The best place in the world for retirees! Ideal climate. United Nations World Heritage Site. Low Cost of Living. Excellent health care. Friendly people. A strong community of expatriates bonded together by circumstance and similar adventurous attitude.
I had heard all the above many times over when people spoke about Cuenca, Ecuador. I didn’t fully believe what was being said and decided to make a quick trip over the New Years holiday to see what the hype was about.
Of a city of about almost 600,000 inhabitants, of which 350,000 are in the city proper, there are 4000 North Americans, 1300 Peruvians, 1000 Colombians and about 200 French, plus others. The earliest record of human habitation dates back to 8060 BC; but, the first Spanish settlement was not founded till 1557 AD. It is clearly understandable why the United Nations would take such great interest in it.
Approaching the city at the end of a seven hour drive from Quito, I hoped that the roads would be well laid out in good, condition, well signed and with drivers who showed some respect for the rules of the road and courtesy others. I was not disappointed. There was no problem identifying where I was or where I should go. The road layout was clearly understood, and signage was better than any other place in the country that I had been to. Traffic was not heavy during my stay and drivers were reasonable.
Perhaps demonstrative of the importance and respect for tourists and the expat community, there was a measure of English used on street posters and tourist promotional literature not evident elsewhere in the country.
The old, historic, and new building structures are clearly separated to ensure the preservation of the city’s history while addressing modernity. All streets were clean.
I took a trip on a double decker, open top, bus. It cost $ 5, compared to $ 15 in Quito. The city was well presented by a route that passed the main sites and gave one ideas for later exploration. You did have to listen to the on-bus guide who spoke both Spanish and English. And, you certainly didn’t want to miss when she advised ducking your head as the bus passed under low hanging cables and tree branches in the older part of the city.
The bus climbed one side of the valley to the Mirador de Turi. Here, the guide announced a stop for 15 minutes, which stretched to 30, to provide the opportunity to shop in the company store and take photos of the church and the expanse of the city below the lookout. Cuenca is awash with red tiled roofs and similarly colored modern brick construction.
Having a strong Catholic history, two of the key places to visit are The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in the city centre, bordering on the Parque Calderon, and the Iglesia Santo Domingo. The former is impressive for it's size and triple domes and the latter church for it's night-time beauty. The lighting of the Iglesia appears specifically designed to give everyone a perfect photo.
Parque Calderon is a favorite of tourists and locals alike. One side of the square hosts restaurants and another the tour bus stop. The park hosts arts and craft vendors and a variety of trees and flowers that make it a delightful place to sit and relax. Side streets offer more restaurants and attractive architecture. Personally, I could not ignore that there seemed to be at least one ice-cream parlor on every block. Should I admit that this is an enormous plus for me?
The most impressive site for me was the Museo de Cultura. It is a new, spacious building, housing a vast number of exhibits depicting the culture and history of Ecuador. These include everything from fine art, displays of Ecuador’s 22 indigenous cultures, ancient crafts and shrunken heads. On the property is a large anthropological dig exposing the walls and layout of an ancient city, Pumapungo. A bird centre houses a large number of species, big and small, nearly all colorful; all captivating. Some will even try to talk to you. You must realize that to fully appreciate the experience you will need to make more than one visit !
What do I now think of Cuenca ? - It is definitely a place that I want to return to. For those looking for an enjoyable place to visit or to take up residence, Cuenca should be among the top places in Ecuador on their list.
Click RSS Icon to automatically follow Andre's Blog.
Follow Andre on Twitter