Updated May 14th, 2019.
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, cobblestone 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. There’s plenty of events on offer most nights of the week (though, Monday through Wednesday is pretty quiet). Music workshops, theatre productions, language classes, and artist collectives are all available.
Without a doubt, this place runs at a slower pace. 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 photo opportunities around every corner.
Where to Stay in Cuenca
There are loads of accommodation options in Cuenca for budget travellers and here are just a few of the most popular options…
Hostal Restaurant La Cigale: This cosy place is the main hangout for backpackers in town. A welcoming central plaza offers delicious meals and offers a great place to chat with others over a glass of wine. Rooms are simple but comfortable and bed in a dormitory is just $8 US per night.
Bauhouse Backpacker Hostel: Unique and modern, this fantastic hostel located in the heart of the old city is all about clean lines and simple design. Beds here are a steal at just $7 US per night. Breakfast is included in the price and there’s a well equipped shared kitchen for those of you who want to cook their own food.
La Casa Cuencana: This 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. Dorm beds $8 US per night.
Check out more accommodation in Cuenca here.
Things to do in Cuenca:
Visit the Nearby Hotsprings:
Located just 30 minutes outside of Cuenca is the parish of Baños, named for its 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 US dollars.
The hot springs outside of Cuenca, the perfect place to relax for a day!
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.
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 colourful photos.
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 river’s edge and sunbathe on the large boulders lining the waters.
Visit the Ancient Incan Ruins or Ingapirca
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 once played an important role in both religious and military Incan life. The best thing about the historical site? Unlike other Incan ruins – there’s no-one here!
Click here to Book a Tour of Ingapirca.
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 33 kilometres from Cuenca (about a 45-minute drive) this incredible National Park is well worth a visit. Known for having more than 768 lakes, many waterfalls, great hiking trails, and wildlife spotting opportunities, it’s a nature lover’s paradise and a great escape from the city. To get there, you can take the local bus or you can organise a day trip from a travel agency in town. We’d recommend Cuenca Bestours for their knowledgeable student guides who can teach you so much about the area. You can read more about Cajas National Park here.
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