Cuenca - to the Beautiful Yunguilla Valley


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South America » Ecuador » South » Cuenca
September 27th 2009
Published: September 27th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

When your city mouse self needs a country mouse fix, that's no problem in Cuenca. Just hop on a bus and in just a few minutes you're out of town. South is a great direction to go in because in less than an hour you'll be in the Yunguilla Valley, an east-west stretch of Andean majesty that reaches all the way to the coast. The Yunguilla Valley is a great alternative to Vilcabamba for those who want to live closer to a major city with all the implied benefits—cultural, medical care, and shopping.

We jumped aboard the bus thinking Yunguilla was also the name of a village, not just the name of the valley, and ended up going all the way to Santa Isabel a small—we'd-skip it-next-time—place almost two hours down the road. Whoops. The surrounding mountains were dry and not nearly as pretty as the earlier ride and the village felt pretty isolated. At a lower elevation, Santa Isabel also gets pretty warm.

So after a little wandering and a snack at a little hole-in-the-wall — where a shirtless owner took our order — we defied the words of Horace Greeley (who reportedly was not the author of the famous quote) and returned east. This time, we got off the bus at the village of Girón, just 45-minutes from Cuenca.

This was more like it. The section of mountains from Girón to Cuenca reminded me, in part, of the Swiss Alps, with little homes and villages in the valley set against the towering mountains in the background. Girón is a charming village, bigger than Vilcabamba, with very friendly locals who shouted out "Hola" or "Buenas tardes" when we passed the stores. It was hard not to fantasize about living on a couple of acres nearby and becoming part of the village fabric. "Oh, that's just our crazy gringo neighbors."

The elevation in Girón is about 7,000-feet. That's about 1,500 feet lower than Cuenca—and while Cuenca's climate makes one wish for a little fireplace to take the chill off some mornings and evenings, Girón's weather seems pretty ideal. Like Vilcabamba, there were banana trees and papaya trees, two climate indicators. The town itself is situated on a hill, so you start at the top on the main road and go down to the Plaza. In the park, we even saw a couple of iguanas lazing in trees. Cool.

There are many beautiful homes dotted around the Yungilla Valley, most of them second homes belonging to middle and upper class families from Cuenca—and most of them likely having caretaker families living there to provide security when the owners are not home. Gringos haven't discovered the Yunguilla Valley yet we're told—which is one reason the prices are still low. It looks like a great place to be if you want to live in the country, yet be close to the city.

In addition to a charming village and lovely homes and farms on the hillsides, there are also great hikes into the cloudforest from Girón to waterfalls and rivers teeming with trout. What's not to love?


And—just 22 kilometers from Cuenca—it's a great place to get your "country mouse" fix!








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Taking a break from selling shiny pots on the street.


28th September 2009

Girón's weather
"Girón's weather seems pretty idea." Make sure you ask how many days this upper part of the valley is enveloped in a cold, wet fog before moving there. There's a reason everything is so green and looks like Switzerland when you first reach the valley from Cuenca.
28th September 2009

Giron's Weather
Thanks, Mark. It sounds as though you know! It's difficult when you just pop into a place and get a "snapshot" impression of the weather...that may or may not reflect normal conditions there. Jack always says "Beware of green."
28th September 2009

your blog is gorgeous!
So, small world department - I learned about your blog from my friend Mark (who commented below) who lives in Salida, Colorado, but I meanwhile live in Chapala (soon to move to Ajijic) and you know me from the tennis courts at Eldorado, where I occasionally fall on my face when playing tennis with Jim McCullough. I just feasted on all of your entries - what a wonderful offering to those of us thinking of traveling in Ecuador. I will be very interested in hearing your take on it all vs. Lago de Chapala, though I imagine the full impact won't be clear until you're back and settled. Cost-wise and natural-beauty-wise it sounds like Ecuador is the clear winner; not sure I could live without access to Mexican street food and the imported goods of Gringolandia though (I am a wimp, I admit it). You two are great travel journalists/photographers! Safe travels, Kevin
28th September 2009

your blog is gorgeous!
Wow...small world is right! Thanks for the kind words, Kevin. We'll see you on the tennis courts in just over than 2 weeks!
28th September 2009

P.S. to Kevin
Ecuador has GREAT and plentiful street food, too!
30th September 2009

