Cuenca

  • Altitude: 2550 meters
  • Inhabitants: 331.888
  • Region: South-Andes

According to Ecuadorians, Cuenca is the most beautiful city in Ecuador and once you have visited Cuenca we think you will agree! Cuenca, with its 600.000 inhabitants, is the third largest city in Ecuador.  Cuenca is the cultural center of Ecuador and is located on the shores of the river Tomebamba. Cuenca with its narrow streets, beautiful plazas and picturesque cathedrals is a real competitor to the colonial part of Quito. In 1999, UNESCO named Cuenca a world heritage site.  The best way to explore this city is by foot and the best thing is that they almost don’t ask entrance fee for a lot of sights. Cuenca is famous for making and selling the Panama hat.

Walking around the center

The colonial center of Cuenca is stunning with a lot of churches, narrow streets and beautiful plazas. We recommend wandering around town, exploring these colonial wonders and soaking up the atmosphere of this relaxed city. Interesting churches:

  • Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción. Address: Parque Calderón.

  • Church of El Carmen de la Asunción. Address: Padre Aguirre, near Mariscal Sucre.

  • Church of San Francisco. Address: Padre Aguirre y Presidente Córdova.

Museums

  • The Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) is located in a special colonial building, which has been beautifully restored. The museum exhibits modern paintings which all show different techniques and styles. Address: Plaza de San Sebastian.

  • Museo del Banco Central Cuenca. This museum shows the history of both Cuenca and Ecuador. Address: Calle Larga y Av. Huayna. More info about museums: http://www.cuenca.com.ec/cultura

  • Centro Cultural Prohibido. An out of ordinary museum in the middle of the oldest neighbourhood in Cuenca. Born out of the imagination of plastic artist Eduardo Moscoso, it has a permanent exhibition of alternative art works. It also serves as a space for alternative expression genres suchs as dance, music, theater, video, sculptures, etc. Address: La Condamine 12-102, El Vado Neighbourhood.

Barrio El Vado

The oldest neighbourhood in Cuenca (1557 A.D.), situated right next to Tomebamba River, full of colonial buildings and shrouded in an air of reminiscence, visiting El Vado will make you feel like you are reliving Cuenca’s colonial history. Some old traditions are still alive on the streets such as old barber shops and hat repair shops. And, if you stand on the “City’s Balcony” you’ll be at a loss of words from the city views. You’ll be able to observe Turi’s church, Tomebamba River, and a large part of the modern city at the same time. Truly, a must-visit site. Address: Calle Larga and Loja Avenue.

Panama Hat Factory

Although the name suggests that these hats have their origin in Panama, the real origin of this straw hat can be found in Ecuador. In the past, these hats were exported to the rest of the world through Panama. The workers on the Panama channel started wearing these high quality hats to protect them from the sun and so the hat became associated with Panama instead of Ecuador. Cuenca is a major base for the production of these hats and the interesting history and the making of this hat is shown in the Panama Hat Factory. Address Calle Larga 10-41 y Padre Aguirre.

National Park El Cajas

El Cajas is a beautiful national park filled with lakes. There are multi-day routes and half-day or day hikes that you can do with a guide. It is also possible to do fishing and bird-watching in this area. The nature in El Cajas is part of the páramo, which means high-altitude Andean grasslands. An interesting site is the Loma de las Tres Cruces (Hill of Three Crosses); this is one of the highest parts of the park where you can find the partition between the water torrents that go to the Amazon and those that move to the Pacific Ocean. We recommend bringing warm clothes because it can be quite cold here. On your drive from or to Guayaquil you pass through this park as well.

Villages Gualaceo, Chordeleg and Sigsig

We recommend visiting these villages on a Sunday, when the markets fill the streets. In Gualaceo you can find Ikat weavings and the special cotton shawls that make this village famous. Chordeleg is famous for its jewelry and the village of Sigsig is best known for its Panama hats. To get to the villages take a bus from Cuenca´s main bus terminal, Terminal Terrestre or go on a private tour.

Click on the following link for more activities and tours: Cuenca

Insiders´ tips

  • If you don’t feel like walking you could take a city tour of Cuenca by bus. The bus drives all the way up to the Mirador El Turi, a beautiful lookout point. There are many bus routes that you can choose from. Address Parque Calderon. More info: http://www.cuenca.com.ec/rutas-recomendadas

  • Flower market. This market shows some of the most beautiful and colorful flowers of the region. Address Plazoleta del Carmen.

  • Visit the art galleries at the following streets: Presidente Borrero, Hermano Miguel and Mariano Cueva.

  • In Cuenca the evenings are nice and relaxed, there is a real outdoor culture and the social life mostly takes place on the streets. Ecuador has a rich salsa culture and in Cuenca you won´t miss out on this. In some restaurants after dinner, the tables will be placed to one side to make room for a dance floor and a night full of salsa.

  • On the south side of the river you can see the local Indígenas of Cuenca doing their laundry. They let their clothes dry in the grass. Here you can get a picture taken of you in traditional costumes of Cuenca, with of course the Panama hat.

  • Try the delicious ice cream of TuttoFreddo, an ice-cream shop that can be found on several spots in Cuenca, including Plaza San Blas.

Restaurant tips

  • Café Eucalyptus. Café Eucalyptus is an international restaurant that has tapas, fish, meat and also Thai and Indian dishes. They often offer live music and in the evening have salsa nights including performances. Address Gran Colombia 9-41 y Benigno Malo. More info: www.cafeeucalyptus.com

  • Mangiari Benne Restaurant. Delicious Italian restaurant. Address Estévez de Toral 8-91 y Simon Bolívar. More info: +593-7-2826-233

  • Tiestos. Great restaurant that serves dishes with a traditional Cuenca touch. Address Juan Jaramillo 4-89 y Mariano Cueva. More info: www.tiestosrestaurante.com

  • Todos Santos. This restaurant is located in an old convent. Next to it is an old bakery. Address Calle Larga 5-19 y Mariano Cueva. More info: +593-7-2837-299.

Medical attention

  • Hospital Clinica Bolivar. Address Simon Bolivar 13-13 y Montalvo. More info: +593-7-2842-126 or +593-7-2845-782.

  • Hospital Clinica Latinoamérica. Address Av. 3 de Noviembre 3-5 y Unidad Nacional. More info: +593-7-2846-666 or +593-7-2837-114.