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Cuenca is a vibrant colonial city in southern Ecuador, the third largest in the country, and the capital of Azuay Province. The city is located in a highland valley at about 2,500 m (8,200 ft) above sea level, and is home to 518,000 people according to the 2010 census. Its moderate climate makes it enjoyable year round. The center of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site site because of its many historical buildings. Everywhere you look in Cuenca, there are flowers, blooming trees, grass and rushing waters.
Cuenca is surrounded by mountains on all sides, with passes to the west, south and east. From downtown, looking southwest, you can see the beautiful Cajas mountains; the majority of this area is protected by the large Cajas National Park (Parque Nacional Cajas), well worth the trip.
The city is cleaner and safer than most large cities in developing countries and there are claims it has purer water than most U.S. and European cities. Unlike other cities in Ecuador, the drinking water is OK to consume. From 2010 to 2013 the government utility agency, ETAPA, built brand new water and sewage mains covering 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres).
The Cuenca city government recently hired a Spanish urban planning company to design 80 km of bicycle trails that will be constructed throughout the city of Cuenca. These trails are in addition to the trails that already follow several of the rivers that run through Cuenca. Cuenca is well known for its stunning architecture, tourist attractions, hotels and night activities.
|POPULATION :||• City 400,000|
• Metro 700,000
|FOUNDED :||April 12, 1557|
|TIME ZONE :||ECT (UTC-5)|
|LANGUAGE :||Spanish (official)|
|AREA :||70.59 km2 (27.25 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||Highest elevation 2,550 m (8,370 ft)|
Lowest elevation 2,350 m (7,710 ft)
|COORDINATES :||2°53′57″S 79°00′55″W|
|SEX RATIO :|
|AREA CODE :||07|
|POSTAL CODE :||010150|
|DIALING CODE :||(+593) 07|
|WEBSITE :||Official website|
Most tourists visit the historic area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, between the river Tomebamba and the street Gran Colombia to the north, General Torres to the west, and Hermano Miguel to the east. This area's compactness, grid-like layout, and numerous readily identifiable monuments make it easy to navigate. Outside this area the city can be confusing, as there are dozens of narrow colonial streets with similar buildings.
Major fiestas of Cuenca come at the time of the "Mass of Children" that is carried out the day of the Arrival of Kings (January 6 - Epiphany Day), or in the commemoration of the independence of the city (November 3), during which processions, cultural acts and dances are organized. The nearby Cañar plantation (in the county of the same name) features the biggest Inca ruins in Ecuador.
Cuenca's full name is Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca. The dominant features of the city's geography are also the source of its name; In Spanish cuatros rios means "four rivers" and cuencameans "basin", and the city is in a basin made by a confluence of rivers. These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Cañari culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance. The first three of these rivers originate in the Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas to the west of the city. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed. In fact, the locals are very proud of their rivers.
Cuenca is a city whose culture encompasses over 100 years or more at the same time. While walking in Cuenca, you will see modern buildings, use high-speed internet and wireless communications while seeing natives washing their clothes in the river while talking on cell phones. You will see many modern vehicles while seeing people move their cows, horses and donkeys to graze along the rivers and parks. In around the markets, you will see people milking their goats and others hauling milk into town on a donkey. This is the charm of Cuenca, a culture that encapsulates traditions and practices of many decades.
In mid-February 2013, construction began on the Tranvía (tram). Work will continue to near the end of 2014, with the rapid transit system becoming fully operational in early 2015. The Tranvía is designed to decrease traffic and pollution in Cuenca, particularly in the Historic District.
Cuenca is a very walkable city. Over the past year, the city has been upgrading miles of sidewalks which is making the city even more pedestrian friendly. Just watch for the drivers, because they will not watch for you. The Ecuadorian government is working on slowing down traffic, but this will take some time and education.
According to studies and archeological discoveries, the origins of the first inhabitants go back to the year 8060 BC in the Cave of Chopsi. They were hunters, hunting everything the Páramo offered them, and nomads, following the animals and seasons. Their culture is represented by tools such as arrows and spears, which have been found throughout the Andean valley. The culture was most present about 5585 BC.
