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                  Visiting Ecuador

So you want to visit us in Ecuador? We'd love to have you. Here is some travel information to assist in your planning.

Climate data for Cuenca, Ecuador
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Annual
Average high ° F 69 70 69 69 67 66 65 66 69 70 71 71 68.5
Average low ° F 50 51 51 50 49 47 47 46 48 49 46 49 48.6
Precipitation inches 2 1.8 3.2 4.3 4.3 1.7 0.9 1.1 1.6 3.1 1.8 2.5 28.3


Festivals and Events
January 1 New Year's Day x
January 6 Día de los Inocentes y Epiphany
Like many of Cuenca’s festivals, the Day of the Innocents was originally a religious celebration that, over the years, took on the trappings of Carnival. The event is intended as a remembrance of King Herod’s death sentence ordered for all Israeli new-born boys after the birth of Christ. The event is celebrated throughout Latin American. Cuenca's version is reportedly the largest in Ecuador, and includes a competition for the best costumes and skits, many with satirical, political and social commentary themes.

The event is notable for the army of boys and young men parading in women’s clothes although it also includes women dressed as men and a wide variety of devils, clowns and historic and fictional characters.

Additional ad hoc parades and fireworks may appear several days following this day.

February 27 Anniversary of the Battalla de Tarqui, near Cuenca. Fought between troops from Gran Colombia, commanded by Antonio José de Sucre and Peruvian troops under José de La Mar. It was a victory for Gran Colombia. x
Monday and Tuesday before Lent Carnival
Carnival is celebrated in February or March (the week before Lent) and ends on Ash Wednesday. Ecuador has a very unique version of Carnival, nothing compared to other countries celebrations. Some Ecuadorians don't agree, but most children and teenagers love it. They celebrate it throwing balloons filled with water, water weapons and spray foam (lots of spray foam).

Palm Sunday Around 9am people buy or bring the plant bundles (Ramo) they've purchased to the Monasterio del Carmen de la Asuncion (the church at the Flower Market). The people and Ramo are sprinkled and blessed with holy water and the people exit the church and join a parade with musicians, a lead car with a loudspeaker for a vocalist inside. They walk and sing down Sucre, past Parque Caleron, turn left on Luis Cordero and then left on Simon Bolivar. They walk and sing past the north side of the park and turn left on Benigno Malo and enter the Catedral la Inmaculada (New Cathedral) for 9:30 am mass.
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday Easter
"Semana Santa", is celebrated the week before Easter and starts on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday). The celebration is held all over the country. There are some processions in the streets on Good Friday, specially in Quito. A very important tradition during the Holy week that is worth to mention is the "Fanesca". Which is a traditional soup made with Bacalao (salt fish) and several different grains. During these days the Catholics don't eat meat.
April 12 Anniversary of Cuenca's Foundation
Many streets and mercados are named after events and persons significant to Ecuador's history. As you walk around Cuenca you'll find the street named "12 de Abril". The Spanish settlement of Cuenca was founded on April 12, 1557 by the explorer Gil Ramírez Dávalos. Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza, then Viceroy of Peru had commissioned the founding and ordered the city named after his home town of Cuenca, Spain.
In 2016, Cuenca celebrated it's 459th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, the municipality is planning 240 cultural, religious, civic, musical and social activities that will run through the end of April.

May 1 Labor Day x
May 24 Anniversary of the Batalla del Pichincha - Quito/Ecuador Independence Day . Fought in 1822 between Ecuador (under General Antonio José de Sucre) and Spain (under Field Marshal Melchor Aymerich) right next to the city of Quito. The Ecuadorian victory brought about the liberation of Quito from which the Republic of Ecuador would emerge. El "heroe nino", Abdon Calderon died in this battle. x
June-September Whale Tours
Humpback whales can be seen via tours at the coast in towns like Puerto Lopez during the season.
June Corpus Christi
July 15-16 Festival de Virgen del Carmen de la Asunción
This is a festival at the Carmen de la Asuncion Inglesia (church by the flower market) with outside services and music during the day and dances and music in the evening. In the morning a parade comes by our house (on Sucre) on the way to the church. Part of the church is the second oldest Carmalite monastery in the world, the first being in Rome.
August 9 Anniversary of the "First Shout of Independence". On the night of August 9, 1809, a group of Quiteños met to establish a sovereign government, independent of Spanish rule. They met in the home of Manuela Cañizares to talk about a strategy. When some of them began to lose heart the next morning Cañizares chided them by saying, "Cowards, men born for servitude, what are you afraid of? No time to lose!" x
August 10 The First Cry of Independence (Primer Grito de la Independencia)
On August 10, 1809, Quiteños formed a sovereign governing board and told the head of the Royalist government in Quito that his services were no longer needed.

