The Christmas Parade In Cuenca

They call it “Pase del Niño Viajero. The English translation is “the Passage of the traveling child” and of course refers to Jesus and his parents, Joseph and Mary. This is the Christmas parade in Cuenca, and it is a really big deal to the citizens. It draws visitors from all over Ecuador.

It is held on December 24th (Christmas Eve) and takes up most of the day. Everyone wants to participate, and most of them do! Can you imagine attending a parade in the US that takes all day? I never heard of one. That is one of the very cool things about Latin America. They celebrate everything!

Christmas Parade in Cuenca - One of the Three Kings from the Orient
One of the Three Kings from the Orient

Latin American Countries Have More Reasons For Parades

In the USA, we have one independence day. When we were living in Panama they had two, both of which were in November. One of them was Colombia’s independence from Spain. This is because Panama was part of Colombia for a long time. Later, Panama declared its independence from Colombia and has been an independent country ever since.

During the same week as the two independence days, Panama also celebrates the “Day of Death”. I never really understood that one, but still they essentially took the entire week off, and we had 3 parades. All 3 parades looked and sounded very similar. And the bands all practiced for about 6 months before that week. You could hear them in various parts of the community.

We Took a Trip But Weren’t Going To Miss the Parade

We wanted to see our granddaughter, Haley for Christmas, but the travel from Houston to Cuenca was a nightmare that took over 24 hours and at least 2 stops. So we came up with a better plan. We purchased a Southwest Airlines ticket for her from Houston to Cancun. And we took a bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil, Ecuador and then caught a flight from Guayaquil to Cancun. Hers was nonstop, but ours changed planes in Panama City. We spent 4 days with her in Cozumel and then we both made it back home by the 24th.

Our round trip bus trips were anything but routine. Guayaquil is on the Pacific Coast, so it is at sea level. Cuenca is at 8,500 feet. In between Guayaquil and Cuenca is part of the Andes Mountains. We reached 13,500 feet during the trip. And clouds were trying to make their way east over the mountains, so we had to drive through them. But that didn’t stop the bus drivers from driving 70 mph on twisty roads through the fog.

With all that, we arrived on time, got a good night’s sleep, and went downtown to see the Christmas parade in Cuenca on Christmas Eve. I have tons of photos and videos. Like I said earlier, the entire town is either in the parade or watching the parade. It was one of the highlights of our 3-month stay in Ecuador. Here are a few of my photos.

Christmas Parade in Cuenca - Girl in beautiful blue dress sitting on a horse

We hung around downtown for several hours watching the parade, and as we were walking back to our apartment, we saw the little girl in blue on the horse. We gave her a $1 tip for her beautiful picture, then headed back home.

What’s This, Another Parade?

The end of this story occurred about a week later. We were catching the bus from our apartment to El Centro. On the way, we passed another parade. We asked them what this parade was about. The other riders told us it was Pase del Niño. We were confused since that was the same name as the Christmas Eve parade. But they quickly explained that this was now baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary leaving Jerusalem to go back home. This parade was totally different. These were mostly cars with lots of decorations, wild colors, and much honking.

More Background About Cuenca

Cuenca Ecuador is a wonderful place to visit, and many North Americans are living there full time.  This makes it very easy to get comfortable.  Our first landlord knew or was known by almost every expat in Cuenca.  She showed us the ropes and introduced us to many people.  We stayed with her for almost a month before finding what we thought would be our “permanent” apartment.  I always have to be careful using that word, because it seemed like permanent meant 3 months or less for the first 3 years of our retirement.  We were too busy having fun and adventures to think about settling down.

Cuenca is known as the “Cultural Capital of Ecuador”. It is a town of about 500,000 so it is much smaller than Medellin. And even though it is very close to the Equator, at 8,500 feet it is about 10 degrees cooler than Medellin.  That was just enough to be uncomfortable for us and was the main reason we decided to keep looking after our 3-month tourist visa expired.  But otherwise, Cuenca is well worth a visit, and you might even decide to stay a while!  If you are there at Christmas time, don’t miss the Christmas parade in Cuenca.

High Altitude Living

As high as the altitude is in Cuenca, it is surrounded by much higher mountains, many lakes and waterfalls, and beautiful scenery everywhere you look.  And the cost of living is amazingly low – a very easy place in which to live on your Social Security alone.  One day, we hired a driver who took us on a wonderful drive in the country.  He took us to a lake, a very popular and fast-moving waterfall, past a cozy village with the required main square church, and then back home.  Our friends Geoff and Joy Catron were visiting and they joined us for the day trip.

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Steve and Paulette Tuggle

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7 thoughts on “The Christmas Parade In Cuenca”

  1. Hey Joseph, Thanks for your visit and taking the time to share your thoughts.  We had heard a great deal about Cuenca at Christmastime, and it did not disappoint.  We have so many awesome photos.  It takes a little doing to get there, but Cuenca is really beautiful.

