Apr 22, 2015|
Last updated on November 11th, 2020 at 12:03 pm
Things to Do in Cuenca Ecuador
There are so many things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador, a town boasting incredible nature, colonial charm, and ancient Inca ruins. Despite being Ecuador’s third-largest city, Cuenca has maintained its historic city center wonderfully. This makes visitors on an Ecuador tour feel cozy in the metropolis. The city is one of Latin America’s most popular retiree and expatriate locations, attracting people worldwide.
One of the best things to do in Cuenca is to tour its cultural and historic buildings. Beginning as a Spanish settlement in the 16th century, Cuenca quickly rose to greatness, fairing impressive monuments, cathedrals, and architectural wonders. However, the region’s true origins date back approximately 10,000 years ago, when once nomadic tribes and even the powerful Inca empire occupied the area. With a rich history, it is no wonder that Cuenca is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Additionally, the options for adventure in Cuenca are endless. Cuenca is encompassed by the impressive Andes mountains. Within a short distance of the city center, an abundance of outdoor activities is accessible. Catch views of the lush mountains from your home-base or venture into the wild to see it up close. Prepare yourself for a memorable Cuenca tour by discovering this city’s top sites. Here are our recommendations for the top things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador.
1. Visit Cuenca’s Museums
First, on our list of things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador is to visit the local museums. As popular as Cuenca is, it comes as no surprise that the city has an abundance of museums. No matter your interests – history, clothing, indigenous cultures, modern art, design – you’re bound to discover a museum right for you. If desired, one could spend an entire day museum hopping, and still, leave room for more. However, we’ll focus on two of the must-see museums.
The Pumapungo Museum focuses on Ecuadorian indigenous culture and Inca Ruins. This enormous, open-air museum showcases some of Ecuador’s best-preserved ruins. Visitors can explore the outdoor grounds, venturing over ancient huts and structures. Or simply enjoy the impressive views of the city.
There are also indoor exhibits, featuring indigenous camp replicas, artwork, craftsmanship, furniture, and details of the varying cultures. One could easily allocate several days to exploring this museum and taking in the diverse exhibits that cover all of Ecuador’s indigenous cultures, from those along the Pacific coast to the Amazon Rainforest.
Museo Remigio Crespo Toral
The Museo Remigio Crespo Toral was once the home of the beloved Ecuadorian poet, Remigio Crespo Toral. Established in 1917, the museum was the residence of Toral until his death in 1939. Then, it became a museum honoring his works and the beautiful home itself. However, the main focus of the museum is on the history of Ecuador, rather than Toral himself.
In the museum, there are approximately 8,000 archaeological artifacts within the museum. This ranges from all eras of Ecuador’s history and even an impressive coin collection. The museum has four exhibits: Historical Documents, Archeology, Cuenca’s Independence, and Cuenca’s Foundation. We recommend learning the history of Ecuador, and especially that of Cuenca. After a visit, your appreciation for the city and its complex origins will only enhance your enthusiasm for exploring.
Other Cuenca Museums
- Museo Catedral Vieja
- Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes
- El Museo de Las Conceptas
- Miguel Illescas Art Gallery
- Prohibido Centro Cultural
- Medicine Museum
2. Tour the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception
Next on our list of things to do in Cuenca is touring the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The Cathedral is among the largest religious sites in all of Latin America. With its soaring towers and three blue-tiled domes that define Cuenca’s skyline, the impressive structure took nearly a century to build. The design blends a mix of architectural styles, including Romanesque and Byzantine revival.
While inside the cathedral, you’ll notice that the detail is breathtaking. From an Italian marble exterior to ornate gold altars within, visitors will be awestruck by its fine beauty. For a unique view of Cuenca and the cathedral, climb the towers or attend a Sunday worship.
3. Enjoy Views of the City at Mirador de Turi
High above the Cuenca city center is Mirador de Turi. This lookout point and adventure park is an excellent option for visitors to enjoy one of Cuenca’s picturesque sunsets. Take either the bus or stairs for a pleasant ascent to the top of the hill.
Are you looking for a little more fun? For a small admission fee, adventurers can enter the theme park at the hilltop. This theme park includes zip lines, suspension bridges, and swings that hang at the cliff’s end. There is even an opportunity to climb to a higher viewpoint once in the park.
4. Walk along the Riverfront at Rio Tomebamba
The Rio Tomebamba is an oasis escape within the city of Cuenca. This long stretch of river runs along the edge of the historical center and throughout the downtown of Cuenca. Lined with grass and canopied with charming trees amidst colonial buildings, this stretch of park is ideal for a picnic or stroll on a sunny day. In the evening, get a bite to eat or drink on a quaint restaurant patio. Or simply lounge in the grass as you enjoy the serenity all around.
5. Discover Parque Calderón
At the epicenter of Cuenca’s historic district is Parque Calderon. While not as verdant as other parks within the city, this shaded plaza is a must on any Cuenca tour. Centered around some of the city’s most notable monuments, government buildings, and museums, Parque Calderón is arguably the most important park here.
Take a seat on one of the park’s many benches or gazebos surrounded by imported trees and exotic flowers to experience authentic Ecuador. People watching is prime here. Watch a street show, locals going about their day, or enjoy the phenomenal views of towering colonial structures. Hungry visitors can quench their appetite at several excellent restaurants or vendors surrounding the plaza.
6. Hike Cajas National Park
While Cuenca itself is more than enough to occupy your time, a visit to the outlying regions is highly recommended to see some of Ecuador’s extraordinary nature and wildlife. Located approximately an hour outside of Cuenca is Cajas National Park, also nicknamed Ecuador’s middle earth.
Famous for its adventurous trails through verdant cloud forests, Andean tundra, biodiverse wetlands, and hundreds of pristine mountain lakes, Cajas National Park is something out of a fairy tale. On an Ecuador adventure tour, spot local wildlife, including hummingbirds, Andean condors, and even pumas. Stop by the visitor center and restaurant as you enter the park to learn about recommended hikes for your skill level and time.
7. Shop for Panama Hats at Museo Del Sombrero De Paja
Though the name may be misleading, the world-famous Panama Hats actually originated in Ecuador. The Panama Hat only received its name after massive exports to Panama during the creation of the canal. Praised for their classic style, these painstaking hats are hand-woven and made up of harvested toquilla straw from the Ecuadorian coast.
The design of the hats is an art form and a respected craftsman trade within Ecuador. In particular, Cuenca has become the most popular supplier of the Panama hat, even hosting a museum dedicated to its origin and craftsmanship. Learn about the intricate details that go into creating these stylish hats or purchase one to see up close for yourself.
8. Indulge in Ecuador Food & Drink
While traveling, sometimes the best thing to do is try the local food and drink. When it’s time to eat in Cuenca, there are quite literally dozens of high caliber restaurants and pubs offering authentic dishes, as well as foreign fare. Since Cuenca happens to be the best place in Ecuador to dine on cuy – that Andean specialty known to us as ‘guinea pig’ – you can put that at the top of your list.
A bonus when it comes to the food scene in Cuenca: most restaurants have been rated on Tripadvisor and many in English. This is partly due to the fact that Cuenca has become one of the best places to retire to in the world, so today there is a lively ex-pat community. If you are considering retiring abroad, let us plan your scouting trip to Ecuador!
9. Explore the Ingapirca Ruins
Last on our list of the best things to do in Cuenca is explore the Ingapirca Ruins. Ingapirca is Ecuador’s most impressive ruin, and it is barely more than an hour outside of Cuenca. The Incans constructed their greatest cities and temples without using mortar. Instead, they fashioned blocks of stone with such a high degree of accuracy that their foundations withstood the same earthquakes that turned many Spanish buildings to rubble. At Ingapirca, the Temple of the Sun stands as a testament to the power of South America’s most important ancient empire. Visit Ingapirca from Cuenca, or from Quito on the way to Cuenca.