We came to Cuenca by air (with Ecuadorean airline TAME) from Quito where we had been spending the first part of our Ecuador trip. The flight left pretty early in the morning so we were at the airport by around 6.15 but already it was really busy, with a long queue at the TAME desk for the several flights leaving that morning. I was even a bit concerned that we could miss ours, as they were not prioritising those with the earliest flights, but I soon saw that the staff were really efficient and the queue moving quickly.
The flight was also quick at just forty minutes, and was mainly full of local businessmen, who must commute regularly between the two cities and many of whom seemed to know each other as lots of friendly greetings were thrown around on boarding. Flying south from Quito the route at first follows the line of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, and great views are to be had on either side. I was lucky enough to be on the left-hand side from where Cotopaxi could be seen, although unfortunately didn’t have a window seat. The man next to me however kindly let me lean over to take some photos of the majestic volcano poking up through the clouds (photo three). He even offered to swap seats (presumably he makes the journey very regularly) but I declined the offer as it was such a short flight and I didn’t like to put him to the bother. Besides, I had already seen the views and taken my photos, thanks to his obliging nature.
We were soon landing in Cuenca, where the weather was bright and warmer than Quito, being a little lower at 2,500 metres above sea level. Our pre-booked transfer meant that we were soon being driven through the city to our hotel on the edge of the colonial area. Our eagerly anticipated visit to Cuenca could begin!
Next tip: the Hotel Victoria
The only reason I flew from Guayaquil to Cuenca is because I arrived to Guayaquil by plane from Galapagos Islands, and I thought it could be convenient with a transfer at the airport instead of going to the bus terminal and take a bus. Later, when I got the flight times I realised I had to wait several hours in in Guayaquil. In one way this was good ,because than I had time for a quick visit to Guayaquil. I left my luggage in a locker at Guayaquil airport and took a taxi to the Malecón and Las Peñas. The taxi was 5 dollars and it took 15 minutes. When it was time to go back to the airport I went back to the same point where I had been dropped and fortunately a taxi just stopped to drop of a passenger. This time I paid 3 dollars to the airport.
I came back to the airport in good time to check in my luggage and have a coffee and a cake at La Española. It is a short flight from Guayaquil to Cuenca, only 30 minutes. All passengers got a newspaper and a fruit drink. After landing in Cuenca my luggage arrived very quickly and outside the terminal I at once found a taxi. The airport in Cuenca is situated only 2km away from the city centre so it was a quick taxi ride to my hotel Hostal Chordeleg, and it was $2.50 (July 2011).
A return flight between Quito or Guayaquil and Galapagos Islands was included in my Galapagos cruise. I flew to Galapagos from Quito, but when planning my trip I thought it was better to continue my journey, after visiting the islands, in the south and from there going north, as I was flying home from Quito a month later. The travel agent I booked my Galapagos cruse with booked the Guayaquil - Cuenca ticket for me and I paid for it at the same time I paid for the cruise. The airplane ticket was $68 (July 2011). I flew with TAME.
In the morning I took a taxi from the hotel in Cuenca to the bus terminal. It was $2. At the terminal I looked for Transportes Cañar which have direct buses to Ingapirca at 9am ( the bus left 5 minutes earlier, so don't come late). The ticket was $2.50 (July 2011) and to Ingapirca it took about two hours. There were many tourists on the bus and they were all going to return to Cuenca after visiting the ruins. The bus was going to return to Cuenca at 13.15, which meant the visitors would only get a little bit more than two hours to see the site. This was a Saturday so there were no more direct buses, but on weekdays there is also a bus returning at 16.00. If you want to stay longer you can always take one of the local buses to El Tambo (by the Panamerican Highway) and from there take one of the buses coming from north heading to Cuenca.
Getting around Cuenca on the city buses is easy and cheap. A ride is only 25 cents, buses run everyday and go just about everywhere in the city. Hopping on the bus helps cut down all the fumes and gas consumption in the city and helps keep the beautiful Andes...well, beautiful:)
The city has recently published a much awaited guide to to city bus routes. But, there's also a great new website in Spanish and and English www.CuencaTransit.com that provides: a trip planner, detailed maps and a guide to using the bus.
It helped me out a lot. Hopefully it will help other tourists and newcomers to the city.
February 16, 2009:
I emailed Tame and Aerogal to see if they had me on any passenger lists. Tame has responded that they don't. After hours of being played like a ping pong ball between my credit card company and PayPal, I finally got good girl at PayPal who filed my complaint for me. It only took about 2 minutes! About the same time it took the others to route me off to another lazy phone person. Anyway, we'll see what happens there. In the meantime I will buy my tickets directly from the airlines.
February 17, 2009:
I tried to book a flight from Quito to Cuenca on a site called "Aeropas.com". They were going to charge me $58.00 for "delivery". When they didn't deliver anything, PayPal stepped in and got my money back for me. So far I have been able to book a return flight from Cuenca to Quito on Aerogal.com.ec. I am currently looking for a web site to book the flight to Cuenca. I'll keep you posted.
