Cuenca is easily the most magnetic and culturally rich city in Ecuador. It’s the country’s third largest city, yet retains a small town feel and oozes charm and heritage. Brimming with quaint cobblestone streets, geranium filled balconies and majestic churches, its worthy of its World Heritage Status and is one of our favourite colonial gems in South America.
Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador, filled with a huge variety of museums, art galleries and up to 52 historic churches sprinkled around the city. It’s perfectly preserved and an utterly romantic place to wander; the daily flower market fills the market square with heaps of arum lilies and lush tropical blooms, rivers wind and dissect the city and locals line the cobblestone streets with handmade crafts and a display of delicious sweets. Boasting such a picturesque setting and paired with its laid-back attitude, it’s no wonder Cuenca is home to an ample array of writers, poets, artists, and philosophers. The best way to explore the old town is to walk around the atmospheric squares, peek in to quirky antique shops and head up to the hill of Turi and look down on the spectacle of red tiled roofs and get a glimpse of the entire city. As the birth place of the Panama hat, a visit to the museum and factory is also highly recommended.
Surrounding the city are lush green valleys and handicraft towns famed for their textiles, jewellery and woodwork. In the small town of San Bartolome, guitars are artistically hand-made. In the village of Gualaceo, vibrantly coloured woven shawls and clothing lavishly decorated with pre-Columbian patterns are sold by local women. In the town of Chordeleg, jewellery shops fringe the main plaza and are revered for their silver and gold filigree. Exploring these quaint towns opens up your eyes to an authentic side of Ecuador and is the perfect place to pick up keepsakes and get under the skin of Ecuadorian culture.
Just outside of Cuenca, is the nearby El Cajas National Park. Scattered with deep-blue mountain lakes, high elevation grasslands and jagged peaks, it is a fantastic place to hike and enjoy spectacular Andean landscapes. From the great Andean condor, to the majestic hummingbirds and wild llamas there is also a plethora of wildlife species to observe.
Whatever takes your fancy, Cuenca is a real Ecuadorian gem with plenty to see and do. Along with its ample range of charming boutique hotels, quirky restaurants and lively bars, Cuenca is a real highlight of Ecuador and a must for those looking to get a real flavour of the country.