In Cuenca, Ecuador you can do a tour of the city, admire its colonial quarters and squares, visit the Turi viewpoint, get to know the cap straw hat factory and travel to the nearby tourist attractions such as: Cajas National Park and the Ingapirca Ruins. We would like to show you the best activities Cuenca has to offer, with the hope that you fit them in your calendar.
Declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, Cuenca is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador, rich in history, architecture and culture. It is a reknown tourist destination in both Ecuador and internationally. Therefore, it is a place you cannot miss when you come to visit Ecuador.
Cover photo by: Albert Dezetter
The weather in Cuenca
The weather in Cuenca, as in the rest of the country has two seasons: rainy and dry. The hottest time of year is from March to mid May, which is when we recommend you visit. The temperature in Cuenca varies from 14°C to 18°C, and rarely goes beyond 19°C.
What to wear?
In the day, a t-shirt or light sweater is fine in Cuenca, however in the evening and at night we recommend a coat. On the other hand, if you are going to visit Cajas National Park, you will need a coat and waterproof, as well as walking boots.
Wear to stay in Cuenca?
We highly recommend Cuenca’s historical center as an area to stay in as you will be near the main attractions of the city. If you stay in the Historical Center, you will be close to the city’s cultural treasures. In San Sebastián for instance there are many hotels and hostels.
Is Cuenca worth a visit?
Our answer is yes! Cuenca is a city that posses architectural wealth, from where the name “the Athens of Ecuador” comes from. It was named as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1999 by UNESCO. Cuenca is considered to be a destination of excellence, with a wide cultural agenda and fabulous gastronomy on offer.
Is Cuenca safe?
Cuenca is a very safe destination. You can walk around the city without any issues. However, it is always wise to take basic precautions and have common sense about.
What to do in Cuenca in one day
Cuenca is a place where you need at least one full day to get to know it. However, if you extend your stay you will have no regrets as there are many destinations in the surrounding areas of this beautiful city, and you would need at least 3 days to get to know them. On the other hand, if you only one day in Cuenca, this is what you can do.
Cuenca City Tour
If your time in Cuenca is limited, we recommend you take the Cuenca City Tour where you will see some of the most important places in the city. The tour leaves every day and picks up from the main hotels in the city. The tour lasts 4 hours and visits the following places:
San Sebastián Neighbourhood
San Sebastián is a distinguished neighbourhood in Cuenca, as it was one of the first ones of the city. It is characterised by being the home of craftsmanship dedicated to pottery, tile making and tailoring, and in spite of the passing of time, it has conserved the characteristics of a traditional neighbourhood, in which there is a wonderful social cohesion.
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is located in the San Sebastián neighbourhood. This impressive museum has a permanent contemporary art exhibition, as well as temporary exhibitions from from national and foreign artists. Works of art from the International Painting Biennal are exhibited here as it is the head quarters. The museum is open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday and Sunday.
Calderón Park is the main park in Cuenca. It is located on the roads of Simón Bolívar, Benigno Malo, Antonio José de Sucre and Luis Cordero. Nearby to the park you can find: the Government building, two cathedrals, the old seminary and the Palace of Justice, showcasing the park’s importance.
Plaza de las Flores
La Plaza de las Flores (Flores Square) is located in the heart of Cuenca’s historical center and is recommended for market lovers and of course, flower lovers. It is an open air market in which you can enjoy a huge variety of flowers, their colours and their smell. This open air market is world renown and is located next to the Monastery of Carmen de la Asunción.
Church of the shrine (Old Cathedral)
The Church of the Shrine, also known as the Old Cathedral of Cuenca is located opposite
Calderón park, in the city center. The church has a structure typical of a colonial basilica and is known for its magnificent gold leaf paintings and its fantastic organ with bellows. The Religious Art Museum is located inside the museum. Visiting hours are 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays.
Catedral of Immacute Conception (New Cathedral)
The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, also known as the New Cathedral is a catholic church of gothic, romanesque and renaissance style. It has three domes that protrude from the roof and was inspired by the San Pedro Basilica in Rome. It is the most representative religious symbol of Cuenca and is located in front of the main square. The cathedral can be spotted from all corners of Cuenca. Once inside, you can go up the 150 spiral staircase up to the New Cathedral’s terrace and enjoy a stunning view.
Barranco is an area of semi-detached houses on the banks of the Tomebamba river, and stretches 2 km from El Vado bridge to Huayna Capac Avenue. It has a spectacular view of the Tomebamba river, where you can find many cafes and restaurants to enjoy a divine evening.
Turi Viewpoint offers panoramic views over the Tomebamba river. Turi is the name of a Cuencan parish, that “comes from the indegenous kuri language, meaning gold” (Fundación Turismo Cuenca, 2019). The viewpoint is located 10 minutes from the city and from there you can enjoy impressive views of Cuenca. In this area, it’s also possible to visit Aventuri, a park in which you can swing over a gorge.
