Cuenca Ecuador


Cuenca – The Athens Of Ecuador

Ecuador’s third largest city has a surprisingly small-town feel and a lovely old world charm. You will enjoy strolling through its cobbled streets and gazing at well-preserved colonial architecture. Plazas, churches and whitewashed houses with red tile roofs on the banks of the Tumebamba river create a wonderful setting. Cuenca is easily one of Ecuador’s most beautiful cities and one of the favourite emerging holiday travel destinations.

Cuenca has a rich and varied history. The Canaris lived here from around 500AD and the city was then called Guapondeleg. Not much is known about the Canaris and very little of their architecture survives. Around 1480 AD, the city was captured by the Incas and renamed Tumebamba. The Incas had ambitious plans and wanted to build a city that rivaled Cuzco. But this was not to be as about 50 years later the Spanish Conquistadors defeated the Incas. In 1557 the Spanish rebuilt and renamed the city Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca, or Cuenca for short. The Spanish built some of their cathedrals and palaces on the foundations of the Inca palaces and buildings. At the Todos Los Santos archaeological site you can see the unusual history of Cuenca in the ruins built by the Canari, Inca as well as the Spanish.

There’s much to see and explore in and around Cuenca and its mild climate makes it a great place for holiday travel. Its historic area was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. But apart from museums, churches, archaeological ruins and parks, Cuenca also has some upscale restaurants and galleries.

Your sightseeing should begin in Parque Calderon, Cuenca’s biggest plaza. On one side you will see the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion or the New Cathedral. Work on the cathedral began in 1885 and went on for the next 80 years! Its giant blue domes are at the rear and are visible from many parts of the city. The Cathedral’s bell towers appear truncated and were supposed to be much taller but an error in design meant that the foundation of the cathedral would not have been able to bear the weight of the taller towers.
On the opposite end of the plaza is the Old Cathedral – El Sagrario. It is the oldest building in Cuenca and work on it began in 1557. It is undergoing restoration and serves as a museum.

The Church of El Carmen de la Asunción isn’t open to the public but you should visit it to admire its beautiful stone façade and stroll through the plaza on which it is located. The Plazoleta del Carmen is just a block away from Parque Calderon and is the site of the daily flower market, Mercado de las Flores. Ecuador is one of the largest producers of flowers in the world and you can admire a variety of exotic flowers at the market.

Some of the museums to visit are the Museo Pumapungo for its dioramas and tsantsas (shrunken heads) from the Shuar culture, Museo de las Conceptas for its collection of religious works and crucifixes and the Museo de las Culturas Aborígenes for its collection of of archaeological pieces of over 20 pre-Columbian cultures of Ecuador.

Outside Cuenca:

Parque Nacional Cajas

Just a 45-minute drive outside Cuenca, the Cajas National Park is studded with over 200 lakes and lagoons and covers an area of over 71,000 acres. It is a great place to go hiking and there are many wonderful trails, the most popular among which is the Inca Trail. The Park is a great place for bird watching and trout fishing. The terrain, as well as the flora and fauna, is varied which makes exploring quite interesting. The Parks’ forests have polylepis trees which grow to a height of over 3,000 meters.


This is the largest of the Inca ruins in Ecuador but is much smaller than Peru’s Machu Picchu. Ingapirca means ‘Inca Wall’. Like Cuenca, the area was already inhabited by the Canari and when the Incas arrived here, they built their temples and houses over the foundations of Canari buildings. The site is dominated by an elliptical Sun temple. The site has some impressive Inca masonry with stone walls which were built without the use of mortar.

Cuenca Weather

The weather is mild all round the year with an average daily temperature of 14.6ºC. The rainy season is from October to May.

Posted by on December 7th, 2009

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