Travel Guide for Cuenca, Ecuador
Cuenca is a city so picturesque, so very lovely ~ it’s the kind of place that might have you considering a permanent move. There’s something very unassuming about it; unpretentious: like the boy or girl who doesn’t know they’re attractive…which of course, makes them even more attractive. Nestled high up in the Andes, Ecuador’s third-largest cities emjoys an “Eternal Spring” due to its high elevation, making it a welcome respite from the heat & humidity of the Galapagos Islands (a popular travel pairing). In this “Travel Guide for Cuenca, Ecuador,” I will try to share some of the magic of this charming city….
“Travel is like adultery: one is always tempted to be unfaithful to one’s own country. We go abroad to meet that thrilling stranger born on the plane. We’re going to see….everything we have eliminated or edited out of our own culture in the name of convenience: religion, royalty, picturesqueness, otherness ~ & passion.
In our wanderlust, we are lovers looking for consummation.”
– Anatole Broyard
Map of Cuenca, Ecuador
Cuenca is located in the central-southern highlands of Ecuador, at a height of 8,000 feet (2,500 meters). The city was founded in 1557 by Spanish conquistadors, on the ruins of the former Incan empire.
Cuenca Travel Quick Facts
- Cuenca’s Population: 600,000+
- Average Weather in Cuenca: Its high elevation (8,000 feet) guarantees that it will never be too hot ~ high’s top out around 80 degrees, with lows in the 50’s; it’s always a good idea to bring a jacket out: the weather can change rapidly here!
- How to Get to Cuenca: For travelers, the most common way to reach Cuenca is by a flight from either the capital Quito (Ecuador’s largest city), or Guayaquil (gateway to the Galapagos). You can also reach Cuenca by car or bus, from other popular towns nearby such as Banos de Agua.
- What Type of Money is Used in Cuenca & Ecuador: The U.S. dollar, which makes it quite easy if traveling from the States.
- How Safe is Cuenca? I traveled by myself to Cuenca after a trip to the Galapagos, & I felt entirely comfortable walking around in both places. I even felt safe walking in Cuenca alone at night because my hotel sat right on the main plaza, which was virtually always bustling with people & performances. The overall vibe in Cuenca is very low-key & welcoming; I didn’t experience any issues with theft or even cat-calling here, I found the locals very respectful.
- How Safe is Ecuador in General? Ecuador is one of the safest & most stable countries in Latin America. And in fact, if you’re looking at actual statistics of everything from petty theft to violent crime: Ecuador is statistically FAR safer than the United States. Of course there are certain areas in some of the larger cities (right now Guayaquil) where organized crime is a problem; but the average tourist will likely not be anywhere near these areas.
- Is Cuenca Worth Visiting? I’m biased here, because Cuenca was one of my favorite cities in South America ~ but I love a smaller city, such as Cusco in Peru. If you love BIG cities & tons of nightlife options: Cuenca may not be your favorite, as it’s a bit more conservative & tends to shut down earlier. But if you love charming cobblestone streets, beautiful Spanish arhcitecture, & a more small-town feel: you will love Cuenca.
- Best Things to Do in Cuenca: Visit nearby El Cajas National Park, which has more than 275 lakes & many waterfalls; take a tour of blue-spired La Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion de Cuenca ~ which houses a very famous image of the Virgin Mary; take in views of the city at Mirador de Turi; visit the zoo; survey the scene at Parque Calderon, the city’s main plaza; & simply take time to stroll the surrounding streets & savor the architecture.
- Where to Stay in Cuenca: I highly recommend staying right around Parque Calderon on your first visit to Cuenca, so that you can simply walk out your hotel & start exploring. I stayed at the Del Parque Hotel & Suites for the incredible price of $35/night, & my balcony had absolutely stunning views of the cathedral ~ which is literally right across the street! For more luxury, try Mansion Alcazar ($101+), a 4-star hotel with beautiful gardens located just a few blocks from Parque Calderon. Also close to the Parque is Hotel Boutique Santa Lucia ($86+), an elegant hotel set in a historic 19th-century building.
Photo Gallery of Cuenca…
Cuenca’s unique blue-topped Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (or Catedral de la Inmaculada) commands center stage of the town’s historic district, & if you’re an architecture lover: this building will leave you enthralled. I never tired of looking up at the beautiful blue spires. And from a practical perspective, there are plenty of delicious restaurants situated right around Parque Calderon & the Cathedral: take your pick. Food is very reasonably-priced in Cuenca, & gets cheaper the further you wander from the cathedral.
Strolling Cuenca’s charming streets was one of the best surprises of my Ecuador trip: one night, I walked past a church filled with the sounds of choral music ~ so I sat to enjoy the dazzling performance; another night, an energetic dance troupe performed in the main plaza.
This is a city meant for exploring….
More Photos of Cuenca, Ecuador…
Ultimate Guide to Cuenca, Ecuador
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of one of my favorite cities in Ecuador. The Galapagos makes for a great travel pairing with Cuenca: when I visited the islands, I was lucky enough to have a local tour guide who gave me a grand tour of Isla Santa Cruz, & who showed me all of the best things to do in his hometown of Puerto Ayora…
Read Next: Solo Female Travel in the Galapagos Islands