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CUENCA, ECUADOR: ATHENS OF THE ANDES
Cultural Capital of the Americas for the year 2002

Paragraphs extracted from the Traveler's Ecuador Companion © The Globe Pequot Press. Reproduced with permission.
Photos by Dominic Hamilton.

Considered the most beautiful city in the country, Cuenca likes to call itself the Athens of Ecuador. But its narrow, cobbled streets, houses with wrought iron balconies, flower-filled patios and many fine old churches are more reminiscent, to my mind, of ancient hill towns like Ronda and Córdoba of Andalucía in southern Spain. "Of all the earth, as far as I know it," wrote the early twentieth century traveler Harry A. Franck, "Cuenca has the most perfect climate." Most visitors wholeheartedly concur.

The city is proud of its colonial-style architecture, its many churches and its artistic and intellectual heritage. The University of Cuenca is rated as one of the best in Ecuador and Latin America, and at the same time the city issomething of a colony of artists and artisans. The city ranks among the most Roman Catholic of the continent: its motto is "Primero Dios, Después Vos" (First God, Then You).Cuenca is also the biggest production center of the misnamed "panama" hat.

 

If you enjoy exploring back street markets, delving into old churches, museums and craft shops, sitting around in patio cafés and watching the world go by, then Cuenca is for you.



THINGS TO SEE:


The pink marble façades and magnificent sky-blue domes of the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (New Cathedral) overlook the square's elegant houses. The domes are the finest features of the cathedral.

Just round to the left of the Old Cathedral as you face it, the small Plazoleta del Carmen is more commonly known as the Plaza de las Flores, one of the most charming squares in the country.

The Museo de las Conceptas, housed in the infirmary of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception on Hermano Miguel 6-33. The chapel contains a beautiful, but lurid, display of crucifixes created by local artist Gaspar Sangurima, considered to be the Father of Arts and Crafts in Cuenca. Religious art from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

Museo de Identidad Cañari
, on the first floor of an antiques shop.

The rebuilt Iglesia San Francisco by the square of the same name, which is famed for its beautiful carved high altar and gold-leaf pulpit, and the Iglesia de San Sebastián, about six blocks west of Parque Calderón and marking the old town's limit.

Chola Cuencana at the Flower MarketThe Museo del Banco Central displays artifacts (with some beautiful jewelry) relating to regional Inca and pre-Inca civilizations, as well as great reconstructions of indigenous cultures, from Shuar huts to sierran masked dancers.

Museo de Artes Populares
is housed within the beautiful old mansion of the Centro Interamericano de Atesanías y Artes Populares (CIDAP). Colorful arts and crafts from across the Americas fill the display rooms, including musical instruments, ceramics, wood carvings and papier-maché, with some works for sale.

Shops: Around Gran Colombia and roads leading off it, shops sell ikat weavings, woolen sweaters, leather goods, carvings, basketwork, antiques, jewelry, filigree work, silver and gold items, precious stones, paintings, sculpture, pottery, ceramic tiles, candelabra, cameras, camping equipment, panama hats, and more.

The area around the Iglesia and Convento de Las Conceptas is also packed with some great antiquarians and souvenir shops. The two main markets are around the Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza Rotary, which are best for craft items. Stands are open most days of the week, but the main market days are Thursdays and Saturdays.

Panama hats: Homero Ortega y Hijos
tel (07) 809000 fax (07) 876600 email: info@homeroortega.com web: www.homeroortega.com, Avenida Gil Ramírez Dávalos 3-86, close to the terminal terrestre.

ACCOMMODATION:

There are two great new places to stay in Cuenca: The Mansión del Alcazar www.mansionalcazar.com, and the Hotel Santa Lucía, www.santaluciahotel.com. I have only visited the Santa Lucía. It was a delightfully restored 20-room hotel set in a old mansion. It's in the old part of town. The Mansión is similar, but more luxurious and expensive.

Top:
Hotel Oro Verde tel (07) 831200 fax (07) 832849, on Ordóñez Lazo on the northwest outskirts, boasts all the facilities of a swank hotel. Service is generally excellent, and the restaurant first-class. It's a taxi-ride from the busy center of town, but is therefore very peaceful. Expensive

Middle:
Always highly praised for character and friendliness is the Hotel Crespo tel (07) 842571 fax (07) 839473 email hcrespo@az.pro.ec, Larga 7-93 and Cordero.
Cheap: Set within a lovely old mansion, the Hotel Inca Real tel (07) 823636 fax (07) 840699 email incareal@cue.satnet.net, General Torres 8-40 between Sucre and Bolívar, has plenty of well-appointed and comfortable rooms set around their flower-filled patio.

Cheaper:
Hostal Chordeleg
tel (07) 824611 fax (07) 822536 Gran Colombia and Torres, whose old-house setting and glass-covered patio are more inviting than the rooms themselves, though they're still very good value.

El Cafecito
tel (07) 827341, sister to its namesake in Quito, on Honorato Vásquez and Luis Cordero, is a popular backpacker stop. A great place for a drink and a snack in the evening.

 

 

 

 
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SMALL PRINT: On the request page, you must state you came from Ecuadorial to benefit from the airport transfer offer.
>> Ecuadorial Galapagos Pages  >>
 

 

 

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