We spent the 2015 holiday season (December 19-January 2) in Cuenca, Ecuador! My fiancé’s mother lives there so we knew exactly what we wanted to experience in the 2 weeks we had available.
So if you plan to visit in the near future, here are some things to consider adding to your list of experiences. I’ll also throw in some helpful tips when traveling the area!
*I apologize for the mixture of photo quality! We had phones and a Nikon DSLR to capture many different moments.
MIRADOR DE TURI
This trek is a lengthy 439 stairs straight up to a beautiful view of the city! It is quite breath taking and you can also roam the peak to check out shops or grab a snack.
Your view overlooks the entire city of Cuenca!
If you live in an area where you are at sea level or close to it, your climbing stamina may be hindered. Be sure to stop and rest. There are plenty of benches along the climb to sit and admire the view.
Biblián is a small quaint little country town we passed through on the way to Ingapirca. As we were driving to visit the Inca ruins, we stopped at a beautiful cathedral. You will always find cathedrals like this sitting on mountain peaks. The cathedral itself was built out of stone that came from the mountain it sits on.
The inside of this cathedral was absolutely stunning with an alter made of white marble. And as you can see in the photo above, there are many stairs to climb and remember you are at a high altitude. So climb slowly if you live in an area at (or close to) sea level.
These Inca ruins are located in the Cañar Province, Ecuador. This is about a 1-1.5 hour drive outside the city of Cuenca.
This center area is where the Incas would worship and the small rock walls are where the Cañaris and Incas lived. They had quite the community.
This is a very popular area for wild llamas to gather and graze. We got to see a small herd of llamas, but they would not let us get too close. Unlike a future encounter you’ll see shortly!
PARQUE NACIONAL CAJAS
This excursion to the Cajas National Park was by far the most eventful for me on our Ecuador vacation. This photo was taken at the start of a 4 hour hiking trial, and as you can see, the tundras were beautiful and the view (in every direction) belonged on a postcard.
After about 10 minutes of hiking, we found a side trail to a giant boulder overlooking the tundras and small lake. As we stood admiring this amazing view, Eric suddenly dropped to one knee! And OH MY GOODNESS the thoughts that ran through my mind!!!
Thought #1: ” Oh no, his knee (due to soccer injury) must be bothering him! Dang, how am I going to carry him back uphill?”
Thought #2: “Wait a minute, he’s smiling and not saying anything…”
Thought #3: “Okay, I think I know what is happening!!”
And sure enough, Eric asked me to marry him and I couldn’t say “YES!!!” fast enough.
After hugs, kisses, and lots of excitement he says, “Oh yea, I do have a ring too”. I had completely forgotten a ring goes with this moment. When he pulled out the ring it was absolutely perfect. A beautiful blue sapphire engagement ring. I could not believe it and I thought “He knows me so well!”
So of course as a woman, you have a million questions and luckily I had a 3 hours and 50 minutes to get them all in! Questions like:
“Were you planning this the whole time?”
“How long had you known you wanted to do this?”
“Did you always have the Cajas in mind when you were wanting to ask?”
“How long did you have the ring?”
“How in the world did you keep this a secret?”
“Did you tell anyone you were going to do this?”
…And so on and so forth…
And eventually, we got back to our touristy selves and enjoyed our hike!
It seemed like everything went perfectly the rest of the day!
We had a little visitor grazing in our hiking path. It turned out that he just so happened to like people! Or maybe he liked his photo taken… but he posed for quite some time. Not pictured are his dos amigos peludos marrón (two brown furry friends).
Every now and then you would run into very small flowers. It is a different type of weather and scenery compared to Alabama. It looked very desert like, but the weather was fairly cold and is always unpredictable. If you plan to go hike, definitely go in the morning. By the afternoon, the weather becomes unpredictable. My fiancé hiked the Cajas the previous year and by the afternoon, it began hailing. So definitely be sure to hike with the appropriate gear and snacks.
Arutam Ecotours is the company we used to take us on an Amazon excursion. We stayed in a hotel in Limón and had a very personal tour of the local town and the rainforest. We hiked trails only locals hike and got to experience so many different things.
The colors of all the different insects within the rainforest are so fascinating. The wildlife from insects to birds are so bright!
Shown below is a hummingbird nest (nido de colibrí). I have never known much about hummingbirds, but Ecuador contains hundreds of different species.
This photo is a really neat shot I took of Eric to show how dense the rainforest actually is. He is snapping a shot of the red walking stick shown 2 photos above.
The ancient petroglyphs were so extraordinary to see! You can easily feel with your finger that these petroglyphs were made with a tool of some type. It was a lot of fun to try and decipher the messages carved into rocks all across Limón. These rocks are not protected from weather and they are not in one central location. We came across them often as we hiked around the area.
The plants within the Amazon have the wildest shapes and colors as you can see below.
And of course, being a dietitian, I had to snap a photo of a wild Latin American pineapple growing in a field!
The last afternoon we had in Limón, we had planned to hike to a sacred waterfall and make sugar cane juice with a local. The hike down the side of the mountain was SO steep! It was a true test of physical fitness. I must say, I am so glad we made the trek. The force of the wind and spray coming from the waterfall was exactly what I needed after the intense hike down.
We made a quick stop by the Zamora River which is one the more dangerous rivers around the Amazon in regards to the strong current. Not so much wildlife here due to the Chinese mining this area for gold. We could spot whirlpools as we watched the water race by us.
