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Rural hiking near Cuenca: A great way to take in the natural beauty and meet hard-working country people

A country woman heads home with a harvest of greens for her cuy.

Editor’s note: This is the second of an eight-part series by writer / photographer Brian Buckner about hiking in the Cuenca area. To read the first installment, click here.

By Brian Buckner

I define rural hiking as walking in areas outside the city proper but the outskirts of town is a good place to get started.

You could be hiking on asphalt, a dirt road or a single track path. That’s right, there’s a mix of surfaces as you move away from the city. Specifically, I am speaking of hiking in rural communities. You’ll find yourself walking right next to people who are riding to work on their horse, leading their milk cows to a greener pasture, or simply making their daily harvest of vegetables.

These country treks are similar to city hikes in that you must be aware of where you put your feet. The surfaces are varied and uneven with loose gravel and exposed roots being the norm. Also, be prepared for steep trails and roads, many with bushwhacking grades. There is a lot of going up and then down as you hike through these areas and you may feel a bit winded by your exertion. No worries though as this is how you become acclimated to the environment. After a time or two, you’ll be showing your buds how it’s done.

Dog Etiquette

Let’s talk first about those country dogs, since they can present a major challenge. By the way, I wrote a funny story about them titled, Yard Dogs of Barabon.

Dealing with country dogs is an important part of hiking.

Most city dogs keep from underfoot as you walk the sidewalks and don’t exhibit aggressive behavior. On the other hand, many of the dogs in the country are all about protecting their master’s property and family. They will bark and growl from behind fences, or right next to you, during your hikes. They can and will chase you and presumably, bite you. However, I have logged two or three thousand hiking miles in Ecuador and I’ve never been bitten. If they come out barking, you can swing your pack or trekking poles at them to dissuade aggression. A friend throws them meat scraps he keeps in a zippy. You can growl or bark back at them, raising your arms in the air to appear bigger to them. Or, you can just keep walking, keeping an eye out over your shoulder, and see what happens. All these techniques have been tried and proven to work in various situations. All dogs encountered should be regarded as unpredictable. Do what you think is best to deal with them understanding that most don’t need to be dealt with at all.

A husband and wife plow their field.

The Rewards of el campo

Having informed you of what may seem like a perilous route to some,you should also know that it can be the most rewarding. These are my favorite areas to hike as they are very diverse in both culture and geography. You get to see it all in what we call el campo, or the country. I’ve also met more people on these types of hikes than others since I hike where the people live and work. I love meeting them and having chit-chatting with them. We’ll talk about engaging these country people and also, city people, later on. Let’s see where we might go for now!


In the green hills east of Cuenca  lies the rural community of Baguanchi. It is picturesque and very pastoral as most of these outlying communities are. The number 15 city bus turns around there.

A woman harvests her carrots.

You’ll arrive from downtown via bus in fifteen or twenty minutes, average. After you’ve arrived, then what? Start walking! Seriously, that’s all there is to it. There are a myriad of tiny rock strewn dirt roads in the area with virtually all of them connect to each other in some way. Get out your smart phone or tablet and open your Google Maps or Google Earth app. Find a route that you like and just follow your blue dot on the map to know your whereabouts, it’s straightforward. More on maps and apps later.

Make a point of greeting those you come across in your walk. Use Spanish as much as you can and smile. Remember, all you need to know to start is how to say “hello,” “good morning” and “good afternoon.”

San Joaquin

On the opposite side of Cuenca from Baguanchi, on the west, you will find the small village of San Joaquin and, continuing westward, following a ten-mile stretch of the Yanuncay River, is the town of Soldados. This is one of my favorite areas as you follow the river, surrounded by a pictuesque valley. It’s very green the entire way.

Take in the beauty of the Yanuncay River valley

A few miles past San Joaquin is the Cuenca Tenis and Golf Club. You can get off the number 19 city bus there, since that’s where it turns around to head back to town, and start you walk along the river to  Soldados. There’s also a green, rural bus that runs this route also but not at all times of the day. You could catch it back to the Golf Club to connect to the number 19 to get back to Cuenca.