    They have an interesting tradition that I had never heard of.  On New Year’s Eve, the vendors sell what they call “Effigy dolls”.  The dolls come in all sizes and some of them look very realistic.  You buy the doll, write on it everything bad that happened to you the past year, and then you and your friends get together on a street and set the doll on fire!  There were fires all over the place with a few people standing around watching.

  2. Hi Tamara. I just want to echo Paulette’s thanks for your visit. I wanted to reply to your comment about communities of English-speaking Americans. We lived 1 1/2 years in Boquete, Panama. It is in the mountains at about 3,000 feet. It is a small community of only about 30,000 people of which 6,000 are North Americans. The air is very clean, and the elevation cools everything off. It rains a lot at certain times (especially April, October, and November. But everything grows there including some of the best coffee in the world. Check it out on the web. You can also read my article.


  3. Hi Tamara!

    It was very good to hear from you, and I wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts.  We have had a wonderful time in our adventures, but I am glad to be settled in Medellin now.  I wanted to reassure you that you can live comfortably and safely outside of North America. Our means were limited also, and we have been delighted to be able to live on our social security.  I would advise you to begin learning a little Spanish.  It is always good to be able to give the taxi or bus driver an address, be able to order food, or pay for your groceries.  We also rely heavily on our Google Translator.  We have a facilitator we pay to accompany us for any legal, banking or medical issues we do not think we can handle ourselves

    There are many things to do and see in a new country, but if you become bored with day to day living, there are many volunteer opportunities.  There are social events where you can meet other expat men and women that are living abroad. Our friend started an expat Coffee on Tuesday mornings, and just started a group for single women of a Senior age to socialize and travel safely in South America.   Your expat friends tend to become your family and confidants – it helps to be able to have someone to ask questions and hang out with occasionally.

    I won’t tell you that our travels have been all roses by any means.  The culture shock is difficult, and you long for items of comfort from home.  But if you are prepared for the differences ahead of time – it will be more fun.  Ease of living in Medellin is one of the reasons I like it here so much.  It is a big city with many comforts.

    Thank you again for your comments.  Please keep in touch and ask any questions you may have.  Enjoyed the chat!

  4. This Christmas parade looks like a lot of fun.  An all day parade is certainly the way to go.  It’s nice when the people enjoy celebrating so much.  It is contagious.

    That sounds like quite a bus trip from Guayaquil to Cuenca going through the Andes.  Quite a change in elevation.  That must have been an interesting experience driving on a bus through the clouds.  

    Christmas Eve in Cuenca sounds likes quite an affair.  I really enjoyed your photos of the event.  It sounds like the cultural capital of Ecuador is well worth visiting.

  5. Edwin, thank you for taking the time from your day to visit my site and read my latest article.  I really appreciate it when a reader gives a little of themselves to make my site better for the next person.  The people all over Latin America take their celebrations very seriously.  And with respect to all the celebrations, I will tell you one of the recommendations we received.  Never live close to a church or park!

    Most of the churches have very large and loud bells that will start ringing very early on Sundays and holidays.  And if that wasn’t enough, members will often set off fireworks just to make sure everyone is awake!  Many of the parks have Zumba and other groups that play very loud music at all times of the day and late into the evening.

    Yes, Cuenca is slightly south of the Equator.  But just like here in Medellin, the weather doesn’t change that much as the seasons change.  The primary change is between rainy and dry seasons.

    We were very fortunate to have such a beautiful day for the parade.  Thanks for the compliments on the pictures and videos.  I hope you will one day have the chance to visit and perhaps even live in this part of the world.


  6. Hi Steve (and Paulette),

    Christmas in Cuenca looks absolutely beautiful; everyone celebrating the holiday in bright, colorful costumes. The girl on her horse was wearing an exquisite dress! And the twins in pink were darling. What a great experience!

    The parade lasts all day! What about feasts or other traditions throughout the day?

    I am fascinated with the idea of retiring to a Latin American city when my time for retirement arrives (which is not that far off). As a tail-end boomer, I have another decade to work, save, decide. I’d never even considered the idea until I read your articles The Christmas Parade in Cuenca and Americans living in Medellin. I don’t speak much Spanish, but if there are communities of English-speaking North Americans living in the places you’ve suggested, I bet I could get along fine. And I love the idea of clean air, affordable rent, open markets, walking everywhere, and experiencing new friendships and opportunities. 

    The concern over how to financially survive (and enjoy life) when I retire is very real. I’m divorced, so will need to live on my own social security and whatever I’ve managed to save and can earn through blogging. Your posts You Can Retire on Social Security – Just not in the USA and 10 Cheapest Countries to Retire without leaving the Americas were most enlightening and provided me with specific pros and cons to various places. 

    Your entire website is devoted to sharing opinions based on personal experience (which counts for a lot) and solid research. Thanks for creating a spark of true interest in me! 

    I look forward to more information,


  7. Your story about parades and celebrations in Latin America was very engaging. I believe that Cuenca is in the Southern Hemisphere right? Isn’t Christmas in the summer? I feel that lends itself to outdoor parades and celebrations. 

    The colorful costumes and blue sky with white clouds made a perfect pictorial combination. You took pictures that captured the occasions perfectly. 

    Thanks for sharing. 

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