18 Best places to visit in Cuenca

Cuenca is one of the most charming cities in Ecuador. It’s very special because of its unique and incomparable culture. Here you will find out everything you need to know about this city. Also, you will find the best things to do and all the places to visit in Cuenca. Santa Ana de los Cuatro Ríos de Cuenca is a beautiful city located in the south of Ecuador. It is 2,538 meters above sea level (8,326 ft). Its temperature varies between 7°C – 19°C (44.6°F – 66.2°F).

Cuenca was founded on 12th April in 1557, in the ancient Tomebamba. This city is also known as “Athens of Ecuador” for its architecture. Additionally, the independence of Cuenca was on 3rd November 1820, an important date for the city. Santa Ana de los cuatro Ríos de Cuenca was declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1999. Here we recommend the best places to visit in Cuenca.

Festivals in Cuenca

In Cuenca the catholic feast of the Holy Innocents Day is celebrated every year on January 6th. In addition, its carnival is very important and it is celebrated in February. On the other hand, the foundation of Cuenca where people pay tribute to the city is celebrated on April 12th year after year.

In this traveler’s guide you will find the necessary information to make your trip in Cuenca easier and safer. Below we detail the best activities that you can not miss if you visit Santa Ana de los cuatro Ríos de Cuenca.

Activities to do in Cuenca

Talking about the places to visit in Cuenca.  You will have the opportunity to go to the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Merced de Turi built in 1923. In addition, you can visit Aventuri Adventure Park, a place where you can live unique experiences in its games such as: zip lines, tightrope and swings while enjoying its gastronomy and handicrafts. Near the amusement park you will find El Mirador del Turi, a place from which you can admier the architectural beauty of Cuenca.

The entrance to the viewpoint is totally free; however, if you want to participate in the other activities, it is important that you first ask about prices, as they may vary depending on the activity you decide to do. 

Places to visit in Cuenca

Pumapungo Museum

The  Pumapungo museum is one of the mandatory places to visit in Cuenca.  It Is located in the historic center of the city, between Larga and Huayna Capac streets. This museum is part of the heritage of the city of Cuenca, that is why it is a very valuable place.

During this tour you will be able to live unique experiences.The history that Cuenca offers is reflected in this museum, here we can find ethnographic and archaeological areas and discover about the history of Pumapungo since the Cañari era. Furthermore, in this museum you can observe the value that our ancestors had when they had to work in metal. If you visit the Pumapungo Museum we recommend you to wear comfortable clothes and sport shoes so you can fully enjoy your visit. The entrance to this museum is totally free.

Homero Ortega Hats

It is located at 3-86 Gil Ramírez Dávalos Avenue and is known to be part of an international organization of museums associated with UNESCO. The museum is part of the Homero Ortega company, a five-generation family business. Certainly, that makes it the oldest company dedicated to the production of hats in Panama. In this site it is possible to learn about the history of the “Panama hat”, a product that is handmade in Ecuador. It shows the entire process for the elaboration of hats. Also, yo can learn more about the company and the history of the Panama Hats. The entrance to the museum is for free.

9 de Octubre Market

The 9 de Octubre market is one of the most emblematic places in Cuenca. It is located in the historic center of the city on Mariscal Lamar and Hermano Miguel streets. This place is full of history since its trajectory is approximately 80 years old.

The market has very large installations. On Sundays it is very common that more vendors join in and bring fresh products from their orchards. So if you want to try fresh fruits or vegetables, this is the place to be. The market has 3 floors and on the top floor you can enjoy the typical food of the city. Among its main dishes we can find: corn tortillas, chicken soup, mote pillo, hornado among other dishes that you can taste. In this place it is possible to share directly with the local people and if you visit the place it is very likely that you can meet the cholas cuencanas, typical characters of the city. Also, it is important to note that the 9 de Octubre market is very tidy and clean. Especially safe for travelers to visit. 

