Ecuador Boutique travel tours to Cuenca & South Andes

Cuenca - Cultural capital of the Americas

Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, capital of the Azuay province. It is located in the Sierra, the highlands of Ecuador at about 2500m (8200 ft) above sea level. Its full name is Santa Ana de Ríos de Cuenca.

Its foundation is dated in 1557 by the Spanish explorer Gil Ramirez Davalos. However, the history of the site goes back further to the native Cañari village of Guapondelig ("land as big as heaven", 500 AD). It was later conquered by the Incas and called Tomebamba.

The actual population is around 400,000 people. The economic development is based on industry and agricultural development. Cuenca has a long lasting reputation for being a university city. It hosts 8 universities, the oldest and best known one being University of Cuenca (Universidad de Cuenca), a public university with about 12,000 students.

It has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by mountains, traversed by four rivers, and home to beautiful 14th- and 15th- century architecture, Cuenca surprised nobody when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the Old Town, you will find Parque Calderón and other colonial parks and plazas, neighborhoods that date back to the first days of the Spanish conquest of the area, and religious art museums showcasing some of Ecuador’s most impressive artwork. Also to be admired in this area are architecturally impressive buildings and churches such as the Old and New Cathedrals, Santo Domingo, San Sebastián, and San Blas, to name but a few. The city is also famous for hosting the International Art Fair. The most impressive of the city’s many museums are as follows: Banco Central, Casa de la Cultura, Conceptas Convent, Remigio Crespo Toral, Artes Populares de América, Arte Moderno, and Instituto Azuayo de Folclore. With so much cultural heritage to offer the tourist, it’s no surprise that Cuenca was chosen as the Cultural Capital of the Americas in 2002.

Cabogana Hill

This is the highest hill near Cuenca, the most famous climbing route is called the "Pailas de Racar" - "Racar basins". This is a complex of small yet numerous waterfalls and ponds; naturally created in the stone by the Sinincay creek (afluent of the Machangara river).

Baños de Duran

Baños, with its unique setting, is a few kilometers from Cuenca and is famous for its hot springs, colonial architecture, and the Sanctuary of the Vírgen de Guadalupe.

 

Azogues capital of the brave Cañari

Azogues is the capital of the province of Cañar in Ecuador. The population of Azogues is 27,866. Azogues is known for its "Panama hat" - Toquilla straw hats industry, which are produced primarily for export.

On the hill of the city, is the church San Francisco de la Virgen de las Nubes. The church is built of hand-carved stone and is quite impressive, also admirable is the symetrical structure of the staircase and access to the temple. It took 52 years to build. Below the church chickens and other small animals are sold. Off the main plaza, beside the church there is a small handicraft shop run by nuns who sell local embroidery, knitting, etc. Around the plaza the older buildings still preserve their beautiful traditional colonial painted ceilings and styles.

 

Ingapirca - Inca and Cañari ruins

Ingapirca (3,200m) is Ecuador's major Inca site, located 1 1/2 kilometers (approx.) away from the village of Ingapirca. The Ingapirca ruins looks like a small fortress. Some archaeologists think that its main elliptical platform structure (usnu), which is called the Temple of the Sun, was used for religious purposes. The structure itself has an outstanding Inca stonework, its doorways and niches designed in a trapezoidal shape are an unmistakable Inca style.

Excursions around Ingapirca 

Cara del Inca (face of the Inca), is a 15 minute walk from the ruins, a vast natural formation in a rock overlooking beautiful scenery. The Ingachugana and the Sillón de Inga (Inca's Chair), a big rock with carved channels.
 
Baños del Inca, Inca ruins (smaller) located some 1 1/2 km. from the Ingapirca ruins. This is an immense carved rock forming water channels looking over the small Plaza.
 
In the village of Ingapirca the Indian weekly market is on Fridays, with an interesting craft shop next to it.

