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Ecuador’s Leading Cities Are a Must-See for Travelers

Article Summary:

Ecuador’s leading cities should be added to a tourist’s must-see lists. While many Galapagos or Andean-bound visitors virtually bypass Quito or skip Cuenca, they’re missing some special places.

Photo Credit: Wapaso

Original Article Text From The Province:

Ecuador’s Leading Cities Should Also be Tourist Musts

Do not overlook Ecuador’s most important cities.

While many Galapagos-or Andean-bound visitors virtually bypass Quito or skip Cuenca, they’re missing some special places.

Ecuador’s capital, Quito – some 9,350 feet above sea level and surrounded by a dozen Andean volcanoes – is Ecuador’s second largest city (estimated population 1.6 mil-lion). While this altitude causes some visitors distress, walking through the intriguing old city is definitely worth the effort. For here, perhaps more than in any other South American city, the flavour of its earliest Spanish colonial days is retained.

That’s particularly true inside the heart of the old town, effectively overseen and protected by the city’s excellent tourist police, where there’s a maze of windy streets, several incredible churches, lovely museums, and the Presidential Pal-ace that you can tour.

Don’t miss the gold-festooned Jesuit church, La Compania de Jesus. One of South America’s most amazing baroque churches, gold is seemingly everywhere, providing a stunning, gleaming facade on a magnificent wooden base.

Nearby is the baroque San Francisco Church and Plaza. Inside Quito’s oldest church, there’s a Moorish inspired ceiling and Inca images such as the sun god. These are emblematic of early Spanish attempts to meld the faiths of conquered natives with the newly-arrived Catholicism.

Steps away lies the gorgeous Casa del Alabado Museum of Pre Columbian Art. Housed in a 17th century colonial mansion, it displays hundreds of exquisite statues and other objects. These detail the intricate and vibrant works that flourished until the Spanish arrived. Then, the conquerors and the Catholic Church quickly squelched work.

Also sample Ecuador’s fascinating cuisine. In particular, try the complex and fascinating potato soup, as well as the richly textured shrimp cervices that are totally different from their Peruvian counterparts. Each makes a meal by itself.

The National Museum of the Central Bank of Ecuador, near the Hilton Colon hotel, has an awesome collection of pre-Colombian gold, primarily found at burial sites. Masks, ceremonial objects, household goods and statuary display not just the intrinsic value of the gold itself, but fantastically creative shapes and designs.

Also displayed are statue moulds, explanations of the use of alloys, and the many steps required to create the masterpieces on display. Even if time is short, do not miss the Mask With Serpent Rays. It’s as astounding as anything in Peru or Mexico City.

Some 260 miles south of Quito lies Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city (approximately 350,000 people) and a favourite relocation spot for North Americans retirees

Start exploring in the main square dominated by two churches. The massive New Cathedral, where construction commenced in 1885, features vast interior space and domes that emulate St. Peters in Vatican City. Indeed, visiting Pope John Paul II said he felt “right at home.”

Across the plaza is the lovingly restored Old Cathedral, erected during the 16th century. It provides a fascinating look back at the earliest years of Spanish rule. Indeed, during a recently completed massive renovation, painted-over frescoes dating to 1573 were uncovered.

Cuenca is ideal for walking and exploring everything from crafts shops and markets to galleries and museums. One of the best is Museo Banco Central Pumapungo. Inside is another terrific collection of Inca and other archaeological finds, plus life-size recreations of dwellings from across Ecuador.

Adjacent to the museum is an open area where you can wander through the ruins of the Pumapun-go Inca palace. This remnant of the decades, right before the Spanish arrived, when what today is Cuenca was, after Cuzco, (now in Peru) the Inca’s second most important city.

Another must is visiting a Panama hat factory. At Homer Ortega -which runs organized tours – you can watch the creation process and hear why these hats are incorrectly linked with Panama. (Spoiler alert: Foreign Panama Canal diggers, who loved superior sun protection, assumed the hats must have been made in Panama.)

Cuenca is also a great day trip base. A particularly intriguing one, offered by Metropolitan Touring, visits San Bartolome, where artisans specialize in fine guitars; Chordeleg, where you can see women weaving dome foundations of Panama hats and jewel-ry shops; and Gaulaceo, which has a fabulous outdoor market, ideal for great shopping and photography.

Slightly further away are the fascinating ruins of Ingapirca, the ceremonial city of the Incas and the Canari who preceded them; and Cajas National Park with amazing mountain scenery, and miles of moderate to challenging hiking trails.

Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and port (population over three mil-lion) is also worth a look. Highlights include the colourful hillside com-munity of Cerro Santa Ana and the boardwalked Guayaquil National Historic Park.

Hilton Colon Hotel, Quito: hil-ton.com
Metropolitan Touring: Specializes in short and extended explorations of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. met-ropolitan-touring.com

Hotel Casa del Aguila, Cuenca: hotelcasadelaguila.com

Homer Ortega Panama hat factory: homeroortega.com/

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