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Cuenca

Altitude: 2,560 m (8,400 ft)
Population: 330,000
Phone Code: 07

If you measure a city on size or population alone, Cuenca ranks third in Ecuador. If you consider charm, beauty and the opinion of all Ecuadorians, however, Cuenca leaps into first place. The city is a colonial jewel, a neat, orderly city set in the picturesque rolling hills of southern Ecuador.

Like Quito, Cuenca has a centuries-old colonial center full of stunning architecture, venerable churches and well-kept parks. Unlike Quito, however, the colonial center is still the heart of the city: a place to be enjoyed by all cuencanos, day or night. As you wander around the center, notice the finely carved wooden doors—they’re quite striking. The best hotels and restaurants are to be found here, as well as ice cream parlors, cafés, shops and more. Quiteños have abandoned the colonial heart of their city, at least at night; cuencanos still cherish theirs. They are immensely proud of the fact that their colonial downtown was named a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural site in 1999.

Cuenca is an ancient city, older than even the Spanish occupation. Long before this settlement became Cuenca, it was Guapondelig, a Cañari settlement. When the Incas came, they conquered the Cañari and changed its name to Tumipamba. The Spanish continued the tradition, building on the city of the vanquished Inca; they named it "Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca," or "Saint Anne of the Four Rivers of Cuenca." Four rivers do indeed flow through and around Cuenca, the most visible of these is the Río Tomebamba, which runs along the southern edge of the old city.

Cuenca has a lot activities for travelers. Apart from the obvious architecture and colonial churches–they say that Cuenca has 52 churches, one for every Sunday of the year–Cuenca is used as the base for trips to the breathtaking El Cajas National Park as well as Ecuador’s most significant Inca ruins, Ingapirca. Cuenca is also surrounded by many quaint villages, each of which is worth a visit: Gualaceo, Chordeleg, Sigsig, Bulcay, Girón and Jima.

The hotels in Cuenca are a great value for any budget. The best hotels are the converted colonial homes in the center of town. Cuenca's restaurants offer a great value and memorable dining experiences. Cuencanos love food (particularly ice cream and other sweets) and there are many excellent restaurants in town. Regional fare is similar to the rest of Ecuador: a lot of pork, rice and potatoes, but it’s very well done and there are always options, even vegetarian ones.

If Cuenca is lacking in anything, it’s nightlife: Cuenca is just not a party town. Still, there are places where you can go out and have a good time. Check out some of the other bars and cafés by the river.

Come for a visit and you’ll see why Ecuadorians agree that Cuenca is one of the most beautiful cities in their country.

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Other places nearby Cuenca: Jima, Vilcabamba, Gualaceo, Guamote, Bulcay, Girón, Sigsig, Baños (Cuenca), Loja and Chordeleg.







By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
10 Jun 2013

Things to See and Do in Cuenca

Catedral de la Inmaculada (New Cathedral)

130036The massive brick facade and sky-blue domes of Catedral de la Inmaculada ConcepciĂłn make the building one of the most recognizable (and photographed) in Cuenca. La Inmaculada, which is dubbed the ...
Historical Building
Cuenca, Ecuador

Parque CalderĂłn

104733Cuenca’s beautifully tended central park, Parque Calderón, is an attractive, expansive area of flowers and trees. The park is dominated by a monument to Abdón Calderón, a young cuencano who ...
City Plaza
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of CIDAP (Inter-American Center of Popular Arts)

102823El Centro Interamericano de ArtesanĂ­as y Artes Populares, or Inter-American Center of Popular Arts, is a small but interesting museum dedicated to the popular crafts of the Americas. The upper ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of Modern Art

130048The Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (the Museum of Modern Art), on the Plaza San Sebastián, has a permanent collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures. The artwork is displayed in separate ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Iglesia El Sagrario (Old Cathedral)

130032The Iglesia El Sagrario, also known as the Old Cathedral, sits across the Parque Calderón from La Inmaculada, and is well worth a visit. If you wander inside, you’ll see no pews or altars, but ...
Historical Building
Cuenca, Ecuador

Flower Market

Cuenca\'s Flower Market is located on Calle Mariscal Sucre, near Padre Aguirre, in front of the southern side of the Cathedral de la Inmaculada (New Cathedral), and wraps around on Padre Aguirre, ...
Market
Cuenca, Ecuador

Catedral de la Inmaculada (New Cathedral)

130036The massive brick facade and sky-blue domes of Catedral de la Inmaculada ConcepciĂłn make the building one of the most recognizable (and photographed) in Cuenca. La Inmaculada, which is dubbed the ...
Historical Building
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of Modern Art

130048The Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (the Museum of Modern Art), on the Plaza San Sebastián, has a permanent collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures. The artwork is displayed in separate ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Iglesia El Sagrario (Old Cathedral)

130032The Iglesia El Sagrario, also known as the Old Cathedral, sits across the Parque Calderón from La Inmaculada, and is well worth a visit. If you wander inside, you’ll see no pews or altars, but ...
Historical Building
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of CIDAP (Inter-American Center of Popular Arts)

102823El Centro Interamericano de ArtesanĂ­as y Artes Populares, or Inter-American Center of Popular Arts, is a small but interesting museum dedicated to the popular crafts of the Americas. The upper ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of Modern Art

130048The Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (the Museum of Modern Art), on the Plaza San Sebastián, has a permanent collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures. The artwork is displayed in separate ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Catedral de la Inmaculada (New Cathedral)

