Cuenca – Colonial charm

We heard about the charm of Cuenca from various travelers and we had to see it for ourselves. It took us a while to get there but we were eventually able to see what the travelers meant.

Getting There

Cuenca is in the south of Ecuador in the mountainous Sierra region. At Quito, we were told that it takes 8 hours to get to Cuenca but it took 10 hours to get there mostly due to the mountainous roads and accidents. It cost around $10 to get there from Quito.

Cuenca City Center

Cuenca is famous for churches and has 52 churches. It is possible for Cuencans to visit a different church every Sunday of the year. The Cathedral of Cuenca was a stunning brickwork building which is 60 metres high.

Cathedral, Cuenca

While the inside was incredible, we took a tour for $3 around the Cathedral. Our first stop was the crypt underneath the Cathedral where many of the members of Catholic Church were buried. It was a sombre experience but certainly an unexpected one. We walked around the cathedral many times without noticing a catacomb style entry to the crypt.

Cathedral crypt, Cuenca

Following on, We then climbed up 60 metres to see the view from the top and it was mesmerizing for sure. Many photos and selfies later, we had to descend down back to the street for more church visits.

Top of the Cathedral, Cuenca

Another church we really liked was the Disney-like San Alfonso Church. Its building was cream-coloured but the spires were blue. It stood out from a distance and we took some good shots of it.
San Alfonso church, Cuenca
The issue with Cuenca was that it was impossible to visit every church and remember the name. We took a few shots from the top level of our hostel while Shruti was working and there were 2 churches visible from the top. The shots were stunning but we couldn’t tell you what the names of the churches were. 2 out of 52 I guess!
View from the hostel, Cuenca

Bus Tour of Cuenca

We have generally stayed away from bus tours in South America but Cuenca was an exception. The bus tour was cheap at $8 and the ticket was valid all day for the 2 bus tours (North & South). The bus initially went through the old city of Cuenca. Apart from the Churches, the building architecture was brilliant too. Cuenca had kept its old buildings with their white walls and coloured windows. The architecture was a bit more rustic than Quito but was still beautiful. There was a higher use of brickwork facades than anywhere in South America.

Brickwork architecture, Cuenca

Moreover, the old city was built on a hill and a beautiful but fast river flowed below it. The new city was now developed on the other side of the river. There were plenty of parks and trees alongside the river and bridges build to cross it. We were beginning to think of it was the best looking city we had seen.Stairs across the river, Cuenca
Once the bus reached the viewpoint of Turi, we were sure the city had a view as stunning as Medellin at the very least. There were mountains on all sides and the domes and spires of the churches were clearly visible along with the cute river in the middle. As we returned to the city, we went through a historic street where each pillar at the front of the house was wooden and each different to the other. Amazing!
View of city, Cuenca


During the bus tour, we noticed a ruin in Pumapungo area of the city. That was part of the Bank of Ecuador museum. The entry was free and the museum was several levels. The museum contained the monetary history of Ecuador’s independence to its current use of the US dollar as its currency.

Old cash register, Cuenca

The next level showed the various ethnic groups of Ecuador in each region. Other than the Sierra people, we found out about the Afro-Ecuadorians, the cowboys of the coastal farms and the Amazonian tribes. In particular, the information on the Shuar tribe of the Amazon was excellent. Moreover, we saw pottery from different regions of Ecuador all made in a different way. It was the best museum we had been to since Bogota.
Ecuadoorian tribal dances, Cuenca
Lastly, the inca ruins were included in the museum. The site of the museum was the city of Tomebamba. At the time the Spanish arrived, there was a civil war in the Inca Empire and the city didn’t put up much resistance. The ruins were mostly a pyramid of rock walls with a replica of the original buildings used for religious rituals. In addition, there was a large garden under the ruins where the museum grew many crops and also gave information about how many crops such as corn and chocolate was first harvested in South America. For a free museum, it was certainly the best we had seen on the trip.
Shruti posing with Inca ruins, Cuenca

Lazy Day

The Amazon while providing a lot of stress-relief (travelers stress) also made us tired due to the continues activities. The last day of Cuenca we were meant to visit Cajas National Park but let it go for blogging and work on videos. We had bought a laptop in Cuenca and this was the perfect opportunity to set it up and get blog posts out.

Food and Drinks

While we mostly cooked at home, we did have a night of eating and drinking out. We found a restaurant offering a Thai and Vietnamese dish and ordered both. Both were incredibly spicy but we loved it as we have been missing hot food in South America. We also tried Canelazo, an alcohol made from sugarcane juice, which is served hot and is tasty.

Final Word

While we have seen enough colonial buildings now in South America, it was the combination of the architecture, religious buildings and the surroundings that make Cuenca so charming. Likewise, though we were not able to visit it, our bus to Guayaquil went through Cajas National Park and it is an awesome place for day trips and camping.

Cajas national park, Cuenca

Finally for the foodies, Cuenca is a great place as apart from the Cuencan cuisine, the retirees and the expats have brought many cuisines to Cuenca. A great visit for 3-4 days.