Cuenca was not on our radar when we booked our round the world trip. When we saw that the city was between Banos and Peru, we knew that it would be a good stopping point for us. The city was declared a UNESCO world heritage site so we prepared ourselves for beautiful historic buildings and sweeping vistas of mountains in the background.
Bus from Banos to Cuenca
There were many busses from Banos to Quito or Banos to Guayaquil, but there was only one option for a bus from Banos to Cuenca. We booked tickets for the Sangay bus from Banos to Riobamba where we would have to connect with another bus for the rest of our journey.
We hopped on the bus from Banos to Riobamba, a very basic bus, but we didn’t really expect much for a small, regional bus company.
Disclaimer on the below for our worried relatives, I am only writing about our experience in case anyone stumbles upon our article on the web. There is no cause for concern, nothing bad happened to us.
Attempted robbery on the bus
When Andy and I were having dinner in Banos, we were thumbing through a copy of South America on a Shoestring. This is a book that many backpackers carry on the road and is full of great travel information. Since we were headed to Cuenca, we were reading up on what to do in the city. In the book, we read it is quite common for there to be thieves on busses who sit behind you and reach under your seat to grab any bags that you have by your feet. It could be a simple unzipping or cutting your bag to steal the contents. After the fact, I read that this scam is more common on the smaller busses which are less expensive since the thieves don’t have to pay much to get on a bus for a possible payday.
Shortly into our ride, something told me to look down. When I did, I saw a man’s dirty hands reaching for my bag. I had my bag securely between my feet with the main pocket with the zipper containing my valuables locked. I was paralyzed by shock when I saw this going down, just looking at Andy, standing up and saying “MOVE NOW”. We moved up a few rows and to the other side of the bus after this happened. My heart was still beating quite quickly and I felt so violated that this had happened to me. A few minutes later, the man that attempted to steal from us got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.
It was after the man got off the bus and my adrenaline came down from its spike that more rational thoughts came into my head. I started to think of all the things that I should have done or said when it happened. I thought about how I should have stomped on the thieves hands with my feet, how I should have yelled an obscenity at him or told the driver what had happened to see if they would have taken further action. They say that hindsight is 20/20 so none of this was clear when I really needed it.
At the end of the day I am annoyed that this happened to us but I take it almost as a right of passage as a long term traveler. There are many stories of travelers getting robbed and I sincerely hope that this is the worst of what we have to deal with along the way. If nothing else, it taught us to be hyper aware of our surroundings at all times, never letting our guard down. While I would not say that we were getting lazy, we had a stretch of time where things were very easy for us and we didn’t ever feel unsafe, making us somewhat complacent, something that thieves thrive on.
Our connecting bus to Cuenca
Since we had booked our ticket to Cuenca, the bus driver’s assistant walked us to the connecting bus that we would need to take the rest of the way. We were very thankful for this hand holding as the bus company switched from Sangay to Patria, something that we would have never looked for had we been on our own.
After the attempted robbing, we were both hyper aware of everything that was going on on this bus. We had our bags were securely on our laps the entirety of the trip and we were watching everyone that walked by us or even glanced in our direction. The balance of the bus was pretty anti-climatic, with us watching the countryside go by as we rode through the mountains.
Things We Saw and Did in Cuenca
Once we arrived in Cuenca, we checked into our hostel and decided to check out the city. While everything was very beautiful, there was not really a lot to do in the city besides walk and look around.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
I would argue that the the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was the most beautiful building in all of Cuenca. The roofline was particularly interesting for me as there were several domes, something that is more common on Middle Eastern Mosques than South American Catholic churches.
When we made the journey inside of the church I was somewhat disappointed. I expected that the inside of the church would be as ornate as the outside. While it was very beautiful, I was expecting something more grand, something similar to what we saw at the Basilica in Quito.
One of the things that I loved about what would have been a lackluster hostel was the fact that I was able to see the church from the bathroom window of our hostel, probably one of the best bathroom views that we may have on our travels.
Wandering the streets
Since the main draw of Cuenca is all of the old, historical buildings, our days in the city consisted of walking around the streets. While we had a good time looking at all of the buildings, it was not that overly interesting for us, especially since we walked the same streets many times going from place to place. While I can see this being a historian’s dream destination, for us it wasn’t that amazing.
Sitting on the rooftop balcony of our hostel
The main reason that we booked our hostel was the fact that it had amazing views of the city from the shared rooftop balcony. Since we weren’t in love with the town, we spent quite a bit of time on the balcony enjoying the view while catching up on our blog since we fell behind when we were in Colombia.
Since we’re always about saving money, we purchased inexpensive beers at the convenience store below the hostel so we could have a cheap happy hour on the balcony.
Eating ice cream
Andy and I both love dessert, him a little more than me. Either way, we kept reading about how great the ice cream is at Tutto Freddo. As ice cream lovers, we headed over there, twice a day, during our time in Cuenca.
Andy got the coffee ice cream every time we went, claiming it to be some of the best coffee ice cream he has ever had in his life. I tried several different ice cream flavors, always impressed with how premium the ice cream was since it was extremely creamy.
Besides Caye Caulker, Cuenca has had the largest number of gringos that we have seen on our travels to date. I had read that this is a very common destination for retirees as there is a good standard of living. This makes sense as the gringos that we did see seemed to skew quite a bit older than the average backpacker age.
If Medellin is considered the city of eternal spring, I would call Cuenca the city of eternal fall. The weather here, while beautiful, is much cooler than I would personally prefer it.
If we were to do it again, we would either skip Cuenca or only spend a day there. Spending a little over 2 days here was more time than we really needed. While it was beautiful, it was a little boring for our tastes.