130036The massive brick facade and sky-blue domes of Catedral de la Inmaculada ConcepciĂłn make the building one of the most recognizable (and photographed) in Cuenca. La Inmaculada, which is dubbed the ...
Historical Building
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of CIDAP (Inter-American Center of Popular Arts)

102823El Centro Interamericano de ArtesanĂ­as y Artes Populares, or Inter-American Center of Popular Arts, is a small but interesting museum dedicated to the popular crafts of the Americas. The upper ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Museum of Modern Art

130048The Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (the Museum of Modern Art), on the Plaza San Sebastián, has a permanent collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures. The artwork is displayed in separate ...
Museum
Cuenca, Ecuador

Iglesia El Sagrario (Old Cathedral)

130032The Iglesia El Sagrario, also known as the Old Cathedral, sits across the Parque Calderón from La Inmaculada, and is well worth a visit. If you wander inside, you’ll see no pews or altars, but ...
Historical Building
Cuenca, Ecuador

Top Hotels in Cuenca

Hostal Posada del Angel

One of the best mid-range options in Cuenca, the elegant Posada del Angel is a friendly, well-kept place that tries to maintain a family atmosphere. The hotel, which is housed in a restored colonial ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hotel Santa Ana

Hotel Santa Ana is very attractive and elegant, with 40 comfortable and modern rooms. Although it is no longer managed by Grupo Plaza Hotels and Tourism, it still retains most of its perks, including ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hostal Santa Fe

A great option for those looking for a budget hostel in Cuenca, Hostal Santa Fe is set in between the town center and the Tombamba River. You can easily walk to all the main attractions in Cuenca ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hacienda Uzhupud

Located about 45 minutes outside of Cuenca, Hacienda Uzhupud is a good option for those who want to be near Cuenca but still have more of a countryside experience. The hacienda has hiking trails, ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hotel Santa LucĂ­a

Hotel Santa Lucía is a beautiful converted home in central Cuenca; the home once belonged to Don Manuel Vega Dávila, the first governor of Azuay province. The hotel is elegant, and the rooms are ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hostal Chordeleg

An excellent choice for those in the lower mid-range budget zone, Hostal Chordeleg is a converted colonial home in Cuenca\'s historical center. The courtyard, with its neat garden and wooden upper ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hotel Crespo

One of the most popular hotels in Cuenca, Hotel Crespo is a converted family estate, dating back over 100 years, and is located close to the center of town. It is a gorgeous place, set right on the ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Casa Ordoñez

115675This charming, family-owned boutique hotel is actually an old mansion, beautifully restored to its original grandeur. Its comfortable rooms have large beds, goose down comforters and finely detailed ...
Hotel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Hostal Villa Del Rosario

The family-run Villa del Rosario is located in an old colonial house that has been completely restored and remodeled. Private rooms equipped with armoires and mirrors are set around a nice courtyard ...
Hostel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Posada Del RĂ­o

145042Probably the best all-around budget option in Cuenca, Posada del RĂ­o is centrally located and social, with comfortable beds, good showers, WiFi and a computer with Internet, a clean and ...
Hostel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Casa Lloret Hostal

144121Staying at Casa Lloret feels more like staying at a friend\'s home than at a hotel. This small guesthouse close to the Yanuncay River has just seven private rooms and two family-style suites, some of ...
Hostel
Cuenca, Ecuador

Top Restaurants in Cuenca

Villa Rosa

Villa Rosa is one of Cuenca’s most elegant restaurants, and one of the best that is not affiliated with a hotel. Located in a converted colonial home not too far from the center of town, the ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

Tiestos

145054Tiestos is pure culinary genius. Besides exquisite family-style food prepared in huge ceramic hot plates, you will find that the chef is extremely personable, making rounds to each table as guests ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

Wunderbar Café

103191 This funky German-owned café is a crowd-pleaser, both for its international food and for its fun drinking atmosphere. Wunderbar has a menu packed with plates like spaghetti alfredo and pasta in ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

Café Eucalyptus

A staple for many foreigners living in Cuenca, as well as a local crowd, this restaurant offers comfort food you can’t easily find elsewhere, including Pad Thai and Jamaican jerk chicken in ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

El JardĂ­n Restaurant

As one of Cuenca\'s best and most elegant restaurants, El JardĂ­n is a good place to splurge on a fine meal if you\'re not on too tight a budget. The service is ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

El Maiz Restaurante

104544One of the most tranquil restaurants in town, El Maiz is located in an old colonial building with a beautiful courtyard, and is a true place to soak up the peaceful atmosphere of Cuenca. With sunny ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

Kookaburra Café

145001Kookaburra is an excellent place to start your day. Order a bottomless cup of real, high-quality coffee or a pot of cinnamon and orange tea and sip it alongside an order of pancakes with bananas, ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

NĂ©ctar

145046NĂ©ctar specializes in vegetarian and raw food, with dishes ranging from pita pizzas and quinoa tabbouleh to gazpacho and zucchini linguine with pesto sauce. It also has a wide selection of fresh ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

Maria's Alemania Café

145048Unlike most bakeries found throughout Ecuador that have dry cakes and crumbly cookies, the baked goods at this German bakery are moist, dense and absolutely delicious. It sells the best bread in ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

Govinda's Vegetariano

A favorite vegetarian restaurant among Cuenca\'s non-meat eaters, Govinda\'s Vegetariano has an inventive menu incorporating Indian, Italian and Asian influences. The place itself is clean and ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador

La Esquina

145050This upscale Argentine restaurant with funky décor cooks up typical food from rural Argentina in traditional discos de arado (plow discs, similar to cast-iron skillets), as well as high-quality beef ...
Restaurant
Cuenca, Ecuador
Mapa
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