Along the road to Soldados, which parallels the river, you’ll find one home or small tienda after another. There are also several churches. The river views change along the route but they’re all great and photo-ops are everywhere. This is a small farming and dairy community. Depending on what time of day, you will see various events of the work day underway. As you pass, be pleasant and greet everyone but let them continue with their work. Everyone will welcome a chance to say hi especially if you’re brave enough to give that new Spanish a whirl.

On your rural hike, remember that farm animals are like all animals, unpredictable and use caution around them. Stopping steers and workers that are plowing is not a welcomed interaction for either the animal or the farmer. Always use your best judgement in interacting with the country folk, realizing how hard they work to earn a meager living. Please give them to do their jobs.

Photos by Brian Buckner.

18 thoughts on “Rural hiking near Cuenca: A great way to take in the natural beauty and meet hard-working country people

  1. I have enjoyed reading your hiking series. The photos really add to the positive experience. I’ve been to Soldados and beyond many times trout fishing. These days we take a vehicle. In the “good ole days” we would take the bus to Soldados and then fish the river going downstream. I would caution folks that one needs to be in pretty good shape to hike all the way to Soldados and back. Soldados is also quite a bit higher in elevation than San Joaquin. That means less trees, more wind, and more cold!
    I’m glad to see that you have raised the “dog awareness” factor. Along the main roads they may come out and act ferocious. But, as you say, it’s usually not a problem if one has a stick and shows no fear. Off the main road dogs can be a problem, especially when they attack in packs. Just some words of caution.

    1. Wielding hiking poles or picking up a rock works to keep dogs at a distance, but they keep growling and barking. But a few scraps of meat will shut up a whole pack of dogs. Try it. It’s the most effective strategy.

    2. Hi Lorenzo. I really appreciate your adding your perspectives to this piece. I know you’ve been here a long time and so I value your comments. They are entertaining and insightful. Thank you for them.

  2. I live near the tiny little community of Molino and my neighbors are these country people you are describing. We are the only Gringos within a 30 minute drive. The thing I love about these people are they are not only hard working but happy to boot. They are generally extremely responsible people but a couple of times a year at the local fiestas the most stalwart can be found stumbling drunk, but that is the only time you’ll ever see them in that condition. A note on the dogs, generally all you have to do is pretend you are bending down to pick up a rock and they will generally retreat.

      1. I was so busy wanting to run my mouth I forgot to mention “Great article”. if you are ever out our way we can turn you on to some great “on the road” hiking plus we have an extra bed if you need to spend the night. On a clear day you can see the Pacific from our deck which is 53 miles. Our house is an earthbag house with earthen floors and earthen plaster We are about an hour and a half drive out of Cuenca, about 7 km from La Paz on the highway to Loja.

  3. Thank you Brian for your wonderful articles and great photography. I hope they will generate more interest and cause our local tour groups to offer more day-trips in exploring these nearby hidden gems.

    1. Thanks Bartley, I hope you’re doing well. Keep that camera battery charged and lets see some of your photos!

  4. Great article! Thanks for letting us in on this wonderful area along the Yanuncay river!

    1. Hi Ken! You are so very welcome, I was super glad to help you and Roz with a new location for Antony’s fundraiser!
      Edie and I hope to see you guys around before too long, probably for lunch..:)

  5. Great article again Brian. Country dogs can look and try to be ferocious and their ferociousness is inversely proportional to size of your group. So if you hike in a group of 6 you will not be bothered as much as when you hike alone or with a buddy. And just pretending to pick up a rock will send most dogs scurrying back to their dunghill!

    1. Thanks Shahbaz! We’ve tried it all, haven’t we, ha-ha-ha! Yes, there’s a myriad of ways to hold them at bay. Good hiking stateside and I’ll see you back here before too long!

  6. Very informative article, Brian. Your experiences help others who follow in your path. Looking for a new home, we took the No. 15 through Paccha 1 thru Paccha 10 (or something like that): glorious countryside!
    As always, love your pictures. Great shot of the valley.

    1. Hey Jeremiah! I am so glad that you are finding my writings and photography not only useful but entertaining. Buena suerte to you guys in finding your new digs! It is gorgeous back in there!

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