Highlights and main attractions of Cuenca

Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city, is one of its most preserved and colonial, with a quaint mix of modern day and historic attractions that collectively make it known as the ‘jewel of the south’. Set at an altitude of 8,200 feet, this is Ecuador’s cultural heartland and its atmospheric cobbled districts are almost reminiscent of a great European city. It is also an artistic area with many pottery, woodwork and textiles workshops, and is renowned for its local festivals and traditions. 

Cuenca can be visited as part of an itinerary taking in the South of Ecuador’s highlights and easily included as part of a fascinating circuit of the country’s attractions.

Where is Cuenca?

A little history and where to go

Founded in 1557 on what was at the time an Inca settlement, the rich history of Cuenca is undeniable, and it is recognised by UNESCO on its World Heritage list. Some would say that Cuenca also has more of a modern twist than Quito with a good selection of contemporary restaurants, bars, boutiques and galleries giving the town a much more cosmopolitan feel than the capital. 

Also known as the ‘Athens of the Andes’ for its historical context, there are a number of museums, cultural organisations and no less than four universities based in the city. The Museo del Banco has an interesting display of historical photos of the city and its local art traditions, whilst the Museo de Artes Populares has a focus on traditional arts and crafts and Museo de las Culturas Aboriginas houses important pre-Columbian artefacts and archaeological exhibits.

Amongst some of the more unusual architecture found in the city is the blue domed La Immaculada cathedral or so-called ‘New Cathedral’ which is in the cobblestone centre of the old town - a true colonial gem.

Within the colonial centre the sophisticated Mansion Alcazar features a stone façade and delightful courtyard. We also recommend Santa Lucia, one of Ecuador’s historic antique buildings also located in the Old Town, which was first built in 1859 and lovingly restored to its current state in 1999.

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