This was just the beginning of the push for independence. The Spaniards were not ready to give up. Spanish Royalist forces began marching from Popayan to Quito. A patriot army met them, but was defeated. Many of the patriot leaders were later arrested and thrown in prison. On August 2, 1810, the people of Quito tried to free the patriots. But the Royalists reacted by slaughtering the prisoners. This scene was recreated with wax figures at the Alberto Mena Caamaño Museum in Quito. The monument in Plaza Grande is dedicated to the heroes of August 10, 1809.

September 26 Dia de la Bandera (Flag)
October 9 Guayaquil Independence Day
The city of Guayaquil gained independence from Spain on October 9, 1820. The city of Guayaquil was founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana on July 25, 1538.
October 12 Celebration of the day Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492 x
October 31 Dia de el Escudo (Ecuador's Coat of Arms).

Also the start of Cuenca's Independence Celebration. Parades and Craft Booths.

November 1 Continuation of Cuenca Independence Celebration (Parades and craft booths) and first day of the Day of the Dead celebration
The most important dates in the indigenous' calendar are the 1st and 2nd of November. All Saints' Day (Todos los Santos) and Day of the Dead (Dia de los Difuntos, o muertos).

The ancient belief is that the soul visits its relatives within these days and should have plenty of food to be fed and continue further on its journey to the after life.

The family gets ready for this visit and among the several specialties that they prepare are the "bread dolls", which have an specific meaning depending on the shape. Horse shaped breads for example means transport. The ritual involves the construction of a tomb that is adorned with the soul's favorite drink and food and over this tomb they place black cloth and the bread dolls together with several other things that are meaningful to the ritual.

Once the Soul arrives and celebrates with its living relatives, all of them celebrate as well with a big glass of Colada Morada (a purple sweet drink). Then, the ceremony is taken to the local cemetery. The ritual is done for up to three years. It is not continued afterwards. The celebration itself is a mixture of ethnic cultures and Catholic customs.

At the present times, as everywhere else, most Ecuadorians celebrate "Día de los Difuntos, o muertos" in a different practical way; visiting their deceased relatives in the cemetery and adorning their tombs with flowers.

November 2 Continuation of Cuenca Independence Celebration (Parades and craft booths) and second day of the Day of the Dead celebration.
A tradition for Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos) observances on November 2 is to have guaguas de pan and colada morada. Guagua is the Kichwa word for baby. Guaguas de pan are sweet breads shaped into baby or animal-like figures.

In the evening they fire up El Volcán sculpture in the Plaza del Herrero by the Casa de Chaguarchimbana.

November 3 Cuenca Independence Day (Parades and craft booths)
Cuenca declared its independence from Spanish rule on November 3, 1820. The patriots gathered in Plaza de San Sebastián (a block east of our house). They proclaimed freedom and independence for Cuenca. Among the heroes that day was Tomás Ordóñez who was wounded in the leg by a soldier's bayonet. But the celebration was short-lived. Fighting broke out between citizens and the military. A month later, the patriots were defeated by Spanish soldiers.

True independence didn't come until two years later. In 1822, the Spanish forces fled Cuenca when General Antonio José de Sucre (the street we live on) entered the city with his patriot army. Later that year, the Battle of Pichincha near Quito guaranteed independence for the territories controlled by the Spanish crown.

December 6 Anniversary celebrating the Foundation of Quito in 1534. x
December 7 Within a day or two of this date, a huge disco lights Nativity scene installed in Plaza Otorongo officially starts.
December 7 At the Plaza Santo Domingo (Padre Aguirre y Gran Colombia) is a celebration to commemorate the coronation of the Virgen del Rosario Morenica. The coronation first occurred on December 5, 1933.

The program starts at 6:00 as they bring out thousands of paper lanterns and place them in the plaza and church. Then they bring out the image of the Virgin. They ring the church bells and light the lanterns inside the church and in the plaza. After Mass, they serenade the Virgin with dance, music and poetry. .

