Cuenca is the third-largest city in Ecuador and is recognized as the most important cultural center of the country, which is why it’s also known as “the Athens of Ecuador.”
This city also has been chosen as the favorite destination to live in after retirement. It is a very quiet city that, despite being cosmopolitan, keeps a conservative spirit that enchants both locals and tourists from all over the world.
Architecture, local art, gastronomy, the beautiful historic center, history, and people make Cuenca a perfect place to explore and discover.
- 11 Best Things to Do in Cuenca
- Visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
- Admire the Views From Turi’s Viewpoint (Mirador de Turi)
- Hiking Through the Cajas National Park
- Learn at the Pumapungo Museum
- Stroll Along the Tomebamba River
- Marvel at the Chorro de Girón
- Try the Gastronomy of Cuenca
- Discover the Old Cathedral
- Tour the Markets
- Visit the Toquilla Straw Hat Museum (Museo del sombrero de Paja Toquilla)
- Where to Stay in Cuenca
- Is Cuenca Worth a Visit?
11 Best Things to Do in Cuenca
Visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
It’s the first building that stands out when you arrive in Cuenca, with its three huge blue domes. It has a Renaissance Gothic style and it’s inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.
Its construction was completed in 1975 and is one of the most visited places in the city. Inside you can find the golden pillars with the central figure of Jesus Christ, and you can also visit the domes, the crypt and the terrace of the cathedral.
Admire the Views From Turi’s Viewpoint (Mirador de Turi)
This viewpoint has stunning views of the entire city. To get here you can take a taxi for about $4 or take the bus to the Mall del Rio and from there take another bus to the viewpoint.
It is also possible to buy a ticket for the city-tour bus that leaves from Calderón Park. Once in the viewpoint, you’ll find food stands, little bars, a church and also telescopes to enjoy the views.
If you want something more structured like a tour of the city, here’s one that stops at the viewpoint.
Hiking Through the Cajas National Park
Thirty-three kilometers from the city of Cuenca, in the Ecuadorian Andes, we find this National Park of great beauty. It’s better if you visit it when it’s not raining. Otherwise, the routes may be closed.
The park is full of vegetation and its main attraction is the Lagartococha and Taitachungo lagoons, as well as its viewpoints in the high areas (up to 4000 meters high) of Avilahuayco and the Loma de Tres Cruces.
To get to Cajas you can book a tour or you can also take public transport from the south terminal, going in the direction of Guayaquil and telling the driver to stop at La Cruz.
Learn at the Pumapungo Museum
The Pumapungo Museum is located on Larga Street and it’s an ethnographic museum that presents a collection of weapons, archaeological remains, costumes, houses, and different everyday life objects. Here, you can learn about the history of the area’s ancient civilizations throughout many different eras.
It has exhibitions about fabrics, how metals were worked and the influence of pre-Hispanic and Inca cultures in Ecuador.
It also has a green area so that visitors can get to know more than 200 native plants, and different birds like eagles and toucans. In addition to getting to know the varieties of landscapes in the area.
Admission is free and it’s well worth visiting to discover more about the country’s culture.
Loving the ancient history of Cuenca and can’t get enough? Check out these tours that will guide you through archeological remains.
Stroll Along the Tomebamba River
4 rivers cross the city of Cuenca, but the Tomebamba is the most important of the four. The river is born in the Cajas National Park and goes around the historic center of the city. That creates a beautiful walk by the trees, colonial buildings, and archaeological remains.
Marvel at the Chorro de Girón
El Chorro it’s a waterfall about 70 meters high and is one of seven waterfalls in the world that drops from a river into the ocean. In Girón you can find transportation that takes you to El Chorro, or tours will provide transportation.
Girón is 45 km away from Cuenca and you can go by bus from the terminal to Machala. Upon reaching the beginning of the route there is a restaurant where you can have a drink and eat a delicious meal.
There are three waterfalls, and the route to the last is about 3 hours. The place is very beautiful and with good weather, you can spend a spectacular day getting to know this magical landscape.
Try the Gastronomy of Cuenca
One of the distinctive foods you have to try it’s roasted pork skin, or as they call it baked or crunchy cascarita. It is very typical of the Azuay area and you can find many stands on the street that sell it accompanied by beans, a potato omelet, fries or chili.
It is really tasty and crispy … if you like pork, then you have to try it!
Other dishes that you can try in Cuenca are corn pies (humitas), roasted guinea pig and trout from its rivers. Alongside these dishes, local produce also lines the shelves.
There’s even a Gastronomy of Cuenca Museum where visitors can experience local traditions through food and take a tour through the museum.
Discover the Old Cathedral
The Church of El Sagrario, known as the Old Cathedral, is located in front of Calderón Park and contains almost 500 years of history. It was built between 1557 and 1567, just after the Spanish founded the city.
Currently, it is a museum of religious art where you can get to know the priceless Cuenca heritage.
Tour the Markets
When you visit a new place it can be lovely to visit their market, get to know what products they have, discover new foods and surround yourself with the different smells of the city.
In Cuenca, there are several markets to visit, but the 10 de Agosto market stands out. It is located on Larga Street. It is a large market, but well organized, with stalls of fruits, vegetables, and food.
Within the market, you’ll be able to discover new fruits you’ve never seen, and the tree tomato, which although it is red like a tomato, has a different flavor.
Wanting to stop at every market in Cuenca? Check out this tour.
Visit the Toquilla Straw Hat Museum (Museo del sombrero de Paja Toquilla)
Located in the Paredes Roldán house, on Larga Street, is this workshop/museum where the manufacturing of the hats became an art.
Passing from generation to generation, museum owners continue to make toquilla straw hats by hand. In the museum, you can see the whole process of creating hats. How toquilla straw is collected, the treatment of the fibers, molds and special technics they use.
Among all the models, the Panama Hat stands out. It’s very famous in Ecuador, but don’t its name fool you, it’s not from Panama. It was the model that was sent to the workers who were responsible for building the Panama Canal. Demonstrations often occur for those touring the museum.
Where to Stay in Cuenca
Looking for a place to stay in Cuenca? Check out these hotels centrally located in Cuenca.
Is Cuenca Worth a Visit?
This Ecuadorian city is filled with archeological wonders, a plethora of natural parks to gawk at the wildlife, and rich cultural traditions that are definitely worth experiencing firsthand.
There are plenty of tours that’ll aid visitors in navigating the city and ensure the best experiences in each activity. The Athens of Ecuador awaits you!
Last Updated on January 26, 2023