On our second day at Alambi we travelled to the Mashpi cloudforest area, a region about an hour and a half away which is becoming well known for amazing bird life. Next to a very very very expensive lodge, for a mere US$10 you can see an incredible range of birds, some of which are only found in the Mashpi area. Gorgeous day.
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.
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.
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.
I hadn’t really thought about the drive from Quito to Black Sheep Inn, just that it was going to take about three to four hours. So the fabulous scenery on the trip to the Central Highlands was a bonus. Complete with Ecuadorian music and then disco hits of the 70s as the soundtrack. Good driving music in anyone’s language, obviously. And our driver was a local which was handy – it was a pretty windy road as we got closer to Chugchilán, and in a couple of places landslides had rendered the road one lane. After stunning mountain views the last 30 minutes of the trip was slow as visibility was minimal due to the afternoon cloud rolling in.
Our first introduction to Ecuador’s most famous artist was quite fitting for this post-postmodern world – great t-shirts. Although we didn’t realise until later, the fabulous images were the work of Oswaldo Guayasamin. In Quito you can visit Capilla del Hombre, which is Guayasamin’s home / studio, and a chapel he designed to pay hommage to humankind. This is a wonderful location to visit, not only to view his art but also see his art collection (pre-Columbian, colonial and the work of international artists like Picasso, Goya and Chagal) and his house, with great views across the city.