Old Catedral

The cathedral is located in the historic Calderon Park, on Luis Cordero Street between Sucre and Bolivar streets. Also known as the Iglesia del Sagrario, it is very representative for the city because of its antiquity, built in 1567. The museum offers guides for your tour where you can see pieces of great artists such as: Antonio Esteban de Cardoso who assembled one of the choirs of the church and Gaspar Sangurima a sculptor who carved the wooden pulpit that is near the main altar, as well as others. Also, the place stands out for presenting an exhibition of religious art where you can find religious art pieces, paintings, sculptures of the School of Art of Cuenca of the XVII and XVIII centuries.

Inside the old cathedral you can also observe the typical colonial structure and it has four chapels. The church was built with carved stones that were brought from the ruins of the Tomebamba River, the same ones that today are part of the foundations of this church. In the past, the tradition of every church was to have a cemetery and the old cathedral is no exception. The price of the entrance can vary from 2 dollars approximately.

Calderon Park (Main square in Cuenca)

This popular park is located between Simón Bolívar and Benigno Malo streets. It is a very representative site of the city, which allows us to have a few minutes of rest while observing the beauty of this city and its majestic architecture. The park is surrounded by large trees that offer a pleasant and relaxing experience. In the surrounding area we can observe the Old Cathedral, the New Cathedral, the Governor’s Office and the Palace of Justice. In the center of the park we can find the monument built to Abdón Calderón, hero of the Battle of Pichincha in 1822.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (New Cathedral)

The new cathedral is considered one of the most important places to visit in Cuenca. It’s the most representative catholic religious symbol of Cuenca due to its unique architectural richness. Located in the Calderon Park, right in front of the main square. The cathedral was built as a replica of St. Peter’s Chapel in the Vatican. It was built in 1885. However its construction was completed in 1975 and its plans were designed by Juan Bautista Stihele.The building has a capacity for 8 thousand people and its construction shows several architectural styles such as Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque.  Therefore, it is considered an important attraction at the national level. Also for being a site visited by Pope John Paul II in 1985, which captivated the citizens and they decided to make a bronze plaque to remember his visit. The plaque is located inside the church.

Walking into the cathedral is a totally new experience.Here we can observe its colorful stained glass windows with very significant details made in gold leaf and marble.

If you visit the cathedral we recommend that you enter the towers. From the heights you will be able to appreciate a wonderful view of the entire city. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes since the visit lasts approximately 1 hour. Also, we invite you to visit the official website of the Cathedral of Cuenca so you can know exactly the cost of the entrance.

Flower Square

Certainly, what catches the attention of the visitors because is the aroma and the color of this place. This square is located next to the Monasterio del Carmen de la Asunción located in the historic center of Cuenca. This square stands out among the places to visit in Cuenca. The square leads the world’s top 10 best outdoor flower markets in the world according to National Geographic magazine. In other words, it is more important than the bloemenmarkt in Holland and the Phool Mandi in India.

Here you can find a rich variety of flowers, plants and fragrances. In addition to the kindness of the saleswomen offering their products. If you visit this square we recommend you taste and buy the agüita pitimas, a unique drink that is made by the nuns of the monastery with more than 50 different types of flowers such as orchids, lilies, roses, San Jose sticks, sunflowers, anthuriums and some others. 

Museum of the toquilla straw hat

The museum is located on Calle Larga and Padre Aguirre and admission is for free. It shows the creativity of its owners to keep manufacturing hats in a traditional way.

In the museum you can also learn about the entire process used to manufacture these hats and all the tools that were used from the beginning as well as how they have changed over time.

After the tour through the museum, we recommend you to visit “terrazas del barranco” a coffee shop located in the same building. Here you can enjoy the best coffee and the best views of Cuenca.

Museum of Concepts

It is located at 6-33 Hermano Miguel Street and Juan Jaramillo, in The Sagrario area. Inside this museum there are 24 rooms where you will find information about the convent that works in these buildings. It shows the daily life of the nuns including some religious pieces that are also visible inside the museum, as well as tombs that are part of this place.  The entrance fee to this museum is approximately $2.50.

Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art is located on Mariscal Sucre and Coronel Guillermo Talbot streets. Inside these buildings it is possible to appreciate great artistic pieces. For example drawings, paintings, inks, sculptures, and many others. Currently they have about 310 paintings that include several donations from Luis Crespo Ordoñez, a very well known painter in this city. The entrance to this museum is free, however, you should keep in mind that if you visit this site it is important to wear comfy shoes as the tour can last at least 1 hour.

Calle Larga - Long Street 

This street is traditional because it used to be the longest street in the city. As a result of the security rounds that took place, it was also called “Calle de la Ronda”.  However, today la “calle larga” is the shortest. In this street you will find several interesting museums such as: Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla, Pumapungo, etc.

In addition, it is also possible to visit places that offer live music, cocktails and several spaces to share with family and friends.

San Sebastian Neighborhood

neighborhood is known for being one of the first neighborhoods in Cuenca. It was also characterized by occupations such as: tile making, tailoring and carpentry. Here it is possible to taste several typical dishes and its prices are adapted to all kinds of pockets.

Also, in San Sebastian neighborhood we can find the Municipal Museum of Modern Art where we can see paintings by Luis Crespo Ordoñez and other contemporary art.

Beautiful places to visit near Cuenca

Amaru Biopark 

At this place you can get a unique experience by having contact with all the animals and plants which are part of this attraction. The zoo is located on the Cuenca – Azogues highway, at Km 10 ½, specifically in the area of the river hospital. The site is artificially heated to maintain a comfortable temperature for animals. There are also aquariums that preserve marine animals. This is an ideal place to spend a day with family. Also, it has a private parking lot, as well as a restaurant to take a break and lookouts that will provide you with a wonderful view of a unique landscape. In addition, within its facilities you will find a store where you can buy souvenirs.

Chordeleg

Chordeleg canton is located approximately 1 hour from Cuenca downtown. It is characterized as a handicraft center of great importance at national and international level. As a result, Chordeleg is also considered as the land of the jeweler.

Here you can find a wide variety of ceramics and textiles. However, Chordeleg is especially known for the jewelry that is made and sold in the area. There are several stores where you can find these items and they are generally located around the central park and the costs of these jewels can vary. The most importantly, it’s the jewelry which is made using different techniques such as filigree, where fine gold or silver threads are drawn into the jewelry.

It is recommended to wear light clothing when visiting this beautiful village as the average temperature is 16°C (60.8°F).

Gualaceo

Gualaceo is a small city located 35 kilometers from Cuenca. The city still preserves its cultural heritage. Here are some other reasos why you can not miss this place to visit in Cuenca. Firstly, here it is possible to visit several artisan workshops. Secondly, this city allows you to visit ovens where breads, sweets and quesadillas are baked. Thirdly, and most importantly, it’s possible to observe a colonial style with typical things of the time in the historic center of Gualaceo.

The place is also well known for having very skilled artisans who are dedicated to manufacturing shoes and ikat textiles. These shoes made in this site are very high quality and have several designs. Also, in Gualaceo you will have the chance to learn more about the ikat technique where the weaving and dyeing is difficult to do. However, it is possible for several artisans of this place to make these unique and beautiful pieces of clothing that are unique and beautiful all over the world.

Cajas National Park

It is located approximately 45 minutes from the city of Cuenca. To get there, you have to take the Cuenca Molleturo – Guayaquil highway at Km 13.5. The entrance to Cajas National Park is totally free. During the tour through the park you can observe a great variety of flora such as chuquiraguas, cattails, horsetails, valerian, papyrus, among others. There is also a great diversity of fauna such as condors, rabbits, paramo wolves, pumas, Andean toucans, deer, hummingbirds, and others.

In addition, Cajas National Park has 786 bodies of water, including lagoons. Toreadora and Llaviucu lagoons are the main attractions of the park.

