This picturesque colonial city in Southern Ecuador is often a pit stop for travellers travelling to and from Peru. Often known as “The popular retirement town”. Cuenca is located in a valley crossed by mountains. Four main rivers Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Machangra and Tarqui crosses through the city.
Here are some key things to do to in Cuenca.
Visit The Old and The New Cathedral of Cuenca:
El Sagrario, the Old Cathedral of Cuenca was constructed in 1557, the same year that the town of Cuenca was found. The colonial styled city homes on the cobbled streets complete with balconies decorated with iron edges, spectacular courtyards, breathtaking parks and beautiful churches, have secured Cuenca as one of the popular attractions in Ecuador.
The Baroque Revival style architected Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception often known as The new Cathedral of Cuenca was opened in 1975. The cathedral is surmounted by three giant domes covered by striking blue and white glazed tile from Czechoslovakia. Its facade is made of alabaster and local marble, while the floor is covered with pink marble, brought from Carrara in Italy.
Walk a Museum Mile:
Cuenca houses over 16 museums around its historic centre. Most depict the history, culture and the way of living of the indigenous people. Most museums offer free entrance to visitors. Click here to see some recommendations.
See The Beauty of Cuenca from View Point:
Mirador Turi is a quick escape from the centre of the bustling Cuenca. Turi sits atop a steep hill, providing gorgeous vistas of the city lights below and the mountains that surround it. It’s best enjoyed at sunset. There are a total of 439 steps. Each flight is 12 stairs with a landing in between. Alternatively, you can flag down a bus with “TURI” written on it which would drop you right on the mirador for 30 Cents.
Immerse Yourself in Nature at Cajas National Park:
Cajas National Park is located within the mountain chain of Ecuadorian Andes, 35 kilometres away from Cuenca. This picturesque national park has several activities and 12 trails for the recreation of which 8 are quite arduous while 4 are easily doable. There are no entrance fees. Transporte Occidental has a frequent service from Cuenca to Cajas, tickets can be purchased from the office or in the bus for USD 2. The bus leaves from the Terminal Terrestre as well as from their office on the Southern Station near Feria Libre.
Visit the Hot Springs:
The parish of Baños is 8 kilometres away from the centre of Cuenca. Baños as the name suggests the place is known for its hot spring pools with waters full of minerals and medicinal properties.
Bus 12 from the intersection of 12 de Abril and Solano avenues gets to Baños and would cost 30 Cents.
Take a day trip to nearby villages:
Sigsig, Chordeleg and Gualceo are known for their open-air artisan markets. Each of these towns is located in the mountains that surround Cuenca, about an hour outside Cuenca. There are frequent bus services from Cuenca’s terminal terrestre and its costs USD 2 to get there. Sigsig express is among the few which leaves every hour from Cuenca to Sigsig with stops in Gualaceo and Chordeleg.
Gualaceo: Gualaceo’s main attractions are its orchid farms. Gardens here have thousands of species of orchids, including a large variety of hybrid species. During weekends Gualaceo gets lively with the weekend market where craftsmen sell everything from typical products of the region to traditional food.
Apart from buses going to Chordeleg and Sigsig, Santiago de Gualaceo and Santa Barbara busses leave from Cuenca every 15 mins and it costs 0.80 cents.
Chordeleg: Chordeleg is known for its filigree jewellery. Its reputation for ornate, silver jewellery has grown so much that large replicas of their famous earrings hang from the lampposts. Chordeleg is characterized by its ceramic manufacturing too.
Chordeleg is six kilometres away from Gualaceo. Express Sigsig and Flota Canepa serve frequent service from and to Cuenca and the ride costs USD 1.
Sigsig: Sigsig is popular for paja toquilla hats, known to many as straw hats or Panama Hats. In 2012 UNESCO declared them to have Intangible Cultural Heritage. Cueva Negra de Chobsi and Castillo De Duma are two historic sights in town, to get there you would have to hire a camioneta (a pickup truck taxi) for USD 1 per person.
Express Sigsig has regular service from Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre, it costs USD 1.75 to get there.
Check out the Ruins:
Ruinas de Pumapungo:
The ruins of Pumapungo is the largest ensemble of archaeological Incas Ingapirca south. It represents a recognition of the values of the Inka Kanari or that have left a lasting imprint of their identity in the city of Cuenca and its surroundings.
The ruins are made up of terraces where crops are grown related to sun worship and spiritual ascension represented the Incas.
At the bottom of Pumapungo, there is an entrance to a tunnel more than a hundred feet long and served as a mausoleum to symbolise the underworld, home of the wacas and the spirits of the ancestors.
Ruinas de Pumapungo is located at the end of the Calle Larga, next to “Banco Nacional”. There are no entrance fees both to the museum and the ruin.
Ingapirca ruins are in an archaeological complex that represents a fusion of Cañari and Inca architecture. The complex was built by Cañari nation as a religious and housing centre. Later Tupac Yupanqui, an Incan conqueror built a ceremonial and a religious complex when he conquered it.
Ingapirca Ruins are roughly 80 Kms away from Cuenca. There are two buses every day from Monday to Friday from Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre they leave at 0900 and 1220 HRS and returns at 1300 and 1545 HRS. On weekends bus leaves at 0900 HRS and returns at 1300 HRS. Its operated by Cooperativa Cañar and stops right at the entrance of the complex. It costs USD 3.50 for a one-way ride.
There is an entrance fee of USD 6 which would include a guide and a visit to the museum.
If you are craving for Indian, Chinese or Arabian cuisines while in Cuenca, visit Calle Larga. Calle Larga is just a few blocks away from the centre of the city and has several restaurants serving cuisines from around the world which made Cuenca a gastronomic city in the country. Click here to see the list of Indian restaurants in the city.
Maduro con Queso barbecued banana with cheese is a popular street food of Ecuador and could be found widely in Cuenca. A freshly barbecued banana with cheese would cost 75 cents.