Almost always called Cuenca, and rarely named anything else on maps, the city's full name is actually: Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca. For obvious reasons here on VagabondTravel.ca you will only find reference to Cuenca.
The dominant features of Cuenca's geography are also the source of the city's name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca. "Los cuatro ríos" means, "the four rivers". These rivers are the Tomebamba, which was named after the Cañari culture, Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara. The first three rivers originate in the Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas to the west of the city. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed.
Cuenca is the capital of the Azuay Province, and is located in the highlands of Ecuador, nestled is a valley amid that Andes, at elevations of between 2,350 to 2,550 m above sea level. It is approximately nine hours south of Quito, and four hours east of Guayaquil.
Most tourists visit the historic area of Cuenca, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the many historical structures. The old part of Cuenca is located between the river Tomebamba, and the street Gran Colombia to the north, General Torres to the west, and Hermano Miguel to the east. The compactness and grid-like layout of the historical area of Cuenca, with it's many easy to identifiable monuments make it very easy to navigate. Outside the core historical area Cuenca can be a bit confusing to navigate because there are dozens of narrow colonial streets with very similarly designed buildings.
The best time for tourists to visit Cuenca is during major fiestas, such as the "Mass of Children" that is carried out the day of the Arrival of Kings, on January 6th, Epiphany Day, or in the commemoration of the independence of the city, November 3rd, during which processions, cultural acts and dances are organized.
There is no best time, nor an off season in Cuenca when it comes to weather. Cuenca's location on the Equator, but at a 2300 to 2500 meter elevation means there are no drastic seasonal changes like elsewhere in the world. Temperatures can drop or climb at any time of the year, but usually the temperature is a constant 15 degrees Celsius, or 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The all time record low in Cuenca is just under 0 degrees Celsius, while the record high is just over 27 degrees Celsius. The daily mean °C only fluctuates between 13.3 and 15.7 every month of the year, or for folk used to Imperial measurements, that's from around 56 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rainfall is consistent month after month, around 65 to 85 mm, with March and April being the exception at around 105 to 110 mm. January through March it tends to rain more often then the rest of the year, as much as two days out of three, but these are also the hotter months of the year. However, by hotter I'm talking only a couple of degrees on average. June through September tend to be dryer, but cooler months, but again we are talking an average of at most 2 degrees cooler.
If you think there's a typo in this paragraph you'd be mistaken. Weather at the Equator is unique in that there are no pronounced seasons, and Cuenca is at 2300 to 2500 meters elevation which further affects the weather, making it an even more unique destination climate wise.
The local airport in Cuenca is the Aeropuerto Mariscal Lamar, or Mariscal Lamar Airport in English. It is located due east of the Terminal Terrestre bus station on Avenida España, and is just a five minute walk from the bus station. Four airlines currently serve Cuenca; AeroGal, LAN Ecuador, and TAME fly to Quito daily while Línea Aérea Cuencana and TAME fly to Guayaquil.
Cuenca's inter-provincial bus station, the Terminal Terrestre, is well laid out, organized, and clean. Located on Avenida España, in the northeastern part of the city, it's a twenty minute walk or a short taxi ride from the historic center of the city. Many City buses provide frequent service as indicated by the "Terminal Terrestre" placard on the windshield. A guide to using the the city buses, maps of the routes, and an online trip planner can be found at CuencaTransit.com
Buses arrive and depart throughout the day. Inter city service is available to major cities, such as Guayaquil and Quito, as well as the nearby cities of Loja, Riobamba, or Machala. The distance to Guayaquil is 243 km. and by bus the trip takes nearly 4 hours and follows the highway Durán-Pto.Inca-Molleturo, a scenic ride through the Cajas National Park that is well worth taking.
Quito is 497 km from Cuenca, and by but the trip takes about 10 hours on the Road Pan-American South. Less scenic than the bus ride from Cuenca to Guayaquil, it is none the less a great way to see a great deal of Ecuador.
Many people prefer to travel by bus at night in Ecuador so they're able to have more time during the following day for sightseeing or take care of business. However, overnight bus travelers should use caution because bus hijackings that resulted in passengers being robbed have been reported.
Crime in Ecuador is minimal. However, like anywhere in the world you travel to, always exercise common sense and caution, especially at night.