February 18, 2009:
The flight I needed from Quito to Cuenca was on Tame airlines. Their online reservations service was down, so I emailed the reservations email address on their website and asked if I could reserve a seat by email. Patricia at Tame in Quito kindly reserved me a seat which I have to pay for when I arrive in Quito. So, so far, I'm all set to go.
There are various tour operators in Cuenca who run trips to Ingapirca but these are overpriced. You can easily reach Ingapirca by public transport with Transportes Canar. This service should take about 2 hours and costs $2.50. The bus leaves Cuenca’s Terminal Terrestre at 9am and 1pm Monday to Friday or 9am on Saturdays and Sundays. The bus itself is a bit rundown but does the job as it passes through some beautiful green countryside. At weekends the same bus will wait a few hours and take you back to Cuenca.
Coming from Peru you can reach Cuenca within 8 hours although the journey time can vary considerably depending on border crossing times, unpredictable drivers, bumpy roads and connections. There is a ‘direct’ bus service between Piura and Cuenca via Mancora and Tumbes but this service does require a change of bus after crossing the border. The service is run jointly between Cifa and Pullman Sucre. The service will take you across the border and should stop at immigration for both Peru and Ecuador but make sure your driver knows you need to stop at immigration. We did this journey in both directions and crossing from Peru the Cifa (Peruvian) driver did not stop for Ecuadorian immigration and so we had to argue strongly for the Pullman Sucre (Ecuadorian) driver to stop for us at the Ecuadorian immigration. The return journey was smoother apart from the fact that we were left standing for the journey between Huaquillas and Mancora because of oversold seats on the bus – something you should expect. This is a highly unpredictable service and you should expect the unexpected...you will be promised a smooth border connection but this is unlikely to happen. Just keep your cool and you will get to where you want to go...eventually. The service should cost around $12. You can buy your ticket from agents on Piura, Mancora or Tumbes coming from Peru and from the office in the bus station in Cuenca. Cuenca to Peru will be a little cheaper than vice-versa.
This border crossing is not the easiest you will do in South America and you should keep your wits about you. Do not hand over your passport to anyone apart from the official behind the screens at the immigration office...people will approach asking to see your passport...ignore them. Also watch your belongings and keep an eye on the small children hanging around. They will swipe anything that is not nailed down.
It's possible to make all your explorations around Cuenca by bus, but if you decide you have not enough time or feel lazy about doing it yourself, there is a very efficient and reliable Travel Agency where you can trust your body and mind and enjoy the ride! They even make the tour if you are the only client!!! This is really worth mentioning because it is so rare. The stuff are very knowledgeable and polite. I had two tours with them and i was absolutely satisfied!
It is conveniently located in the center on Gran Colombia street and of course they pick you up at your hotel. Tours to Ingapirca visit also the Canar open market, and Biblian. In the Cajas National Park tour they take you to the top, have an unforgettable hike and then to the Lowlands, a very beautiful place near a lake. They cost 35 $US each, one meal in a nice restaurant included.
I had a great time!
Gran Colombia 11-02 & General Torres (2nd floor)
Cuenca is a lot further south than most think. It's a twelve hour bus ride from Quito and seven from centrally located Ambato. We lucked out when we got a ride from just north of Riobamba in a car that took only about four hours which was considerably shorter than a bus would have been. It would have been about seven dollars for that journey and about ten to Quito. Luckily, Cuenca is well connected by air as well. We got a plane to Guayaquil for around $60 one way which saved us about four hours and jumped on a plane from there immediately to the Galapagos Islands. So, while Cuenca is readily accessible you either need the time to travel by bus or the money to do it by air.
Cuenca is quite compact and you can get to all sights on foot.
The bus trip from Guayaquil to Cuenca is an awesome experience. You start at sea level, then it's up, up and up to a new altititude and climate. The ride is slow going during some steep climbs, and mudslides/rockslides make for some delays...don't be in any hurry!
Fly from Guayaquil to Cuenca (30 minutes)
one way fare is about $50 in October, 2007
0700 Monday thru Saturday
1345 Monday thru Friday
1800 Sunday thru Friday
0730 Monday thru Saturday
1830 Sunday thru Friday
no flights to Cuenca
Cuenca is the third most important city in Ecuador. It can be reached through short domestic flights from Guayaquil or from Quito.
In order to take in the landscapes, however, traveling by bus is recommended. Buses are economical, appear to be safe, but they take longer than you might expect in a small country.
Taking the bus non-stop from Quito to Cuenca (10 hours) would be an ordeal. I broke the journey in several pieces (Quito-Machachi-Pelileo-Riobamba-Alausi-Ingapirca-Cuenca) over four days, and it was pretty exhausting. Still, it allowed me to experience Ecuador, see everyday life, and talk to many people.
For the bus trip from Cuenca to Guayaquil, see two travelogues on this page, Landscapes Between Cuenca and Guayaquil.
The direct bus between Cuenca and Guayaquil passes through the Caja National Park. The scenery is outstanding. The contential devide is crossed at 4120 meters. In January 2007, a one way ticvket cost $US 8. The trip takes 4 hours.