Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cuenca - Ecuador's Third Largest City

Last November, I took a small group of friends to Ecuador. We had 2 weeks to see and experience as much of the country and culture as we could. I had set up an itinerary that would allow us to take time to experience several spots.

One of the places we visited was the third largest of Ecuador's cities - Cuenca. We had hired a guide and decided to take the road trip to Cuenca from Quito. That two day trip down Volcano Alley is a story for another day. We arrived in Cuenca in mid-afternoon, into a much warmer, sunny wide valley. The city was spread out before us.

We registered at the Posada del Angel, right downtown - a refurbished home, with a central courtyard - airy and friendly. The photo shows the dining area - with rooms above.

Cobbled streets, graceful ironwork balconies, flowering plazas and courtyards and cathedrals recall Cuenca's Colonial past.

The blend of indigenous and Spanish peoples and cultures, the high artistic quality of local handcrafts and colorful markets are very Ecuadorian. This area is the center of ikat weaving, the silver and gold jewelry towns and one of Ecuador's pottery centers.

At an altitude of 2,550 meters (7,650 feet) above sea level, Cuenca enjoys a mild climate and a fabulous geographic position. It's historic downtown area was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site on December 1999, a fitting honor for Ecuador's most beautiful city.
Among Cuenca's special sights are the panoramic view from Turi Hill of the old and new cities, Plaza Calderon and its imposing blue-domed cathedral, overhanging wooden houses and brightly colored laundry on the Tomebamba River banks. Downtown, we visited the flower and straw markets, Museum of Religious Art in the 17th-century Immaculate Conception Monastery and the Todos Santos pre-Columbian ruins.

Art galleries and handcrafts shops display the original Panama hat and local ceramics, ikat (tie-dye) weavings, jewelry, embroidery, leather and straw work. We were so fortunate to have a great guide, who took us to local restaurants, to a local ikat weaver's workshop, to Chordeleg's jewellry shops, and to the amazing workshop and gallery of Vega - the most beautiful ceramics I'd seen.

We flew back to Quito, with heavier suitcases, and a desire to visit this lovely city again.