Cuenca, Ecuador in Two days
Cuenca is a beautiful small, quaint city in southern Ecuador’s Andes Mountains. It was rated one of the most livable cities for expats. Downtown Cuenca is a picturesque dream come true for colonial architecture lovers. The buildings are mostly of the French and Spanish colonial heritage. Most of Downtown Cuenca is brimming with restaurants, shops, hotels, and hostels. So if you are in Downtown Cuenca, you want to find a hostel or a hotel there. The variety is huge, and the prices are competitive. The first time you set foot in Downtown Cuenca, locate where Parque Calderon is. This is the heart of downtown, and from there it is easy to walk around and come back to it.
How I did it?
I knew that I would have as little as two days and one night in Cuenca. One full day and night before my road trip, (stay tuned to read about it), and one day till I leave to the airport that night. I checked hostel ratings on hostelworld.com, then choose one, in my case Check Inn Hotel, gave them a call, you can ask a local to use their phone and give them a dollar for the call, then did a booking. This will work if your plans are last minute, or you don’t have a credit card to book online.
It was a fantastic location, but again most of the hostels are pretty much in the heart of El Centro. That day I was lucky they gave me a room with a great view on the street with gorgeous buildings and huge windows, and it wasn’t that noisy at night.
I spent that day browsing the streets of El Centro, and pinning all the places I want to see when I come back.
What is important to see?
EVERYTHING. If you are not tired of walking, WALK. The side streets are hidden The city center or El Centro, is very small, you can pretty much cover it in one day walking around. Calle Large and it translates in English as the large street, is a mesmerizing stroll, with all the colorful buildings, street cafés, and small eateries. Hungry?
Where to eat?
As anywhere else in the world, the closer to the main street, or where the tourists are likely to hang out the more expensive it gets. So I looked down the side streets first, with a target in mind, a friend in Mexico taught me to look for a paper that says Especial Hoy, posted normally outside of the restaurant, (today’s menu). Normally, that will be cheaper than ordering a la Carte and it will usually include; soup, salad, and sometimes dessert, plus, this is how the locals do it. I came across one restaurant on a side street which offered lunch for $3. Typically, what you should pay for lunch in Cuenca is between 2-3$. My lunch had soup, a plate of rice and veggies, a scanty piece of chicken, and a yogurt dessert. I found this quite fair for the price. There are an array of restaurants in the area that offer endless choices that caters for different tastes, and budgets.
Are Ecuadorians friendly?
I hate to be blunt, but no. I didn’t find them particularly friendly, in comparison to Mexicans. They were quite impatient and dismissive, especially if you are struggling with the language. That made google translate with Spanish offline my best friend on this trip. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I only cruised the touristic areas, so may be outside of these areas people will be more welcoming. But anyway, this was my experience and everybody is different.
When I came back from my road trip, I had one full day and a PLAN.
Crunched in time? Here is a secret tip; Take a day tour. Get a glimpse, sample the city, if you can’t have the full meal, get the flavor.
AND that what I have done. I googled free city tours Cuenca, and it turned out right on my doorstep. There is an iTur office http://www.cuencaecuador.com.ec, and it is in the main Plaza Calderon. They do a free two-hour walking tour every morning at 10 am. So my plan was browsing for a good place for breakfast, and be at their door step at 10 am.
In my search for a glorious breakfast to wash away, the horrible night sleep the night before (lousy, noisy neighbors, plus didn’t get the beautiful room as last time). And the fatigue of spending eight hours on a bus on my way back to Cuenca, I set my budget limitations aside. So I headed for the main street looking for a nice place for breakfast. I ended up sitting in Tutto Freddo, which is a famous ice cream place, and I liked how fresh their baking goods looked. I paid $3.75 for an Americano breakfast, which simply was: a small croissant, an omelet, a spoon of butter, a spoon of jam, a juice, and a coffee. Although the portions were ridiculously small, the quality was really good. So I forgave them.
The two-hour walk was very informative and interesting, I highly recommend it, and the guide spoke both English and Spanish. This walk is free, but you kind of tip the guide with whatever you want to give at the end. I spent the rest of my time in Cuenca cruising the streets that I haven’t covered during the walk, so by the time the sunset on Cuenca and me I bade her farewell with no looking back.