Later the early indigenous people used the stable climate, fertile soil and abundant water to develop agriculture. They grew potatoes, melloco,chocho, squash and quinoa. They also domesticated animals such as cuys, and camelids: llamas and alpacas.
Their technology was also advanced. For example, they started creating ceramics. In fact, ceramics constitute the greatest number of artifacts which archeologists use to study their culture. The period from 5000 BCE to 2000 BCE is not represented well in the archeological record. Beginning around 2000 BCE, the people developed a more highly organized society, demonstrating delegated responsibilities, such as the managing of water and control of plagues. People were specialized as administrative and religious authorities (known as shamans). This occurred during the periods of Chaullabamba, Huayco, Pirincay, Monjas,Putushio, Huancarcucho and Jubones. From then until 500 AD began the periods of Tacalshapa III and the Cañari people, who were absorbed into the Incas in the 15th century.
Cuenca was originally a Cañari settlement called Guapondeleg. Archeologists believe Cuenca was founded around 500 AD. Guapondeleg translates into "land as big as heaven." Less than half a century before the conquistadors landed, the Incas, after a bitter struggle, conquered the Cañari and occupied Guapondeleg and the surrounding area. Though the Incas replaced the Cañari architecture with their own, they did not suppress the Cañari or their impressive achievements in astronomy and agriculture. As was customary for the Incas, they absorbed useful achievements into their culture. They renamed the city Tomebamba. The city became known as the second Cusco, a regional capital.
After the defeat of the Cañari, the Inca commander, Tupac Yupanqui, ordered the construction of a grand city to be called Pumapungo, "the door of the Puma". Its magnificence was said to have rivaled that of the Inca capital of Cuzco. Indians told stories to the Spanish chroniclers of golden temples and other such wonders, but by the time the Spaniards found the legendary city, all that remained were ruins. They wondered what happened to the fabled splendor and riches of the second Inca capital. After having been abandoned by the Cañari and then the Incas, Tomebamba was sparsely populated until the 1550s.
Tomebamba is considered a candidate for the mythical city of gold which the Spanish called El Dorado. The Spanish thought El Dorado was burned by the inhabitants after they heard of the Spanish conquests. Tomebamba's destruction by its inhabitants prior to the arrival of the Spanish suggests it may have been what the Spanish called El Dorado.
The Spanish settlement of Cuenca was founded on April 12, 1557 by the explorerGil Ramírez Dávalos. Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, then Viceroy of Peru had commissioned the founding and ordered the city named after his home town of Cuenca, Spain. It was founded decades after other major Spanish settlements in the region, such as Quito (1534), Guayaquil (1538), and Loja (1548). Cuenca's population and importance grew steadily during the colonial era. It reached the peak of its importance in the first years of Ecuador's independence; Cuenca achieved its independence on November 3, 1820. It became the capital of one of the three provinces that made up the nascent republic. The other two capitals were Guayaquil and Quito.
Cuenca features a subtropical highland climate (Cfb) under the Köppen climate classification. Like the rest of the Ecuadorian Andes, Cuenca enjoys a mild climate year-round. Days are generally warm and nights are cool enough that sweaters or jackets are usually desired. The average daily temperature is 14.7 °C (58.5 °F). There are two seasons: rainy and dry. The dry season, with some variation, falls between June and December. The rainy season, which is characterized by bright sunny mornings and afternoon showers, falls between January and May. The heaviest rains come in the invierno (wet season) of March, April and May.
Climate data for Cuenca, Ecuador
|Record high °C (°F)||33.0|
|Average high °C (°F)||22.4|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||15.3|
|Average low °C (°F)||10.9|
|Record low °C (°F)||0.0|
|Source #1: Temperatures: Climate Ecuador|
|Source #2: Other: Cuenca Climate Guide|
Cuenca, capital of the province of Azuay, is located in the sierra of the Andes in the Austro or southern region of Ecuador. It is approximately nine hours south of Quito and four hours east of Guayaquil. The city ranges from 2,350 to 2,550 metres (7,710 to 8,370 feet) above sea level.
The dominant features of the city's geography are also the source of its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca (meaning a basin made by a confluence of rivers). These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Inca culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance. The first three of these rivers originate in the Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas to the west of the city. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed. Cuenca is surrounded by mountains on all sides, with passes to the west, south and east.
