Cuenca is a city with a rich history. It boggles my mind to think of how old some of the structures are here. Bear with me as I’m not a historian but from what I have learned from my trip through the Museo del Pumapungo (Museo del Banco Central) and the wonderful Wikipedia (eye roll), the Cañari were a major inhabitant of the area from around 500 AD. The museum thankfully has translations in English, but with a toddler there is barely enough time to read one sentence unfortunately. I end up taking photos of the descriptions in hopes of reading them later. The Cañari were defeated (actually they peacefully surrendered) by the Inca empire. The Inca commander, Tupác Yupanqui, then built a magnificent settlement, Pumapungo (Door of the Puma) in what is now the city of Cuenca. It was rumored to be quite a glorious sight, filled with golden temples and other magnificent structures. It rivaled the Inca settlement of Cuzco in it’s beauty and may have been the mythical city of gold, El Dorado, the Spanish conquistadors sought. But by the time the Spanish settled here, Pumapungo had been destroyed during the civil war (1529-1532 Ad) between Tupác’s two grandsons, Huáscar and Atahualpa. Therefore, by the time the Spaniards discovered the area, Pumapungo was in ruins. The Spaniards used much of the stone to construct the early buildings of Cuenca.
On the western outskirts of El Centro (historical Cuenca) lies the ruins of Pumapungo and the museum. The museum offers a look at Ecuador’s vast history and the inhabitants of the different regions of this diverse country. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the costumes and customs of the different groups. Photography is not allowed inside the exhibits so I can only say that you will see the colorful costumes and customs of the people of Ecuador. There are glimpses into the life and history of it’s people. It is free admission and a must-see while you’re here. Without children, I’d suggest about 2-3 hours to explore. If you want to see the ruins too on the same visit allow another 1 1/2 -2 hours. We broke it up into two visits as the children did not last but an hour and a half in the museum. There is a snack bar within the grounds of the ruins, near the aviary in case you want to get lunch while visiting.
The ruins were magnificent. There is a beautiful garden of indigenous plants, a peaceful lake and an aviary full of local birds. It is such a peaceful place in the midst of a bustling city. There were numerous places to stop and take in the serene views, my favorite was under the cover of trees alongside the lake. Whatever you do, if you visit Cuenca, do not miss this gem!