Cuenca and Carnival in Ecuador: A Conversation with Jessica Baumgart
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go to Ecuador?
I’m 29 years old and recently quit my job in Chicago to travel the world with my husband for a year. We started our travels in South America, moving from Colombia to Ecuador, then Peru and Bolivia. Before we left the States I worked in communications at a hospital. When I’m not traveling, I love to cook, read and take my lab Lily for walks!
How long did you go to Ecuador for? How did you spend your time?
In total I spent just shy of a month in Ecuador. We traveled overland from southern Colombia across the border and bused to Quito, where we stayed only a short while before flying to Cuenca. I spent the majority of the month there staying in an Airbnb loft apartment we rented for very little (about $26/night) and took Spanish classes every morning at the Simon Bolivar Spanish School. It was fabulous! When our time in Cuenca was up, we traveled overland across the border, south to Peru.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
I was lucky to be in Cuenca during Carnival, a raucous time in South America. On multiple occasion preceding holy week, the streets filled with people having massive foam and water fights. Once we took an open-air city bus tour, but the kids on the second floor balconies along the way took the opportunity of Carnival to soak us with buckets of water as the bus passed by. It was really funny.
Cuenca was a quiet little town and a good place for language classes, but the weather can be tough. It’s at high altitude (over 8,000 feet) and it’s normal for it to be cloudy and rain every day. After nearly a month of chilly rain, I was ready for sun in Peru.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I wish I had known more about the weather in Cuenca as I might have picked a sunnier, nicer town to spend the bulk of my time in. That being said, I enjoyed the city center and quieter atmosphere over Quito, which is quite the bustling capital city. Ecuador is a fairly poor country, which meant some tours were disorganized and difficult to book. We had to keep calling/e-mailing to ensure that we got to see everything we wanted to see.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
In Cuenca I had a great meal at El Mercado, an upscale restaurant right on the river. It had wonderful views, great service, and the food was fabulous.
We spent a day hiking at Parque Cajas, one of the most beautiful national parks I’ve ever seen. The high altitude and unique flora and fauna made the surroundings look like a Lord of the Rings set.
I had a few great breakfasts at San Sebas Cafe in Cuenca. It’s a bustling place with great bagels and pancakes. It’s also a good place to get some work done if you’re writing or need Wifi.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to Ecuador?
Like any other country in South America, you need to be aware of your surroundings and be smart, but I never felt unsafe in any of the places I traveled to. Cuenca especially felt safe in the city center. If you’re ever feeling nervous after dark, taxis are cheap and easy to take.