Sunday, April 05, 2009


At the end of our train journey to El Nariz del Diablo we got on a bus that was heading for Ecuador's third city, Cuenca. Towards the end of the train ride the weather had already started to deteriorate, the clouds had descended and it was raining steadily. The bus made its way through what may well have been a very spectacular mountain landscape, we couldn't tell because visibility never seemed to go beyond about 50-60 metres either side of the road. One of the few things we could see were the signs by the road side exhorting us to enjoy the Andean landscape. We weren't going all the way to Cuenca, at least not yet, and we left the bus at a small town called El Tambo.

Our destination was Ingapirca, Ecuador's only significant archaeological site from the period of the Inca empire. It only took a few minutes to find a bus that was heading for the village by the site, but as we set off up a rough mountain road I couldn't help wondering whether we were doing the right thing. Higher up the mist seemed to be even thicker, the rain didn't let up and the prospect of spending the night in this area wasn't very appealing. On arrival at the village we got off the bus to find ourselves facing two small hostels. Which one would it be? After a moment's hesitation we started with the one on the left. As we walked in, a door opened and the owner’s young daughter turned back and shouted "Extranjeros!". Her mother, a tiny indigenous woman, came out to greet us and confirmed what we already suspected; there was no problem with availability of rooms on this gloomy, wet day in Ingapirca.

The accommodation was simple but comfortable enough, and cheap. Once we had put our bags in the room it was time for a walk around the village in the rain, the dark and the mist. The village may not be very big but in these conditions it's almost possible to get lost. We ate in our hostel and had an early night; this is not a place with much nightlife.

By the morning things had brightened up a bit, which is not to say the weather was great; but it wasn't raining any more and we could get a good look at our surroundings for the first time since we arrived. Breakfast consisted of bread, cheese and one of the sweetest cups of coffee I have ever tasted. Then it was off to take a look at the site, located just a couple of hundred metres away from the village itself.

We got there slightly early; they weren't quite ready at the ticket office and were obviously taken aback by having visitors so soon. I don't know if this site ever gets crowded, but we beat everyone to it. Without the clouds making everything invisible it was possible to see that the location is quite impressive. Ingapirca was a significant site for the local Cañari people before the Inca period of domination began. The Incas took it over as their own, changing the focus of worship from the moon to the sun, and Ingapirca now lies on what is known as the Inca Trail. Machu Picchu it isn't, anyone who arrives here expecting something that magnificent will inevitably be disappointed.

Most of what survives is basically the foundations of storehouses and other buildings. The exception to this is the central "castillo", which has survived better with the assistance of some restoration work.

It doesn't take long to see everything, including the museum and the Inca face sculpted into the rocks a few minutes walk from the main site.

I enjoyed the visit, after the unpromising start I decided it was worth it; although I wouldn't suggest to anyone that they need to go out of their way too much to see it. It's possible to visit Ingapirca in a single day from Cuenca, without the overnight stopover, but if you're passing down this way from Riobamba then it makes more sense to stop and see it before continuing further down the Panamerican. With our early start we had time to see the site, get the bus down to the small town of Cañar, and catch another bus that got us into Cuenca by lunchtime.

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