Cuenca is even more atmospheric at night and every visitor should have a wander in the evening when the old historic buildings are lit up and illuminated. However, Cuenca's old town centre can be extremely quiet at night and you should exercise normal precautions at night. Don't walk on your own and stay away from the river bank paths and quiet squares. Plaza San Francisco is busy during the day but can be dodgy and seedy at night. Keep to the busier streets, although at night most of the centre can be deserted! Having said this, make sure you don't miss Cuenca's buildings lit up at night.
Personal Safety in Cuenca
I have read several conflicting accounts about the safety of North Americans and Europeans in Cuenca. Having just returned from and extented stay there, I say that the chances are higher that you will be robbed in Cuenca than in most cities the same size in the US. Three people I met there had been robbed (one had her digital camera stolen) or had friends who had been robbed. One story included a mugging.
Dispite this I believe that Cuenca is fairly safe. Walking for at least 2 hours per day around the colonial district, I only felt a little nervous a few times when I was 2 or more miles from the central plaza. I rarely carried more cash than I could afford to loose and, since my digital camera broke while I was there, I only carried diposable cameras. The odds of being mugged are pretty slim and if you can afford to loose what your carrying there isn't that much to worry about.
The situation will probably improve. One of my teachers told me that 90% of robberies are committed by immigrants from Peru and Colombia. In a move to show solidarity with its Latin American neighbors, Ecuador recently (within the last two years) reduced the entry requirements for people from these two and other Latinamerican countries. Undoubtedly, fugitives from the law are among those who moved to Ecuador. Aware of the effect that these relaxed policies were having on crime and tourism, President Raphael Correa's administration reversed these policies and now, as foriegners without passports or visas are found, they are sent back to their countries of origin.
Here is another positive note. One wallet snatching I witnessed involved an American (US) lady and a Latin teenage boy. She was running after him on the opposite side of Calle Larga from where I was walking. Losing ground as she ran, she yelled for help. Yes, the ladrone would have out run his victim and surely would have escaped with her money except that other locals relayed her crys for help down the street, ahead of the fleeing criminal. A group of high-school-age boys on the next corner knocked the guy down and the North American got her wallet back. Prior to this incident I had been reluctant to pass near loitering "gangs" of muchacos. Assuming that this incident is true to the generalizations made by my Spanish teacher, my opinon of Cuencanas and Ecuadorians in general changed for the better. Do not be wary of teenage "gangs" loitering street corners; they may be your best ally.
Bus travel in Ecuador
During my planned 5 weeks in Ecuador, mainly Cuenca, I hope to also visit Vilcabamba. Concerned about petty theft on the bus trip - there are no direct flights - I asked my contact at the hotel in Vilcabamba if I should take any precautions. In a characteristically helpfull Ecuadoran way (don't you just love it?) he sent the following reply:
Hi, Chuck, thanks a lot for your confirmation.
Now some recommendations:
Never act in a rush. That means if you are entering a bus station
and there is not a lot of time left before the bus is leaving and someone
is crying like: Cuenca, Cuenca, Cuenca.....approach the bus slowly with
patience. Because it could be that the guy is an employee of the bus station.. or not... and he will disappear with your luggage. So be next to the bus when the employee stores your luggage at the bottom of the bus.
Watch him. NEVER store the hand luggage in the bus in the part over your head. Always keep it between your feet or besides you. If the bus is still in the station no one will ask you for the ticket. 15-20 minutes after leaving someone will ask you for the ticket...and,please, buy the ticket always at the counter of the bus company so no one can ask you for money.
It is not so dangerous it looks like but be aware helps a lot.
Your spanish is execellent. Why I had to write this in english ? :-)
Good advise from a native.
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Beware of your valuables!
One of my friends was robbed of his camera during daytime, near the church of Todos los Santos. He had it hanging on his shoulder. Of course that doesn't mean that you have to panic or keep from taking any pictures...Just have it in a bag while you are not using it. And keep your money out of sight, and don't wear jewellery.
Generally people in Cuenca are extremely nice and polite but there are always some bad ...spirits..don't provoke them! If you see somebody moving suspiciously near you, just walk away!
Maybe this innocent face in the photo will send your fears away!!!
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don't be lulled into complacency
Just as in any big South American city you have to keep your wits about you. There are streets that while during the day are fine it would be unwise to frequent them later at night. Keep an eye out for anyone following you and always try to travel at least in pairs. Stay on main streets when possible and if not at least ones that are well lit. Stay away from ATMs at night too. In general, enjoy your night but get home at a reasonable hour and once you are on your way, do so swiftly and walk with purpose. We found by using these simple precautions we didn't have any problems and found Cuenca to be one of the more enjoyable Ecuadorian cities by night.
