Cuenca Travel Guide

  • Plowing takes a while
    Plowing takes a while
    by MLBarratt
  • Paute Plaza
    Paute Plaza
    by MLBarratt
  • Paute market
    Paute market
    by MLBarratt

Cuenca Highlights

  • Pro
    calcaf38 profile photo

    calcaf38 says…

     Churches, Markets, Museums, Architecture, Atmosphere 

  • Con
    Kindra profile photo

    Kindra says…

     Quiet and tranquil if you want an active night life 

  • In a nutshell
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    850prc says…

     Well worth a short flight down from Quito 

Cuenca Things to Do

  • A Trip to Paute

    Paute is a small town a few miles NE of Cuenca that has a rich heritage, friendly people and is world famous for its Fruits and Flowers. Most people don't know that a great percentage of the cut roses that come to the USA come from Ecuador and many of those come from Paute. About an hour scenic bus ride from Cuenca, Paute gives a visitor that small...

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  • Natural Hot Springs Pools

    About 15 minutes by bus South of Cuenca is the town of Banos where there are several hot spring pools and resorts. Our favorite is "Hosteria Duran". This is an upscale Hotel and spa with several hot swimming pools as well as private pools and mud baths. They also have a snack bar and a fine restaurant that serves wonderful meals. Access Banos by...

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  • Ancient Inca Ruins

    About an hour North of Cuenca is "Inga Pirca" an ancient Inca ruins that everyone visiting the area should see. The grounds are kept groomed by lamas. There are buses that leave from the Cuenca Terminal Terrestre (Bus Station) regularly.

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  • La Merced

    Once we had enjoyed a good breakfast we were ready to start our sightseeing in Cuenca. Right next door to the café was the church of La Merced, so this was as good a place to start as any!The church is an attractive one, set back a little from the road on a small semi-circular plaza. An inscription above the door reads “Ave Maria, Redemptrix...

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  • Ruinas Todos los Santos

    At the south-eastern edge of the old colonial city of Cuenca are a number of sights just a short walk from our hotel. One of these is the major Museo del Banco Central, with the archaeological remains of the Incan city, Pumapungo. But we had too little time in the city to see everything, and I lost the argument with Chris about how many museums we...

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  • Rio Tomebamba

    There are four rivers that flow through Cuenca – the Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara. Indeed, the presence of these rivers gives the city its full and rather grand name of “Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca” – Santa Anna of the four rivers of Cuenca, with “cuenca” meaning watershed or basin.Of these rivers, the Rio Tomebamba is...

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Cuenca Hotels

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Cuenca Restaurants

  • Great food, unbelievably cheap

    We ate t this restaurant a couple times during our visit in March, 2014. Prices were ridiculously cheap and the food was delicious. the place is on the small side, staff id friendly but not much English spoken. This seemed pretty much a locals place and was quite busy both ties we were there. I doubt that you will run into many tourists or expats...

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  • Ice Cream Heaven!

    We ate at this place the very first night we arrived in town. It was late, about 9 PM and we walked the few short blocks from our hotel to the square looking for something to eat after the 3 hour van ride from Guayaquil. Tutto Freddo was the first place we found open. It was packed but service was good and the sandwiches were great. We ended up...

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  • Great restraurant in Old Town Cuenca

    Great staff, Fresh new decor, multiple dining areas. Excellent friendly staff, menus in Spanish and English. Nice ambiance, somewhat romantic, unique decor. Chef is Cordon Bleu trained. This was our favorite restaurant in Cuenca. Would definitely return. Hands down the typico Potato Soup. Had it twice here. If we ever return to Cuenca we will head...

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Cuenca Nightlife

  • As the name says, a wonder bar!

    I had read about the Wunderbar on VT member richiecdisc’s Cunca page and it sounded like our sort of place – I liked the sound of the cocktails, and Chris liked the pun in the name! What is more, it was only a few doors from our hotel, the Victoria, so we really had to check it out, which we did on our first evening here – and liked it so much that...

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  • Nice place, shame about the beer

    La Compañia claims to be the first micro-brewery in Cuenca and when we saw the sign we decided we just had to go in and try it and its beers. We liked the rather higgledy-piggledy arrangement, with tables on different levels and a friendly buzz, but were less impressed with the beers – which were sort of the point! My Irish Red was OK, if rather...

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  • the only thing that's German is the name

    We kind of expected a German beer garden when we saw the name Wunderbar and read that it was indeed German owned so we were a bit disappointed to find a typical if cool bar down by the river. Once we got by our initial preconceptions we loved the place. It's a bit of a labyrinth with lots of little rooms and snug holes to get cozy in. It was a...

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Cuenca Transportation

  • Flight from Quito

    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...

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  • Flying from Guayaquil to Cuenca

    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...

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  • From Cuenca to Ingapirca

    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...

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Cuenca Shopping

See all 16 Shopping in Cuenca
  • Hats and more

    Naturally the Panama hat factory of Homero Ortega and Sons has a shop, and naturally our tour of the factory ended there. But I have to say that there was minimal “hard sell”. We were persuaded to try on a few hats (and I at least was happy to do so, as some were gorgeous!) but no one forced the issue when we said we didn’t want to buy. Had we...

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  • Beautiful pottery

    This shop has really beautiful hand–crafted ceramics at reasonable prices. They are made by the husband of the woman who runs the shop. Prices vary. I got a very nice plate for $12.

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  • best combination for coffee and shopping

    A wonderfully decorated place where you can have a cup of coffe in a very artistic environment with excellent taste. All the items seem really unique, and beautiful in their imaginative simplicity. I almost liked everything! The prices are very good and I think even if you just go for coffee, you will finally give in and buy something. There are...

