After our time in the Galapagos Islands, we flew to Guayaquil in mainland Ecuador and then hired a driver to drive us for 4 hours over the mountains to reach the town of Cuenca.
Cuenca is a charming, quaint city in southern Ecuador’s Andes mountains. It is also home to many American retirees, including our new friend Kirk, whom we met last year on our first Galapagos cruise. We had stayed in close touch with Kirk after the cruise, so it was a no brainer when we knew we would be back in Ecuador to plan for some time in Cuenca to visit him!
Kirk was super excited for our visit, and was instrumental in helping us plan everything for this portion of our trip. He sweet talked his landlord into renting the apartment across from him to us for the week, recommended a driver to pick us up in Guayaquil. and put together a whole list of activities/restaurants for us to consider.
It’s such a special treat when you know someone local in a foreign country, because it will give you a glimpse of what life is like there. Kirk took us around the city by public bus, and provided an abundance of knowledge on the history, culture, and lifestyle of Cuenca to us. He was our own personal tour guide + friend in one, how lucky were we??
Kirk took us to local markets, old town, and Turi, which offers the best panoramic view of the city. He also took us on a day trip to the little town of Chordeleg, where we had a delicious local Ecuadorian meal for only USD $3, toured a local weaving factory, and did some window shopping for the silver jewelry that Chordeleg is known for.
Another day trip that Kirk took us on was to El Cajas National Park, a high-altitude area west of Cuenca and known for trails through cloud forests and its hundreds of lakes. We picked one of the easier hikes around a beautiful lake, surrounding by majestic mountains. Even after hiking several hours, we were just half way around the lake because we stopped so often to breathe in the amazingly fresh air and to admire the extraordinary view around us. We eventually decided to turn around because we were both tired and hungry.
Kirk had made a reservation for us to have a late lunch at Hosteria Dos Chorreras, a popular lodge close to the lake that we hiked at. The lodge was incredible! It reminded Bridge and I of the Swiss chalets we loved when we were in Switzerland several years ago. We even saw a llama as we entered the property! We dined at their restaurant, which is known for their trout. The food was excellent, though the service was lacking. But, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience there so much we went back a second time, with Mimi and Brady, because they had to miss it the first time around with Brady feeling unwell. When we were their the second time, the kids were thrilled that we had dessert at the chocolatier on site!
Another memorable highlight while in Cuenca was the surprise celebration of my birthday, planned by my sis and assisted by Kirk. Kirk even invited two of his friends to join, which made it all the more merrier. We ate at a lovely family-owned Ecuadorian restaurant, Capitan, where I got to blow out the candles of my 44th birthday surrounded by people I love and amongst new friends. My heart was truly overwhelmed with immense gratitude, since COVID had taught me never to take in-person gatherings for granted ever again!
Our last meal in Cuenca was a really special one, planned by Kirk and his friend Regina. They booked a driver and took us to this tucked away neighborhood where the most charming French restaurant stood. It was called Le Petit Jardin, opened for dining only on weekends, and serving an array of delicious, authentic French dishes. The owner, besides being a phenomenal chef, was also into upcycling, so a lot of the decor inside the restaurant were one of a kind items! We enjoyed ourselves so much at Le Petit Jardin! The food was sumptuous, the service was top notch, and the ambiance was superb. As an icing on the cake, there is also a resident llama on the property, whom we got to see as we were leaving!
Our week in Cuenca was a good mix of relaxation and exploration. The weather was perfect with spring-like temperatures, it was fairly easy and inexpensive to get around (by bus, by foot or by taxi), and there’s a good mix of history, architecture, and food in the overall scene which makes it a very interesting place to stop by if you’re in Ecuador.
A big thank you to our friend Kirk for spending time with us and taking us around to experience Cuenca both as a local and as a tourist!