That is the motto of many longterm backpacker travellers who many times have had to adjust plans and travel routes for different reasons. From staying with that pretty cool group of people we’ve met in a certain city, to a break up while on the road forcing us to reroute, one thing is certain, PLANS. ALWAYS. CHANGE.
My original plan was to visit Peru first, and from there head to Bolivia and Argentina to see some family and friends. Although I had previously visited these countries in the past, there were many one things which I longed to repeat doing again. Death Road and the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, Iguazú Falls and watching a live Argentina football game in Argentina, all places which I have talked about seeing once more for a long time.
But as my trip advanced the less I longed on seeing places I had seen before. Instead I wanted to discover new places and countries. Maybe it was the thought of dealing with the altitude and cold in Bolivia, which after having kicked my butt in Huaraz left me wondering why wouldn’t I chase milder weather instead…after all I had left winter in Canada for a reason!
Off to Colombia, But First…
After struggling with the idea of a higher cost and putting off seeing some friends, I finally made up my mind to go to Colombia. My eagerness to get there got me looking into plane tickets ($200USD), then direct bus routes from Lima to Cali ($180USD), then comparing prices to what I’d pay if I’d go to Bolivia ($45USD), then repeat.
This was me for a couple of days, until finally I said “screw it” and decided to make it to Colombia on my own in order to bring down costs. This would require a short stay in Ecuador….but where??? Wanting to avoid any big cities, I settled for the city of Cuenca. So I bused it to Tumbes, crossed the border, and took a bus to the city of Cuenca.
The Road to Cuenca
Cuenca is about 5 hours from the border town of Huaquillas. Both Azuay International and Pullman Sucre service the destination. I chose Pullman which, other than very nice scenery, local music being blasted through the speakers and the same movie being shown twice, was an OK service. To note is that this bus kept picking up and dropping people on the road (not only at bus terminals), so it is something to keep in mind and be prepared for if your route requires overnight travel.
Cuenca is a small colonial city in the south of Ecuador’s andean region. The climate is mild and the city is beautiful, so much that locals will tell you that it is “by far” prettier than Ecuador’s capital, Quito.
With the thought of only “passing by” Cuenca, I only booked 2 nights at a hostel, which would give me about a day and a half to explore the city. No tours, minimize entrance fees, the idea was to not withdraw any money and keep at least half of the US dollars I had brought with me, roughly about $150USD.
Cuenca at Night
The views of Cuenca at night are absolutely gorgeous!!! Illuminated colonial churches and balconies throughout the city make taking a long walk and getting lost at night worth it!
During the day visit the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (or by its less original name, the “new cathedral”), located by Parque Calderón. The inside is just as pretty as the outside. The level of detail on each of the huge doors surrounding the cathedral mix amazingly well with its turquoise and golden colors. Inside, witness parishioners pay hommage to their faith as they line up to pray at each of the different statues and the main altar inside.
Guided tours are available for $3.00USD, while walking up the 156 stairs to the domes for a bird’s eye views of the city will cost $2.00USD.
The main view from the top is of Parque Calderón, as the domes and the towers hide the other sides of the city. Still, the views of terracota roofs make the climb up worth it. Unfortunately the space is quite small and restricted, so there is not much moving around that can be done.
Right across the street is the Catedral Antigua de Cuenca (Cuenca’s old cathedral).
Visit Mercado 9 de Octubre for authentic everyday sights of life in Cuenca. An endless array of fresh fruits, meats and vegetables fill this 2-floor market on 3 sides, with the other side being kept for small food stalls.
Outside of the market head to Plaza Civica for a small array of artisans selling their handcrafts, and encourage some by purchasing their homemade products.
Walk Up to Iglesia de Turi
While picking a postcard for my girlfriend I notice one with an extremely nice view of the city from what seems to be the top of a mountain. I innocently ask “where is this place?” and “how do I get there?”.
The lady who sold me the postcard starts by telling me to “take a taxi and…”. I stop her and smiling I say “no no no no no…walking”. Incredulous, she looks at me and tells me that it is far and that it would take me over an hour to get there, to which I reply “I only have time in my hands”.
So I start the walk, little did I know that I was in for the longest walk AND climb I would do in Cuenca…4.4 kilometers as per trusty Google Map. As I start my walk I notice that the church is indeed on top of a hill…as I kept getting closer I’d say it was on top of a mountain!
After one hour of walking I finally get to the bottom of the mountain. Looking up I could no longer see the church! So I start climbing stairs…stair after stair, after stair, after stair….you get the point. Similarly to my climb in Huaraz, legs started hurting and heart started racing….maybe I do need to get in shape 🙁
After climbing 581 stairs (I counted them) and stopping at least 7 times to catch my breath (god did I count them), a sweaty and breathless version of the guy who started climbing finally made it to the church.
The viewpoint offers and overall look of the city, and I found the spot where I replicated the picture from the postcard 🙂
Although I did not give Cuenca a fair amount of time, it still managed to surprise me by what it had to offer. Its beautiful streets, its amazing rooftop views, its colonial structures made this short visit very pleasant and relaxing. Something I absolutely needed after a 27 hour journey from Lima which took me here, and something I will definitely need for the 22 hour journey ahead to Pasto, Colombia.
Where I Stayed
Hostal America Inn: Pretty cool hostel located about 8 blocks from Plaza Calderón with a good vibe and friendly staff, all ready to help with directions and recommendations on what to do in the city. Two downsides for this hostel: no breakfast, and no lockers in shared rooms.
Cuenca was a nice surprise, a small city where I did not expect to find so much. Have you ever fallen upon such a place in your travels?