There are not a number of days or perfect itinerary to get to know Cuenca in depth. That and the ideal conditions it offers to enjoy a desired quality of life may be the reasons why, increasingly, foreign retirees decide to settle here and make it their new home. The truth is that one will never have enough time to discover Cuenca and its routes; its surroundings are places that invite one to visit the places in the city of four rivers one cannot miss. Among the most important we have:
CIDAP Inter-American Center for Popular Arts and Crafts, the best choice for watching and buying handicrafts from Ecuador and Latin American countries. It has an extensive library on the subject.
The Hat Museum, located in the Calle Larga, is a must for understanding the elaboration of fine straw hats.
Barranco, a traditional neighborhood next to the Tomebamba River. Here, there are traditional houses along the linear river park; bohemian life takes place here and it connects to the picturesque stairways that lead to important points of the city, such as the University, the Park dedicate to the Mother, the broken bridge, and more sites
The Turi Viewpoint located south east of the city. There, one can see the flashing red of the roofs of the city; it is perfect for admiring the topography and it is geographically locate the places one has visited.
The hot springs of Baños, featuring several resorts and spas where travelers can relax. This parish is within minutes of the city.
It is the Main Plaza of Cuenca and is at the heart of the city itself. The park is a natural garden with native plants and trees that invites one to explore and identify all kinds of characters in their daily lives. One block south of the park is the Plaza the Las Flowers (The Flowers’ Plaza) where roses, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, astromelias and many more types of flowers are sold. The square is next to the El Carmen Monastery where cloistered nuns still live in.
How to get there:
It is in the historic center of the city; almost every tour begins in these spaces and one can visit them during every day of the week, even on holidays.
The straw hat is a 100% Ecuadorian but it has been mistakenly known around the world as "Panama hat" because it was used by workers during the construction of the Panama Canal. The museum shows the process: from the fibers of the stem of the palm when they are hand woven, the washing and dyeing process, how hats are molded and finished. In this space, one can see and buy different types of hats. The price ranges from $30 up to 2,000 or so, depending on its fineness.
Directions: Gil Ramírez Davalos 3-86 Avenue. Cuenca, Ecuador. Schedule: Mondays to Fridays 8:00 – 12:30 and 2:30pm – 5:30pm. Saturdays: 8:30-12:30 Sundays: 9:00 – 11:00 by appointment only.
PUMAPUNGO & ALL SAINTS
Cuenca has three major stages in its history of occupation; on the Cañaris Guapondelig the majestic Inca city of Tomebamba or Tumipampa was built. This is the place where the last Inca emperor, Huayna Capac, was born. Santa Ana and Santa Ana de los Ríos was founded on the Inca city in 1557, over a wide stony area that used the remains of walls to build some of the buildings and churches that can be visited until today. Cuenca is one of the few cities in the world built on archaeological remains.
Pumapungo is one of the most complete site museums in the country. It consists of three sections: the archaeological part where one finds walls which were part of the magnificent city of Tomebamba; the Inca garden that recreates the natural environment where this civilization lived and that has a bird rescue center. There is also a very complete ethnographic museum that talks about the ancient peoples who inhabited the present territory of Ecuador.
Directions: Calle Larga and Huayna Capac: open Tuesdays through Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free
The archaeological remains of Todos los Santos (All Saints) were studied in the 70s by Augustin Landivar. It is a place where the three predominant cultures in Cuenca converge: the Canari reflected in the scarcely worked rocks placed perpendicularly. The Inca, with its fine work in pillow shaped stone and trapezoidal niches. And the Spanish presence, characterized by the use of the arches.
Directions: It is located at the east end of the Tomebamba River Walk and below the Museum of Todos Santos; it opens from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free.
THE PALATE ROUTE
To enjoy delicious cuisine is part of a unique experience within Ecuador in each of its four worlds. Without any doubt, the feature on this side of the Andes, present in each table, is the mote (cooked and popped maize). Fine and not so fine palates, soup kitchens and exquisite restaurants offer wide range of options to enjoy the mote pillo or mote pata, tamale, potato soup, lima beans and cheese, caldo de patas, guinea pig, pork a la Barbosa (grilled pork) and drinks such as chicha, rosero and morocho (another type of corn).