 

Towns and Villages

Biblian

Is situated between Cañar and Azogues, high up above Biblián, you will find the Santuary of theVírgen del Rocío, a rather impressive site for tourists with a gothic style church made of hand-carved stone and attractive sanctuary carved into the rocky mountain side above the village to La Virgen del Rocío (Virgin of the Dew). This is a small town with beautiful views of the river valley and its surroundings.

Tambo and Deleg

Tambo (43 km from Azogues) also has a church with several valuable pieces of religious art and in Déleg (25 km from Azogues) you can see colorful handicrafts such as shigras (bags), colorful belts, and ponchos.

Cojitambo

Is another town one hour west of Azogues with rocky surrounding areas good for trekking and climbing. It has the same name as the historical mountain nearby, this elevation has the form of a sleeping lion, and was adored by the ancient tribes of the area. The summit is known as Cañari lookout and allows 30 km. views in all directions. There is a cave called “Mazhojútcu” where you can find bats and small departments with carvings on walls from our ancestors. There are several archaeological sites made in stone. It is said this with many other mountain top sites where lookout points to safe-guard the population from foreign armies (The Incas).

Gualaceo

In northern Azuay and just a half hour from Cuenca, is famous for its fine woven and embroidered textiles, leatherwork, and ceramics.

Sigsig

Is well known for its high-quality, internationally known toquilla straw (a.k.a. Panama) hats as well as for the quality of the apples they produce. You can also visit nearby Chopsi Cave where traces of the region’s first inhabitants have been found.

Chordeleg

For craft hunters in an array of talents and materials such as silver, Panama hats, pottery, gold Filigree and wood crafts can be found in Chordeleg, south from Gualaceo and 1 hour from Cuenca.

This village has a plethora of tourists daily visiting and shopping. Jewelry can be appraised for free at the town hall to avoid making a bad purchase. Ceramics also are well promoted in various shops as well as lovely local rustic gifts. Shop around for some alternatives on Juan B. Cobos and Eloy Alfaro street.
The village also boasts a small museum Museo de Comunidad with absorbing local straw work, ceramics and textiles some of which you may buy at fair prices.

 

Yanayacu Spa

Set in the beautiful surrounding of the rural Andean highlands, the Yanayacu Spa is an ideal spot for relaxation and recreation. The spa is located 126 km from Azogues.

 

Culebrillas Lake & Cañari ceremonial site

This lake, with its resident wild duck colony, is ideal for those that like hunting and fishing. The lake is located 75 km from Azogues. The lake is located at the foothills of Yanaurcu hill ("Black hill"). The waters are clean and transparent cooled by the wind of the Andean Paramo. Apart from the ducks there are other wild birds and a good diversity of fish.

Regarding the formation of the lake, it is not certain if it is natural or man made by the Cañari tribe. The lake is fed on its oriental side by the small river Culebrillas (small snakes) the name comes from the serpenting zig zag the river has for 800 mts. The lake was considered sacred by the Cañari people and it is said that in their ceremonies they would through in symbolic pieces of gold and silver. There is a stone stairway that enters the lake at 30 mts. from the river feed, also a stone platform 4 mts. long by .80 mts wide and just recently there was the discovery of Cañari ruins made up of carved stone 11 mts. in length by 7 mts. wide.

 

Zhin - The Moon temple

These are agricultural terraces asociated with lunar adoration. These are located on the lower hills of mount Iñahuarte in Azogues. Several archaeological studies relate the site to be Cañari, the construction is much diferent from the Inca style.

Near the summit of Zhin hill there is a large construction called Kallaka, it is considered to be a military building from the Cañari people. A few feet from this first building there are rests of walls and terraces which could have been an habitational complex.

 

Cajas National Park

The Area Nacional de Recreación Cajas is a national park in the highlands of Ecuador. The area of 289000ha between 3100m and 4450m above sea level offers a tundra vegetation on a jagged landscape of hills and valleys. About 270 lakes and lagoons can be found.

