As you head down the Panamericana road, you will find lower elevations and warmer drier climates. This region has a lonely, faraway feel to it, reinforced by its sparse population, scarcity of large towns and long stretches of wild. Nevertheless, its charms are considerably the most rewarding and beautiful pockets of Ecuador’s southern provinces. This region encompasses Cañar, Loja and Azuay provinces.
Cañar is rich in history. This region was inhabited by the Cañari culture from which it took its name. Cañar boasts the most important prehispanic monument of the country, the Ingapirca Inca Vestiges. Located about an hour and 45 minutes from Cuenca, these ruins are the most important architectural legacy of the Incas in Ecuador. Ingapirca means “Incas stone wall”.
The vast archeological complex includes a roofless fortification, courtyards, terraces, temples, houses and a “castle,” possibly the “Temple to the Sun.”
A museum is now open at the site, with both archeological and ethnographic displays as well as a scale model of the ruins.
Entrance fee is US$6. An excellent option is to stay overnight at the charming Posada Ingapirca.
Both the province and its capital city owe their name to the Spaniard Alonso de Mercadillo, who founded the city in 1548 at the “Cuxibamba” valley. “Cuxibamba” is the indigenous name of the valley.
Loja’s indigenous population maintains ancestral traditions and customs. The city of Loja has an important cultural community.
Musicians, poets and other writers are nestled within the city. Loja had a large affluence of scientists during the XVII – XIX century, and so it appears in old European maps as “Nambixa”.
Surrounded by rivers that flow to the Amazonia or the Pacific Ocean, one finds several green valleys with warm, fresh and dry weather (64 degrees Fahrenheit and higher), such as the Vilcabamba, Malacatos, Quinara and Catacocha Valleys.
Ecuadorians consider Cuenca the most charming city, located in a peaceful and relaxing setting. As you enter the city you can enjoy the outstanding skyline marked by shining church domes.
Cuenca’s cobblestone streets, winding rivers, graceful ironwork balconies, and beautiful gardens are part of the pleasant atmosphere of this historical city. UNESCO declared Cuenca a World Cultural Heritage Site in December 1999.
The city was first called “Guapondelig”, which in the Cañari language means “a plain as big as the sky”. The Cañaris were the indigenous group that lived in the region before the arrival of the Incas. In the last decades of the XV century, the Incas built the city of “Tumipamba” (“Tumi” meaning ridge and “pamba” meaning plain), over this Cañari settlement. This city was located along the Inca highway that joined Cusco with Quito. When the Spanish arrived, they called the city “Tomebamba”. Finally, it was baptized as the city of “Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca” (Santa Ana of the Four Rivers of Cuenca). Cuenca stands 8,315 feet above sea level, it is the capital of the Azuay province and the third largest city in Ecuador.
The colonial past from the days of the Spanish Empire are ever present in the artistry of the churches, convents and religious treasures. Many of the beautiful houses are found perched along the banks of the four different rivers that run through and around the city (Tarqui, Yanucay, Tomebamba and Machángara).
One of the highlights are the beautiful handicrafts that can be found throughout the city, including embroidered blouses, wool sweaters, gold and silver filigree jewelry and weavings with tie-dyed patterns called ikat. Cuenca is also known for its elegant ceramic dishes and pottery.
Crafts and fresh products can be found on sale at the weekly Thursday fair, or the smaller Saturday market, located at the plazas of 9 de Octubre and 10 de Agosto.
“Don’t miss the Incan ruins of Ingapirca, the valley of Vilcabamba and the historic district of Cuenca”.