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.
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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