About 4 hours by bus north of Vilcabamba is Cuenca, Ecuador’s beautiful colonial city, Ecuador’s third largest city, and our new favorite city in South America. As it is nestled in lush, green valleys and surrounded by rivers, the architecture of Cuenca is not the only gem of the area. To our surprise we quickly discovered that Cuenca has one of the fastest growing retirement communities from the United States. Due to the large number of expats from all over the world, the gastronomy never ceased to please us; from Italian restaurants with fresh homemade pasta, to the fluffiest Belgium waffles, to the seemingly unlimited amount of homemade ice cream and gelato, to the creamiest lattes made by European baristas, it was far too easy to become comfortable in Cuenca. A gentle stroll along the Tomebamba River leads one to the central area of Cuenca, where the quaint buildings make me feel as if I’m strolling through the entrance of Disneyland.
Within the main plaza, retail shops, cafes, and restaurants are abundant, but street vendors selling tropical fruits are also plentiful. Like in the streets of Vietnam, I enjoyed fresh coconut juice from a fruit vendor.
Over the course of 3 days in Cuenca, we squandered away many hours in cafes, watching the people and the city passing us by, and being productive with our personal work. The weather was simply perfect for us; the equatorial highlands made it warm during the day and light jacket-weather during the evening. But because our time was running out we unfortunately had to move on from our new favorite city to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest (and perhaps grimiest) city.