Cuenca: Highlights from the number 1 retirement town for Americans

Cuenca is a beautiful little town in Southern Ecuador to which American retirees are flocking! But why? It has a lovely climate, loads of galleries and museums, great restaurants, a bustling market and best of all its currency is the US dollar but it’s a quarter of the price! It’s also a little sleepy, but we really enjoyed pottering around here for 4 days.

The Pumapungo museum:

A true life shrunken head…

This museum is a treasure chest of Ecuadorian culture, from top to bottom. The basement floor houses a collection of money, notes and coins from different points in history. There is also a room dedicated to the music of Ecuador, but it was shut when we visited. The ground level is dedicated to modern art. It’s a relatively small collection but had a few interesting pieces to make us think. Like the photo series depicting a man skinning a pig and then laying in its skin.. Yip. The third floor is really well set up and tells the ethonographic history of the different regions in Ecuador using life size figurines, setting scenes of everyday life in ancient or remote villages. The highlight for me was seeing the shrunken heads on display. It’s crazy to think that this was a common practice to ensure murderers wouldn’t come back into the next life. It’s also incredibly sad because when the Spanish arrived it became something poachers coveted and sold, so therefore more heads were subsequently created outside of the ritual for profit.

Walking along the river:

The afternoon light falling romantically on the river

What better way to enjoy the sun than soaking it up next to a scenic river escaping the city vibe. We were very impressed with how clean the river looks, especially after the filth we’d witnessed in Peru and Bolivia. It’s a real treat to just sit down here and enjoy a picnic or a good book.

The river also has lots of street art to brighten the place up

Get yo hair did:

Well, it’d been 8 months since my last hair cut, so when we walked past a salon opposite Pumapungo with a nice vintage tattoo parlour type sign I boldly walked in and asked how much. The experience was really lovely, I had a wash, a cut and she even dried it and curled it for me! Although she didn’t speak a lot of english we had a nice chat, she did know how to tell me that my hair was very damaged, but that she thought it was a beautiful colour. I don’t think they get many blondes in there because her and another lady both took a lot of photos when it was done. Very fun experience and stoked with the result. Especially because it only set me back $10us!

Visit Prohibido Centro Cultural:

Prohibido Cultural Central also holds parties and events


If you’re into the twisted and strange like I am (thanks ma!) then this place will be right up your Avenida. You can tell from the outside that it’s home to an interesting collection, and it hits you in the face from the moment you walk in the door. Think old school Peter Jackson (I’m talking “Meet the Feebles” or “Brain Dead”) meets heavy metal fetish club. Very bizarre but small museum which also has a bar serving beers for $2 and cafe food. My favourite part was the steam punk dress up rack at the end.

Steve getting Steam Punk’d

Take a bus to Chordeleg:

A jeweller working on a pendant in the silver town of Chordeleg

This is a lovely little day trip to a small town about an hour and a half out of Cuenca and well worth it! Known for its plethora of silver shops Chordeleg is quite popular with local and international tourists. We loved its quiet vibe, the pretty green art deco church, tidy streets and unparalleled window shopping. This really is a wonderful place to find plata (silver) treasures, however most shops have the same things and some of it is a bit tacky. You have to hunt for the good stuff but it’s all super cheap, I found a beautiful marcasite ring for $18us. The bus there and back is only  $1ea each way.


3 thoughts on “Cuenca: Highlights from the number 1 retirement town for Americans

    1. Thank you! It was actually a funny time to be wandering in the museum in general. There was a huge tour group of older indigenous Ecuadorians visiting at the same time and they were gossiping and giggling about this one in particular. They were like a collection of school kids and were more fascinating than the museum itself. When we were in the exhibition demonstrating indigenous culture they were banging on the drums and commenting on the old way of life, it was beautiful!


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