Cuenca and in general the south of Ecuador was one of the regions during our trip that surprised us the most. Coming from Peru and Bolivia, rather less-developed countries, we didn’t expect much from Ecuador, in terms of development. But what we found was that the country as soon as you cross the border was much more advanced than anything else (except Chile, maybe) we’ve seen so far. Cashiers actually have registers and shelfs with prices denoted on them and busses always(!) leave on time – not the usual thirty minutes later.
We got a recommendation from a friend to visit Loja, which is the biggest city in the south of the country, and the nearby national park. We arrived in Loja at 5am. After spending 36 hours in busses or bus stations ie. two nights and a full day on busses. As we wanted to see the national park, we made our way to a town nearby and walked up to the entrance of the park. As we were approaching, a car full of “officials” coming our way stopped to tell us that due to the heavy rains, a landslide had come down and took down the gate to the entrance with it. So, no national park for us. It was quite a useless trip after all. But we had breakfast and met some really nice locals, so it was worth it. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in a shady hostel in the center of Loja. Yes, we needed sleep!
..was the first place on the trip where I truly felt like home. It might have been the architecture in the center that was heavily influenced by the Spanish. But one thing I noticed immediately as we entered Cuenca by bus was that even the residential areas looked neat and clean, and houses were actually painted and had a roof. Cuenca had more churches than I could count and we had a super-relaxing time there. It is a really modern city and offers loads of leisure activities and has a few streets full of restaurants and bars.
One day was spent at Ingapirca, the most important Inca ruins in Ecuador. It was so worth the trip! Not only is it really easy to get there from Cuenca, but it is also very informative. For 2$ per person we had access to the informational museum and the ruins, of course, but on top of that we had a tour guide (in English!) that showed us around and answered any question, whatsoever!
So that was quite a change compared to Peru, where you would probably pay 5 times as much but not even get informational boards, or something alike. That is because the Ecuadorian government decided to cover most costs of national parks, landmarks, historical sights, etc. and it is free for tourists. Ecuador was the perfect country for us to spend more time in. So, in the weeks to come we would definitely make use of this!