Cuenca is a vibrant colonial city in southern Ecuador. Cuenca is the third largest in the country, and is the capital of Azuay Province, Cuenca's historical city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site because of its many historical buildings dating from the Spanish colonial period.
Within or just on the outskirts of the city are a great many sights of interest. Some of the most notable are...
The most important ruines in Ecuador are the Inca Pirca. It's not comparable with Peru's Machu Picchu, but the site does make for an interesting day trip.
Baños is a beautiful spot just outside Cuenca, to the southwest. This is not the similarily named Baños in Tungurahua Province, which is the entrance to the Rainforest. This Baños has thermal baths available at a hotel complex, some of which are as hot as 36C, and Turkish baths. Baños is a wonderful place to relax using the hot saunas, or by swimming in the hot or cold pools.
A spectacular viewpoint, or 'mirador', is located south of the city. It offers wonderful views overlooking the city during the day and night. There is no charge for the view, but a taxi to the viewpoint will cost a few dollars.
Panorama view of Cuenca, Ecuador from Turi area | Photo by Marc Figueras
Looming over the main plaza, Parque Calderon, is the city's main church, called the New Cathedral, which was built around 1885. With its 3 beautiful sky-blue domes visible from almost anywhere in the city it is a must see Cuenca landmark. The roof of the cathedral was recently opened to visitors. The rood isn' free however. A climb up a steep, spiraling stone staircase that leads to an excellent view over the city. As is the case to enter the crypt below the church, the roof also costs $1.
The river Tomebamba is one of the four rivers that run through the heart of Cuenca. The swift, rock-strewn Río Tomebamba is lined with old colonial buildings that tower above the grassy riverside. The buildings themselves open onto the street of Calle Larga, which runs parallel to the river. The riverwalk created is the Barranco, with its paved trails on both sides of the river connected by numerous bridges. Stairs lead up the steep banks into the older part of the city on the north side, connecting to Calle Larga's restaurants, clubs, bars, a mall, and the newly renovated Parque de la Madre make the riverwalk a must see place.
Construction of El Sagrario, also know as the "Church of the Shrine", or the "Old Cathedral" began in 1557. Located at the Parque Calderon, opposite the New Cathedral, it's no longer use as a church. It now the Museum for Religious Art. A restoration project has been completed recently and the original paint and old murals can now be seen in various places..
The Museo del Banco Central is a fantastic museum with sections on the Shuar with shrunken heads on display, and old Ecuadorian money. Entry is free, as are all state owned museums now.
There is musch more to see and do in Cuenca of course. To take in all of Cuenca requires an extended say. I recommend atay of at least a week to take in this one of a kind, colonial city.