Cuenca is a sizeable Ecuadorian city located in the Southern Andean region of the country. It is situated in the province of Azuay, and sits at 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) above sea level. This place has a very relaxed feel to it, and there is plenty to keep you occupied in and around the city of Cuenca for several days. A trip just to the city itself could be done in a day or two, but if you want to see more of the surrounding area you might want to stay for another couple of days. This Cuenca travel guide provides you with everything you need to know to enjoy your trip to Cuenca, a beutiful city that should be part of every tour of Ecuador.
One of the real highlights of visiting Cuenca is wandering around the center of the city. This area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a result of the many colonial buildings that can be found here. This aside, another of the highlights is the bustling Mercado 9 de Octubre, a busy, colorful local market that is open every day. Here you can get some great photographs and generally enjoy the sights and sounds of local life in the city.
There is plenty to do in Cuenca. You might start your visit to Parque Abdon Calderon, in the center of the city. As well as being a lovely place to relax for a while, you can also visit the new cathedral flanking the square. Don’t miss the old cathedral either!
You may also want to visit one of the several museums in Cuenca. Pumpapungo in particular is worth a mention, as its exhibits chart indigenous people in Ecuador. There are also Canari ruins to the back of the building. Remigio Crespo Toral Museum houses a range of art and ceramics on display, while there is also the Municipal Museum of Modern Art as well.
Once you’re done with all that you may want to head up to the mirador of Turi, from where you can enjoy a fabulous view of the city. Finally, taking a look at La Calle Larga and Tomebamba River may also be worthwhile – at the former to enjoy the nightlife, and at the latter to photograph the scenery, or take a relaxing walk.
Cuenca benefits from a pleasant, warm climate all year around. It is generally warmer and wetter between the months of October and May, and colder but drier between June and September.
You are likely to find more visitors in Cuenca in the high season for tourists, which is between June and September (and also around Christmas and New Year). However, the town is somewhat quiet, and it is unlikely to feel “packed” with tourists at any point during the year.
Cuenca celebrates its independence from the Spanish on the 3 rd of November every year. This day is a national public holiday, and in Cuenca it is celebrated with street parties and parades.
Cuenca can be accessed in a variety of different ways. It is possible to fly to Cuenca from Quito. You can also reach Cuenca via bus from the capital city, though the journey is at least eight hours. You might also take a bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca, which takes 4 hours. Many visitors get to Cuenca via private transportation however, usually on a private tour. Many tours of the Ecuadorian highlands also include the Southern Andean city of Cuenca.
As well as things to do in the city itself, there are also many nearby attractions that can be easily visited from Cuenca. The top attractions nearby are described below.
Gualaceo - Gualaceo is a great spot for a visit, and trips are often combined with a stop at Chordeleg (below). The central park is very pretty, and there is an open market where there is plenty of fresh produce for sale. You can also enjoy a picnic by the river here.
Chordeleg - Chordeleg is a small town not far from Cuenca which is best known for its jewelry industry, particularly in silver, but there are some gold items too. As well as visiting some of the shops, it is very pleasant to spend some time in the central square watching everyday life passing you by.
Baños de Cuenca - Not to be confused with the town Banos, in the Central Andean region, Baños de Cuenca does also boast hot springs. But Banos de Cuenca is much more understate, and less visited than its namesake. It is well worth stopping off for a dip in the relaxing hot springs here.
Cajas National Park - About 20 miles (30km) to the west of Cuenca is the stunning Cajas National Park. Here, you can enjoy a stunning jagged tundra landscape, dotted with glistening blue lagoons. This is an excellent place to spend some time hiking, and if you are lucky you might even get to spot some of the wildlife, such as a condor. This is also an excellent spot for climbing, fishing and birdwatching.
Ingapirca - Ingapirca is a small town outside Cuenca where the best Inca ruins in Ecuador can be found. These can be visited on a day trip from Cuenca. While the ruins are not comparable to Peru’s Machu Picchu, they are nonetheless of interest. The main feature is the Temple of the Sun. Other points of interest include a reconstructed house where you can get an idea of daily life here. There is a small museum as well, with relics of interest, including a skeleton that was found at the site.
As a sizeable city, Cuenca offers plenty of accommodation options for both budget and high end travelers alike. Some of our favorites include the Mansion Alcazar Boutique Hotel at the top end, and the Hotel Inca Real, which is a good mid-range option.
For a real taste of treats that the locals enjoy in Cuenca, why not head to Mercado 9 de Octubre. This is a very big indoor market which is open every day. Here you can find vendors selling delicious Andean treats, such as caldo de patas (cow foot soup) for example. For the less adventurous, a trip to the El Che Restaurant, themed after Che Guevara may be of interest to you.
One of our Insider recommendations for your time in Cuenca is to buy a Panama hat while you are here. Homero Ortega and Sons have been producing Panama hats for many years (they come from Ecuador, not Panama!) and you can enjoy a tour of the hat factory too. Also, it is worth noting that in 2020, Cuenca will celebrate 200 years of independence from the Spanish, and celebrations are likely to be bigger here at that time.
Ecuador and Galapagos Insiders offer tours that include a visit to Cuenca, or we can organize a customized tour suited to your specific needs and preferences that visits the places you want to go. We also offer a tour that takes in Cuenca and the surrounding area. Contact us to find out more.