By Cynthia Mills
Calle Larga, Cuenca’s famed thoroughfare overlooking the Tomebamba River is bustling with restaurants, bars, crafts shops, tattoo parlors and markets. It also serves as a promenade for some of the city’s best museums. A self-guided museum tour down the street is a perfect way to bone up on local culture and get a little exercise at the same time.
Start at Museo y Ancestral Pumapungo and finish at Museo del Sombrero. This will illustrate the chronological history of the Cañari and Inca cultures to the more-ecent Panama hat business. The slight upward incline might increase your heart rate; the treasures of the museums certainly will.
Please note: photographs are not allowed in several of the museums. It is always better to ask first before taking out your camera or phone.
Museo y Parque Ancestral Pumapungo
Cuenca’s most expansive museum showcases portraits of Ecuadorean heroes, Shuar shrunken heads, and Cuenca’s most extensive collection of historical, cultural, and ethnological exhibits. It sits on an Inca archeological site where you can tour the many gardens, photograph a herd of Llamas, and visit an aviary of exotic indigenous birds. This is a must-see for an in-depth historical perspective of the region as well as contemporary art. The gift shop sells original art, handmade clothing, and a variety of small items.
Museum details: Calle Larga and Huayna Cácpac; Hours; Tuesday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Admission: Free
Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes
Specializing in Ecuadorian and global archeological information, the collection houses 8,000 archaeological pieces ranging from Paleolithic and Neolithic times to the Incas. Group tours and lunches are available. The gift shop sells replicas of historical items.
Museum details: Calle Larga 5-24 and Hermano Miguel; Hours: Monday-Friday 9 p.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday by appointment only; Admission: Adults $4, Students $2, Children $2
Casa Museo Remigio Crespo Toral
This museum was originally the home of Remigio Crespo Toral, a renowned writer, jurist, and academic in Cuenca. The neoclassical home was built 1910-1917. The museum is a repository for historical archives from the early 20th century as well as furniture, clothing and the family’s personal articles. The deck restaurant, overlooking the Tomebamba is open daily.
Museum details: Calle Larga 7-23 and Presidente Borrero; Hours: Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Admission: Free
Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla
Here you will see displays and photos of the Panama hat making process including type of straw used, metal forms and presses. Smal small but carefully selected collection of handwork is available in the Parades Roldán house. There is a coffee shop upstairs with coffee, desserts and a beautiful view of the Andes.
Museum details: Calle Larga 10-41 and Padre Aguirre; Hours; Monday-Friday 8:30-6:30, Saturday 9:30-5 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Admission: Free