Cuenca is a vibrant colonial city in southern Ecuador, the third largest in the country with a population of 400.000, and the capital of Azuay Province. it is widely regarded as the most European city in the country of Ecuador due to its 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture resembling cities and architecture throughout Spain.
Thanks to its location in the highlands of Ecuador at about 2,500 meters Cuenca enjoys a pleasant mild climate year-round with average daily temperatures of 15 degrees.
The best way to explore the city is by foot, the charming old town is relatively small but packed with many historical buildings, churches and small cobbled streets.
Some highlights of the old town include :
The Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción also know as New Cathedral, built in 1885, is the city's main church, with its 3 beautiful sky-blue domes visible from around the city. The roof of the cathedral was recently opened to visitors, with a charge of only $1 per person. A climb up a steep spiral stone staircase leads to an excellent view over the city.
The Iglesia El Sagrario, dating back to 1557,is located right across the new cathedral and has been transformed into a museum impeccably restored where you can find life-size Jesus and the apostles, many paintings and wonderful art pieces, you can even view the very old Pipe Organ dating back from the 18th century. Worth to see with entrance fee only 2 $
Walk along the river Tomebamba which is separating the colonial section from the modern residential areas of the town of Cuenca, this river walk is known as barranco and features paved trails on both sides connected by numerous bridges. It's a great place to relax on a sunny day, have a drink in one of the many bars along the path or simply enjoy the beautiful views.
Take some amazing pictures at Turi, a viewpoint located to the south of the city. It has great views over the city both during the day and at night. There is no charge for the view, but a taxi to the viewpoint might cost a few dollars.
Cuenca boasts a huge variety of museums and art galleries and is the most important center of craft work in Ecuador. Despite its name, the Panama hat is native to Cuenca. Historically, this style of hat was exported to Panama, and then shipped internationally from there. Visit the interesting Panama Hat Museum to learn more about the hat’s production and to purchase one of your own.
In Plaza de San Francisco every day hundreds of vendors sell unique souvenirs of high quality, such as Panama Hats, leather jackets, ceramics, ponchos, scarves or traditional alpaca sweaters, which are all produced around Cuenca.
For those looking to take a break from sightseeing and have a relaxing day we recommend spending a day at the Piedra de Agua Fuente Thermal & Spa, a great place to relax and pamper yourself, located very close to the church of Banos, just 30 min away from downtown by bus n 12. It's not only a great spot on top of a hot springs, but they have a beautiful pool, massage treatment and you can get in a hot spring inside a cave! The entrance price is very reasonable and they have many promotions available.
Cuenca is also the starting point for excursions to some of the highlights of the country:
Cajas National Park is a national park in the highlands of Ecuador. It is located about 30 km west from Cuenca, here you will find many trails for hiking, several lagoons and areas for camping and enjoy the landscape. The Hike is quite tough due to high altitude, approximately 4.000 mt above sea level but it will reward you with amazing vies of nature at its best.
Ingapirca are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador, merging the Inca and Canari cultures. It makes a fabulous day-trip from Cuenca. Leave early in the morning when the weather is sunny for crisp pictures with blue skies. There is a fee you have to pay at the entrance of 6 $.
Located about 45 mins from Cuenca by car El Chorro de Giron is a 75 meters high waterfall set in an amazing area of cloud forest covered in bromeliads, orchids and soft green moss. An enjoyable hike leads up to the base of the falls where there is a viewing platform, and then you can climb a little further up the falls to a second viewing area. It can get crowded on the weekends but if you come on a weekday you may have the place all to yourself.
Cuenca used to be a sleepy, provincial city, but local youngsters and visiting tourists have turned this into a respectable little party city with a good selection of clubs open between wednesday and saturday. Calle Larga is a particularly lively street with a great concentration of bars.
There are many restaurants serving excellent national and international food at very reasonable as well as a thriving street food culture favored by backpackers on a tight budget. Many restaurants offer an affordable lunch-set menu with prices usually ranging between $2.00 - $4.00 for a three course menu.
Suggested lenght of stay : 3 days