The capital of the Azuay Province, Cuenca comfortably competes with Quito when it comes to ranking as one of the country’s most magnetic destinations. When you travel to Cuenca, take a walk through the city center and see the balconied houses hanging from the edges of cliff faces, rotunda rooftops, cobbled streets, and ornate churches that easily make this Andean colonial city one of South America’s most eye-catching. From its architecture to its cuisine, experience the Ecuadorian buena onda in a city that defines the word laid-back.
The architectural gem in Plaza Mayor square is the Cuenca Cathedral. A must-see during any Cuenca vacation, this striking building with neo-gothic stylings and arched doorways, the cathedral is a perfect example of the city’s colonial flair. Colored buildings, quaint market stalls, and a sprinkling of local restaurants invite you to layback and indulge in the good life.
Once used in colonial times as the preferred church for Spanish conquerors, today the Church of El Sagrario houses a museum with religious art. As the city’s oldest building (it was constructed in 1557), the Church is a historic experience whose presence is felt the minute you enter its doors.
The Romanesque stylings of this striking six domed cathedral took almost a century to reach completion. Inside, the immaculately designed interiors and stained-glass windows that shed adorning light over this devout pillared space will surely move you.
A small church of ritual and tradition, Carmen de la Asunción was founded in 1682. Its white façade and baroque sculptures are aptly contrasted by the colorful backdrop of a flower market. The sequestered nuns here provide bread and wine in return for a donation, and enhance a very personal experience upon visiting through song and worship.
During a Cuenca tour, take a walk along the embankment of Tomebama River and admire the balconied housing and lush greens of vegetation that adorn this wonderful city. El Barranco is the perfect moment to pause and enjoy a meal in one of several eateries—full of local specialties—that have come to redefine the city’s culinary tradition.
If you feel like getting out of the city while on a Cuenca vacation, travel 18 miles west to the vast Cajas National Park. Explore the jagged landscapes that offer a plentitude of tundra vegetation, endemic wildlife, and over 270 lakes. Be sure to pack your hiking boots as there are an abundance of trails on offer. Less