Is Museo Pumapungo the best museum in Cuenca?

This is in no way a rhetorical question. Talk to anyone who’s been to Cuenca, and sitting right at the top of their list of museums will probably be Museo Pumapungo.

Lonely Planet calls “one of Ecuador’s most significant museums”, enthusing about how it takes you through a comprehensive tour of Ecuador’s diverse indigenous cultures. You can even see the rare tzantzas (shrunken heads) that the Shuar tribe in the Amazon is known for.

Even the guide on our hop-on-hop-off city tour bus made a point of recommending Museo Pumapungo. And (surprise, surprise) it’s one of the stops on that bus tour!

Museo Pumapungo

Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Unfortunately, I can’t personally vouch for whether Museo Pumapungo deserves the title of Best Museum in Cuenca.

It was a case of right place, wrong time for us. The museum was under renovation when we went, so all we got to see was the modern art on the ground floor and the central bank museum in the basement!

(Gratuitous Mr Bean for the win!)

Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Still, the little that we saw of the museum wasn’t too shabby. (And did I mention that it’s FREE?)

The ground floor is mostly taken up by these statutes depicting the various indigenous groups of Ecuador (above), and there’s a modern art wing to the side.

Modern art

Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

When we were there, they were having a somewhat macabre exhibition of masks.

Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Or is it just me? I scare really easily!

Money, money, money (and the history thereof)

Downstairs, you can find a pretty interesting exhibition on the history of money in Ecuador.

It goes back all the way to pre-colonial times, and you can see some of the shells and beads that were used as currency.

You can also see the coins of the Spanish colonial era, dating back all the way to the mid-17th century.

In the 1830s, Ecuador got its own currency. You can see numerous examples of the currency used by the newly-born republic and how they evolved over the years.

Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

The machine above was used to count money. I’m not sure how it works, but it seems like such fun to press all those buttons – each button denominates a different coin.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who thought so, as you can tell by the sign at the right-hand corner telling you not to touch it!

From sucres to dollars

Old sucre note, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

As I’ve mentioned before, Ecuador’s official currency today is the US Dollar. But before, it was the sucre – you can see a 10-sucre note above from the early 20th century.

It was named after the famous revolutionary Antonio José de Sucre, and you’re likely to see many streets named after him as well in South America. Although I daresay that “Bolivar” (after Simón Bolívar, another revolutionary leader) is more ubiquitous! I mean… he even has an entire country named after him! Can you guess which country that is? 😉

ANYWAY… back in Ecuador, thanks to massive inflation, the government decided to do away with the sucre altogether in 2000. (It depreciated by over 60% in 1999!)

It was an extremely painful process – many older people I met complained that their life savings dwindled overnight, thanks to the unfavourable conversion rate. Can you imagine the pain of slowly squirreling away every spare sucre over years, only to see its value evaporate?

Nowadays, the Ecuadorean government only prints its own coins, which are equal in value to their American counterparts. But, of course, only legal tender in Ecuador.

Archaeological Park

No visit to Museo Pumapungo is complete without a visit to the Archaeological Park out back – even if you get to see the museum in its glorious entirety.

(And if you do, by the way, I want to hear all about that 2nd floor exhibition I missed!!)

Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Out back are the extensive ruins of an old Incan city called Tomebamba.

It was largely destroyed by the Incan civil war between Huascar and Atahualpa shortly before the arrival of the Spanish. And, sadly, the Spanish carted away most of the stones to build Cuenca, but you can still see the buildings’ foundations.

With a bit of imagination, you can almost see what it used to look like, with the help of some nifty reconstructions like the house below!

Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

There’s signage in both Spanish and English explaining the origins of Tomebamba and the purposes of the various remnants you can still see.

The garden

But probably my favourite part is the garden, where you can take a leisurely gander.

Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Here, you can find many plants native to Ecuador. The garden is complete with signs (in Spanish) telling you about their habitats and what they are used for.

Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

There are even some random resident llamas! (Llamas are bigger than alpacas and have longer, banana-shaped ears. Sadly, I’ve yet to see an alpaca. Llamas seem to be much more common, for some reason!)

Llamas, Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

At one end of the garden, you can also find a small bird rescue centre. It houses – you guessed it – birds that are indigenous to Ecuador, such as the gorgeous scarlet macaw.

Bird rescue centre, Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

No editing required – their colours are that vibrant in real life!

Their beautiful plumage is both a blessing and a curse, though. They are highly sought-after on the black market, and this wasn’t the first time I saw them at an animal rescue centre. (AmaZOOnico near Tena also has a couple of scarlet macaws.)