Toreadora Lagoon

It is located at 3,900 m and is considered the largest lagoon in the park. The access routes are properly signposted, allowing visitors to access it easily and safely. In addition, there is a trail that surrounds the lagoon and lasts approximately 1 hour. Be aware of the cold, so we recommend that you wear comfortable and warm clothing.

Llaviucu Lagoon

It is located at 3,160 m (10,367 feet), in its surroundings you can find tiny bromeliads, green flowers, white flowers and purple flowers that make this place a unique attraction. Near the lagoon there are some trails that permit you to easily access to this attraction.

Also, you can visit the Qhapaq Ñan, a route that crosses the entire park and that once served as a connection route between the coast and the mountains of Ecuador. There are currently 28 archeological sites showing the existence of pre-Inca constructions in this area.  

The park has areas for fishing, in several lagoons it is possible to find a large number of trout. There are also different activities like horseback riding, hiking, bird watching, and camping. While visiting this park it is recommended to bring warm clothes and a raincoat in case of rain, considering that the average temperature is 5°C (41°F).

Ingapirca Archaeological Complex

Ingapirca is an archaeological complex located in the province of Cañar only 1 hour and 30 minutes from Cuenca, in the parish of Ingapirca.

The word Ingapirca comes from a kichwa word that means “wall or wall of the Inca”. This construction was built in the early sixteenth century.Upon entering this complex we can observe that the buildings are made with perfectly carved stones, the construction represents the Cañari culture and its relevance because it was an important ceremonial, political, military, administrative and scientific center during the Inca conquest. Therefore, it is also considered the most important archaeological site in the country.

The most outstanding feature of the complex is the Temple of the Sun. It is also surrounded by a cemetery, an indigenous plaza, and solar observatories.The tour time in this complex can last approximately 1 hour. Remember, if you visit the archaeological complex it is important to wear comfortable shoes and warm clothes because the place is quite windy.  The complex has tour guides that provide a unique experience, guides speak up to 3 languages such as: Kichwa, English and Spanish. Entrance fee to this site may vary if you are foreigner and is estimated to cost approximately US$6.

How can I get to Cuenca? 

From Quito

Take a bus from the Carcelén terminal or Quitumbe terminal, the trip takes approximately 8 hours. It is also possible to take a plane from Mariscal Sucre International Airport to Cuenca Airport.

From Guayaquil

Take a bus from the Guayaquil land terminal, the trip takes approximately 4 hours. There are also some different airlines that offer flights from Guayaquil to Cuenca.

Where to stay in Cuenca?

Cuenca is a city full of history where there are several places with old buildings where you can stay. We recommend you to visit the historic center of this city. Here you can find a variety of hotels, guesthouses, hostels and apartments that you can rent to stay. The prices of these places may vary depending on the place you choose. Hostels with rooms shared with other visitors start at $16 per night. You can also find 5 star hotels where a night’s lodging costs $250 or complete apartments that you can rent for a weekend and can cost up to $300 approximately. 

Places to visit and eat in Cuenca

You can find several places where you can try traditional food of Cuenca. We recommend you to visit the long street, the calderon park, the 9 de octubre market where you can find typical food of the city such as: cuy, mote sucio, morocho and corn tortillas. You should keep in mind that several of these typical dishes can also be tasted in some hotel restaurants.

When should I visit this places in Cuenca?

Any time of the year is recommended to visit this beautiful city. However, it is important that you take into account the following information: regarding the weather, the best time of the year is undoubtedly the months of July and August since its climate is a little temperate, you should also take into account that the coldest month in Cuenca is January where the temperature reaches 11°C (51°F). However, if you travel to Cuenca at any time of the year we recommend that you do not forget to bring a hat and sweater if you do activities during the day. And if you do activities at night it is advisable to bring a coat.

Did you know?

  • Cuenca has the best outdoor flower market in the world. 
  • It is a favorite city for many foreigners
  • Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador.
  • Santa Ana de los cuatro Ríos de Cuenca, is the official name of this beautiful city.

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