It’s no surprise that Cuenca is a city rich in culture considering it has been marked as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The overlap between the Cañari, Inca, and Spanish influence on the city makes it quite unique. In the same day that you can walk through streets that will remind you of Europe, you can see ruins of the Inca civilization. To read more about Cuenca, click here
The city of Cuenca has plenty of charm on its own, from lovely architecture to intriguing history. But its charm extends even beyond its borders with nearby trails and national parks that offer vast views of the Andes and whimsical walks through cloud forests.
Though Cuenca was named after a Spanish city when Gil Ramírez Dávalos took over, it’s history began long before then. Cuenca was first known as Guapondelig, home to the Cañari people. The Cañari civilization existed as early as 500AD, and primarily settled in what are now the Azuay and Cañar regions of Ecuador.
Eventually the Inca Empire came to the region with the intent of taking over. Having seen other regions fall to the Incas, the Cañari people had begun to prepare for war. And for a while they were successful in driving them off. Their persistent fighting against the Incas is one of the things that the Cañari are most known for. The Inca emperor, Túpac Yupanqui, eventually had to call upon the forces of the entire empire to conquer the Cañari. When the Cañari heard of this plan, they chose to attempt to reach an agreement with the Incas instead of taking their chances fighting.
They more or less negotiated with the Incas, as the empire took control of them for the most part and named the area Tumebamba. However, the Cañari retained some of their own freedom and governance, which makes it difficult for historians to say they were conquered. They still weren’t particularly happy with the arrangement, so when the Spanish came with plans to take over, the Cañaris joined them in hopes of driving the Incas out.
The Spanish betrayed the Cañari immediately after the Incas were defeated and enslaved them all in what they named Cuenca. From there, Ecuador didn’t gain independence from Spain for over 300 years. The Cañari people still exist in Ecuador, but they have continued to face issues of oppression. Today in Cuenca, vague remnants of the Cañari and Inca civilizations remain.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Cuenca so you can find one that fits you best while remaining near the center of the city. For 4 star level pampering, many people look to Mansion Alcazar. While it is undoubtedly a gorgeous hotel that will cover everything you need, consider looking into Casa San Rafael instead. It is also a 4 star hotel with elegant rooms, and costs a fraction of the price.
If you’re looking for a cheap stay, Hostal Villa del Rosario is a simple choice with a lovely little courtyard full of greenery.
Without a strictly defined winter and summer, weather in Ecuador tends to vary wildly based on time of year and region. Cuenca is located in the central Sierra region of Ecuador, where the dry season is more or less from June to December. The wet season sees significantly more rain and is colder, but not enough to make it a horrible time to visit. So while the dry season may be preferable, it is possible to visit any time throughout the year.
Ecuador isn’t known for many specific delicacies, yet it isn’t difficult to find good food at an almost unbelievably low price. This is especially true in Cuenca, where restaurants line the main roads.
Fresh fruit, of both tropical and more typical varieties, is widely available in Cuenca, meaning you can get an incredible cup of juice with every meal. Mote is a common boiled corn side dish that can be found in most restaurants. There are also several variations, such as mote pillo, which mixes in onion, eggs, and garlic.
Chicken and pork are the most common meats found as staples of larger dishes in Cuenca as seafood isn’t as common as it is in the coastal region of Ecuador. That being said, good seafood can still be found. Tiesto’s Restaurant is known for having an amazing lobster dish.
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, with restaurants offering three-course almuerzos for only a few bucks. Good options for these can be found all over by simply wandering into a restaurant off the street. And if you’re looking for a light meal along the way, Windhorse Cafe is a cozy spot owned by two former Peace Corps volunteers.
If you’re staying in Mansion Alcazar and would also like an elegant, tasty dinner, you don’t even have to leave the building to go to Casa Alonso.
Cuenca’s airport is not international, but you can fly there from Quito in just under an hour on either LATAM or TAME airlines. Buses are also available from Quito to Cuenca, and as per usual are the cheaper option. The trip is 8 hours long, but there are some incredible sights to see along the way that may make it worth it if you have the time.
Shorter bus trips are also available from less commonly trekked places such as Alausi and Riobamba. Buses are also available from Guayaquil and the trip takes over 3 hours, but the bus companies are notoriously unorganized. The bus company Super Semeria is probably your best bet for the least hassle.
Not only is there plenty to see in Cuenca, but venturing just beyond the beautiful city can lead you to natural and cultural wonders. Some activities in and around Cuenca include: