CUENCA AND THE FAR SOUTH
Best for: culture, history, landscapes, wildlife
DURATION: 3–7 days ROUTE: Cuenca • Loja • Vilcabamba • Zamora WHY GO? For the colonial city of Cuenca and Ecuador’s main Inca ruins, plus handicrafts and a healthy climate. WHEN TO GO? All year; driest months Jun to Sep and Nov Beyond the avenue of the volcanoes lies a region of mountainous national parks such as Cajas and Podocarpus and the beautiful southern city of Cuenca. Much colonial architecture has been preserved in its centre, as well as the Pumapungo remains of an Incan and earlier Cañari settlement. But lying about two hours north is Ecuador’s top archaeological site, Ingapirca, which features fine stonework situated in a strategic position on the main ancient Incan road (Capaq Ñan). Cuenca lies at the heart of a major area for craft production, including ceramics, textiles, gold and silver, and is also the centre of the Panama hat trade.
Continue south for four hours, via the indigenous town of Saraguro where the local people are known for their black dress, to Loja, a major highland town, famous for its musical traditions.
Ninety minutes further south is Vilcabamba, once said to be home to the longest-lived people in the world. True or not, the area has a lovely climate and ample scope for walks and horse or bike rides in beautiful countryside. To the east of Loja, two hours over the Podocarpus National Park, lies Zamora, the gateway to the southern Oriente.