Where We Be
We toured the Barranco hat factory in Cuenca and tried on these dapper Panamas after the tour
Cuenca, Ecuador
This strange-looking fruit is called a chirimoya. Native to the Andes, it is sometimes called a "custard
apple" for its sweet, creamy taste. Mark Twain once called it "the most delicious fruit known to men."
This little boy sits on the shoulders of his father to get a clear view of the Good Friday procession
Robed bearers carried statues like this one through the streets
Good Friday in Cuenca was filled with religious processions from church to church
The Mercado Central on Calle Largo (one of the main streets through town) is a very non-touristy place to visit
Here locals eat on the cheap at a huge number of vendor stalls on the second floor. We tried our first bowl of fanesca soup here.
A whole dress made out of Panama hats!
Here you can see Panama hats at various stages of construction
One of the best things we did in Cuenca was visit the Barranco Panama Hat Factory for a tour
We stayed at Villa del Rosario for $20 per night. The room included a private bath with hot showers and good wifi. Like all the basic rooms
we stayed at in Ecuador, there was no heat source of any kind -- temperatures are usually mild, but if not, put on a sweater or pull up a blanket!
Looking across the Rio Tomebamba to Cuenca's new town
Cuenca has an edgy city feel to it at times, as witnessed by this extravagant graffiti on the staircase wall leading up from Rio Tomebamba
We walked down steep stairs to the Rio Tomebamba, the dividing point between Cuenca's old town and new town
Every block or two you come across another church
At the end of the free tour we wandered through the store looking at the large variety of Panama hats for sale
The variety, abundance, and low cost of Ecuadorian fruit is
astonishing. Bananas and apples cost as little as 5 cents each.
A vendor sets up shop in the midst of the crowd along the parade route
This is what the streets of Cuenca look like on a normal day, with stores open and people out and about
Walking diagonally through Parque Calderon, you can see across the street the beautiful pink stones of the Judicial Court building
The flower market is always located in this same square. Did you know Ecuador is a huge exporter of roses and other fresh-cut flowers to the U.S.?
The facade of the New Cathedral faces Parque Calderon at the heart of the historic district
The three giant domes are covered with Czech sky-blue tiles
This Cuenca cobbled street is almost eerily empty on Easter morning
Not quite Chipotle's, but close!
The lovely blue-and-white domes of the New Cathedral have become synonymous with Cuenca and are featured on nearly every tourist brochure
Fanesca soup is served only at Easter time and is made with salt cod and twelve kinds of beans (for the twelve apostles!). It is a Cuenca specialty.
We spent the week of Easter (Semana Santa) in
Cuenca enjoying fanesca soup (made only at
Easter time) and a holy procession through the
streets. This city of 500,000 felt big to us after
tiny Vilcabamba, but its historic downtown is
relatively compact and easy to navigate with its
grid-like street layout. Restaurants offer a wide
range of international cuisine in addition to
Ecuadorian "platos tipicos." The historic district
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with colonial
buildings and churches galore. Without doubt
the most famous landmark is the New Cathedral
with its blue-and-white domes, featured on
virtually every tourist brochure for Cuenca.

Did you know Panama hats actually come from
Ecuador? When they first became popular back
in the 1900s they were shipped via Panama so
they became known as Panama hats, but they
were always made here. While the hats are
initially woven from plaited leaves of straw in
outlying villages, Cuenca has long been the
finishing point for Panama hat production. The
tighter the weave the more foldable (and thus
expensive) they are. A high-quality Panama hat
can take up to 4 months to weave and may cost
$150+ while a basic one might set you back $25.
Just to the left of the Judicial Building stands the Old Cathedral, built in 1557 at the founding of Cuenca
The courtyard garden at Villa del Rosario. Everything grows well in Ecuador, where temperatures and rain amounts are ideal
for everything from roses to fruits. Cuenca sits at 2500 meters (8200 feet), which helps balance out its hot equatorial location.
South American models frequently sport Panama hats
We tried rambutan, a red koosh-ball-like fruit. You
break the outer layer to get to the plum-like inside.