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Cuenca, Ecuador

Area Code 593-7 US$1 = 25,000 sucres, jan 29, 2000

While this very popular town is visited mostly for its colonial architecture, dating back to the 16 century, and friendly people that live here, I found the surrounding countryside and quant folk art villages of Gualaceo, Chordeleg and Bullcay to be the real highlight of what Cuenca can offer.

The best place to stay in Cuenca is the HOSTAL COLONIAL (T841-644) situated in the heart of town on 10-13 Gran Columbia. For $4.50 US a single and $7 US a double, the luxury style rooms have a TV, 24 hot water, room service, continental breakfast in their small restaurant and bar, laundry service and for once a reliable wake up call.

Nearby is the very friendly HOSTAL CHORDELEY (T824-611) which costs $5 US for a single, and $8 US for a double. Situated at 11-15 Gran Columbia it also has a tour agency called GENERAL TORRES. If the HOSTAL COLONIAL is full and you want to stay in the center this is the next best option.

A few streets away is the very popular HOTEL MILAN (T835-351) at 9-89 Presidente Cordova. A single costs just $3 US, and a double $4.50 US. It is often full with backpackers.

Directly across the road, is the slightly more expensive but better HOTEL ALLI-TIANI. The service is very friendly, while rooms have TVs balconies, hot water and continental breakfast is included. A single room costs $4.25 US, a double $7 US.

Eating Out:-
The best budget type restaurant is RAYMIPAMPA CAFE (T827-435) on Benigno Malo 859, looking over Parque Central. Food is cheap, with steaks and chickens all around 90 cents US. It is very popular with the locals, and it must be said, I had the best chocolate milkshake since arriving in South America here.

The NEW YORK PIZZA RESTAURANT on Gran Columbia 10-43 make pretty good pizzas and calzones. A very large pizza will cost around $2 US, while a very filling calzone costs just 50 cents US. There is a take away menu and a home delivery service on 842-792.

There are many cheap chicken shops on Presidente Cordova, where a quarter chicken and chips will cost around 70 cents US. Also there is a supermarket on the corner of Luis Cordero and Presidente Cordovo, where simple items like milk and bread can be bought.

Cuenca is well known for its pastry and sweep shops, and these litter the town. The sweet chocolate biscuits seem to be the most popular and are cheap around 5 cents US.

Night Time-
Suprisngly Cuenca is very quiet at nightime, probably because there is little to do. On Presidente Cordova is the very loud MI DISCOTECH. This seems to be a strictly local affair, as both times I entered there was no other tourists. It was quite seedy, and I only recommend it if you are in a group.

A much better nightclub, is the relatively unknown and unnamed place, down near the Rio Tomebambe just pass Avienda Todos Los Santos. Situated in the foundation of an old colonial bridge, it has a very gothic feel to it, and is open only very late at night. Drinks prices are much lower here than the nightclub above.

There are English films shown at the Cinema on Padre Aguirre, which show pictures which a relatively new out of Hollywood.

Things to Do:-
Inside the town of Cuenca, the colonial buildings and churches are the only real tourist attraction. However outside of it are fantastic landscapes, folk art villages and ancient inca ruins.

Easily the most impressive Cathedral and one of the best I have ever seen is the relatively new INMACULADA CONCEPCION. Built in 1885, and designed by a German, nearly the whole town attends the Sunday service it has. Directly opposite this (across the plaza) is the old cathedral, EL SAGRARIO CHURCH. This was built, the same year Cuenca was founded in 1557. However it is probaly most famous in the fact that in "1739 the churchs spire was used by the French Geodessic Mission as a reference point in detemining by triangulation the length of a degree of the earths arc" (said on tour).

Considered the best tour agency is the EXPEDICIONES APULLACTA on Gran Columbia 11-02 (837-681). It organises great day trips which all cost $35 US. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is the EL CAJAS tour which takes you to the famous National Ecological Reserve. Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturday is the Ingapirca tour which contains the best preserved Inca ruins in Ecuador. Easily the most popular tour is the Sunday folk art village tour whereby a bus takes you to Gualceo, Chordeleg and Bullcay to witness and purchase items at the towns respective Sunday markets.

Another good tour agency is the English speaking INFORMACION Y VENTAS on Av. Espana 10-91 (865-054).For $15 US they give the everyday city tour, which is split up in four catogories of Handicraft Tour, Museum Tour, Shopping Tour and City by Night Tour. Departing everyday at 9.00am is the one day program tour, which goes to either Ingapirca (Inca Ruins), Banos (history), Yanguilla (sightseeing), Gualaceo (handicrafts) or Cajas (natural area). Cost is $35 US.Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday is the very popular Devil's Nose Train ride. Departing at 6.00 am and costing $75 US, a bus takes you from Cuenca to Alausi, then a train takes you down the devils nose to Chanchan.

Where is it?
is located in Southern Ecuador in the high basin Azuay Province's at 2500 meters above sea level. To get there from Peru, it is best to go via the Tumbes border then stay in Machala for a night. Do not go via the Macara border as when I went that way, there was no border guard on duty and I had to spend two days in the border town waiting for a stamp. The Loja bus company insisted that I could get a stamp in Loja (6 hours away), but I latter found out that this was untrue.Buses from Machala leave every hour and cost $2 US, and take 4 hours. From Quito it is best to catch a plane as they are very cheap ($31 US) and take only 40 minutes, whereas a bus takes 9 hours.

Useful Information?
Emergency numbers
American Express: call collect to USA 801-964-6665

Weather(Jan 29,2000)
When I was there (late Jan) it was constantly overcast, and rained almost every night. The temparature hovered around 17, and the sun rarely broke through the clouds.