Our time in Cuenca was unintentional. And it was amazing.
Originally, we planned to fly out of Quito after leaving Mindo. But plane tickets skyrocketed before we could press “purchase” and so we ended up scrambling for a Plan B. Our only financially feasible option, it turned out, was to fly out of Guayaquil four days later than we had hoped. Not enthusiastic about returning to the country’s most charm-less city, we looked for alternatives nearby.
We almost immediately settled on Cuenca, unanimously crowned the most beautifully preserved colonial city in Ecuador.
Cuenca, we would find, is deliciously devoid of must-do tours, must-see markets or much unmissable anything. Which meant we were free to spend our days wandering the cobblestone streets, lingering over long lunches, and working on some big freelancing projects (for me, a graphic design gig, for Anders, a video editing assignment).
In four days, we literally made four visits to Cafe San Sebas, our daily lunch spot thanks to Indefinite Adventure’s excellent suggestion. We weren’t there long, but it was nice to remember what it feels like to have a routine.
It was no mystery where Cuenca got its reputation as a city of extreme beauty and character. Whenever I needed a break from the laptop, I simply grabbed my camera and we went for a wander, relishing the bright balconies and worn down cobblestones along the way.
Even away from the famous cathedrals and the more ornately preserved buildings in the center squares, even on the residential side streets hidden far from the eyes of tourists, charm was never in short supply.
And though many backpackers breeze through Cuenca in a day or two, we didn’t get bored. Not when there were people to watch, buildings to unintentionally dress as twins with, and busy squares to photograph (which many have involved laying down in the middle of the street when there was a break in cars, pushing Anders to the brink of nervous breakdown.)
Cuenca’s main cathedral was just a four-minute stroll from our hostel, and boasted unmatched views of the red-roofed city. I couldn’t help but experience a brief moment of confusion — did I accidentally teleport myself to Europe? Because if I didn’t know better, South America would not be the continent I’d think these photos were taken on.
While I was perfectly content to never leave Cuenca’s city limits, Anders was feeling a little antsy by our final day. So while I had a very exciting day-long date with my laptop, he hopped on a local bus out to Caja National Park. The notoriously moody-weathered park is a popular hiking spot and day trip from colonial Cuenca. And while I didn’t have the time (or, lets be real, the desire) to make the trip myself, I did make Anders promise to take lots of beautiful photos for all of us to enjoy.
I think he did a pretty good job, don’t you?
I couldn’t be happier about the change of plans that brought us to our little bonus city. After not really meshing with Quito I felt like I had missed out on enjoying the colonial city aspect of Ecuador, but visiting Cuenca completely redeemed me. I can’t believe I almost missed out on such a beautiful place.
It was the perfect place to say goodbye to Ecuador.
I hope you enjoyed my coverage of Ecuador. Next up, I’m taking y’all to Panama!