Cuenca is a city of half a million people nestled in the southern Ecuadorian Andes. The city is only four hours south of Riobamba by local bus (US$2.50) and the main attraction of the area being Ingapirca, the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador. This was the major reason I decided to travel here, but hoped there’d be more on offer.
It seemed to be raining everywhere in Ecuador when we arrived in Cuenca. But then Ecuador isn’t large, only marginally larger than New Zealand. On the bus, my friend and I ran into a woman we’d met in the hostel in Quito a week earlier. So, as the light began to fade and the rain continued lightly, the three of us wandered the streets and discovered plentiful examples of excellent architecture. Like many places in South America, the architecture is great, but they aren’t well looked after. The Basilica…
The next morning the rain had eased and we wandered around some more. The central plaza has a statue, and yes, a fountain too, hidden away in one corner.
We also found two small Incan ruins that had been surrounded by the city. This one is just a small lot, while the other is more spread out and is part of the local botanical gardens, although only the foundations of the ruins are still visible.
The next day we booked a tour of Ingapirca, but as part of the tour we had to book a train ride down the Devil’s Nose.
The Devil’s Nose – Nariz del Diablo
After a three hour van ride north, we arrived at the town of Alausi where we boarded the train that would take us down the Devil’s Nose – a hill that looks sort of like a nose.
When building a railway through the country, the Ecuadorian government had to find a way to connect a station at the top of Devil’s Nose with one 800m below. Unable to go around, they decided to build a switchback system where the train goes back and forth down hill.
Thirteen thousand locals took part in the creation of the switchback, of which 2,500 were killed during the process through dynamite explosions, apparently.
At the bottom station there’s a small museum, some traditional dancing and a cafe.
After the train ride back and another 2-hour van ride, we arrived at the largest ruins in Ecuador, Ingapirca – a thousand year old pre-Incan fortress. Like most of the Incan cities, the spanish destroyed it, using the bricks as foundations for some of the buildings in the surrounding cities, including Cuenca. The only building left standing was the sun temple, set to catch the sun four times a year on the solstices and equinoxes.
It was raining, so we didn’t spend a lot of time in the ruins, but the guide was very knowledgable. This stone below was used as a calendar. There are 28 holes cut into the rock, one for each day of the thirteen lunar months of the Incan year. It’s said that they could tell the date by which of the holes the moon was shining in.
The sun temple has two sides, so it can catch the morning light and the evening light.
Then it was back in the van for a 90 minute ride back to Cuenca.
Cuenca and the surrounds is a nice area of the Ecuadorian Andes and worth a visit if you are travelling through from Peru or as a nine hour bus ride from Quito.
Next, I head back to Quito for a couple of days to plan my way north into Columbia.
The World Wanderer