It is located about 30km from Cuenca, the capital of the province of Azuay. The area is crossed by an ancient Inca road, which remained largely in its original state, connecting the city of Tomebamba, nowadays Cuenca, with Paredones, a control point for the trade between the highlands and the coastal areas. Traces of 96 villages witness of the pre-incan Cañari population.

The El Cajas National Park is home to a large variety of animals, some of which are endemic or highly endangered. Among the most prominent are the South American Condor, of which only 80 remain throughout all Ecuador; the Curiquingue, a large black and white raptor, and the largest hummingbird of the world who lives only on agave flowers. Other species found in the park include Spectacled Bears, Mountain Tapirs, the Caracara Falcon, Pumas, Ocelots, Mountain Toucans, Foxes and Rabbits.

 

Loja - Sentinal of the South

Loja is a city full of delights for the tourist, such as the colorful houses on Lourdes Street in San Sebastián visited by national and foreign tourists, alike. The colonial Old Town and the Cathedral are also noteworthy attractions. The Vírgen del Cisne is carried here during the international fair in September. Other churches worth a visit are San Francisco, San Agustín, Santo Domingo, San Sebastián, and Fátima. They all contain important religious works of art. The “Sentinel of the South”, as the locals call Loja, also has history, archaeology, art, and handicraft museums worth checking out. Jipiro Park, the University’s Botanical Gardens, and Conceptas monastery should also be visited.

El Cisne

The parish of El Cisne is located on a high hillside. Its main attraction is its Cathedral, which contains the late 16th century Vírgen del Cisne sculpture, venerated by thousands all over the country, many of whom flock to El Cisne in September for the annual festival. The sculpture of the Virgin, known as La Churona (the curly haired one) was carved by Diego de Robles, a famous artist during the colonial times. El Cisne also has a museum with relics, clothes, sacred ornaments, and souvenirs.

 

Vilcabamba Valley - Where Life Goes On

Vilcabamba, the “Valley of Longevity”, is located just south of Loja. Attracted to the area by its peaceful atmosphere and natural beauty, thousands of tourists come here every year. The long lifespan enjoyed by the locals, many of whom live to be over 100, is something of a world record and is attributed to the low index of heart disease, a stable climate, and the special properties of the valleys hot springs. Vilcabamba means “Sacred Valley” in Quichua.

 

Saraguro home of indigenous pride

Nestled in the Pugila foothills, 64 km from Loja, Saraguro is home to the Saraguro Indians. The Saraguro are a very traditional group who have kept their customs alive by maintaining their traditional forms of dance and music and by continuing to dress in the same distinctive clothing - the black poncho they wear is a sign of the mourning oath they swore when the Spanish killed Atahualpa. The region is one of incredible beauty and Catacocha, Celica, or Gonzanamá, are definitely worth a visit.

 

Podocarpus National Park

With elevations between 950 and 3,700m, This park possesses one of the highest bio-diversity areas on earth as well as many endemic species of flora and fauna that appear nowhere else on the planet.

The main reason for such bio-diversity is mainly attributable to the areas topographical alignment and merging of the Amazonian and Andean weather which has resulted in the melding of a one off micro climate and much rainfall which has stimulated further growth.

The park has over 146,300 hectares with a very wide band of habitation, for example, up to 90 varying tree types have been found in a single hectare, other species include the Podocarpus varied range of plants.

The major animals that inhabit the park are the Andean speckled bear, the Andean fox, pumas, mountain tapirs and a tremendous range of exotic bird Life.

The area itself is cut up into two main areas, an upper pre-montane section which has sensational walking routes, the tropical cloud forest that is superb for birdwatching and the lower subtropical section, with remoter areas including virgin forest and endemic species of flora and fauna.

Macará the border with Peru

This is a small pleasant quiet town on the border with Peru, less busy than Huaquillas and another alternative to cross. Macara's main activity is agriculture, especially rice. There are several bus connections to other destinations such as: Sullana and Piura (Peruvian coast).