For Chef Juan Carlos Solano, the traditional character of a product is given because behind it there is a story. The mote pata, for example, is a legacy that brings the cooking elements of pork that the Spanish did not use and gave to the Indians. In turn, the Indians prepared it according to their custom and ended as a typical dish.
In Cuenca there are many options to enjoy international cuisine: The 10 de Agosto Market is a must to sample popular food. Traditional food can be found in the Cristo Del Consuelo, El Maiz, Los Tiestos, and other restaurants.
This city's gastronomy includes desserts like fritters, and salty tamale appetizers. The Fanesca (soup with beans and three types of pumpkins) and dried cod is eaten at Carnival and Easter. June is the period where the unique Corpus sweets can be tasted in the Calderon Park; they are a delight to eye because of their shapes, textures and colors and also they invite one to enjoy other flavors such as wind patties, flour tortillas or corn wheat stew (soup with cassava, maize and maqueño plantain), fried pork, llapingachos (potato pancakes cooked and fried), sausage (artisanal sausage, and the famous banana skins (busted pig skin).
EL CAJAS NATIONAL PARK
It is one of the areas of beautiful scenery in the country. It is a lakeside compound with more than 230 lakes that are the main source of water for Cuenca. The park is located between 3,200 m (10,498 ft.) and 4,450 m (14,600 ft.) high; the average temperature is 10°C (50°F). It is a wetland of perfect height for walking, hiking, building camps, bird watching, fishing, wilderness and high Andean vegetation studies.
Directions: It is located 30 km (18 miles) from Cuenca, at approximately 50 minutes on the way to the Coast. The park is opened from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. throughout the year. It takes a morning to 3 days to visit the place.
It is a haven for conservation of flora and fauna; it is a center of scientific research and it seeks to promote awareness and respect for biodiversity. It consists of eight hectares (19 acres) and is home to over 800 animals from 70 different species. It is part of a natural native forest located in the northeast of the city and maintains more than 300 varieties of native plants.
Directions: By the Cuenca - Azogues Highway, 10½ Km, about 15 minutes. The visit takes 2 to three hours, it is recommended to bring water and sunscreen.
ADVENTURE, THE BEST PLACE
Cuenca is also as a starting point for extreme and outdoor sports. It offers several options to enjoy adrenaline, speed and verticality. With ideal conditions and from the edge of the historic center one can go kayaking on the waters of the Tomebamba River. Its banks are an ideal training site; many people jog in this place in the mornings or they do it in many of its linear parks.
The practice of rock climbing has grown among Cuencanos and the city offers several options for visitors who enjoy this demanding activity. The Cojitambo Hill, one of the sacred mountains of the Canaris is the ideal place to learn and practice climbing. It has around 200 routes of varying difficulty, from fourth grade in the French scale to seventh grade for experts. The site is 25 km (15 miles) from Cuenca. One can also climb in the Paute Valley.
Biking not only facilitates the mobilization but it is a way to see the city. Tour operators offer routes between the villages of Ricaurte - Déleg - Cojitambo - Honorato Vasquez - Ingapirca - Guagualshumi and Jadan.
In Tarqui, 15 km (9 miles) south of Cuenca, one can go horseback riding on several farms in the area. There is also canopy in Bibin, with six "ziplines" mounted that provide adequate security conditions. Paragliding can be practiced in places like Paute, Gualaceo, Barabon and Susudel.
Nightlife in Cuenca starts in the Calle Larga (Long Street). This landmark neighborhood in the city welcomes local and foreign people to turn on their “engines” from late afternoon to liven up the night in the many bars in town. Bohemia, live music, bars and nightclubs are nearby or across the Tomebamba River. The Cuencana night lights-up with the fervor of the pyrotechnics castles, the canelazo and the local costumes. The festivities outside the daily life fall in a calendar scheduled throughout the year. Cuenca always celebrated; the cobbled, convent city is ready for stomping.
The Holy Innocents is a religious celebration held every January 6. People use disguises and participate in colorful parades.
Cuenca celebrates Carnival every February; the Godfather and Godmothers’ Thursdays with characters chosen publicly. Easter is the greatest Christian commemoration of the year; the best-known event is the procession of the Lord of the Passion which takes place on Good Friday. The Passing of the Child, on December 24, is a huge parade that attracts hundreds of children in costumes and representations of ethnicity.