December 8 Within a day or two of this date is the Maria La Immaculada Concepción celebration. A procession starts from the church in Plaza San Sebastian and ends at the New Cathedral by Parque Calderon with a church service.

Devotees prepare altars along Mariscal Sucre and then accompany the procession with flowers and candles,

December 24 Cuenca’s Christmas Eve Pase del Niño parade, or Passing of the Child, is a colorful, mixture of the religious and the profane. It is a festival of thanksgiving and homage that combines Catholic and indigenous traditions and is a lot of fun.

The procession, often over eight hours long, features floats and cars decorated with flowers, fruits and vegetables. Bands, dancers, street performers, stilt-walkers and various Biblical characters take to the streets and a likeness of the infant Jesus is carried through towns and villages. The parade takes place on Christmas Eve but the Pase del Niño celebration begins the first Sunday after Advent and continues until Carnival in March. Besides this celebration, Christmas in Cuenca also features nightly firework shows, concerts and craft sales.

December 25 Christmas Day
Christmas (Navidad), is celebrated in Ecuador as everywhere else in the world. But, the best and most original Christmas celebration in Ecuador is the "Pase del Niño" held in Cuenca on the 24th of December.
December 31 Ecuador has a very unique tradition on December 31, Ecuadorians celebrate New Year's eve with the "años viejos" ("old years"). These are stuffed dummies constructed with paper, sawdust, wood and firecrackers available for purchase the whole country before they are burned at midnight.

Men dressed as women play the role as the old year's "widow", crying and asking for some money or candies in the streets for the old year's (dummy) funeral. When the past year has been very bad, many people kick the burning dummy to have a better year. This tradition takes place everywhere in Ecuador.

Getting Here Note: Last updated October 2015, so information has changed.
  • Airlines (Sample information flying from Miami)
    • Flights to Guayaquil
      • American Airlines (Nonstop)
      • Avianca Airlines (routes through San Salvador, El Salvador)
      • Avianca Airlines (routes through San Bogata, Columbia)
      • Copa Airlines (routes through Panama City, Panama)
      • LAN Airlines (Nonstop - operates through American Airlines)
      • LAN Airlines (routes through Quito, Ecuador)
    • Flights to Quito
      • AeroMexico Airlines (routes through Mexico City, Mexico)
      • American Airlines (Nonstop)
      • Avianca Airlines (routes through Bogata, Columbia)
      • Copa Airlines (routes through Panama City, Panama)
      • Delta Airlines (routes through Atlanta, Georgia)
      • LAN Airlines (Nonstop)
      • TACA Airlines (routes through Managua, Nicaragua and San Salvador, El Salvador)
      • United Airlines (routes through Houston, Texas)
  • Customs
    • Guayaquil
      • Towards the end of the flight a airline attendant will give you 2 forms to fill out; one with the AA logo asking for travel information and one from the country of Ecuador. The Ecuador one will be used to verify your personal and travel information and confirm that you are not bringing in proscribed items, items to sell, soil or live plants and no more than $10k.
      • After arriving at the terminal, you'll get off the plane and follow the signs and corridors straight to customs. In January 2014 I arrived at 9:30pm and it took 15 minutes in line and about 2 minutes at the window.
      • You'll exit through the doors and get your luggage. In January 2014 my luggage was waiting for me at the belt.
      • Take your luggage to the guard at the luggage inspection line. The guard will look at your papers and then will press a button. It randomly lights green or red to indicate if you go to the left and have your bags X-rayed and possibly inspected or go to the right and bypass inspection.
      • Bear to the right and take your luggage and papers to another guard who will ask how much money you're bringing into Ecuador.
      • Head toward the exit on your right and another guard will verify your bag tags and bag receipts.
      • Exit through the doors. There will be a rope holding people back on your left and keep on walking for a taxi or van. If you have arranged transportation, the driver will be waiting for you with a sign with your names.
      • If you are taking a taxi, be careful of "helpers" who will want to take your bag to a taxi. He'll expect a tip. I haven't heard of any problems, but I'm always concerned of theft.
  • Getting to Cuenca
    • From Guayaquil
      • Via Air
        • You can fly to Cuenca, but flights are inconsistent
      • Via Vehicle (3-4 hours)
        • Van Company (Operazuaytur): $12/person for a group (last van leaves Guayaquil at 9:00 pm). Can stay in a hotel overnight and then get a Van the next day. Van drops you off at their Cuenca office.
        • Van Company (Operazuaytur): $80 for a private Van (last van Leaves Guayaquil at 9:00 pm) Can stay in a hotel overnight and then get a Van the next day. Van drops you off at your destination.
        • Bus: $8/person. Operates until approximately 2:00 am. Take a taxi from the airport to the bus terminal (Terminal Terrestre). Bus drops you off at the Cuenca Terminal Terrestre.
        • Private Car: Approximately $100. Car drops you off at your destination. We hire a private driver.
    • From Quito
      • You can fly to Cuenca via Avianca or LAN airlines - Approximately $100/person. Normally your flight from the USA arrives later, so you'll miss that days flight to Cuenca, so you must stay overnight and fly out the next day.
      • Bus or Car - its a long, long, trip. I've heard 8+ hours. So I recommend flying.

