Museo del Banco Central ‘Pumapungo’

Top choice in Cuenca

One of Ecuador's most significant museums, Pumapungo houses great modern art downstairs, but the highlight is on the 2nd floor. Here begins a comprehensive voyage through Ecuador's diverse indigenous cultures, with colorfully animated dioramas and reconstructions of typical houses of Afro-Ecuadorians from Esmeraldas province, the cowboy-like montubios (coastal farmers) of the western lowlands, several rainforest groups and all major highland groups.

The finale features rare and eerie tzantzas (shrunken heads) from the Shuar culture of the southern Oriente. The Shuar supposedly shrunk the heads of their enemies to harness their spirit for strength in future battles. Included in your visit is the Archaeological Park out back, where you can walk through the extensive ruins of buildings believed to be part of the old Incan city of Tomebamba. Unfortunately, the Spanish conquistadors carted off most of the stone to build Cuenca, so there’s not much left – but the park is good for a stroll, with perhaps a stop at the snack bar at the bottom.