Ecuador’s second World Heritage-listed city, Cuenca is one of its most approachable and captivating. Its compact historic heart is a pleasure to explore on foot, a grid of rectilinear streets, small shops, markets, traditional eateries, churches, convents, restaurants and museums. In fact, it’s so attractive tens of thousands of North Americans have emigrated to the city to call it home.
Among Cuenca’s particular charms are its four rivers, which flow right through the city and its outskirts. We’ll take a leisurely walk along the banks, admiring how clean the chilly waters run, and perhaps visit the Remigio Crespo Toral museum or the Centro Inter-Americano de Artesanías y Artes Populares, home to beautiful popular art from across the Americas.
Cuenca was an important settlement for the Incas as they expanded their empire northwards from Peru. Vestiges of this past can be explored at the Pumapungo archaeological complex, which occupies a stunning panoramic hill above the river. The city is also famous for its crafts, in particular for the mis-named Panama hat, which is finished and exported from the city. We can visit hat shops to learn more about the weaving process and of course, purchase an elegant example for a bargain price.
The city is at-once highly traditional, with a dozen churches, monasteries and convents — some of whose collections house fine examples of Colonial and Republican art — but also combines the contemporary, with a strong cultural scene including music, theatre, art and dance. People also like to eat well in Cuenca, and you’ll find excellent restaurants, from modest and traditional holes-in-the-wall to dining dedicated to imaginative takes on modern Ecuadorian cuisine.
You might not want to emigrate here at the end of a couple of days, but you’ll certainly wish you had more days to uncover more of Cuenca’s charms.