Culture and class ooze from this church speckled colonial city. One of the most sophisticated places in Ecuador, this is where you’ll find charming cafes, cobble stone streets dotted with markets, and a spectacular display of Andean culture.
Located high in the Andes, Cuenca is a bit of an artistic enclave meaning there will be plenty of sights to feast your eyes on. There’s a church practically around every corner and four separate rivers running through and around the city. In addition to nature there’s plenty of events on offer most nights of the week (though Monday through Wednesday is pretty quite). Music workshops, theater productions, language classes, and artist collectives are all available.
Without a doubt this place runs at a slower place. A hub for American retirees Cuenca can get rowdy on the weekends, but overall the name of the game is sophistication, delicious dinners, and incredible photography opportunities around every corner.
Places to Stay:
- La Casa Cuencana: This cozy and sunny spot is quite a find for backpackers on a budget. Rooms are clean, bright, and charming with polished wooden floors and beds that promise a good nights sleep.
- La Cigale: This cozy spot is the main hangout for backpackers in town. A welcoming central plaza offers delicious meals and a great place to chat with others over a glass of wine. Rooms are simple but comfortable.
- Bauhouse Hostel and Bar: Unique and modern this hostel located in the heart of the old city is all about clean lines and simple design.
Things to do:
- Visit the Hotsprings: Located just 30 minutes outside of Cuenca is the parish of Baños, named for it’s therapeutic springs sourced by volcanic heat. The town has plenty of places to jump into the soothing waters and soak yourself silly. We chose La Piedra de Aguas where we got all day access into the main pool and steam room for only 10 dollars.
The hotsprings outside of Cuenca, the perfect place to relax for a day!
- Museums Galore: Cuenca is a hotbed of culture meaning that there are plenty of museums dedicated to the UNESCO world heritage city’s rich history. Some of the bests include Museo de Arte Moderno, Museo de la Culturas Aborigines, Casa de la Cultura, and Museo de las Conceptas.
Ancient pottery at ‘El Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes’
- Stroll through the Central Market: This is a great place to catch a glimpse of Andean life at it’s best. There are a couple trinkets for sale, however the main affair is a plethora of produce. Go to try some new fruits and vegetables and to take a collection of colorful photos.
Cuenca’s bustling central market
- Hang out by Rio Tomebamba: This is the closest of Cuenca’s four rivers to the old city. Fast flowing opaque water is an absolutely stunning backdrop to the red roofed tiled houses of the city. Take a book down to the rivers edge and sunbathe on the large boulders lining the waters.
Rio Tomebamba the perfect place to catch some sun
- Check out Some Ancient Incan Ruins: Day trips outside the city can take you to Ingapirca a collection of the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador. The complex is situated around a large circular sun temple and played an important role in both religious and military Incan life.
- Grab a Drink at Café Eucalyptus: This great café offers a range of different dishes, from Asian to the more standard Western fair. The best part? Ladies get two free glasses of Sangria or wine of Wednesdays. Sorry boys.
- Visit El Cajas National Park: Located a mere 30 kilometers from Cuenca this incredible National Park is well worth a visit. Known for having more than 275 lakes, many waterfalls, great hiking trails, and fishing opportunities.
Getting There and Away:
- Buses from Guayaquil will take around three and a half hours.
- From Quito the ride will take about seven hours.
- If you are crossing the border and coming from Mancora, Peru, the journey takes eight to ten hours.
Where to head next:
- Peru: It’s easy to cross the border at Tumbes and head into Peru, most people choose to stop in Mancora a surf and party hotspot on Peru’s northern coast.
- Vilcabamba: This expat hub boasts aliens, orbs of energy, and a whole lot of beautiful mountains. Something that must be seen to be believed.
- Baños: Head north to this beautiful town where the mountains meet the jungle.
By Tyler Protano-Goodwin