After a long 14-hour bus ride from Otavalo I arrived in Cuenca. It was a Saturday night and I had no idea that it was the beginning of Independence Day in Cuenca.
Yet this was not as exciting as it seemed as the first hostel I visited told me everything in the city was booked. But someone was looking down on me and a wonderful hostel owner saw me wandering the streets and gave me her last hostel dorm bed.
I’m not known to turn down a party so now that I no longer had to sleep in the streets I decided to stay a few days as the celebrations promised to be plentiful.
It was the best decision to make as there were throngs of people everywhere, dance troupes and bands lining streets. This afternoon I stumbled upon this parade and was overwhelmed by the energy of this group.
An Introduction To Independence Day In Cuenca
One of the most interesting parts of South American culture is that each country has its own Independence Day. However, in Ecuador several cities achieved independence before the country as a whole was liberated.
Cuenca is one of these cities, and its annual Independence Day in Cuenca is held on November 3rd. Furthermore, it is one of the biggest events in the city’s calendar. This annual holiday draws more than 100,000 in a city that has less than 350,000 people.
The History of Cuenca’s Independence from Spain
In 1819 the Spanish Empire territory of Ecuador initiated independence toward becoming the country of Ecuador. Unbelievably it took 11 years.
Like most of South America it started after several years of dissatisfaction with the Spanish regime. Guayaquil was the first city to achieve independence, overcoming the local garrison on October 9th. Consequently, the news spread like wildfire and soon the city of Portoviejo declared independence on October 18th.
At this time, Cuenca was the economic hub and the administrative center of the region. Eventually on November 3rd locals subdued the local garrison and Cuenca also declared its independence.
As a result, the war against Spanish rule successfully continued. The territory of Ecuador joined the independent state of Gran Colombia in 1822 formally ending Spanish rule. Eight years later in 1830, the country we now know as Ecuador formed. As a result, the country’s national Independence Day is celebrated on August 10.
What to See at Cuenca’s Independence Day
The celebrations in Cuenca begin October 29th to incorporate the Day of the Dead festivities. While Cuenca is a relatively small town in 2015 there were over 300 scheduled events. However, the best thing to see during Independence Day in Cuenca is the parade that streams through the main streets of the city on November 3rd.
The parade is a great opportunity to see traditional costumes, music and dance. As the evening continues there are dances, parties and fireworks throughout the city as people pour into the streets.
Local cafes, hostels and hotels prepare for outside visitors and have city guides to the organized events.
Impromptu Celebrations and Independent Events
Along with all of the celebrations and organized events, the party atmosphere spreads throughout the city. Many neighbourhoods host their own parties that are welcome to visitors. You’ll find friendly locals offering you an alcoholic drink or bite to eat. This is one of the few times you will see open alcohol on the streets in Cuenca, which is a relatively conservative city.
If you don’t know of any parties just wander the streets. You will find small bands or musicians playing in a square or park. People quickly congregate around them to dance and to party. While the big showpiece events of Independence Day are spectacular, you really get a local feel with the smaller informal celebrations.
What to Eat on Independence Day
As you would expect street food is the staple for most people during the event, and there are plenty of options to try.
Enjoy traditional Ecuadorian food Cuenca street such as the pork sandwiches and grilled sausages sold in stalls across the city. For dessert there are chocolate dipped strawberries and grapes served on a stick.
As the evening progresses, look for the bubbling pots of a spiced version of canelazo, a local alcoholic drink that is strong but delicious.
Shopping in Cuenca
Supporting local artists is important in Cuenca and this is also the best time to visit the markets to see local arts and crafts.
If you are looking for authentic souvenirs head to the largest market at the Escalinatas stairway. Stalls fill a large courtyard and also span a large area on the banks of the river. The products range from wooden trinkets and decorated items through to textiles and paintings.
Independence Day in Cuenca was one of my favourite memories, if you’re in the area you should definitely check it out.