CUENCA AND THE FAR SOUTH

Best for: cul­ture, his­tory, land­scapes, wildlife

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - ECUADOR & THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS -

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.

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