09 Jun Gualaceo, Chordeleg, Sig Sig Day Trip from Cuenca, Ecuador
Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and Sig Sig are three towns not from from Cuenca, Ecuador. This is what we learned and saw from taking an independent day trip there by bus.
About traveling in this area
Having been in Cuenca for almost a month, we had heard rumors of various artisans in the nearby towns to the East. Just as the word of mouth information was unclear, information for this area online was even more elusive. The only thing certain is that Gualaceo is known for ikat weaving (or rather, somewhere on the way to Gualaceo), Chordeleg is known for silver and jewelry, and Sig Sig is known for producing Panama hats. I scoured the web for independent travel information and came up with very little. Price references for the buses were from 2012. Even the pamphlet from the tourism office in Cuenca was out of date. I found one couple who had done the trip on their own and blogged about it, but they seemed very underwhelmed.
I don’t want to say that you have to set your expectations low in order to enjoy this day trip, but you can’t expect the typical tourist attractions. We actually enjoyed the trip very much, mostly for the opportunity to see some new places in a beautiful setting.
It seems that, apart from the shopping available in Chordeleg, tourism in these three towns is limited to guided or package tours. We witnessed a similar phenomenon when we were living in Jamaica – certain “attractions” really only functioned when they knew a big tour bus was coming, but they typically weren’t accustomed to receiving random walk ins. While the package tours to Gualaceo and beyond undoubtedly take tourists to places we couldn’t discover through our own research, we still preferred to save our money and embark on a more independent adventure.
Costs and Times
Total transportation cost: $5.17 per person
Lunch: $2 each
Departure from the center of Cuenca: 8:30am
Return to Cuenca: 3:45pm
How to Get to Gualaceo
- From the center of Cuenca, we took a city bus to the Terminal Terrestre (25 cents)
- Each person must pay 10 cents to enter the turnstile where the buses depart
- Ask someone for the buses to Gualaceo, check the sign in the bus’s front window; they leave frequently (every 15 minutes)
- The ride is somewhere around an hour and you can take it to the last stop in Gualaceo’s bus park (I liked to refer discretely to the offline/GPS map on my phone to make sure it looked like we’re in the right place). We paid at the end of the ride – $1 each.
From the bus park, you’ll be very close to the nice riverfront park (which is apparently extremely popular during February’s Carnaval because of all the water games) as well as the market. We walked around town a bit and found the main square which is nice.
I also asked a lady who works for the city, and she said there aren’t really any artist workshops in the city itself. You would have to stop on the way from Cuenca at Bullcay or San Pedro de los Olivos to see the dye and weaving. I also heard there is somewhere outside the city to see orchids as well as roses, which are exported.
We thought Gualaceo was a nice town. It was smaller and more quiet than Cuenca.
How to Get to Chordeleg
- You can get direct buses to Chordeleg from Cuenca, but they also load buses from the Gualaceo bus park frequently
- The ride is short and cost 45 cents each
The town of Chordeleg is kind of perched on a hill and the buses pass most of the town from below. We saw the big church as we passed by and sure enough, that’s the center of everything. The plaza with the church is surrounded by jewelry and gift shops, as are many of the main streets in this tiny town. The main attraction here is shopping, although the whole place itself is very picturesque. Street lamps are decked out with elegant silver decorations and the surrounding mountains are gorgeous.
Originally we thought we would have lunch in Chordeleg – there were certainly options – but it was not quite 12 o’clock so we opted instead to continue on to Sig Sig.
How to Get to Sig Sig
In Chordeleg, we headed back to the site where our bus dropped us off and asked someone if there was a bus to Sig Sig. She said yes but they typically don’t stop in the “park” (a small pull out spot) and pointed us to a bench across the street where the bus would come by. I’m assuming this means most of the Sig Sig buses originate in Cuenca. After about 10 minutes, a Sig Sig bus swung through town.
- It took about 30 minutes to wind our way around to Sig Sig and the cost was 75 cents each.
- There is an actual bus terminal as you approach town, which is where we got off.
I tried to ask for directions to the Panama hat cooperative at the tourist desk in the bus terminal, but I didn’t get very far. With some prompting, the lady finally recalled that it’s in the old hospital and suggested we just get a taxi to take us.
We opted to find lunch first, so we walked along the main road toward the church and central plaza. We got our $2 almuerzos (set lunch) and made sure to choose a restaurant with a bathroom. We got directions from the server of the restaurantto the “hat workshop in the old hospital” and set out on foot. The main road leading out of town is pretty dusty but it’s wide and wasn’t too bad of a walk. At the bottom of the hill, next to a nice riverside “beach” park is the old hospital building which is now a cooperative for all the ladies who weave straw hats. We did see a number of ladies weaving a hat while walking around town or sitting on the bus.
The cooperative has one gigantic hat sitting in the courtyard, apparently an entry for the Guinness World Records. To the left there is an “exhibition” or shop of some of the products. There wasn’t quite as much variety was we expected and they weren’t organized by size so we had to poke around quite a bit to find what we were looking for. There also aren’t any prices listed but we were told they start at $20 and go up. Compared to the hats for sale at the “Hat Museum” in Cuenca, the prices are slightly lower at the Cooperative. But they don’t come with the adjustable inner band and the choices are more limited. I suppose if you came on a guided tour you would probably also get to see more of the hat making process – which we had the opportunity to see at the museum in Cuenca.
Rather than climb the dusty road, we caught a taxi for $1.25 back to the center of town, took a peek in the Sig Sig market, and walked our way back to the bus terminal. We only had to wait 5 minutes for the bus to Cuenca to depart.
- The return trip to Cuenca from Sig Sig was at least an hour and half, and we paid $1.75 each.
If you have questions or suggestions for this day trip, we’d love to hear them in the comments below!
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