Cuenca is a charming colonial city made up of cobblestone one way streets, geranium-filled balconies and imposing churches like nowhere else. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.

And don’t forget that unbeknownst to most, including me, the Panama hat comes from Ecuador and most of them are woven right here in Cuenca. The Panama hat is also UNESCO listed as an intangible cultural heritage so you get two UNESCOs for the price of one here.

If you love architecture and history Cuenca is for you. You will find yourself on every corner with camera in hand. In fact, your lazy saunter through this little pueblo might prevent you from seeing all the landmarks which is what happened to me. Having said that; however, it turns out that my addiction to Red Bull can’t be all bad as this bebida energìa is difficult to find in central Cuenca but my day long search for it led me down streets I wouldn’t have otherwise traversed and I met locals I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

Honestly, however, I felt a bit separated from people in this place almost as if it was intended to be viewed from afar. The people were going about their business to work, the children skipping past you in route to school and the grandiosity of the churches and their ever looming doors felt more like a sacred “no entry” zone where I wasn’t welcome rather than an invitation. It felt like you had to be a part of their past to be included here (even though it is a high priority place for tourists which is probably the reason for this). It’s hard to explain and it is not a complaint about this place or the people here but unlike other places in the world I’ve been I felt invisible here. Even at night I witnessed the parties, the singing, the marching and fireworks throughout the town but from my hotel window. Not one person, not even Fernanda or Jose from the front desk at the Hotel Conquistador, told me about the festivities. By the time I ran down, the procession had moved on. If I have any travel complaint, it is this one thing. Hotels, hostels, etc should know what’s happening in their town and should share it with their guests. Believe it or not this is a worldwide phenomenon – where the place you are staying doesn’t say “hey make sure you go to XXX today for the XXX”. Us travelers can agree on one thing for sure (aside from the obvious which is that there is nothing more important than seeing and connecting with this world (yes you can take your family and your God with you!)) and that one thing is that we want to participate! So tell us where, when and how local folks! We beg you!

Anyway, this separation feeling was only in my mind and probably due to the inordinate amount of time I spent in the hotel room trying to close two transactions in the states as once I was departing I marveled at the ease of the connection with Fabiano during my taxi ride and again at the send off I received from LATAM. No kidding I was only asked a few questions about my travels and word spread like wildfire through LATAM staff and the airport and I actually got a big send off to Country 82 while boarding my flight. Bien viaje from everyone and people saying “it’s you…you’re her…the blessed one” well actually it was “la bendita” and Yes that’s definitely me! Why you might wondering?  I have found lately that somehow when you cross over into country 80 plus people really start to take notice and be interested.

It was at this time it occurred to me that this thing I’m doing is a very BIG deal. I know I’m not the first (lots of people remind me of the girl who touched the soil in every country in a mere 18 months) and I know I won’t be the last or at least I HOPE not, but spending time in another country, connecting with the people, learning about their history and culture, trying their food (and ESPECIALLY natural fruit ice cream and dulce in Ecuador), climbing and bike riding or horseback riding in their mountains, swimming in their seas, rafting in their rivers, hiking through their jungles, viewing their flora and fauna and their wildlife and even experiencing their catastrophes side by side whether natural such as mudslides or monsoons or man made like bombings and shootings – ALL of this has made me a part of this world. I have touched the lives of other people whether with a smile when they were having a bad day, or whether through a lollipop given to a village child who had never had one before or whether asking their name and remembering it regardless of whether they drove my taxi to the airport or served me my food or cleaned my hotel room or guided me to safety up and back down a 6,000 meter mountain or off a 40 meter dive into a waterfall. I have left a footprint in this world – the good kind. I was reminded of this at the last second as I climbed those stairs to my departing plane in Cuenca despite having felt a little distant and apart from the world and the people in it in this gem of a town in the south of Ecuador.

Okay Travelirvana, you may be thinking, that’s touching and all but what do we need to see in this gem of a town called Cuenca, where do we stay and what’s it going to cost us to include this in our itinerary?

Stay in central Cuenca so you can walk anywhere. You don’t need a lush extravagant place to stay here as you’ll only be sleeping so save your money for extravagant places somewhere else (like Lima) and grab a $33 USD plus tax per night perfectly comfortable room with great WiFi like me at the El Conquistador which is right where you need to be location wise. There are plenty of places just like it and on the same street even or within blocks so just find the place that is cheapest and will serve you a good breakfast and where you get free WiFi like El Conquistador.

WALK – walk everywhere, walk everyday, walk all day. It’s free. And take it all in and leave that camera around your neck and not in your backpack. It will be safe and you are going to need it. Walk to the same places multiple times throughout the day like the park, the new church, the old church and other landmarks because the lighting changes and it is remarkable and different each time you look especially the grand churches I’ve been telling you about and then go again at night. Every time I turned a corner I thought I was seeing some new and startling architectural wonder but it was just a different angle and different lighting. It was simply miraculous how that happened. You will understand when you get here. Given these architectural wonders were churches, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising especially in South America knowing the strength of the faith the people have here especially in the historically Catholic town of Cuenca.

Here is the list of landmarks you can see:

1.  Parque Calederon

2.  Catedral Vieja

3.  Catedral Nueva

4.  Plaza de las Flores

5. Mercado de San Francisco

6.  Museo de Arte Moderno

7.  Museo de las Conceptas

8.  Museo del CIDAP

9.  Puente Roto

10. Museo de Culturas Aborigenes

11.  Ruinas de Todos Santos

12. Parque Arquelogico Pumapungo

13. Imanti Handicrafts

14.  Planetario

15. Ceramica Eduardo Vega

16. Sucursal Homero Ortega Panama Hats

Below are some restaurants I went to that I enjoyed:

1. Raymipamba

2. Fillippo

3.  Subway (una broma or in English Just Kidding Folks)

If you have any questions or comments, submit them below and then go Unlock the Travelirvana in you.