Why Cuenca, Ecuador Should Be on Everyone's South American Itinerary

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Cuenca was our first stop in Ecuador and it really set the bar high. Some cities are packed with things for tourists to do, so much so that you can hardly fit everything in across a few days. This wasn't Cuenca. In our opinion Cuenca fitted the other category of great cities we've come across in South America, somewhere where you would happily spend a week without doing much at all. The town does have a few good tourist attractions which we enjoyed and will of course share below, but for us the best thing about Cuenca was it's charm . The city itself is definitely above average in terms of looks and the people here are incredibly friendly and welcoming to tourists. Interestingly Cuenca has a large expat population of Americans of whom we can only assume felt the same way as us when we visited - this would be a great place to live. Outside of the city there are beautiful national parks to explore and the city is relatively near (for South America) to the beach towns of Mancora in Peru and Montañita on Ecuador's coast. We spent 3 nights here and would have more than happily spent the same again if we had the time and money! Cuenca will definitely be somewhere we plan on heading back to in the future, so here's our guide on what to do and where to go for you and our future selves to enjoy!

What to Do in Cuenca

The Panama Hat Museum

Regardless of what TripAdvisor says, this is probably the most popular tourist attraction in the city (at least according to Instagram and other blogs we've read!). It doesn't take long to realise
 that like most places in South America, the people of Cuenca are pretty big on their hats and in this case opt for the traditional Panama style, rather than the bowler hats you may see further south on the continent. Whether you're looking to buy a hat for yourself (bare in mind they aren't cheap), have a look at the hat making process or simply try some nice hats on pretending you have the money you so obviously don't, this place is definitely worth a visit. Theres is also a cafe at the back of the museum/shop with a pretty view over the river.

Artisanal Market

In our opinion this is probably the best touristy thing to do in the city. If you've just got to Ecuador like we had, then its a great opportunity to see the kind of artisanal things they make here and what you might want to buy to take home with you or for presents. If Cuenca is your last stop in Ecuador before you go to Peru then this is a great last minute chance to pick up a few things! The entrance is a little hidden but there is a sign for the market quite high up above the archway. The market is a lot bigger than it seems at first glance and is very relaxed (the venders aren't pushy at all which is always nice). 

Plaza Principal

The main square in Cuenca is top notch. If you like pretty doors then you'll be smiling as you make your way to the front of the cathedral, which to us, looked a lot like the Notre Dame in Paris. There's also a pretty pretty church not too far away!

Walk Along the River 

Cuenca has a beautiful river running through the city and a quiet walking path alongside it. Get yourself down to the bank and walk along in either direction to relax and enjoy the tranquillity of the city. There is a broken bridge to be seen by the river which may interest you (but to be honest, it's just a broken bridge).

Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno

When it comes to art museums, we much prefer the weird modern stuff and thats exactly what this one is. Entrance is technically free but the nice old lady at the desk insists on you putting a small amount in the donation box.It's a little bit further out from the centre of town and isn't worth visiting if you're only in Cuenca for a day but if you've got the time then go for it.

Where To Eat in Cuenca

This is something we're very excited to talk about as the food in Cuenca was amazing. There were so many different options, here's our top pics for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner...

Breakfast - Ñucallacta
All of the food and drinks here come American sized. Whether you prefer yoghurt, fruit and granola, or eggs, bacon and a face-sized hash brown you'll be pleased with this cafe. 

Lunch - El Tokte 

If you fancy a break from carb-heavy South American set meals then this is the place. El Tokte is a little cafe which sells fresh juices, smoothies and small selection of healthy of vegetarian and vegan food. They do a great menu of the day option although the pink water it comes with is a bit weird.

Dinner - A Pedir la Boca

If we hadn't come across this place on a blog or TripAdvisor or something we would've never gone in. It's a small restaurant that looks peculiar to say the least. However, the food is phenomenal! The menu consists of a weird mix of some Asian and some European dishes, both of which were cooked and plated to perfection. The portions here a huge so you could probably share a meal between two.

Where to Stay in Cuenca

We stayed La Casa Cuencana which is a great middle of the range option. We paid $20us on Booking.com for it per night, for a private room with a shared bathroom. A bed in a dorm room costs $10us. The location is great, just a few blocks from the main square and surrounded by some great cafes, restaurants and bars. This is a recommend from us!

We hope this has been useful. Thanks for reading,

Will & Melissa

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