Prices in Cuenca
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$1.05|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||$11.50|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||$13.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||$27.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||$|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||$6.00|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||$3.00|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||$1.25|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||$5.60|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||$4.30|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||$0.17|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||$4.80|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||$1.50|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||$70.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M.)||1||$65.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||$115.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||$0.25|
Transportation - Get In
There are daily local flights from and to Quito, Guayaquil and neighboring countries as well. Currently TAME, LAN and AeroGal all offer daily service to Cuenca. AirCuenca offers service every day except Sunday.
A taxi from the airport to the center of the city is approximately $2–3 USD.
Cuenca lies on the Pan-American highway. Buses offer connections to many cities in Ecuador. The bus system in Ecuador is well developed. Buses can be obtained every one or two hours during the day.
Loja for connections to Vilcabamba (4.5-7 h, $7.5). Be warned that the Viajeros buses to Loja do not have a working bathroom and they can take up to 7 hours (we were told at the office that it would take 4 hours and that it would only make one stop, but we stopped more than 50 times and ended up so full the bus could hardly struggle uphill). This was with Viajeros "International".
San Luis buses run from Cuenca to Loja using the national park route and take 4.5 hours, $8. Departures at 7:45, 11:00, 16:00, 19:30 and 24:00. There is a working toilet.
Alausi. 4 hours (Transportes Alausi) Riobamba. 6 hours (Patria)
Piura, Peru: There is a new service to Piura leaving at 19:30, 21:00 and 23:00. This is a partnership between two companies, Pullman Sucre and CIFA International. It is necessary to change bus at either Machala or Huaquillas. The 19:30 and 23:00 services connect to a special sleeper seat service. The price is $12–15 USD depending on the class of service. It is a good idea to purchase your ticket a day in advance as it is not unusual for them to book out.
Tumbes, Peru: As above, plus additional departures at 13:15 and 15:00. $7 from the border.
There is a $0.10 departure fee for leaving from the bus terminal.
Transportation - Get Around
Cuenca's tourism office, iTur, is located on the main plaza (Parque Calderón) and has lots of helpful maps and brochures to guide you during your visit in and around the city. (Monday-Friday 8:00–22:00, Saturday-Sunday 8:30–13:30 Mariscal Sucre, between Luis Cordero and Benigno Malo. Tel: 07-282-1035, [email protected], URL: www.cuencaecuador.com.ec). There is also a satellite iTur office in the airport (Monday-Wednesday 7:30–11:00, 14:00–15:30PM and 17:00–19:00, Thursday-Friday 7:30–11:00, 14:00–15:30, 16:30–19:00, Saturday 8:00–12:00. Tel: 07-286-2203, ext 162).
Central Cuenca is easily walkable, and it is often faster than taking a cab through the narrow traffic-jammed lanes.
Cabs are readily available and charge $1.50–$3 per trip. The fee should be negotiated before entering the car. Some taxis make use of taxi-meters.
City buses are also fairly easy to figure out. Most bus stops are marked. The cost is $0.25 per ride (exact change is required as you put coins into a machine, there is no fare collector on the bus). You can find a guide to using the City buses, as well as maps of the routes and an online trip planner at CuencaTransit.com .
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Buy some flowers at the flower market on Calle Sucre across from the new cathedral. Continue on about a block from there to get to the clothing and artesan market where one can also find knit crafts from Otavalo. Lovely handmade ruanas, sweaters, hats, mittens, and finger puppets are also available here.
Inside the yellow CemuArt building across from the police station at the market other artesans have booths with beautiful embroidery, metal, wood and leather work, Panama hats, musical instruments, knit goods, jewelry and other handicrafts.
- ABC Libreria, . At Padre Aguirre 8-11 y Sucre. diagonal to the flower market has a tiny selection of English books.
- Rafael Paredes & Hijos, . To buy from their fine range of Panama hats. You get a short tour round, an explanation of how they are made and a chance to see your hat go from a simple woven straw cone to a finished wearable hat. Various styles, men's and women's and sizes.
