Around the town there are plenty of walks you can do to enjoy the local wildlife. We took an easy walk in Rumi Wilco (aka Rumihuilco), a large reserve and ecolodge which is about a 10 minute walk from town. We saw many birds, camera shy butterflies, a couple of squirrels, and some nudists. Something for everyone.
For a great view, you can climb Mandango. Or you can catch a taxi to Sol de Venenado Cerveceria in San Pedro. We chose the latter.
By bus it’s about 1.5 hourseto Loja from Saraguro, another ride with stunning views. We didn’t do as much as we’d planned in Loja due to bad weather, being under the weather and time taken for writing job applications. However, we thought it seemed like a friendly, quiet, city. However, if you’re interested in visiting, just wait for about a year. The city is in the midst of renovations, and it seemed like most of the streets in centro historico have been dug up, waiting for the tarmac treatment. The pavements were in many places also undergoing ‘rejuvenation.’ So every time the wind blew, there was dust everywhere. We talked with a couple of locals as to how tough that must be, but they were both in favour, despite the disruption.
From Cuenca we caught an Ejecutivo San Luis Bus (which seemed very new and included a screen, wifi, usb ports and a loo at the back – US$5 pp) with tix purchased beforehand at the Ejecutivo office at the station. If you need to catch a bus from Cuenca station, have some dimes ready, as on top of your ticket you also need to pay 10c to get a coupon to pass through the turnstile to get to the bus platform. Cuenca departure tax. The trip is mountainous and windy. We saw some amazing views of the mountains when the tops weren’t shrouded in mist. Definitely try and sit on the right if you can. If you’re prone to travel sickness, steel yourself for the last half an hour as you wind into Saraguro. We sat up the front and that helped. Also be prepared for the bus stopping to pick up locals and school kids travelling between towns.
Saraguro is a town known for the strength of the local indigenous population’s culture, and their adherence to wearing traditional dress, including distinctive black and white ‘cow hide’ hats. The community is also known for its craft skills, particularly beaded necklaces. We enjoyed checking out the town and meeting some of its inhabitants. It was much colder than expected (the locals were complaining) so some proposed day trips out of town didn’t quite happen. We stayed at Achik Wasi Hostel, a community run place in a great location overlooking the town.
Cuenca is a lovely town to walk around. One of our guides told us there are 52 churches – one for every week of the year. They wanted to build one for each of the saints and then realised it would be impossible – so they build one called Todos Santos (All Saints) to make sure everyone not already honoured was covered. This is one of my favourite churches that we’ve been to – for $1 you can take a tour up to the tower for great views of the city.
There are also many, many museums, only a few of which we’ve visited. Some I’d recommend. The Municipal Museum of Modern Art is a fantastic old building, with changing exhibitions and some Ecuadorian sculpture. On the day we were there, we met very friendly staff who will happily converse with you even if your Spanish is terrible.
Pumapago is one of the largest, but sadly when we visited most of it was closed for renovations. However, the architectural ‘ruins’ out the back is a great place to walk around, and there’s information on plants. There is also a park next door with a small menagerie of birds.
The Museum of Aboriginal Cultures has an incredible number of pieces, with some information available in English. Nothing about the skull with the gold studs though.
I think my favourite was the Remigio Crespo Toral House Museum. There was an exhibition of historical clothing (reimagined by the textile students of Azuy University), as well as some information about the famous poet who lived there, and other important Cuencans. For example, politician and all round renaissance man Honorato Vasquez, who we thought bore an uncanny resemblance to Bill Bailey. On the bottom floor there is a cafe with a great deck looking out to historic buildings and the river.
At Llaviucu Lake there is a picturesque ruin. Our guide told us it was the site of a German Brewery that was established there before WWI. What a fab location. Now the only other buildings there are a lodge where you can stay (but you need your own linen and everything) and a covered walkway on the far side of the lake, part of the Sendero Uku path around the lake. This is an easy walk around the lake once you traverse the narrow, pebbled road to get there.
For this trip we travelled with Arutam Ecotours, meeting our transport and guide at a healthy 6 am to start the day. Parque Cajas is a large park, and our introduction was at one of the lower entrances, Llaviucu Lake. It’s only about 30 minutes from Cuenca central. With a guide we went to parts you might not otherwise see, but the walk around the lake would be easy enough to do by yourself. A great benefit (besides information about the birds, animals and location) was that with a guide we were let into the park a good 1.5 hours before it officially opened. One of my favourite trips for this hol.
Had an outing with Cuencabestours to check out Ecuador’s most significant Cañari & Inca ruins near the town of Ingapirca. The Cañari were the people who lived at the site for hundreds? of years before the Incans – they were eventually overtaken by Incan culture but some elements of their culture are thought to exist at the site. Of course Machu Picchu in Peru is the outstanding example of Inca ruins, but Ingapirka is remarkable in its own way. Apparently some parts have been ‘rebuilt’ but the Inca trail and Sun Temple are original and impressive when you realise how long they have been there, exposed to the elements. On the day we went (during the week) there were not many people around, which was great. The archaeological park is surrounded by farms, so from the site we also observed someone ploughing a steep and rocky field with bullocks. Apparently farmers do find items but at the moment there is not much government investment in archaeology. You can also do an enjoyable short walk once you leave the park to see the ‘Face of the Inca’. Our guide was very skeptical that it had been carved, but nevertheless it did look imposing.
So far Cuenca feels like a laid back uni town. Centro Histórico has some amazing looking buildings, with many impressive churches and plazas to admire. So far my favourite location is San Sebastian square. There is a cute park, an impressive church, a local brewery bar (Jodeco) and a modern art museum (with the latter still to be experienced). On the afternoon and evening we were there, we saw very well-dressed wedding guests making their way to the church (and looking longingly at the bar). One of the photographers used a drone to capture aerial shots of guests and the plaza’s pigeons. There were kids playing in the fountain, dog fights and a subsequent argument between the dog owners, people riding bikes. The bride waited in her black Mercedes as more guests arrived. There was a busker playing first a hollowed out stick, then a recorder. Then later a band, who looked liked they should play reggae, but actually played a cool kind of jazz, entertained bar and plaza patrons. After the wedding ceremony, there was a fireworks display virtually in our laps. It was like being in a Fellini film.
Visiting the Quilotoa crater from Black Sheep Inn was an easy 45 minute jeep ride. Once at Quilotoa the views were spectacular. We had been thinking we would walk to a neighbouring town Guayama, but decided on the day to take a good look round the crater instead. We walked part way round the ridge and then did the descent. It was pretty steep but the views were amazing.
Our first morning at the Inn was bright and clear – fantastic. We went for an amazing walk to the top of the ridge behind the Inn. Past the llamas, and a donkey, up some narrow goat tracks to reach the top. The outing was a bit more exciting than expected though. We had been warned that you need to take a ‘dog stick’ to scare off any over-excited farm dogs that like barking at passing traffic. Unfortunately on top of the ridge we had a rather aggressive one, who turned out to be the leader of a pack of four – which had us waving our sticks and walking away in a determined manner – and kind of spoiled the ‘nice walk in the country’ ambience. But plenty of relaxing in lovely surroundings in the afternoon so it was easy to get back to a more ‘tranquilo’ state.