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Could this be El Dorado?

There is a town in the southern region of Ecuador that has been continuously occupied for at least 7,500 and possibly as long at 10,000 years. It sits in a valley created by the confluence of four rivers, part of the Amazon watershed, surrounded by the Andes. Situated at an elevation of 8,300 feet it offers spring-like temperatures, warm in the day and cold enough for sweaters in the evenings. In Spanish a basin caused by rivers is called a Cuenca and that is the name of the town today.

 In 8,000 BC there was no name but there were people capable of making arrows and spears. Later they took advantage of the climate to become farmers. They continued to evolve, creating a governing structure and in 500AD, the tribe, then known as Canari named this place Guapondeleg meaning “land as big as heaven”. The Canari prospered until the Incas conquered them in the 15th Century and while they changed the name to Tomebamba, they did retain the Canari’s skills in agriculture and astronomy. The leader of the Incas, Tupac Yupanqui wanted to create a new city to rival Cusco and wanted it to be called Pumapungo. By the time the Spanish reached the area all the remains were in ruins. Indian residents told of a great city with temples made of gold and this gave birth to the legend of El Dorado.

Whether gold was to be found here in the past, the treasures that remain today are more than enough to satisfy a curious traveler. Cuenca, today, is the third largest city in Ecuador but it is the central core or old town that attracts the visitor and led to its designation as a UNESCO world heritage site. Staying in the center of the city offers the opportunity for leisurely strolls.

Staying at Mansion Alcazar places you in an elegant setting close to the Park Abdon Calderon, the center of the old town and the opportunity to return after your exertions for an alfresco glass of Champagne to start off the night’s activities. If you are looking for a more rustic setting but still providing elegance and proximity to the old town then one of the 12 rooms at Hacienda Caballo Campana might be just the thing.

Regardless of your choice of accommodations make sure to dedicate at least one full day to explore the town’s cobblestone streets, impressive cathedrals and museums and the chance to walk along the rivers that surround and define the city. There are markets galore including those selling the famous “Panama” hat which actually originated in Cuenca.

 Since this a college town, home to two universities, the nightlife is both eclectic and diverse ranging from coffee houses to upscale restaurants. The fact that there is a slight chill in the air offers the excuse to dress up. While the town is not overrun with tourists, word has spread about its climate, culture and friendly people and there are now about 1,000 ex-pats living in the town with most concentrated either in or on the fringes of the old town.