The city of Cuenca, Ecuador is widely regarded as the most European city in the country of Ecuador due to its 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture resembling cities and architecture throughout Spain. The city of Cuenca is located in the highlands of Ecuador at about 8,200 feet above sea level, with an urban population of approximately 400,000 rising to 700,000 inhabitants in the larger metropolitan area. The center of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site due to its many historical buildings.
The dominant features of the city’s geography are also the source of its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca (meaning a basin made by a confluence of rivers). These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Inca culture), Tyanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed. Cuenca is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and the Tomebamba River flows through the city of Cuenca.
Cuenca features a subtropical highland climate. Like the rest of the Ecuadorian Andes, Cuenca enjoys a mild climate year-round. The average daily temperature is 58.5 °F. There are two seasons: rainy and dry. The dry season, with some variation, falls between June and December. The rainy season (now), which is characterized by bright sunny mornings and afternoon showers, falls between January and May. The heaviest rains come in the wet season of March, April and May.
Most tourists visit the historic area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Outside this area the city can be confusing, as there are dozens of narrow colonial streets with similar buildings. My apartment, which I rented for the month of January, is 30-40 minutes walk from most of the historical center and has few street signs. I walk to the historical center for yoga classes, restaurant meals, music (found two live bands for evening dancing), museums, etc., but usually take a taxi back, especially if I am carrying items in my backpack. I try to take only one $2 taxi a day.
- Old Cathedral (Iglesia de El Sagrario). Built in 1557, the edifice eventually became too small for the town’s attendants. In 1880, a new cathedral was built as the replacement. The old cathedral, no longer consecrated, has been restored and used as a museum.
- New Cathedral (official name: Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción). Its towers are truncated due to a calculation error of the architect. Had it been constructed as planned, the foundation would not bear the weight of the full towers. In spite of the architect’s immeasurable mistake, the New Cathedral of Cuenca, completed in 1885, is a monumental work of faith. A combination of Romanesque Revival and Neo-Gothic in style, the church’s blue and white domes have become a symbol for the city. Its façade is made of alabaster and local marble, while the floor of the nave is covered with pink marble, brought from Carrara (Italy). At its inauguration, the newly constructed Cathedral could accommodated 9,000 out of Cuenca’s 10,000 inhabitants at that time.
- Park Abdon Calderon. It is located in the center of Cuenca between the old and new cathedrals. On the park benches, people meet to converse and absorb its tranquility. The municipal offices are located nearby.
- Monastery of El Carmen de Asuncion. In the atrium a colorful flower market supplements the beauty of the church which was founded in 1682. A sculpted stone façade and a golden pulpit make the church very attractive.
- Monastery and Museum of La Concepcion, with 17th-century tombs and a complete collection of religious art.
- House of the Ecuadorian Culture
- Municipal Museum Remigio Crespo Toral
- Museum of the Central Bank
- Museum of the Aboriginal Cultures
- Church of Santo Domingo
- San Blas
- Turi the Mirado/Lookout point over city
The nearby Cañar plantation (in the county of the same name) features the biggest Inca ruins in Ecuador.
Cuenca is a city known for its textile making, along with furniture and other crafts like hats and shoes. They also export many flowers to places such as the United States and countries in Europe. The hats that they are well known for making are straw hats (NOT Panama).
The tourism industry is big as well in addition with the main university there, “La Universidad de Cuenca”. With Cuenca located in the sierras of mountains and much forest area nearby, mining and logging are industries there. Some of the common mined resources are kaolin, plaster, limestone, sand, specialized rocks, and carbon. Also, Cuenca is known for making tires for cars. They get a big supply of rubber from the forests. As far as farming, it has shrunken in the economy, but is still important part of the city. Beekeeping is actually a big part of it as far as the usual of livestock and growing crops. Some of the typical crops grown are wheat, barley, rye, oats and corn.
I have been in Cuenca for over 3 weeks, arriving on 2/2/18, living out of the center of the city and walking long distances, I have becoming acclimated to the city, finding healthy, food, and getting to yoga classes to be very time consuming. I prefer walking to taking the cheap buses and taxis.
There are quite a few good restaurants for a vegetarian. I am eating as vegan as possible. I am grateful for an excellent but limited diversity organic market on Fridays. It is more expensive to buy many ingredients, with healthy ones not readily found, and cook full meals, than to buy a vegan or vegetarian meal in a cheaper restaurant and have snacks of fruit or a sandwich or a small salad in the evening.
As my focused community in Cuenca, I thought about writing a full post on the expat community here, but decided that the indigenous tribes’ political movement to protect themselves and the environment would be more interesting.
There is much more to be written about Cuenca. My next posts will be about POLITICS, how they affect the indigenous tribes and how the tribes are organizing to protect themselves and the land.
ENGLISH SPEAKING EXPATS living in Cuenca,
CARNAVAL, how I will look for samba dancing and try not to get hit by a water balloon or be covered in foam, and
VILCAMBAMBA, the Vally of Longevity. I am told that I, as a Old Hippie, will love it.