After living abroad for 5 years, I know what its like to feel a little lost when trying to get into the “holiday spirit” in a brand new city with new customs and traditions. I created this list to takes the guess work out of the equation so you are free to enjoy and explore what Cuenca has to offer.
Read on for some fun (and mostly free) holiday activities to enjoy Cuencano style!
Watch The Pase del Nino Parade
The Pase del Nino parade is a sight to behold and at over 8 hours long, the Pase is not to be missed. This is a celebration of the baby Jesus and is a riot of color, music, and people. The best place to view the parade is somewhere along the perimeter of Parque Calderon but get there early, people begin staking their territory around 8am with the parade beginning somewhere around 10am.
Novena is the Roman Catholic tradition consisting of nine consecutive days of prayer, asking for special graces. In Ecuador, Novena happens in the nine days prior to Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve. Novena celebrations are held at churches all over Cuenca and many families also host private Novenas as well. Even if you’re not Catholic, this is a tradition that holds special significance here and I recommend it highly for a cultural, if not religious, experience.
Volunteer At An Orphanage or Seniors’ Home
Christmas is an especially difficult time for Ecuadorians with no family. Many organizations in Cuenca are eager to have volunteers, even to just spend time with the kids or seniors, or to help in other ways. If you’d like to give some time this Christmas, volunteering is a great way to do it. Antonio Valdevieso Orphanage by the San Francisco Plaza and Casa Nuestors Mayores in Paute are two.
Chicha is a type of corn or maize beer, popular in Central and South America, and has become a central part of the Christmas festivities here in Cuenca. In small villages, the beer is fermented from the local wives chewing the seeds and spitting them into a pot and left to ferment. However, luckily, when making chichi for larger groups, a different fermentation process is used. Learn about the Pulla Alvarez family and where to get chichi for the Pase del Nino parade for the full experience.
Discover A Barrio Parade
If the Pase sounds like too much for you, keep your eyes peeled for your neighborhood version. You’ll see them typically on a Sunday close to Christmas but they can happen at any time. At first, it looks like a disorganized band of locals filling up the street. A collection of donkeys, horses, cars festooned with bed sheets, groceries and religious artifacts; babies dressed up and children decked out as wise men. It’s the neighborhood (barrio) giving thanks to el Senor and celebrating the birth of Jesus. Instead of getting frustrated at your thwarted attempt to pass, get out of the car and watch the procession. It’s something you’d never see in your home country!
Shop For Artisan Crafts
If you know where to look, Cuenca has some great shopping and it’s NOT in the malls! Here’s a quick list of a few places to look:
El Centro. San Francisco Plaza is great for alpaca items, blankets, mittens and some touristy trinkets. There are a number of great shops along Simon Bolivar with Christmas items, knickknacks and ceramics. Along Calle Larga across from Todos Santos Church are a few great shops as well. There are also a number of leather shops where you can get a custom leather coat made for less than $150. My personal favorite is Akcesoria on Luis Cordero and Gran Colombia. They also offer a great selection of purses, boots, wallets and more.
La Esquina de Las Artes on 12 de Abril houses several artisan shops with ceramics, jewelry, and a few women’s fashion shops with some beautiful traditional Ecuadorian styles. Be sure to check out Andrea Tello’s Jewlery gallery and have a look at one of a kind pieces. Finish the trip off and sit down and enjoy a coffee at Melatte on their outdoor patio.
Visit Chordeleg for unique and beautiful silver. This nearby town is a great day trip from Cuenca and doubles as a place to pick up some gifts. From the Terminal Terrestre, you’ll take the bus to Chordeleg, about an hour out of town. Buses leave every 30 minutes or so and return to Cuenca almost as often. Enjoy the great scenery and experience small town Ecuador.
Enjoy A Christmas Concert
The Cuenca International Chorale will present their Christmas concert this year on Monday, Dec. 19 and Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the Old Cathedral on Parque Calderon (Luis Cordero y Sucre) Both concerts begin at 7:30 pm. Under the direction of Andrea Lyman and accompanied by Sheila Johns, this diverse 45-voice chorale made up of Cuencanos and ex-pats from several countries will perform a delightful Christmas program featuring traditional and familiar seasonal selections in Spanish, and English, The concerts will conclude with candle lit bilingual carol singing for all. Admission is free, but donations to support their future concerts will be gratefully accepted. Plan to arrive early for the best seats!
Join Your Fellow Gringos For Some Holiday Fun
If you’re here alone, or you aren’t already committed, join one of the Christmas celebrations going on around town. There are a number of restaurants offering Christmas dinners. Santorino is offering a 3 course meal on the 24th and 25th, Trestevere is offering some great home delivery options for those that want to enjoy dinner and not have to worry about dishes. El Jalapeno has a holiday menu with a Mexican twist and Don Colon is throwing a new Years Party with some great live music