- Used Books, Hermano Miguel (near Calle Larga). There are two wonderful used English bookstores --although a bit pricy ($5-20)
- Mall del Rio. Cuenca's biggest shopping mall, with cinemas (typically Spanish language only) and food court. 2-2.50$ by taxi (10 mins).
- La Esquina des Artes, Av. 12 de Abril and Agustín Cueva, . The location is a permanent and quaint display of artists and artisans located next to the University of Cuenca.
- Oliveto, Calle Larga y Luis Cordero. Romantic Italian restaurant with the largest wine selection in Cuenca. Serves both lunch and dinner. Closed on Sunday and Monday.
- Women's Coop, on General Torres --near Mariscal Sucre (next to the artisanry market). closes around 2PM. Cheap, nutricious, and local lunch with a soup and a drink. Made by indigenous women in a sweet courtyard. Vegetarian and meat options.$1-1.50.
- Cafe Eucalyptus, Gran Colombia 9-41. 5-11PM, later on Th-Sa. Very popular with travelers, they offer everything from Pad Thai to pasta, salads, hummus and guacamole, all very tasty. It's warm and friendly, and also good for groups. Quite expensive for Ecuador, $5.07 for a coca-cola plus tip makes one think that the travellers are taken advantage of. Mains $3-9.
- Mixx Gourmet Ice-cream, Parque San Blas. Home made ice cream with a variety of flavors, including exotic gruits and alcoholic flavors such as whisky, beer, brandy or vodka.
- La Fornace. A well known local pizza chain in Cuenca that has three or four branches. The fruit pizza is excellent and quite inexpensive. The ice cream there is also delicious and costs about 70¢ for the first scoop.
- San Sebas Cafe, 1-94 San Sebastian y Mariscal Sucre (On the corner of Parque San Sebastian). Great little cafe with a good atmosphere. Serves both breakfast and lunch. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.
- Banana Cafe, Hermano Miguel 4-36 y Calle Larga. Run by three local women, Banana's serves an outstanding breakfast at a fair price. They also have a sandwich plate with chips for an early lunch -- they close at 1PM The menu includes such items as GREAT omelets, pancakes, French toast, homemade granola, fresh fruit juices, smoothies & yogurt (plus numerous other yummy breakfast goodies).
- Goza, Antonio Borrero 4-11 y Calle Larga (1 block east and 4 blocks south from Parque Calderón), , e-mail: [email protected]. Arguably one of the best cafés in the lovely historical centre of Cuenca, with a beautiful (heated!) street terrace and friendly staff. Great variety of coffees available. The food is also praised though pricier than most restaurants, coffees are the real deal here.Coffee from $1.50 to $4.70.
- Jazz Society Café (The Jazz Society of Ecuador), 2nd floor (upstairs) of La Viña Italian Restaurant, 5-101 Luis Cordero y Juan Jaramillo (2 blocks from Parque Calderon along Luis Cordero down to Calle Larga), , e-mail: (English), (Español)[email protected]. The Café is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 6:30pm to 10pm. The music begins at 7:30pm.. The Jazz Society Café is the Cuenca performance venue of The Jazz Society of Ecuador. It is above La Viña Italian Restaurant, and La Viña provides the food & beverages using the same menu and prices as downstairs, and has an excellent reputation for serving authentic Italian cuisine and pizza, as the owner and chef are from Italy. $5.
Sights & Landmarks
- Christmas Parade (Pase del Niño Viajero) — On 24 December, Cuenca offers a magnificent parade, considered to be the largest and best Christmas celebration in Ecuador and even South America. The procession begins at 10:00 at San Sebastian, goes along Simón Bolivar street, Plaza Calderón and ends up in San Blas. Thousands of musicians accompany the procession and every neighborhood decorates trucks, horses and whatever they can find with plenty of symbols. Children dress up in colorful costumes or as biblical figures. The parade last for at least 7 hours. During the parade, you will see thousands of people dressed up as Joseph, Mary, the three Wise Men, angels, etc. This is truly a sight to see.
- The New Cathedral (c 1885).
- El Sagrario (the "old cathedral"). Construction began in 1557. It's no longer in use as a church, and is now a museum. A restoration project has been completed recently and the original paint and old murals can now be seen in certain sections. $2.