Shortly after all of our hiking, we were ready to eat! This was a traditional meal made by the Shuar tribe. They prepared a mixture of chicken, white cabbage, and yucca, wrapped it in leaves that look very similar to banana leaves (but they definitely aren’t), and served it. The flavor from cooking this meal in these particular leaves was so savory! I could not believe they didn’t use any herbs or spices. All the flavor came from the leaves.
Pictured below is the community center where we ate our meal. This is where the tribe will gather for many reasons. One of these reasons may be to have an ayahuasca experience. Ayahuasca is a plant the Shuars (along with many different religions and tribes) believe will bring you closer to the “God of nature” and provide you with a spiritual experience. This psychedelic will usually last about 4-8 hours after ingested.
One of the more exciting parts of our Amazon trip was the tubing down the Indanza River! No worries, I made sure there was nothing that would eat/bite/kill us before jumping in.
So this moment was when things were just fine. However, the water was not quite high enough to keep me from flipping over after going through the rocky area. If you’re looking for a good way to panic your fiancé , send your empty tube down a fast paced river in the Amazon!
Sugar cane juice is quite delicious! But so much work to produce. Here you can see Eric and our guide Xavier pushing this giant log as a local man feeds the crank a sugar cane plant. The green bucket is catching all of the juice excreted.
The sugar cane juice was mixed with a little limón, and voila! We have a delicious beverage!
In the background on the fire, you can see the boiling pot of sugar cane juice. The juice being boiled for a 4 hour period provides you with syrup. Luckily we got a jar to go home with us!
HOLIDAY TRAVEL FESTIVITIES
The International Chorale is a national chorus group that happened to come sing at the Catedral Viejo (old catherdral) for a Christmas concert. Everyone sang Christmas carols (in many languages) by candle light. Such a peaceful evening.
Again, look at that magnificent architecture.
A Christmas parade is held in downtown Cuenca every year and can last all morning through the afternoon.
They decorate their cars with garland, candy, alcohol, and of course a roasted pig! This parade is a symbol for the gift of plenty. The roasted pig is a sign of having plenty of food which Ecuadorians celebrate.
Many cultures around the area are celebrated as they dance in the street wearing their cultural attire, or just simply dressed as angels and shepherds.
New Years is definitely quite the event in Ecuador. It is tradition to purchase an effigy of yourself from local vendors (which are on every sidewalk) and at midnight, set it on fire in the street! This is a symbol for burning away the old you to enter a new year with a new you. It was so much fun to see all of the piles in the road going up in flames!
Below is a photo of Eric’s mother (left), me, and then Eric. You’re supposed to choose an effigy that looks like you… Eric however, just enjoyed scaring us with his super creepy effigy.
This is Eric adding his effigy to the fire.
Once we set our effigies on fire, we went back inside to catch the firework show all across Ecuador. Once the clock struck midnight, the BOOMS and CRACKS from fireworks were coming from every direction. These fireworks went off until 6AM the following morning.
Transportation is something to consider when visiting Cuenca. If you are in fairly good shape you can walk mostly anywhere. If you do want to have options other than walking, here are some things to keep in mind.
Bus: When taking the bus you MUST have a quarter to ride. The public transportation is cheap and convenient, but you must have change.
Taxi: It is VERY helpful to be able to speak some Spanish when taking a taxi because your driver may know nothing in your native language. You also want to make sure they reset the taxi meter before you start driving. A taxi ride cost wise can be between $1.25-$3.50 depending on how far you go. It was only around $3.50 when we were going to or from the airport. Most rides were $2 or less. Again, you will needs some loose change.
CUENCA (IN THE CITY)
The Architecture is amazing. All of the colors and detail in all of the buildings is breathtaking. This photo below just happens to be a plastic surgery clinic downtown and I thought it was beautiful.
This door is the entrance to the Catedral Nueve (new cathedral). I put the photo of us first so you can judge the size of this door. The colors and detail within these buildings is quite phenomenal.
This door is actually the entrance to these blue domes shown below. The view of the white and blue domes can be seen all over the city. This was a great help when trying to determine exactly where you are while walking downtown.
The Tome Bambo River runs along side of the city. You’ll see locals relaxing under trees nearby or washing some clothing. It is an extremely peaceful spot when trying to move away from the sound of the city’s hustle and bustle.
MERCADO: The mercados are definitely worth stopping and browsing. The mercados that contain all of the fresh fruit, produce, and meat were so interesting to see! Maybe it’s because I am so intrigued by food… But looking around at all of the different types of fruits and vegetables was right up my ally. I can’t believe how many types of foods are out there that we don’t get access to here in the US.
RESTAURANTS: The traditional Ecuadorian meal is quite starchier than I am used to. I will admit I really missed my vegetables. Most of the traditional meals contain a meat, potatoes, rice/beans, and maybe fried plantains.
However, one of my favorite places to eat was Pedir De Boca. If you are visiting Cuenca I highly recommend you stop in for a meal. The cook there is so friendly and makes the most beautiful food.
This soup was actually made my the cook’s mother who is 100 years old! This soup was not on the menu and made for us personally. It was the most amazing avocado soup I have ever had. Presentation is definitely important to this establishment and you see it in every single dish.
I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich (sandwich de jamon y queso). Here is how it came out. Absolutely beautiful and definitely delicious.
Visiting Ecuador was the trip of a lifetime! I got to experience a whole new culture, become more familiar with a different language, see some of the most beautiful sites in the world, and come home with a fiance.
I hope this post was helpful for you if you plan to be visiting the area in the future. Please feel free to comment or share using the social media icons below!
¡Gracias por leer!