North towards Ingapirca


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Leaving Cuenca, heading north into the province of Cañar on the old Pan-American highway, is a journey into a fascinating ancestral world. One travels through
pastoral landscapes, rural lifestyles, mountains, hills and meadows, and traditional villages.

First up is the provincial capital of Azogues, with its exquisite Romanesque Cathedral and a colossal Franciscan church, the so-called Shrine of Our Lady of the Cloud, which looms cathartically over Cerro Calvario (Calvary Hill). You may well notice paja toquilla hat makers on your way, a good excuse to stop and look about, and have a chat with the weavers.

A short detour west takes you to Cojitambo, to commanding natural viewpoint with incredible views of Biblián, Azogues and surrounding villages. Archaeological finds, nature, and above all, peace, are reasons enough to stop, especially in the late afternoon; the sunsets are spectacular.

Cojitambo. Photo: Juan Pablo Verdesoto.

Not far from Azogues, at Biblián, we find one of the most spectral of the country’s churches, the Santuario de la Virgin del Rocio (the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Dew). Built against the mountain, which serves as the entire structure’s foundation, the temple stands majestically on the horizon.

One can admire it from anywhere along the road. It is a site of reflection and peace, especially for the faithful and travelers who come to it in gratitude for favors granted by the Virgin Herself. The road continues to the town of Cañar. On Sundays, the market is flooded with color and aromas of the products hand-grown in the fertile region, where you can also find the locally famous hand-embroidered “pollera” skirts. Further north, 10 minutes from Cañar, lies the small town of Tambo, another peaceful site, with a beautiful park and a church lovingly preserved by the population.

Biblián. Photo: Yolanda Escobar.

Walking its streets, one notices traditional houses with bright faça- des and doors. The old Tambo train station lies nearby, where you can relive the old glories of the southern railway that once reached Cuenca. The station has been recently rescued from ruin, where you will find a restaurant with good home-cooked meals at reasonable prices and a newly- inaugurated museum of Pre-Columbian Cañari findings mostly donated by the townspeople, who have welcomed the chance of displaying their “treasures” to visitors.

The current railroad offers a 3 km (2-mile) ride to the
“Baños del Inca” (Inca Baths) or Coyoctor Ruins, an enter- 49 taining tour that offers a glimpse of rural life and the beautiful surrounding landscapes.

Ingapirca. Photo: Yolanda Escobar.

The archaeological complex features a museum that evokes the “Inca ritual baths” along a huge rock into which water channels and impromptu seats were carved centuries ago, purportedly used during purification rituals. Not far from Coyoctor, on the road heading southeast, we
reach Ingapirca, the largest pre-Columbian archaeological 50 site in the country, an Inca religious temple built over Cañari settlements.

The “Castle”, as it is locally called, is a magical place where the heritage Inca stonework comes alive, with
large rocks cut so perfectly and laid one atop another so
carefully that you couldn’t fit a knife between them.

Five minutes’ walk away, Posada Ingapirca promises tradition and tranquillity in a homely atmosphere and setting, and good food served in a hacienda that dates back 200 years. You can visit Ingapirca at any time of year, but during the third week of June, the Inti-Raymi celebrations take place, offering different cultural events.

So, back to Cuenca we go, but before returning on Route E35, consider taking an interesting back road heading southwest to the small town of Honorato Vásquez. These 16 km are a wonderful traffic-less drive amidst rolling rural scenery. On the way, look out for one of the world’s most unique birds, the Andean Gull (Larus serranus), otherwise known as “the gull who lost his way home”, the only gull that does not flock over sailboats!

The Southern Express

It was 1932 when the whistle first blew at El Tambo train station; the town square and its streets were
filled with travelers and merchants who rejoiced at the fact that finally a “bridge” was to join the Cuenca region to the rest of the country. That whistle faded in the last century, and silence, so unlike the coming and going of passengers, conquered the town.

Currently you can only travel a short stretch of the old Cuenca railroad between El Tambo and Coyoctor, a recovered archaeological complex also known as the Baños del Inca (Inca Baths). The project involves local com- munities in conserving and recovering their cultural Cañari heritage. It featu- res two archaeological museums, an interpretion center and a restaurant.

Traveling times: Wednesday to Friday (minimum 6 people from 9 AM to 4 PM); Saturday, Sunday, holidays: 9:30 AM, 11 AM, 12:30 PM, 2:30 PM, 4 PM. Tickets $5 round trip + $2 to visit the Coyoctor complex and Tambo museum. More info:

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