- Festival de Independencia — The independence of Cuenca is celebrated with a huge festival that lasts twice as long as the battle itself. Each year it begins the first few days of November and lasts for three to four days. There are hundreds of art displays, craft booths, roving entertainment, street food, and general festivities. Artisans from all over Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia display and sell their works. During this time, there are also many stages with bands and performers. On the north side of the river, at the bottom of the Escalinatas, the grounds of the art museum CIDAP host much more elaborate display booths than those that crowd the sidewalks. A little farther up the river, at La Esquina des Artes across from the University of Cuenca, there are several artists, and a few vendors sell gourmet food products. La Esquina des Artes is an area of permanent shops of artists and artisans.
- Devil’s Nose train, located in Riobamba - Alausi, Riobamba, about 2.5 hours from Cuenca, is considered one of the world’s best railway engineering feats. This scenic railroad travels over a series of switchbacks as it zigzags down the steep mountainside passing small villages and Andean lakes along the way. Cost $25.
Things to do
- Sightseeing Bus. $5 for 2 hour tour of Cuenca and a visit to the Mirador de Turi (Turi viewpoint). Leaves from Parque Calderón. For one price, you can get off the bus anywhere you like and get on the next bus that comes.
- Cuenca River Walk. Just completed at the end of 2012, the new river walk is a great place to walk, relax and enjoy the views of the city. The city of Cuenca has a vision for the river walk to someday become another San Antonio, Texas. The river walk is along the Tomebamba river that flows close to downtown.
- Pumapungo Museum. Also known as the Central Bank Museum, the museum covers four floors and has expansive grounds with well preserved ruins. The museum has very good exhibits for those interested in the complete history of the region and city, including exhibits like the shrunken heads.
- Ingapirca, , fax: . 9h00-17h30.
Approximately one hour north by automobile or one and a half hours by bus is the excavated ruins of Ingapirca (Kichwa: Inkapirka, meaning “Inca wall”). The ruins are located just outside of the small town of El Tambo in the Cañar Province. The town was named after the Inca palace and temple site. These are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. At the site, you will see the excavated temples of both the Incas and the Cañar. Ingapirca was the northern ruling city of the Inca empire.
Directions: In order to reach Ingapirca, there are two different access roads from the main Panamerican highway that are approximately 8 to 10 km travel: (1) North entrance from El Tambo (recommend option); and (2) South entrance which is just south of Uculoma. The journey east from the Panamerican takes you through typical southern Andean countryside panorama, including sheep, donkeys, llamas. You can hire a driver ($20–30 from Cuenca), but there is also a bus service. Direct buses to the ruins can be boarded at the bus terminal close to Cuenca airport, leaving at 9:00 and 12:20, returning at 13;15 and 15:45, journey time 2¼ hours. Outside these times, take a bus to El Tambo (2 hours) and change there for a bus to Ingapirca (30 minutes). The bus fare is $2.50.
The majority of the tours are in Spanish. There is an English guided tour once per day. Ingapirca is always closed on the many holidays in Ecuador, so make sure to check out the holiday schedule before you take a trip to Ingapirca. $6 foreigners, $2 Ecuadorians.
- Hot springs and Spa in Cuenca — On the outskirts of Cuenca, about a 15 minute bus ride from Coral Centro on Las Americas, 40 minutes from downtown, is a quaint little town called Baños. There are actually two towns in Ecuador called Baños, the other Baños is nearer Quito. Baños is right below a mountain where natural warm mineral water flows into the valley. The people of this quiet little town took advantage of this natural resource and created three different mineral spring parks where one can go and bathe in the mineral pools. Two of these mineral springs are geared for families with small children, US$8 per day per person. Piedra de Agua Mineral Springs & Spa, a beautiful resort with restaurant, is in the same area. Admission is $10 to spend the whole day in these mineral pools, $20 extra for the spa. Sunscreen can be handy as the pools are outdoor.
Festivals and events
One of the festivities celebrated in Cuenca and in other parts of Ecuador is "El Carnaval" This is celebrated three days prior to Ash Wednesday. Families get together to celebrate what started as a "pagan ritual". Now it is celebrated by wetting friends and random people with water balloons and spraying "Carioca" a non staining foam.