Destinations Magazine

What Makes Cuenca’s Parque Calderon So Special? (with Video)

By Aswesawit @aswesawit
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Wander around Cuenca’s narrow, cobbled streets for any length of time and you’ll see that it is full of charming squares and churches. None, though, is as delightful as Parque Calderon, the city’s central plaza.

We posted this video last September to show what the park is like.  In case you missed it, here it is again. We also set aside time for a photo walk around the area in the evening. (It’s safe.) I hope you enjoy Dan’s shots.  If you do, please share this post with your Facebook friends.

Parque Calderon itself

It’s pretty obvious that Parque Calderon is Cuenca’s pride and joy. Sitting right smack dab in the middle of the city’s 500-year-old UNESCO area, it was important enough to deserve eight pines that were brought from Chile and planted by President Luis Cordero. The pines surround a monument to Abdon Calderon, a hero in Ecuador’s battle for independence. Calderon was from Cuenca and died at the young age of 18.

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Besides the historical trees and memorial, the park has fountains, a gazebo, beautiful gardens and plenty of park benches.  They’re shaded by trees and palms.

Let its culture come to you

There’s nothing better than a free sightseeing opportunity, right? Here is one of the easiest ways to experience authentic Ecuador: Just find a park bench, sit back, listen, and watch … before you know it, the local culture will surround you.

Every town square is a center of local social life, but Parque Calderon is the heart of Cuenca itself. During the day you’ll see mothers stroll through with their babies … teens joke with their friends … old men gather together on a bench and read the newspapers or chat over a game of chess…. Or perhaps you’ll watch visitors study tourist maps as dogs saunter through with their owners trailing behind on the end of a leash.

When you get tired of sitting, there are markets nearby, too. You’ll get another slice of Cuenca life there.

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To find this flower market, walk down the road on the left side of the New Cathedral.

While you may find a street market, see a parade pass by, or hear some music playing from the park’s speakers during the day, Parque Calderon changes after the sun sets. On our evening photo walk we found Hare Krishna devotees chanting, teens break dancing in the gazebo, and street food vendors grilling skewered meat to the light of a gas lantern.

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We even saw a bridal party posing for photos in the park.
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Day or night local vendors are selling their wares from carts or baskets, and eateries are busy. Gringos fill the tables in the earlier part of the evening, but locals prefer to dine later so restaurants are hopping all evening. As you can imagine, vendors like to set up right outside the restaurants’ doors.

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One of the most delightful facets of Parque Calderon is the local people who go about their daily lives in their brilliant traditional apparel. There are a number of indigenous groups in the area, each with their own style of hat, dress and appearance. That makes it all the more interesting. (At least, I think so.)

Around the square

As you sit in Parque Calderon you may even forget that half a million people live here. Somehow Cuenca’s historic center doesn’t have the urban feel that Guayaquil and Quito have. But even so, there are modern-day businesses everywhere.

Right across the street from your seat in the park are the tourist bureau, a tour bus, the municipal building, restaurants, cafés and ice cream shops, various markets, and two cathedrals.

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Speaking of which, it’s practically impossible to miss those three sky blue domes that top the New Cathedral. You might have seen them already. They are the most-photographed sight in the city.

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The Old Cathedral has been turned into a museum. Can’t say much about it, since we never found the time to go in when it was open. But it’s pretty from the outside and has a very Spanish flavor.

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On our first visit to Parque Calderon we saw people with rainbow-sprinkled ice cream cones, eating them with a spoon. We were surprised by the spoon, but baffled when we realized that it was being sold on the street, yet it wasn’t melting! As it turns out, that’s espumilla, a traditional Ecuadorian treat of whipped meringue, fruit and sugar. It’s cheap – only 25 cents – and you can buy it from vendors all around the square.

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Street vendors offer other affordable snacks as well, but if you’re in the mood for a real ice cream cone, hop across the street to the well-known Tutto Freddo. They have a very impressive selection of ice cream flavors and make a killer milk shake. It’s Dan’s favorite ice cream shop in town.  For me, my favorite ice cream joint is about 8 blocks away at Plaza San Blas. There, they sell their own fresh-made ice cream for only a dollar a scoop, and it’s a BIG scoop!

Tip: As I mentioned before, if you’re ready for a meal, you’ll find cafes and fine dining here as well. However, like other popular tourist destinations, the prices around Parque Calderon are higher than on the side streets.  Only a few blocks away from the park, you can get a lunch (almuerzo) for as little as $2.50.

For more photos of Cuenca, please enjoy our Ecuador photo gallery. Day and night, Parque Calderon has an ever-changing scene. Even if you return again and again, you’ll never get bored.

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