What to Pack
  • Clothing
    • Plan to dress in layers - Cuenca has frequent weather changes during the day.
    • If you have a purse, make sure it can be warn across your body
    • Backpack with zippers that can be clipped/locked
    • Slippers/bathrobe. Very few carpets, most floors are cement, stone or wood.
    • Comfortable walking shoes, this is a walk around city
    • Hat and/or sun screen. High altitude and the sun are not a good mix.
  • Other
    • Collapsible umbrella for the almost daily rain.
    • Camera - you're a tourist, go for it.
    • Even though careful, you may get stomach indigestion, so bring something like Imodium or Kaopectate.

  • You'll rarely use your Credit Card, so bring cash. Nothing bigger than a $20.
  • Bring lots of dollars - vendors don't like giving change.
  • Bring lots of quarters for the bus.
  • We walk or take the bus around town, if you have problems walking then you'll be paying for cab - bring lots of dollars.
  • There are ATM machines all over Cuenca. We use a Schwab Debit Card
    • Make sure you have a credit or debit card with a 4 digit pin, not a 5 digit.
    • Make sure your bank knows you're in Ecuador.
    • Depending on your card, there could be a transaction fee.

Getting Around
  • In any city you can only truly experience it with your feet. Prepare at home by walking miles everyday.
  • Bus: Bus routes take us all around the city. Runs until 8:30pm. Costs a quarter.
  • Taxi: Like many major cities taxis run 24 hours a day. Rates a less than $3.00.

Water Cuenca's water supply is so good that the World Health Organization sent a team of experts here to study it in the attempt of replicating the system in other countries. So we drink water directly from the tap water here in Cuenca and have never had any problems, but bottled water is widely available. However, anywhere else in Ecuador we drink only bottled water, even large cities like Guayaquil and Quito.

What Will We Do?
  • You'll relax the first couple of days as you get used to the altitude
  • Local Mercados, especially Feria Libre on Saturday
  • Inca ruins at Pumapongo here in Cuenca
  • Historic District - we live at the eastern edge of the historic district, El Centro. We're a 10 minute walk from Parque Calderon, the city center.
  • Mirador de Turi (Turi Overlook) is one of the most popular attractions in Cuenca. From nearly anywhere in Cuenca, look south, then raise your gaze, and you'll see a big, bright, white church on a hill. This is Iglesia de Turi, perched on the southern hillside with a commanding view of the red terracotta roof tiles and whitewashed adobe walls stretching from one end of the Andean valley to the other. There are several ways to get there: on the double-decker bus tours ($5) that leave from Parque Calderón; on the city bus to Turi (25 cents), which picks up passengers along Av. Solano every half-hour or so; or a cab ($4 to $5 each way).
  • Day Tours around Cuenca (Click here for sample pricing)
      Cuenca City Tour
      Craft-making Villages Tour
      Cajas National Park Tour
      Ingapirca, Inca & Cañari Culture Tour
      Full Moon Horse Ride
      Paragliding at the Coast
      El Chorro Waterfall & Yunguilla Valley Tour
      Take a bus to Chordeleg and other nearby towns
      Devil's Nose Train
      Turi overlook of Cuenca
      Old and New Cathedrals by Parque Calderon

