Finding my way around Cuenca (Part II + Inca Ruins!)

The past two weeks have been about trying to settle in, finding a routine, and feeling comfortable living in a city. To that end, I spent last weekend playing tourist. It’s a strange thing to go from pure cultural immersion, to taking the double-decker bus along with a group of other North Americans past my jogging path by the river. It’s like I’m moving between worlds. The world of tourist, and the world of inhabitant.


Plaza de las Artesanias (Plaza of Handicrafts) in Cuenca.

Where am I right now? Straddling the world of visitor and inhabitant. Trying to build a routine, but always knowing this is a temporary living arrangement. That pushes me to do and see as much as possible – and thus, be a tourist.


Twice a week these ladies show up here loaded with herbs, flowers, and incense, to do a ritual cleansing of children who can’t sleep at night. Apparently, people believe that children who cry a lot need to be cleansed of bad spirits. These ladies brush the children with herbs and massage their feet and hands.

The double-decker tourist bus was a good orientation to the city. I know I’ve been here more than two weeks now, but I still don’t really know my way around. The bus helped me make the mental connections I need to be able to tour on foot, or to attempt the city bus system (an entire post dedicated to buses coming soon!)


Cuenca’s historic center from the top of the tourist bus.

Cuenca's iconic new cathedral. The blue tiles on the roof were a gift to the city from the Czech Republic.

Cuenca’s iconic new cathedral. The blue tiles on the roof were a gift to the city from the Czech Republic.

The bus gave me a chance to see Cuenca from a new perspective – offering a glimpse into the upper stories of those colonial buildings and a closer look at those tile rooftops.


A view from Turi, on a hill above Cuenca (on a rather poor air quality day).

I also felt less self-conscious about taking photos while surrounded by a bunch of other tourists. When I’m wandering around on my own, I’m not always keen to take out the camera and take photos like this one. I guess there’s power in numbers.


This pig is all dressed up and ready for lunch.

After seeing that pig all decked out and ready for lunch, I had a big bowl veggie soup at one of the ‘Gringo’ restaurants.


My own lunch consisted of veggie jambalaya from the restaurant Cafe San Sebas, along with jugo maracuya (passion fruit juice)

One of the things I like about Cuenca are all the gorgeous plazas. Also, I have to say that Cuenca is, by far, the cleanest city I have ever visited in Latin America – there are always people sweeping sidewalks and picking up trash. The Cuencanos have a lot of pride in this city.


Plaza de Las Flores in central Cuenca was named the best open-air flower market in the world by National Geographic last year.


The tranquil Plaza of San Sebastian – a place to escape the bustle of the city center.

One of my favorite stops on my ‘self-guided’ tour of Cuenca was the Pumapungo Museum. The museum is housed in a huge, modern building, and the inside is not really too exciting. But if you walk behind the museum, you’ll find yourself in one of Ecuador’s largest archeological sites – the remnants of the Inca city of Tomebamba.


Remnants (and a replica) of the convent in the Inca city of Tomebamba.

About 10 years ago, I visited Machu Picchu in Peru. If your primary goal in visiting South America is to see Inca ruins, that’s where you want to go – it is utterly amazing. In Ecuador, the most famous Inca ruins are at Ingapirca, about an hour or two north of Cuenca (and you know that I’ll be heading up there at some point). But the ruins here in Cuenca are still impressive – and worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.


A walkway between the remnants of Inca homes.


Apparently, the Inca cities and gardens are designed such that certain objects align with certain stars and/or geographical markers with mythical-religious significance.

Aside the ruins of Tomebamba, there is a demonstration herbal, medicinal, and vegetable garden – that was fun to explore, especially with no one else there!


Looking toward ancient terraces from the medicinal/vegetable gardens.


Enjoying some sunshine while I know everyone back home is bundled up from the cold and trying to navigate icy roads.


5 thoughts on “Finding my way around Cuenca (Part II + Inca Ruins!)

  1. There seems to be no end to the beauty and fascinating experiences you are seeing and doing. I feel like I’m there too and your blog really makes me want to see Cuenca. Don’t be ashamed of being a tourist, they get a bad rap but really we are all tourists at various points in our lives. Thank you sharing your experiences.


  2. Your pictures and blogs are wonderful. We’re really enjoying your travels. We’re just finishing up a week in Costa Rica. We came down to sea level today and really hit the heat. Is it hot and humid there? Looking forward to your next posting.


    • Thanks, Judy & Charlie – hope you’ve had a great time in Costa Rica! Cuenca sits at about 8300 feet elevation, so it’s not hot at all. Apparently, this is the warmest time of the year, and while it can feel a little warm when the sun is out, I always carry a light jacket with me. It’s often cloudy in the afternoons. High temperatures peak in late morning, probably in the low to mid 70’s. I hear that June and July get a lot cooler (highs in the low to mid-60’s). It’s also been pretty dry since I’ve been here, but usually the rain starts ramping up in March, and April and May can be a bit wet. Overall, the weather here feels to me a bit like Hollister – but with a much better chance of rain! I know that an hour’s drive from here (or more), at lower elevations, it can be quite hot an humid.


  3. Pingback: On the trail of the Incas | Northern Colorado Climo Prof

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