According to TripAdvisor, you can get good Belgian waffles near the bird sanctuary. But with our luck being what it is, it was closed.

Even with all the closures and renovations, though, we still had a thoroughly enjoyable time at Museo Pumapungo. If I hadn’t read all about the amazing exhibit that we didn’t get to see, I’d probably have gone away with no complaints whatsoever.

So, if you’re in Cuenca, GO. Visit Museo Pumapungo, and tell me – is it the best museum in Cuenca?

Archaeological Park, Museo Pumapungo, Cuenca, Ecuador

Essential information

Address: Calle Larga between Arriaga and Huayna Capac (you can’t miss it).

Opening hours: Tues – Sat, 8am – 5.30pm

Admission: Free!

Have you ever been disappointed by a place through no fault of its own?

Click here for more Cuenca museums worth checking out.

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Museo Pumapungo is often considered the best museum in Cuenca, Ecuador. I visited at a terrible time, but there was still plenty to see. Read more at | MichWanderlust | #travel #Ecuador #Cuenca

This post is part of The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond, California Globetrotter, Toddlers on Tour, Two Traveling Texans and TravelLatte – check out what’s going on elsewhere!

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November 24, 2017 11:48 pm

I guess you can’t complain when it is free. I visited the Rodin Museum in Paris when it was under renovation. We really could only see the gardens, which was lovely. I do want to go back next time I’m in Paris. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

November 25, 2017 7:01 am

Museo Pumapungo seems to be a very cool museum to visit, but since I haven’t seen any other ones in Cuenca Ecuador, I can’t tell if it’s the best museum. I would be very curious to see the tzantzas – the shrunken heads of the Shuar tribe and see of the other artifacts. I actually saw a documentary on TV about the tzantzas and these shrunken heads looked very creepy. Seeing native plants from Ecuador would also be interesting to see. Thanks for sharing this post on #TheWeeklypostcard

November 25, 2017 9:31 am

It’s pity that the museum was closed, but the ruins look. nice. To be honest I don’t know much about Ecuador and I have never heard about the Cuenca. So thanks a lot for sharing #TheWeeklyPostcard

November 25, 2017 9:59 am

It’s amazing that you can spend probably half a day here and it’s all free! The museum looks quite interesting, especially that you can learn so many things about the history of the Incas and see an archeological park as well. Shame that the main part of the museum was closed for restoration.

Sally @ Toddlers on Tour
November 26, 2017 3:40 am

I can’t believe that archaeological site was out the back of the museum and then there was the aviary. It was as if you had visited three different places.

G. Isabelle
November 26, 2017 4:39 am

So nice to see travel bloggers covering countries such as Ecuador which isn’t covered as much. Did you see a lot of tourists when you traveled?

Linda Bibb
November 26, 2017 7:01 am

You know how people never seem to visit the tourist attractions near their homes? Yeah, that was us when we lived in Cuenca. We did visit Pumapungo and see the bird sanctuary, but the museum was closed when we were there and we never made it back. That said, I think my biggest regret from our time in Cuenca was not seeing the Crespi Collection. Father Crespi was a priest at the Church of Maria Auxiliadora and a competent archaeologist. He collected all the gifts given to him by he local Indians, who had gathered them from secret hidden places.… Read more »

November 26, 2017 7:42 am

hi. first time to visit your site. was intrigued with your ecuador posts since i havent heard much abt it in terms of travel destinations yet. btw, hgreetings from the philippines!
mind if i follow you in instagram?

Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)
November 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Ugh…we get that renovations are necessary, and really are good… but we hate it when we get someplace only to see scaffolding and Exhibit Closed signs. Sigh… what can you do? At least you got to see some of it, and it does sound very impressive! It looks quite nice also. Thanks for putting this museum on our radar, and for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Agness of a Tuk Tuk
December 22, 2017 12:32 pm

This seems like a great place to visit, Michelle. I fell in love with this museum, thanks to your post. 😉

Linda Bibb
December 27, 2017 10:09 am

We lived in Cuenca and the museum was closed whenever we were in the area. Since we left, I have learned of an intriguing collection of artifacts in Cuenca that were given to a Salesian monk named Father Crespi. The Crespi Collection has some very interesting pieces that look Babylonian, but they were gifts from local people who lived in the jungle. They said the items came from the Amazon. You should check it out; the story is both mysterious and fascinating. Anyway, I’d think whichever museum has those would be the most interesting museum in Cuenca.