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Cuenca Local Customs

  • Viva Cuenca!

    On 2nd November each year Cuenca, like the rest of Ecuador, celebrates the Feast of All Souls or Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), and a day later on the 3rd it marks the anniversary of its independence from Spain. The two events form one merged celebration, and when, as in 2013, they fall at a weekend, the city really takes on party mood....

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  • Día de los Muertos

    The Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is commemorated in Ecuador as in many South and Central American countries, although not to the same extent as in Mexico perhaps. Its observance is strongest among the native people, the Kichwa, and especially so here in Cuenca. The festival falls on 2nd November, which was during our visit to the city, and...

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  • Two plaits, straw hats

    If you have been elsewhere in Ecuador before arriving in Cuenca you will have seen plenty of people, especially women, wearing the often-colourful traditional costumes. And here is no exception, but if you look carefully you will notice the differences between the dress here and, for example, in and around Otavalo. One of these differences is in...

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Cuenca Warnings and Dangers

  • Night Walking!

    Cuenca is even more atmospheric at night and every visitor should have a wander in the evening when the old historic buildings are lit up and illuminated. However, Cuenca's old town centre can be extremely quiet at night and you should exercise normal precautions at night. Don't walk on your own and stay away from the river bank paths and quiet...

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  • Personal Safety in Cuenca

    I have read several conflicting accounts about the safety of North Americans and Europeans in Cuenca. Having just returned from and extented stay there, I say that the chances are higher that you will be robbed in Cuenca than in most cities the same size in the US. Three people I met there had been robbed (one had her digital camera stolen) or had...

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  • Bus travel in Ecuador

    During my planned 5 weeks in Ecuador, mainly Cuenca, I hope to also visit Vilcabamba. Concerned about petty theft on the bus trip - there are no direct flights - I asked my contact at the hotel in Vilcabamba if I should take any precautions. In a characteristically helpfull Ecuadoran way (don't you just love it?) he sent the following reply:Hi,...

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Cuenca Tourist Traps

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo
    looks a LOT better than it tasted

    by richiecdisc Written Mar 16, 2008

    4.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    While Café Eucalyptus is a nice enough place to have a few drinks, I would never eat anything there again. After a few mojitos we had a hankering for something to snack on and when we saw a Middle Eastern tapas plate we decided to take a plunge on the splurgy $7 “snack.” Now, I know by western standards this would be a cheap meal but in Ecuador you could eat for a couple days on that amount. I wouldn’t mind the exorbitant price if the food was good and authentic but it was neither. Note that tabouli is NOT made with cilantro as much as I love that spice and cumin is not a spice normally found in hummus. Not only was the food not authentic it was pretty small considering the price. In fact, it was mostly pita bread.

    Unique Suggestions: No problem going here for drinks, just go elsewhere once you get the munchies!

    Related to:
    • Wine Tasting
    • Beer Tasting
    • Food and Dining

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Cuenca What to Pack

  • richiecdisc's Profile Photo
    one of our favorite buildings down by the river

    by richiecdisc Written Mar 16, 2008

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Luggage and bags: When traveling by bus you'll find the less you carry the better and a backpack is easiest once you get off the bus.

    Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Good walking shoes are essential as its the number one activity in town. With the relatively mild climate we mostly stuck to our backpacking sandals but carried socks in case the temperatures dipped.

    Photo Equipment: A wide angle lens is what you need to get the big buildings into your focus when you can't get far enough back due to the narrow streets. A good zoom comes in handy in the markets as well as for balcony shots.

    Related to:
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Backpacking
    • Budget Travel

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Cuenca Off The Beaten Path

  • Prohibido Centro Cultural

    In one of the old houses on La Condamine, which are gradually being restored, a local artist with a bizarre but very creative mind has undertaken a restoration very different in style. Yes, the old house (dating from 1810) has retained its traditional layout, with small rooms leading off open courtyards. But the décor in those rooms would I am sure...

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  • Plaza del Cruz del Vado

    This little square is perched on a ledge above the Rio Tomebamba on the southern edge of the colonial city. There are good views from here over the more modern city on the other side of the river. Its main feature is a cross, called the Cruz del Vado, which is protected by a six-sided structure. This cross was erected as a symbol of protection for...

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  • Cajas National Park

    Cajas National Park is situated just west of Cuenca. The park has an area of 285 sq km and it lies between an altitude of 3100 - 4450 metres. Most of the park consists of Páramo, a high grassland ecosystem, with rugged mountains and over 250 lakes. There are also a few small forests with Quinoa trees (Polylepis) and in the lover part of the park,...

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Cuenca Favorites

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  • Colonial Cuenca

    La Merced has already given us a small taste of the colonial heart of the city, but before venturing further let’s pause and consider how Cuenca came to be listed UNESCO World Heritage Trust site.The city’s history began long before the Spanish colonial era. It was originally settled by the indigenous Cañari around 500 AD and was called by them...

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  • City tour with Terra Diversa

    When planning our trip to Ecuador I was conscious that we were only going to have very limited time in Cuenca so when our travel company (Simply Ecuador) suggested pre-booking a half-day tour of the city I acquiesced, thinking it would be a good way to see a lot in a short time. But when we arrived, and I realised how compact the city was, I...

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  • First Impressions

    After school on Friday, like most days, I wandered around the "Old City" of Cuenca. The colonial achitecture really makes you feel connected with history and makes you wonder what life was like for the people who built the place and lived here at the time. Sure, there a places like New Orleans that are similarly constructed but here it not spoiled...

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