Visit the cap straw hat factory
One of the charms of the Azuay province and its capital is the creation of hats with the fibre named cap straw, in the hands of craftsmen who pass this tradition on from generation to generation. For this reason, it is essential that you visit the factory that is over 60 years old and is now a museum. There, you will appreciate the production process and the finalised traditional hats. You can even buy one if you wish! This activity is also included in the Cuenca City Tour.
Once you have finished the Cuenca City Tour, you could add a visit to the Central Bank Museum, Las Conceptas Museum and the Museum of Aboriginal Cultures among others.
Cuenca Walking Tour
Free Walking Tour is a fantastic way of getting to know Cuenca. These guided visits take place every day, and the meeting point is at 10am under the flags in Calderón park. In this tour, you can walk through the city while a professional tour guide will tell you about the history of Cuenca, as well as its culture, architecture and traditions. This service is endorsed by legalling conforming tour operators which guarantees your visit to be unforgettable.
What to eat in Cuenca?
If you are in Cuenca, you have to try the food there, and thus one the many dishes made using mote (a type of corn), an essential ingredient in Cuencan cooking. You will find restaurants, shops and markets selling dishes such as: mote pillo, mote sucio, mote casado, mote pata, among many others. We are sure that Cuencan cooking will surprise you!
What to do in Cuenca at night?
Don’t forget to enjoy Cuenca’s nightlife with all its restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. One of the areas with the greatest concentration of these places is known as Calle Larga. You can also pay a visit to the El Vado are (the first raised neighbourhood in Cuenca), where themed cultural centers exist and where you can appreciate the development of the professional trades. Similarly, in Remigio Crespo Toral avenue, know as “La Remigio”, you will also discover a series of restaurants serving both Ecuadorian and international food as many trendy pubs.
Wherever you go, don’t forget to have a locally produced beer in the bar of the city.
At night, you can also enjoy the famous broken bridge, the oldest in the city and the same one that was re-inaugurated with a new structure in 1961 after the Tomebamba broke its banks (the most important of the four rivers that flow through Cuenca) which destroyed part of this heritage site in 1950.
We recommend you wander the streets of Cuenca at night and soak in the nocturnal atmosphere. Let yourself be surprised with the majesty of the its architecture and the warmth of its people.
Tourist locations in Cuenca and nearby natural attractions
There are several tourist location in Cuenca that we recommend you visit, such as Chordeleg and other natural attractions nearby like the Cajas National Park and the Ingapirca ruins. Following on, we will tell you a little more about all this.
Given its location, Cuenca has various natural attractions and districts like Chordeleg only a few hours away. Is well Chordeleg is well known for its traditional crafts and creativity in earthenware, gold work and cap straw. In central Chordeleg you can find an innumerable amount of jewelry where you can familiarise yourself with the work of the local craftsmen, who dedicate themselves to making beautiful filigrane jewels among other things.
Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park is situated 33 km north west of Cuenca. In this zone, “the mountain range creates extensive plateaux of great beauty where water gathers in great quantities”(SNAP-MAE, 2019).
Therefore “ due to the great quantity of lagoons, the presence of migratory birds and the importance it has for capturing, storing and providing water for the nearby populations, it became known as a Ramsar location or a Wetland of International Importance (SNAP-MAE, 2019). All these facts convert it into a area that deserves to be visited if you find yourself in the Azuay province.
One way of getting there and learning about this unmissable Ecuadorian destination is through our unmissable Cajas Full Day tour that leaves every day. Before beginning, we stop by the main hotels in the city to do the pick up. Once in Cajas National Park, we begin our tour, first visiting Llaviuco (lower part of the park) where we will do a 1 hour walk at 3,100 meters above sea level to then transfer to the highest part of the park, the “Three Crosses” at approximately 4,160 metres above sea level.
Following this, we will transfer to La Toreadora lagoon, where we will begin our second walk; this time at 3,900 meters (feet) above sea level. During the walk, you will see the “San Luis” Polylepis forest, that between 2 and 4 million years old. Finally, we will have lunch and return to Cuenca.
This is, without doubt, an excellent open air activity and great for families, given that children will love being surrounded by such beauty and biological diversity.
You can find all the information about the tour on the following link https://besttripecuador.com/tours/el-cajas-tour
If you find yourself in Cuenca, we recommend that you visit the Ingapirca Archeological Complex, located 90 km north of Cuenca, in the Cañar province. Ingapirca is the sacred place of the Inca in Ecuador, and is considered to be the most important precolombine archeological site in the country, and the best preserved architectural complex.
In our tour, Ingapirca Full Day, that leaves every day and lasts 8 hours, you can learn about the Ingapirca Architectural complex in a simple and safe way. In this tour, we will transfer from Cuenca to Cañar, and visit the Ingapirca Ruins, the indigenous Cañari market (Sundays) and the Biblián Church (sanctuary of the Virgen of Rocío). Don’t forget that you will always be accompanied by a bilingual guide (Spanish-English).
You can read more about this tour below: https://besttripecuador.com/tours/ingapirca-full-day-tour
Cuenca is a desired tourist destination that is definitely worth incorporating into your agenda if you are going to ecuador. We are sure that when you do visit, you will want to come back soon.