Cuenca is an ancient Andean city in the south of Ecuador. Founded around the year 500CE it was the home of the Cañari people for the next thousand years. Finally, around the year 1500 it was captured by the Inca’s who turned it into the second most important city of their empire. For unknown reasons, it was completely abandoned a few decades later as the invading Spanish were marching through the continent. Cuenca grew steadily over the years and is now known for it’s stunning architecture, mild climate and laid-back lifestyle. Because of this it has become a favourite place for expats and retirees who have used the many colonial buildings to open boutique hotels and cozy cafes.
When we first arrived in Cuenca, we did what we do best, set off on foot to explore our new surroundings. Pants and jackets were a necessity as the temperature averages around 15°C due to the city’s elevation at 2500m. We followed the Tomebamba River, which cuts through the center of town and is lined with beautiful colonial houses, before looping back into the Old Town. The skyline of Cuenca is quite impressive as domes of the many prominent cathedrals rise above the rest of the buildings.
Throughout our stay in Cuenca we made time to wander many of it’s cobblestone streets and relax in some of the beautiful squares. One of the things we loved about Cuenca was the amount of green space. The typical “parques” of Latin America tend to be cement, a couple trees, some benches and more cement. The Old Town of Cuenca however, has squares and parks will lush grass and exotic plants enticing just as many birds as families to enjoy their natural setting within the city.
To get a better understanding of the city’s ancient past we visited the Pumapungo Museum. Cuenca’s largest museum is filled with recreations of of indigenous life including houses, hunting practices, traditional dress and ends with a display of shrunken heads! Behind the museum is an archaeological park made up of extensive ruins believed to be part of the Inca city of Tomebamba.
In general Cuenca is a great city to explore for a few days, and a place you will likely visit if you travel through southern Ecuador. It can be a bit more expensive than other cities in Ecuador mostly because of the quality of it’s hostels and delicious restaurants. If you’re really drawn to it’s small town feel, with big city conveniences and cool temperatures there is plenty to keep you busy for weeks.
Cuenca Traveller Information
Getting to/from/around, Accommodation, Eating, Drinking: Cuenca is a popular place so there are plenty of buses coming and going at all times of day. Taxi’s are cheap and metered, but agreeing on a price beforehand is always a good idea. The Old Town is filled with lovely hostels, guesthouses and hotels ranging from super cheap to super expensive. There is so much food, you won’t be able to decide what to eat. We found ourselves planning days in advance for what we wanted to eat where. Night life in Cuenca is alive and well with plenty of bars and pubs serving everything from cold beers to fruity mixed drinks. Basically, Cuenca has it all! Enjoy!