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SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS CLOSE EARLY
OK, this was something that I found difficult to understand.
Cuenca is, like, the 3rd largest city of Ecuador. OK, maybe it is a distant 3rd. But once I stepped out and hit the street at 7pm and found that nearly all the shops were shut, and the streets were nearly deserted with most lights out. It was frankly, a little eerie, as you just see the stray long shadow of one lone passer-by down one street and another.
Gosh, I was hungry and I had to find a place to eat. I hurried along to try and locate a place. Some cafes were absolutely empty and the owners were stacking up chairs and about to lock up.
What?? At 7pm?? It was quite unbelievable, that the 3rd largest city of Ecuador can be so 'sleepy'. I finally found a Chinese restaurant that was opened (I was the only patron). But gradually, through the days spent there, I did come across a very small handful of other restaurants that stayed opened til 8pm.
My warning to you is to head out to grab your dinner EARLY.
The following day, I was ready to forgive and forget. I was carrying the same stuff as the night before in the same manner. I also had a small ordinary travel bag with my chapstick, my notebook, my postcards, my stamps, my decongestant, my umbrella, and a couple of souvenirs, including a phony shrunken head. Priceless stuff, as you can see. The bag was like an old friend.
I stopped for lunch at a small restaurant named La Fama, on Bolívar 128 and Montalvo, which was recommended on the Frommers web site, making it possibly a good hunting ground for thieves.
I sat a table - inside - and put my bag on a chair tucked under the table. A man (a customer) at the counter gestured for me to come order at the counter. Come to think of it, he was wearing a muddy business suit, and his helpfulness was unctuous. I got up to go to the counter, then returned 7 or 10 seconds later to pick up my bag before ordering. It was gone, and so was the "businessman," and whoever he had distracted me from.
I ran outside and couldn't find anyone or anything relevant. I went back inside, and everyone commiserated "Que pena" and so on. I was really upset. I felt old, stupid, drained, presumptuous, worthless. Who was I kidding, playing the Grand Explorer, instead of using the money to buy Long Term Care insurance or pre-arranged funeral arrangements?
After a couple of hours spent walking and talking to myself, I sat in an internet cafe, logged onto the Misc. Forum of VT and ranted. Then I logged off, went for a big dish of therapeutic ice cream, and to visit a heavily policed market. I did talk to the police, and they said it must have been Peruvians or Colombians. I told them nothing like this happened to me in Peru.
I went back online after that, and so many VT members had responded kindly to my wailing, it made me feel somewhat better. I took hold of myself, and managed to have 24 more good hours before leaving Cuenca.
The following week, in a park in Harrisburg PA, a jogger overtook me. You should have seen me jump!
- Historical Travel
I've been cautious through my travels - but not paranoid. I've bought cracked Chinese CDs, overpaid for cabs and riverboats, had postcards never mailed and so on. But that night in Cuenca was my first upsetting experience. The second one would be the following morning!
It was around 8 p.m. I had my wallet in my back pocket (buttoned), my money and passport in a pouch under my shirt, a few coins in my left pants pocket, and my Lonely Planet book in my hand. I was walking along Horatio Vasquez Street. In front of the Mayambe Bar, I noticed a tall, thin youth who seemed up to no good. I turned right onto deserted Luis Cordero Street. Completely out of the blue, I felt something come in and out of my left pants pocket, very forcefully and very fast. For a fraction of a second, I thought it was a guinea pig - it was that weird! I shouted very loudly and turned around. It was the shifty youth, of course, and I scared him with my shout. I threw my Lonely Planet at him (why?) and he ran away saying "loco" and spilling my few coins.
This was quite upsetting. In a way it was violent and scary. On the Plaza, I talked to the police who were overseeing a free warm rum distribution. They said it must have been a Peruvian or a Colombian (nice, heh?), and gave me a safer itinerary to walk back to my hotel. On the way back, I walked in the street, not on the sidewalk.
The roads around Cuenca, and in the Andes in general, are subject to frequent landslides and mudslides. Be sure to talk to the locals about road conditions before you make any long distance trips between cities!
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Fog on the road to Cuenca
Every day, without fail, the roads to Cuenca become draped in a heavy fog. This is not your normal fog - this is a full-fledged blanket of clouds that make it difficult to see your hood ornament! Couple this with the fact that there are sheer cliff dropoffs on either side of the street, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Be sure to leave early if you want to miss the fog. If you do get stuck in it, or you can't avoid it, use your fog lights if you've got'em or your running lights if you don't. These won't help you, but the'll help others in not hitting you. Find yourself a big truck to follow, and go as slow as they as they probably know the way much better than you! Beware of cars passing oncoming cars in the fog - this is the greatest hazard of all.
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