After a week in Quito, the capital, I am learning more and more about the geography, distances and transportation. I opted to fly from Quito to Cuenca and arrived early morning; too early. Not even the coffee shops were open. This is always the problem with the least expensive flights: they are also the least attractive timetable-wise.
I told the taxi driver to take me to the “city centre”, my Spanish was improving bit by bit having now lived in Mexico for 15 months so far. My drop off point was a seemingly deserted spot on a road. “THIS, is the hub of Cuenca? Oh dear, not a good start. A building with the words “hosteria” caught my eye and so I went there to ask for directions and to my pleasant surprise this hosteria was a beehive of activity. Turns out that a “hosteria” does not mean “hostel” in this country, translated it means “guest house”. Very confusing.. especially if you were really looking for a ..hostel!
Cuenca is also high in the Andes sitting at 2,550 m (8,370 ft), just like the capital Quito and so the temperature at 7 am on a winter morning was a brisk 7 c. Not a lot of warmth in the air. I was traveling light on this trip with just a backpack, one that I can highly recommend is THIS BACKPACK for such a trip. So I decided to wander around after breakfast to get my first impressions of this old Spanish Colonial town in Ecuador. Windows.. with no metal bars! Lots of them here in Cuenca! In Mexico it is rare to see a glass window with no bars. I think it is partly due to the obvious… anti-theft but also glass in windows is fairly “new” to Mexico since the opening maybe had some wooden shutters but those would close out the light completely.. so bars on the windows! However here in the quiet streets of Cuenca I see many shops and homes with no bars, in fact one store had thousands of dollars worth of power tools on display in this window.. no bars. That was amazing to me, having lived in Mexico where this sort of thing I never saw!
One thing about this town that differed from San Miguel de Allende: In SMA you can stroll past most shops, bars and restaurants and scope out the place before you enter. However, because of the temperate climate in Cuenca, most places have closed doors. In a few instances, I opened the door and entered a place looking for a certain vibe only to leave immediately. A little awkward for me.
Just outside the city of Cuenca are the Cajas Mountains (box mountains). Take a day pack with some snacks and water. If you are chilly and damp in the city you will absolutely freeze in the mountains without a jacket and good shoes. The average elevation is 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Take a bus from the city to one of several bus stops alongside the Caja National Park and be sure to get the timetable for the return bus to Cuenca.
I would definitely suggest a trip to Cuenca for a retirement destination.