Ancient ceremonial temples tell the story of cultures that are more
than alive. The oldest archeological ruins in the country, Ingapirca,
are found in this region. In this region are also found various cities
rich in art, like Cuenca and Loja, and some important natural reserves.
Also an ideal place for some rest and relaxation with natural hot
baths and natural medicines is the valley of eternal youth, Vilcabamba.
Situated in Ecuador's southern Andes, Cuenca is the capital
of the Azuay province. It is a dream walking along its cobblestone
streets among the historical architecture. The domes of its many churches
take you bank to the colonial era, among winding rivers. This is why
it was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 1999.
Cuenca is known as the city with the greatest cultural production
in the country. The beautiful Cuencan handicrafts come in many different styles, like
embroidered blouses, wool sweaters, detailed jewelry bathed in gold
and silver and "ikat" textiles. Cuenca also has a strong tradition
in ceramics. A leading industry in Cuenca and its surrounding areas
is the making of Panama hats, originally from Montecristi.
Loja was recently received an award for being the most organized,
cleanest and most ecological city in all of Ecuador. The colorful
facades of the houses are part of the attraction. Loja also has many
interesting sites like the entrance gate to the city, churches like
the Cathedral, San Francisco, San Agustin, the Recreational Park Jipiro,
the Botanical Garden and the Monastery of the Concepts. Loja's historical
center preserves the colonial architecture.
In Quichua, Vilcabamba means "Sacred Valley". Internationally known
for the long lives of its inhabitants that live to more than 100 years
old, it receives thousands of tourists and pilgrims every year, attracted
by the natural beauty of this town trapped in time. The low incidence
of heart disease and arteriosclerosis, the stable climate, the temperature
and the water with special properties are thought to be the cause
of this marvelous longevity. Once known for its hippies it is now
known for its relaxed atmosphere and health spas.
On August 15th of every year, the faithful gather en masse
in El Cisne, a small town in Ecuador's Southern Andes. From El Cisne,
they begin a 74 kilometer religious procession that will end in the
city Loja. The centerpiece of the peregrination is a locally famous
religious relic, the Virgin de El Cisne. For most of the year, the
six-foot tall wooden statue resides inside the basilica of her namesake.
The El Cisne basilica dominates the red tiled roofed town and is definitely
worth a visit.