Around Cuenca
Hi Katie, I'm no expert, but we've been through there a few times, sometimes on bright sunny days, and other times in dense cloud. If I wanted to be on that side of Cuenca, I'd probably be further down valley, toward La Union and Santa Isabel, where it's warmer and not so wet. Interesting side-story on S. Isabel. There are bombs in the church. Found in the fields following the last Ecuador/Peru war, these unexploded babies were brought to the church and put on display on the alter. Their continued "unexplodedness" is proof that God was looking out for the people there. The Ecuadorian army has been trying to get them back, so the locals moved them downstairs for safekeeping. We were not able to see them, although they assured us that they would be brought upstairs for a festival the following week. We did not make a point of going back to see them! You may be gone from Cuenca by now, but if you wanted something more country in the other direction (east), I would suggest looking at Gualaceo and Chordeleg, about 45 minutes to the east. About 7,200 feet and green, without the heavy fog. It's a real garden spot, home to one of the largest orchid farms in Ecuador (or maybe South America). I would avoid Paute in the same area and a bit downriver. It reeks of pesticides from all the commercial rose growing there. Enjoy your trip. You've written a great blog, and we may try meet you if we visit Kevin and Erin in Ajijic this winter.
1st October 2009

Around Cuenca
You sound pretty expert to me, Mark. Great story about “da bomb” in Santa Isabel! And thanks for the hints about Gualaceo and Chordeleg. We’re leaving for Baños Friday or Saturday, so won’t get to check it out this trip, but we’ll keep it in mind. Hope we get to meet you in Ajijic this winter. Thanks for the input…any insights about Baños?
1st October 2009

Banos
Very pretty town but watch out for land/mud slides, earthquakes and one active volcun that has caused the town to vacate twice in 5 years. Good restaurants. Check out the water source for city next to public pool. Big avocado trees and giant hummingbirds.
1st October 2009

Banos
We weren't allowed to go last year because the volcano was so active. Sounds like a "happening place"...at least Mother Nature-wise (and outdoor adventure-wise from what we've read). Sounds like bottled water time again, too. Thanks, Naomi.
1st October 2009

Baños
Sorry, no particularly great insights about Baños. We were only there for a night in 2004, and did not do any hiking or climbing. There seemed to be lots of outfitter shops there offering guided tours. Mostly we just soaked in the very hot water alternating with chilling in the small ice-cold waterfalls that cascade down the rock near the hot pools. We did go down river about 15 km to Pailón del Diablo (“Devil’s Couldron”), a huge thundering mass of water where the Rio Verde descends into Rio Pastaza. It's a modest hike down to a swinging rope and plank bridge over the river and leading to a restaurant. There sure is a lot of water in Ecuador. I assume you know there's a "Baños" right on the outskirts of Cuenca, reachable with a 20 minute bus or taxi ride. There's a very nice hotel there with a beautiful hot water pool you can use. Enjoy!
1st October 2009

Baños
Thanks, Mark. We'll be interested in checking it out. We hopped onto a bus the other day and checked out the nearby Baños on market day. Great view of Cuenca from there, too.
28th December 2009

Cuenca Chapala
Hi all - My first post here. I visited a friend in Chapala a few months ago and will be visiting Ecuador in March. In planning for a move to somewhere, one priority for me will be the local community. I don't want to live in a Gringo Gulch, but having some friendly English speakers around will be a big plus. An advantage of Chapala. Any comments on Cuenca, Chapala, etc. appreciated. Saludos - Mike
31st December 2009

To Mike
We absolutely loved Cuenca and the beautiful Ecuadorians... but decided that unless we were fluent in Spanish, there was a quality of life issue in terms of activities /culture /involvement. Cuenca's a great place if you want to be a pioneer/founder and much cheaper than Chapala....BUT here we have English theatre, movies, musical groups, lectures, churches, classes, and more.... PLUS another culture and its people. It's going to be another 15-20 years in Cuenca for these things to develop. It's also much easier/cheaper to go back to the States/Canada from Mexico. I think if I were still raising a family though, I might choose Ecuador.
31st December 2009

To Mike
P.S. Have fun! Ecuador's an amazing country that's changing fast!
19th July 2010

opinion
what a beautiful place; thank you for chaerring

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