Both the airport and the bus terminal are very close to the city center. Cuenca has a modern tram which stops at both locations (cash only – 1 USD for a single ride as of 2023). Alternatively, there are also many taxis available (unfortunately uber or other ride sharing apps are not available in Cuenca yet).
I recommend staying in the historic city center since most of the sights can be found there. The closer you are to the river the better, but everything is reachable in relatively short walking distances. Luckily, Cuenca is still a relatively safe town, so walking around is not really an issue here, even in the evening hours. Of course, always take the common safety precautions as you would in any other place of the world.
On your first day, you may want to visit Parque Calderón (also known as Parque Central). It’s a beautiful park surrounded by colonial buildings and Cuenca’s most prominent church: La Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción.
In the historic city center you find countless beautiful squares and churches as well as many little coffee shops. One that has a particularly picturesque setting is Café de la Sucre which is just one block from Parque Central.
Café de la Sucre
After coffee (or before) you can visit the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno which apart from showing modern Ecuadorian art and photography is also located in a very historical place. Among other things, it used to be a prison, rehab facility and a school for children. It has some nice patios and the entrance is free.
Definitely, don’t miss taking a stroll along the river just south of the historial old town. This is where you can also find Calle Larga which is where many cool bars and restaurants can be found.
Just one hour away from Cuenca you can find one of the finest national parks in Ecuador: El Cajas. To get there, just get on any Guayaquil bound bus that is going via Cajas (not via Cañar). The journey takes approximately one hour. You will pass through a beautiful mountain landscape that sometimes resembles the Alps then you finally reach the páramo (a region above ~3000 meters/10000 feet) and temperatures drop significantly (bring plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses and warm clothes. I recommend you get off the bus at Laguna Toreadora. From there you can hike around a stunning lagoon and enjoy the out-of-this world landscape of the Ecuadorian páramo. To return to Cuenca just flag down any bus on the highway.
To enjoy nice views over Cuenca, I recommend you visit two viewpoints that are very close to town and that can be reached with a short taxi ride.
El Turi is more developed and has many bars and restaurants whereas Ictocruz is a huge outdoor area ideal for a little stroll along with nice views over the city and surrounding mountains.
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
– gustave flaubert
Hi! I am Max and in 2022, after almost 12 years in the corporate world, I decided to fully focus on my passion for exploring new countries and cultures, hoping to inspire other fellow travelers and also to provide helpful tips and insights to those currently preparing for their next adventure.