We have decided that today is going to be devoted to wandering around the colonial streets of Cuenca. Our goal is to get lost ... and to see a majority of the hundred or so churches in town. We dine on fresh fruit and pancakes at Hotel Crespo before venturing out.
Cuenca is mostly deserted at this early hour. Even though we are in the heart of tourist district, I don't feel as if Cuenca would even be on the same scale as other "touristy" destinations. At around 9 AM, the streets fill with kids walking to school and adults walking to work. There is a distinctly business feel to the air. People seem to have a purpose to their day. We don't see much in the way for other travelers. I love it!
The colonial architecture makes this the most beautiful city in Ecuador, in my mind. It reminds me of a larger, less-gringo version of Antigua, Guatemala. Cuenca is known to be the center of art in Ecuador. We visit several excellent galleries and I'm tempted to buy an especially impressive oil painting.
Cuenca is also famous for its Panama hats. Strangely enough, Panama hats aren't from Panama; they're from Ecuador. The indigenous people outside of Cuenca make the hats from a local plant. They are finished in Cuenca and sold all over the world. They received the name "Panama hat" because they were initially exported through Panama and to the rest of the world. Great story, but one that must make people from Cuenca a little annoyed! I buy a few hats for myself and one for my dad.
Between the shopping and the church-seeing, it has been a productive day and we return to Hotel Crespo for the night. The hotel is one of the oldest in Cuenca and still has its original architecture and old-world charm. The location downtown isn't too bad either ....