Writer Annika Kapp encourages you to travel to break the stereotypes of Latin America the media may have given you.
Driving into Cuenca at night for the first time was a magical experience. In the darkness, I could barely make out the silhouettes of the Andes mountains. As we descended down the windy roads into the city, a sea of light stretched out in front of me. Away from the city centre, thousands of little glowing dots speckled the dark slopes, becoming few and far between as they stretched high up into the mountains. Day or night, I had the most stunning view over Cuenca from a little town called Turi. To warm myself up in the chilly air that came with the altitude of 2600 metres over sea level, I would order a "canelazo", a hot maracuja-flavoured sugar cane schnapps with cinnamon, from one of the small kiosks.
"To warm myself up in the chilly air that came with the altitude of 2600 metres over sea level, I would order a "canelazo", a hot maracuja-flavoured sugar cane schnapps with cinnamon..."
Cuenca, Ecuador is one of the most lively cities I’ve ever visited. The streets are bustling with a mixture of locals and tourists; businessmen carrying important documents to a meeting, old women in traditional Kichwa clothing doing their shopping, mothers with children tied to their back with colourful blankets, Venezuelan refugees trying to sustain themselves by selling candy. Street vendors were an integral part of city life - on every corner, someone was offering tiny mangoes, fresh pieces of coconut, chifles (fried plantain chips), or weird foam candy in ice-cream cones. When it rained - and it rains a lot in Cuenca - I could be sure that within a few minutes, someone selling umbrellas would appear out of nowhere. And as sudden as the showers came down, the sun broke out of the clouds again.
I found that the best way to explore Cuenca’s city centre was going for long walks, getting completely lost and trying to get directions from locals in broken Spanish. This is how I discovered some of my favourite places: an antique bookstore tucked away in one of the old colonial buildings where a narrow staircase lined with rows of literature led into an apartment filled with books from top to bottom. The small "Café diablo" in Cuenca’s artist’s district ‘El Vado’, where I sat on the marble plaza overlooking the city, drinking tea and marvelling at the panoramic views of the Andes mountains.
"An antique bookstore tucked away in one of the old colonial buildings where a narrow staircase lined with rows of literature led into an apartment filled with books from top to bottom..."
When I arrived in Ecuador, I had little to no knowledge of the country’s history before the Spanish colonization. One place that taught me more was the "Museo Pumapungo", where you can see preserved ruins of the Cañari civilisation, which inhabited the region before the invasion of the Inca. Another place to learn about Ecuadorian culture is the "Museo del Sombrero", where I not only found out that the Panama Hat does indeed not come from Panama but from Ecuador, but also how artisans skilfully make the hats over hours of careful labour.
I could fill many more pages with my love for this city, but I will leave you with a recommendation I feel passionate about: go into your travels with as much openness as you can. We need to acknowledge that the portrayal of Latin America in western media has created harmful stereotypes. Travel is one of the ways we can break them. Of course you should proceed with common sense and caution when you are in Cuenca - as in any other big city. But don’t let your anxieties stop you from actually experiencing its culture. Go eat at one of the small restaurants offering "almuerzos" lunch deals for 3 dollars. Go to the big market halls and try a dish of pork pulled right out of the pig roasting there. Go try "cuy" (guinea pig) which is a delicacy in Ecuador. Go and enjoy everything this diverse city has to offer!
No related posts found!