Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador and is located in the south of the country at about 2,500 meters altitude. With an uncluttered center and beautiful marble and colonial-style buildings, Cuenca is a popular city to stay. The city dates back to 1557, but the buildings are still well-maintained. What is there to do in Cuenca? And how do you get there and back?
Cuneca’s most central square is Parque Calderón, located directly in front of the city’s largest cathedral, Cathedral de la Inmaculada Concepción. It is a square where both locals and tourists come to rest, have a cup of coffee or take in the atmosphere of the city.
Cuenca has many churches, cathedrals and museums that can be visited. These include the Iglesia Santísimo Rosario, Iglesia del Carmen de la Asunción and several art and history museums. Even on a day with less weather you can have fun in Cuenca.
Cathedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion
The Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción is also called Cathedral Nueva and is not only outside but also inside. The cathedral can be visited. Open daily Monday to Thursday from 9.30am – 12.30pm and 2pm – 4pm and Friday and Saturday until 7pm. On Sundays from 9am to 1.30pm and on public holidays from 9am to 7pm. You can also climb the towers during opening hours. This costs $2 per person and the entrance is in Santa Ana street, the street to the right of the church when you are standing in front of it.
Markets and food and drink
Due to the many squares that can be found in Cuenca, markets are often held in and around the squares. Opposite Iglesia del Carmen de la Asunción you will find a daily flower market with many colors and scents. There are daily stalls on Plaza de San Francisco where you can buy local products and therefore souvenirs. You can think of sweaters, rugs, jewelry, hats, figurines and much more. There are also a number of larger souvenir shops in the houses. You can find more local products at the Mercado de Artesanias Rotary market. Mercado 9 de Octubre is a market where you can mainly buy fresh fruit and vegetables. For delicious artesenal bread you can visit bakery EFÁ Clásico, Marea Bakery panaderia and the bakery Primitivo Artisan Bakery located further away. For a special beer or a drink you can visit Jodoco Belgian Bistro (for the Dutch, they have bitterballen here).
Free walking tour
If you want to get to know the city better, a Free Walking Tour is organized daily at 10:00 AM. During the walk you walk along the most famous highlights in the center of Cuenca. The tour starts from Seminario San Luis (Calle Benigno Malo y Simón Bolívar, near Catedral Nueva). Registration is appreciated via www.walkingtourscuenca.com. It is advisable to follow the Free walking tour at the beginning of your stay in Cuenca, because often tips are also given for nice cafes and restaurants. A tip for the guide at the end of the tour is recommended.
Outside the city, slightly up into the hills, is the Turi viewpoint, Mirador de Turi. It is not only a lookout point, you will also find a large swing (el columpio de Mirador de Turi), a sky park, a church, a park and several restaurants including Hell’s, where you can eat and drink with a view over the city. You get to the Turi viewpoint by walking there, which is about a 1-1.5 hour walk. You can also go by taxi. Then agree a price in advance.
National Park Cajas
Just outside Cuenca, the Cajas National Park is like a hidden gem. The park is not very well known but has beautiful views and walking routes. In addition, the park is a protected area that contains hundreds of lakes. Several hiking trails have been constructed from the visitor center, varying in length and difficulty.
Cajas National Park is free, but you must register at the visitor center. There is a maximum number of visitors that can enter the park per day (small 300). In addition, the park rangers can tell you which trails are best to walk that day. Due to the rapidly changing weather conditions, certain hiking trails may be discouraged for that day.
Good to know that Cajas National Park has a different climate than Cuenca. The park is located at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters and it can therefore be cool. It is also more common for it to be cloudy in the afternoon, so it is advisable to go early in the morning. For a break before and or after your walk, you can go to the adjacent restaurant. There you can buy cold and hot drinks and meals. They also sell mustens, scarves and gloves and there is a toilet.
Cajas National Park is about 10 kilometers from Cuenca, and about an hour by bus. If you have your own transport you can drive there yourself, then drive to the visitor center. If you go by bus, buy your tickets at Terminal Terrestre Cuenca and take a bus that goes to Guayaquil. If you indicate to the driver that you want to go to Cajas, he will stop at the visitor center. The bus ride takes less than an hour and costs $3 per person. If you want to go back to Cuenca all you have to do is wait by the side of the road. There are quite regular, several per hour, buses from Guayaquil and with them you can come back to Cuenca.
How do you get there and back?
You get to Cuenca by bus from Baños (direct bus, about 8 hours) or from Guayaquil (every 30 minutes, from Terminal Terrestre de Guayaquil, just under 4 hours for $9.50). You buy your ticket in the terminal at counter number 51.
You can also go to Cuenca from the border with Peru. You then travel from Chiclayo, Piura or Máncora to Cuenca. You can also travel to Guayaquil from these cities and also Lima. You will then take an international bus that will cross the border with you. They are often night buses and you can go to Cuenca with bus companies Azuay or Semaria International. They are alike so it doesn’t matter who you travel with. If you want to read along about the border crossing with Peru, then continue here.
There is no Uber in Cuenca, but there are local taxis. If you go by taxi, agree on a price in advance. A ride to or from downtown from the Terminal Terrestre will cost approximately $2 – $4.
Cuenca is not a very big city so many distances can be done on foot. Since 2020, a Tranvía tram has also been running in the center to bridge distances. You buy a one-time card that you can load. The card costs $2 and a ride is $0.35. It is 1 line that runs up and down, the line runs between Rio Tarqui and Parque Industrial.
You can also explore Cuenca by bike. Throughout the city there are parking spaces with red bicycles that you can use and then park again in a garage after use. The city has about 20 bicycle parking facilities. It’s called Bici Pública Cuenca. You register yourself so that you can then take a bicycle with you to a parking facility. You also need the App, called BiciCuenca – Sistema de Bicicletas. Registration is a one-time $3 and each ride is $0.25. If you want to use the bike unlimited for a whole day, you pay $10. For more information, visit www.bicicuenca.com. On the website you will find the costs, how registration works and where you can find the parking facilities in the city.