I was only in Cuenca, Ecuador for four days… so how did I have time to take a day trip elsewhere? The truth is that there’s not a ton to do in Cuenca, especially if you’re there on a Sunday when everything is closed. But there are tons of adorable small towns and outdoor adventures to be had near Cuenca. On my second-to-last day in the city, I took a day trip to Chordeleg, a picturesque place known for its great shopping.
While Cuenca is a dead zone on Sundays, the shops of Chordeleg were bumping. Apparently, locals know that this is the place to come and shop for jewelry and handmade crafts.
It’s easy to take the bus to Chordeleg from Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre. Buses leave throughout the day so you can just show up whenever you want to go and buy a ticket to Chordeleg via Gualaceo. It only cost $1 each way.
Our Airbnb host mentioned that Gualaceo has one of the best fruit markets in the area, and that we should definitely check it out. So halfway to Chordeleg, we hopped out to try and find the place. Not much of a story, but basically we got lost and ended up in the meat market. If you are an animal lover or vegetarian, definitely avoid this place. It was gruesome. I get the shivers even thinking about it (and I eat meat!). Anyways, I didn’t really get a good vibe from Gualaceo… it wasn’t as cute as Cuenca and I didn’t see anything of interest so back on the bus we went, continuing on to Chordeleg.
One thing I thought was funny was how the bus driver tries to recruit passengers along the way. Whenever he sees someone walking down the street, he opens the door and starts yelling “Chordeleg!”. I have to give him props though, because he actually convinced a few people to hop on.
I was warned numerous times that buses in Ecuador can be unsafe and a prime target for pickpockets, but I just didn’t communicate with anyone while traveling and held on tight to my things, and I had no issues.
Chordeleg is one of the old school towns in Ecuador that still adheres to the guild system established during Spanish colonial times. Back in the day, each town had a certain skill or craft that they specialized in, and the people of Chordeleg were metalworkers. While some people fear that it’s a dying craft, at least for now there are still plenty of small shops you can walk into where jewelry is being made right inside.
The most popular item seems to be these silver chandelier earrings, a symbol of Chordeleg that is sold in every shop and hangs from the lamp posts. They weren’t really my style so I didn’t buy a pair, but I did love how the whole town was decorated with them!
While I didn’t buy any of the famed jewelry, I fell in love with everything in a shop called Centro Agroartesanal Chordeleg right on the square. I met the Andean women who make everything sold there by hand in a women’s cooperative in the mountains, and they were so friendly. I mean, they told me I was beautiful, so obviously we got along fantastically.
Even though I’d been in Ecuador for a few days, I was still shocked every time I got my bill for something and it was less than half of what I expected. I purchased quite a few gifts and knick knacks for my apartment, which is now boasting a unique blend of Ecuadorian-Moroccan decor, and expected a bill of around $50. I mean, if I was shopping at Anthropologie it would have been around $150, seriously. But the bill was $20! When I exclaimed about the price, they immediately started defending it, explaining how everything was handmade and why each thing was so expensive. I felt bad, because I had actually been shocked by how inexpensive it was. Basically I left with half the store, and I have deep regrets that I didn’t take more.
The main “tourist attraction” of Chordeleg is the pretty little church, which is very photogenic. So make sure you snap a few pics!
If you wander a little off the square, you can also find more shops selling things like pottery and paintings. I forget the exact location, but it’s seriously a tiny town… just walk around and you’ll find it!
We were the only foreign tourists in Chordeleg the day I went, but there were lots of Ecuadorians who had clearly traveled there for the day for some relaxing family time. In the main square, you’ll find lots of street vendors selling yummy treats like ice cream or the delicious snack I discovered in Colombia, obleas. There were many families just hanging out in the park, sitting on benches and enjoying sweets.
If you’re ready for lunch, wander a few blocks from the main square to Hostal Colonial for some of Ecuador’s famously cheap almuerzos. For about $3 each, I had a three-course meal of potato soup, chicken and rice, and a small dessert with fruit juice. It also looked like you could stay overnight there, as there were rooms upstairs, and the owner was very nice and welcoming.
I was happy I took the time to visit Chordeleg instead of wandering around, hunting for something open on a Sunday in Cuenca. The trip was super affordable and painless, and the bus ride took us through beautiful mountain scenery. I personally felt very accomplished and proud of myself at the end of the day for navigating there without the help of HopStop, a taxi driver, or anyone who spoke English. One of the things I love about traveling in Latin America is that it’s a little chaotic, but it’s always an adventure.
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