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Ecuador: Cuenca - a city registered in UNESCO

Published: 21.4.2022
Cuenca, Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca in full name. Its architecture, art scene, and science research make people call it "the Athens of Ecuador". Don Gil Ramírez Dávalos founded it in 1557. In 1999, the city was put on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Moreover, it is considered one of the best places to spend your retirement at.


Cuenca is situated in a valley at an altitude of 2 538 m. It is home to 580 thousand people. The climate is mild, the temperatures throughout the year oscillate between 14 and 18 °C. The historical center is the oldest quarter. There are many buildings in the colonnial and republican architectonic style. There are archeological excavation sites, artisan quarters, and a central market. Parque Calderón is the main square in the very heart of the city. It is just the right place from which you can start your trip to the city. Cuenca is the city of two cathedrals. Both cathedrals are situated on the square Inmaculada Concepción Cathedral, also known as „Catedral Nueva“ was completed in 1967. Undoubtedly, it is the most beautiful and the tallest building in the city center. Originally, there cathedral should have had two domes in the front. However, these were considered too heavy to be placed on the cathedral without risking its collapse. The other cathedral Iglesia del Sagrario also known as „Catedral Vieja“ was the first church in the city. The cathedral houses a museum of modern arts.

Catedral Nueva

It is now easy to decide which way to choose to leave the square. There is a number of beautiful buildings, churches, and museums. One day at least is necessary to explore the center and museums around. When you grow tired of the city, you can still visit ruins which take you back in time. Ruinas de Todos Santos were an accidental discovery in 1972. These include fragments of Cañari, Inca, and Spanish cultures. Museo Manuel Agustín Landívar is located adjacent to the museum introducing visitors to the fragments of the three cultures. Ruinas de Pumapungo is larger and is devoted to  area's three important historic moemnts: the first to the Cañari town of Guapondélig, then to the Inca town of Tomebamba, and lastly to the Spanish town of “Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca”. There is a museum by the archeological park with galleris on archeology, religion, numismatics, and ethnography. The musem is worth visiting. The main feature are the "shrunk" tsantsas heads. In addition, there is an ethno-botanical garden, and a bird rescue station. This one is undoubtedly one of the best museums we have visited on our journey here. Moreover, you don't even have to pay admission because the museum is free of charge.

Ruinas de Pumapungo

ethnobotanical garden   a shrunk head

We return to the city center along the River Rio Tomebamba to Puente Roto. Then we leave the city center in the opposite way. There we visit Museo Municipal Casa del Sombrero. Here we see straw heads and watch wemen making another ones. Visitors can try to weave their own sombrero. Then we recede a bit from the city center. There we enjoy amazing vista over the New Cathedral.  

Puente Roto   výroba klobouků

When you get enough of the city go somewhere in mature. Parque Nacional Cajas is just the right places for one day trip. The park is 30 kilometers away from the city. It's of vast biodiversity, and variety of lakes – there are over two thousand lakes, lagoons, pools, and wetlands. It is possible to both camp here or stay in a cabin. One day trip is just enough for us. Moreover, the weather is not the best. We set off to the park early in the morning. It is cloudy, and rains lightly. We noticed that you don't have to pay any fee when entering the park. Local ranger show us the best trail. There are several of them each of different difficulty. Only certain number of people is allowed to each trail every day. The elevation ranges from 3 160 to 4 450 meters. Some trails are very difficult, and their elevation is large. Weather changes rapidly. Often its freezing cold, and foggy. Therefore, stick to the directions, and choose a tour according to your abilities. When you go back to Cuenca simply wave at any bus, or hitchike there.

Parque Nacional Cajas

GPS: 2°53'48.6"S 79°00'14.3"W

Text and photos: Tomáš Novák

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