ANDEAN DREAMS

Ecuador 2014 | TOURISM | PHOTO ESSAY: CUENCA

Cuenca offers visitors a host of activities guaranteed to keep even the most restless traveller entertained.

Located in the province of Azuay in the Andes of Ecuador, the city of Cuenca, or Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca, has long been a safe haven as well as an attraction for travellers. The first inhabitants of the region date back to 8000 BC; however, it wasn't really until the Pre-Colombian times that the city began to take shape. It was the Cañari that first established a settlement, which they called Guapondeleg in 500 AD. In around 1000 AD, the Incas conquered the Cañari and changed the name of the city to Tomebamba. The Incas began to replace the original architecture with that of their own and the city quickly became known as the “second Cusco," as well as the regional capital. It was from the Cañari that the Incans learnt many new astrological and agricultural skills, which the Cañari had mastered. The Incan commander Tupac Yupanqui ordered the construction of a grand city, which was to be called Pumapungo or “Door of the Puma." By the time the Spanish arrived on the continent, Tomebamba had been destroyed by its inhabitants and had been abandoned; however, its reputation had spread across the continent as the legendary city of golden temples and other such wonders, so much so that many believed, including many of the Spanish conquistadors, that it could have been the fabled city of El Dorado. When the Spanish finally found Tomebamba, they renamed it Cuenca and began permanent settlement in 1557. Today, the rich history provides tourists with many activities and places to visit, such as colonial cathedrals, monasteries, churches, and museums. Being located in the Andes, it also means there are numerous small Andean villages within a short driving distance, Incan ruins, rivers, streams, nature walks, and El Cajas, an expansive national park that is between 3,500 and 4,200 meters above sea level and contains the Lacs en Miroir (Mirrored Lakes).