we were kept entertained.
We finally got talking to a very unfriendly nurse who brought us upstairs to a Public Safety officer to discuss the vaccination. He took our information and we waited for another hour not knowing what was going on until he said “cinco minutos más”. After the 5 minutes we followed him downstairs to the drug dispenser where he handed the chemist some paper and we said our goodbyes. Once the chemist was ready she called us up and we signed some paper forgetting to read it and headed to the vaccination area with the security guard holding the rabies shot.
We were back again with the unfriendly nurse, who just shouted “venga” and injected us in the arm while standing up in the reception area with the security guard staying around for a look. But at least we got the shot which was our aim for the day.