Frequent Happenings
Craft Booths
Cuenca Symphony
Would you like to weave something while you're here?
Art shows, Museum of Modern Art
Jazz Society Cafe

Shopping/Souvenir Suggestions
  • Panama hat
  • Woven fabrics, especially ikat weaving
  • Ceramics from Artesa/Vega
  • Work from various artists at Casa de las Mujeres
  • Ecuadorian Coffee from Nucallacta
  • Pacari chocolate
  • Cheese from the Italian Supermaxi

Eating/Food Cuenca doesn't have diverse ethnic dining choices like Guayaquil and Quito, but we have many, many restaurants to visit.
Restaurants we like:
  • Mangia - Italian
  • Tiestos - Upscale Ecuadorian
  • Todos Santos - Monastery turned restaurant
  • Joe's Secret Garden - weekly Saturday fixed menu
  • Cilantro's - local Ecuadorian Restaurant and Almuerzo Place
  • 10 de Augusto Mercado Pig Ladies
  • 3 de Noviembre Upstairs Juice Lady
  • Cuy is a traditional Ecuadorian delicacy - many restaurants serve this special dish
  • Windhorse Café - local Gringo run coffee shop
  • Magnolia Café - Otorongo Plaza
  • Casa Azul- Plaza San Sebastian
  • Street and Mercado Food
    • When we buy any vegetables (even from the supermarket), we wash them in a solution to remove parasites. Never eat fruits or vegetables without washing. This even applies to fruits that you peel like bananas and oranges, if you touch the outside of a fruit and then touch your lips or mouth you may transfer parasites.

Altitude Sickness
  • Our home in Cuenca is 8,342 feet above sea level
  • Roughly one in five people who travel to altitudes 7,000-9,000 feet, without acclimating at lower elevations, experiences some degree of high-altitude illness. How do you know if you'll be one of the five? In general, you don't. A medical history of heart or lung disease doesn't predispose you and being physically fit doesn't protect you.
  • Airplane cabins are pressurized to simulate atmospheric conditions around 7,000 feet, so if you have no trouble flying, you should have little trouble in Cuenca. What if you do? Here are some suggestions from expats who've suffered from it.
    • Dissolve a quarter-cup of sugar in a water bottle. When you get a little dizzy, out of breath, nauseous, or headachy, drink a couple swallows and in two or three minutes the symptoms are gone.
    • HydroPLUS 45 (or an equivalent) is sold at farmacias and costs $3.50 per bottle, no prescription needed. A bottle a day restores electrolytes, good for dehydration from altitude.
    • Mate de coca (tea)is sold at any natural-food store. It's cheap, not habit-forming, and the only side effect might be a little caffeine-like buzz. It's an almost instant cure for altitude sickness.
    • Two prescription drugs are effective at reducing symptoms: acetazolamide (Diamox) and dexamethasone (a powerful steroid).
    • If all else fails, get to a lower elevation quickly. Fastest from Cuenca is the road to Machala. You ascend to around 9,000 feet, but then descend fast; by the time you reach Girón in about a half-hour, you're under 7,000 feet, where you should feel better.

It's Easy
  • Tap water is drinkable in Cuenca.
  • Currency is USA - no exchange necessary
  • Power is 110 Volt, just like USA
  • Language is Spanish. As with any travel, knowing a little goes a long way
  • Ecuador doesn't have a time change.
    • USA Spring Forward - USA Central Time
    • USA Fall Back - USA East Coast Time

  • Like anywhere in the world, there is crime. Mostly petty theft therefore:
    • Always be aware of your surroundings. Walk with awareness and confidence. Again, this is true anywhere in the world.
    • Always be aware of where your purse or backpack is and their location on your body. Don't leave them on the floor or hung over the back of your chair.
    • Always carry your purse or camera on a strap across your body
    • Put your wallet securely in your purse or a front pocket of your pants or an inside pocket of your coat.
  • Only drink water from the tap in Cuenca, everywhere else drink bottled water. This warning applies to brushing your teeth.
  • Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Toilet paper is never thrown in the toilet, only in a trash can.

Passport and Visa
  • Your passport must have at least 6 months before it expires at the beginning of your trip.
  • Ecuador has a free 90 day Visa (12-X), that is automatically stamped in your passport when you go through customs.

Cuenca, Ecuador
The map to the right shows the relationship between Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.

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