The former Inca town of Cuenca (situated at about 2500 metres in the southern part of the Andes) was conquered by the Spanish in 1533 and founded in 1557. With a population of about 350 000 people it is Ecuador’s third largest city.
Cuenca is unarguably the centre of culture and art of Ecuador.
For its charming historical center, the churches, the small cobbled streets and colonial houses with noble facades, prim balustrades, wrought iron balconies and red tiled roofs, it was declared as World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1999.
The impressive churches in the old center are dating back to the 16th to 17th century and if you believe it, or not, this is the city of churches with 52 churches, one for every Sunday! Being in the historical center, you might get the impression that time has stood still.
Cuenca is an ideal place for al travellers who are fed up with the bustling, noisy life of Quito. The inhabitants of Cuenca are more conservative and in this tranquil city traditions and customs are connected to modern life in a very harmonic way. You won´t find many skyscrapers here!
For everyone who is interested in history and culture Cuenca is the town to visit. Being a meeting point for many different cultures has had a strong influence on arts and traditions.
Cuenca boasts a huge variety of museums and art galleries and is the most important center of Artesania in Ecuador. There you can buy unique souvenirs of high quality, such as Panama Hats, leather jackets, ceramics, embroideries, gold jewellery and clothing, which are produced around Cuenca.
The city is divided in half by the Rio Tomebamba. In the northern half the heart of the colonial city is situated, in the south the newer suburbs. The Rio Tomebamba is worth having a look. At the riverside it is lined by colonial buildings and washwomen lying out their clothing to dry at the banks of the river. This is an interesting and colorful sight.
Most nationalities will need a visa to enter Ecuador. You can get a tourist visa at the airport or the border. Depending on your nationality, you will get 60 or 90 days. You can get an extension at the migration office at Calle Amazonas 2639.
You can also get a work, student, business or residence visa, which is more complicated and expensive.
Because chances are that you will be asked to show your passport at a checkpoint, it is not advisable to overstay your visa. However, the official fine for overstaying your visa is only 40 cents.
Compared to other cities, accommodation in Cuenca is rather expensive. Cuenca offers all types of accommodation ranging from a cheap hostal to a five star hotel. Most of the hotels can be found north of Rio Tomebamba around the historical center.
The most beautiful are situated in the historic center and impress with their colonial facades and their antique inside. Many of them have been refurbished according to the original blueprints. Unlike the historic centre of Quito the old city of Cuenca is a peaceful and tranquil place.
The first week in November and mid-April are holiday periods and during that time it will be more difficult finding accommodation.
Useful expressions searching for accommodation:
Have you got a room available? = Tiene una habitacion libre?
A double room = Una habitacion doble
How much does it cost? = Cuanto cuesta?
Has it got a private bath? = Tiene baño privado?
Can I see the room, please = Puedo ver la habitacion, por favor.
In the historic center are a couple of comfortable restaurants of different price-categories that offer typical Ecuadorian food as well as international cuisine. You will soon notice that most restaurants are much cheaper than in Europe. Tasty set luches start from a dollar.
Many of the restaurants in Cuenca are closed on Sunday.
A good alternative to the restaurants are the best hotels in town whose restaurants are open to public and offer good meals and breakfast at a reasonable price.
Some useful phrases for eating out:
Have you got a table for one/two/three/four persons?
Tiene una mesa para una/dos/tres/cuatro personas?
It tastes delicious = Es deliciosa
Can I have the bill, please = La cuenta, por favor
salt = sal
Pepper = pimienta
knife = cuchillo
spoon = cuchara
fork = tenedor
meat = carne
beef = res
pork = cerdo
Eat well! = Buen provecho!
Unfortunately Cuenca’s nightlife is fairly limited. But those places who do exist won’t disappoint you. Many bars can be found on Avenida Grand Colombia. If you like to relax and have a chat in a laid-back atmosphere, prefer trendy places or would like to dance some Salsa or Merengue with the locals – Cuenca’s nightlife meets most tastes.
A beer, please = Una cerveza, por favor
A big bottle of Pilsener = Una Pilsener grande
Have you got a boy/girl-friend? = Tienes un(a) enamorad(o/a)
What kind of cocktails do you have? = Que tipo de cocteles tiene?
Can I see the menu? = Puedo ver el menu?
Cuenca is the center of the Panama Hat Industry. Other crafts include leather jackets, ceramics, embroideries, baskets, gold jewellery and clothing. If you visit a market, please be aware of pickpockets!
Taxis between the airport and the city center cost about 1,50 USD. The terminal is also frequently passed by City buses, but those can be pretty full after the arrival of a plane.
From the city center the buses depart from the stop flower market on Padre Aguirre.
Very cheap City buses leave from the front of the bus terminal for the center and for the terminal they leave from the flower market.
The most famous point of interest close to Cuenca are the ruins of Ingapirca. These remains of the Inca Empire are the most important archeological site in Ecuador. For those who are interested in hiking and in nature, you should have a look at Parque Nacional Cajas 30 kms west of Cuenca, which is famous for its beautiful lakes.