Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ecuador trip - Part 3 (More Quito & Cuenca)

From the islands, we headed back to Quito. We took a walking tour of the historical district (old town) of Quito, which consists of a bunch of very old churches of different Christian orders (Franciscans, Dominicans etc.), and big plazas joined together by cobblestone streets. The architecture was pretty impressive, but the crowds and the traffic a little annoying.

There were armed guards everywhere to ensure tourist safety. The old town can get quiet and dangerous after dark, so we limited our walking activities to the daytime. We also rode up the Teleferico, which is a cable car that takes you to the top of a 13,000 ft mountain next to Quito. You get a good view of the city from up there.

From Quito, we headed down to Cuenca, which is another colonial city on the Andes. It's the 3rd largest city in Ecuador, albeit a distant 3rd. We spent a quiet couple of days in Cuenca, walking around its historic churches and cathedrals and enjoying the nice food & weather.

There were a lot less tourists here, and the vibe overall was more friendly. We stayed in a hotel where the entire staff only spoke Spanish, which lead to some fun conversations. Cuenca has a bunch of artsy places like Panama hat factories and ceramic studios, but we visited on Saturday/Sunday and most of them were closed. Cuenca was our last stop in the Ecuadorian adventure.

One thing I noticed in Quito and in Cuenca was how little of the Inca & pre-Inca heritage is still remaining. Talking to people and going around town, you would be lead to believe that the Ecuadorian history began with the Spanish. In Peru (especially Cuzco) this was pretty different. People there took pride in their Inca-past. In Ecuador, it was as if the Incas never existed.

I'll end this with a shout out to Ecuador as a tourist destination. You don't require a visa to enter the country, and they use the US dollar for currency. It's pretty tourist-friendly, and hence safe. The weather is great throughout the year. Knowing Spanish is definitely a plus, but not knowing it leads to even more memorable interactions with the locals. We had a bunch of those :).

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