Anyone who admires colonial architecture is bound to fall in love with the stunning historical centres in Ecuador’s cities and towns. Paired with a vibrant culture rich in colourful traditions, Ecuador has a lot to offer its visitors.
Even though it’s a large city, Quito retains its historical charm. Street after street are filled with lovely colonial heritage buildings allowing you to wander and absorb the history. Many of the streets end in typical Spanish squares. Plaza Grande (also called Plaza Independencia) is a large tree-filled square with park benches and sidewalks. It is a popular place for locals to hang out. In the middle of the square is a statue to honour those who first called for Ecuador’s independence.
Cathedral of Quito is on one end of the square. The Cathedral is a large white-washed building. It may look plain at first site, but its wonderful domed entrance will change your opinion.
Our favourite spot in Quito was the large Plaza de San Francisco. The open cobblestone courtyard sits in front of the oldest church in Quito. Iglesia de San Francisco’s gorgeous stone entryway is flanked by two tall towers giving a grand appearance. The rest of the plaza is surrounded by lovely colourful colonial buildings now acting as shops and cafes.
Looming high above the square is El Panecillo hill. On top of the hill is the Virgin of Quito statue which can seen from many parts of Quito.
An interesting neighbourhood is Guapulo. Narrow colourful streets and stairs take you down the hill to reach this interesting artist neighbourhood. On the walk downhill we had a great view of Church of Guapulo with its round domed roofs.
Cuenca is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ecuador, and for good reason. It is easy to spend a few days strolling along the cobblestone streets admiring the gorgeous Spanish colonial buildings. This area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the amount of incredible architecture in the historical centre. Each street seems to lead to one of the many colonial churches in the city.
Parque Calderon is the main square in downtown Cuenca and is a great spot to people watch. The park is often filled with locals meeting with friends on one of the many parks benches. In addition to this local atmosphere it is bordered by some of the most magnificent architecture. At one end of Parque Calderon is The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of Cuenca, known as New Cathedral. It is most recognizable for its large blue and white domes poking up from the centre. Construction began on the cathedral in 1885 and lasted for almost a century.
The other sides of the park are lined by lovely stone historical buildings completing the park’s allure.
We were in Cuenca on Christmas Eve when the whole town takes part in the Pase del Niño parade. Spectators came dressed in their best traditional Ecuadorian outfits. The parade was lively with the expected Christian costumes and decorations, but also many traditional dancers and musicians.
Built on a lovely hillside in the Southern Sierras, Ingapirca is one of Ecuador’s only Inca ruins. It was built over a pre-Incan Canari village and there is a mix of both building styles at the site. It is easy to distinguish the typical Inca style with smooth rocks and seamless joints from the more rustic looking Canari walls.
It’s a small site, but since it’s close to Cuenca it makes a nice day trip. There are very few tourists so you can enjoy the site at your own pace.
The main feature is the Temple of Sun which sits on the edge of a steep ravine. It’s a large sun-dial structure that is the only one of its kind in the Incan empire. This temple was apparently not only used as a calendar, but also for sacrificial rituals.
There’s a small hike outside of the park where we found another typical Incan landmark. Cara del Inca is a large face of a god on the side of a mountain. It was thought to protect Ingapirca.
Riobamba (2764 meters)
Located halfway between Cuenca and Quito, Riobamba is a great city to use as your hub for hiking Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo. We spent an overnight in Riobamba in between climbing Cotopaxi and Chimborazo. It was New Year’s Eve so most places were closed but we were treated to a vibrant parade. Ecuadorians love parades, but in Riobamba they take to another level having close to one parade a month. For New Year’s Eve, colourful performers dress in elaborate costumes and danced along the parade route. It had a very festive atmosphere.
At night people carried effigies made of old clothes and adorned with masks. They represent the outgoing year and the custom is to burn these effigies at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Locals believe it will help them make a fresh start to the new year.
Another interesting New Year tradition in Riobamba is for men to dress as women and call themselves “widows”. They say they are mourning the past year and can be seen in the parade and on the streets. When we were leaving Riobamba a group of these ‘widows’ stopped traffic. We watched as they approached each car asking for a donation. Our guide was prepared and had a jar full of small change that he handed out. It was a fun tradition to witness.
Coming Next: Seven Summits – Climbing Aconcagua
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