9th-11th August 2018
The southern capital of Ecuador, and also – due to its colonial architecture – a UNESCO city, Cuenca is often compared to Quito.
I spent my first couple of days there touring its churches and museums, beginning with its new Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion, which was structurally impressive but somewhat lacking in character. I then went on to the Museo de Arte Moderno, which had some impressive installations but wasn’t very big, and I finished wandering around it in just a few minutes.
The Museo del Banco Central Pumapungo had a pleasing collection of antiques, art, ethnographic displays, and its grounds are also home to some modest Inca ruins, but I wasn’t too keen on its aviary, as some of the birds were in cages which were way too small.
I also visited the restored home of Ecuadorian writer and lawyer Remigio Crespo Toral, but none of its displays were in English so my time there was rather superficial and I just enjoyed looking at all the pretty things inside.
Overall, to be honest, I think that if one has to compare Cuenca to Quito, Quito certainly has much better museums and churches. What Cuenca does have the edge on is pretty much everything else. Its streets are cleaner and better maintained. Its restaurants, shops and markets have better variety. It has a nicer atmosphere, and you can wander the streets of its historic centre at night and feel completely safe. It has a river running through the centre which they have turned into a park lined with trees. And Cuenca is also, much cheaper than Quito, for food, accommodation, and entry fees.
I made two friends called Fernando and George, and we went on a day trip to Ingapirca. It was that day I felt that my Spanish crossed into a realm where I would deem it ‘conversational’, as I was speaking with them most of the day and they were very patient with me, correcting mistakes and teaching me new words.
Ingapirca is no Machu Picchu, but it was certainly a good introduction and interesting to see. My only complaint is that it felt like we were rushed through them during the compulsory tour and the guides were not very sympathetic to English speakers, as there were some signs giving information in English but they didn’t give me many chances to wander over and read them between being rushed to different points. I only understood about 40% of what she explained because I don’t have a huge vocabulary yet.
That said, I was the only English speaker present, so it would be a bit unreasonable to expect them to slow everything down just for me, and I also understood why they took us around so swiftly when I came out later on and saw the queue. We were among the first to arrive that day, and it had been quiet, but during midday, Ingapirca seems to get lots of visitors for such a small site.
Afterwards, there was additional trail which meandered around the nearby valley, where the Incas have left other remnants. One of the most interesting was this ritual engraving of the sun into a rock.
And also this likeness of a face within the mountain, said to be held sacred to generations of animist farmers.
If you would like to see more photos from Cuenca, click here.