Cuenca, what a city to behold! Founded in 1577 By the Spanish (although Inca- Cañari people were already residing in the region), the city was built following a colonial Spanish town plan and, as many of these buildings have been preserved, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Cuenca is situated in the southern Andean region and is worth a visit for both architectural and cultural exploration. The churches alone take an entire afternoon to browse, and they are certainly worth the browsing.
Since it was a holiday week, the markets were huge and busy, and the cultural experiences to be had were not to be outdone. There were vendors selling clothes, toys, vegetables, fruits, desserts, roast cuy (guinea pig), roast pork, and anything else you could dream up.
Being Christmas week, Cuenca was our home base for all things Navidad, since we had read that their Pase del Niño celebration is the best in the entire country. Pase del Niño (Passing of the Child) is a sort of Christmas Eve parade or pageant, and is one of the biggest celebrations of the year in Ecuador. Pase del Niño in Cuenca is an all day affair- it begins in mid-morning and lasts until about 5:00. There are dancers, musicians, floats, animals, food, trucks and incredible costumes of all types. The types of costumes we saw varied widely, there were those focused exclusively on the nativity, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, angels, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. But there are also tradition outfits from different local regions, from traditional to masked costumes.
Hotel Victoria: We stayed in this lovely hotel for two nights, and ate at their restaurant, El Jardín, for Christmas Eve. We really enjoyed our stay and the views of the river and their backyard garden. The staff was some of the most friendly and personable we encountered during our entire Ecuadorian adventure, which is saying a lot because we encountered friendliness everywhere we went.The rate was reasonable and consistent, throughout Ecuador we paid $70/night for a room for the four of us at nearly every single hotel in which we stayed, and Hotel Victoria was no exception.
Getting there: Since we were heading in from the coast (Olon), we took E15 Ruta de Spondylus to Via a la Costa, E40 through Guayaquil, then E25 to E582. This route took us through two national parks, the Reserva Ecologica Manglar Churte and the Parque National Cajas. We didn’t detour or stop to see the mangroves in Manglar Churte, but we had an excellent viewing of Cajas just driving through. Our Lonely Planet described Cajas as a “golden-green moorlike páramo (mountainous Andean grasslands) dotted with hundreds of chilly lakes that shine like jewels against a rough, otherworldly countryside…wandering into one of these dense dwarf forests is like entering a Brothers Grimm fairy tale”. Since this description was so spot-on, I figured why try to create my own, when Lonely Planet already said it best. The landscape was definitely akin to stepping into a story, and the views captivated my daughters and began them creating their very own fairytales from the backseat of our car.