24 Hours in Cuenca: What to See and Do

Cuenca, Ecuador
Cuenca, Ecuador | © Maurizio Costanzo/Flickr

“Cuenca is like a fairytale,” shouted a tall traveler as she walked around Cuenca’s historic district. To be fair, she is very close; with its cobblestone streets, brick buildings and the river that crosses town, Cuenca is one of the most beautiful places in the region. If you’re here for a day, here’s how to make the best of it.

With its picture perfect status, how can you make the most of 24 hours in Cuenca? This city in southern Ecuador is known for its Tomebamba River waterfront and the park that runs along it. Make sure to go on a stroll by the river and visit the famous Puente Roto (Broken Bridge),the ruins of a bridge that separates the colonial district from the modern residental areas. This bridge was built between 1840 and 1850, but was destroyed by floods in 1950.

Cuenca, Ecuador

Bring your walk around Puente Roto to an end near the Pumapungo Museum and Park. Right in the middle of the city, this museum is a bit of Inca history. Its impressive rock structures show life of one of the major Inca leaders, how it was built, and what this site meant for Ecuadorian Inca culture in this archeological site.

After this, take a walk around old town—after all this city is an attraction in itself—around the plazas, and head to La Inmaculada Cathedral and admire the domes of the cathedral and the plaza out front, as well as the Catedral Vieja Museum. Walking around might have worked up your appetite, so you can head to El Mercado, a restaurant serving traditional Ecuadorian food.

Cuenca, Ecuador

After El Mercado, hop in a taxi to the lookout spot in Turi. El Mirador de Turi is a quiet spot on a hill where you can get a birdseye view of Cuenca, its cobblestone and brick houses that melt with colonial architecture. Before you get to the lookout, make sure you stop by Eduardo Vega’s Gallery. Vega, a Cuenca native, works on murals and ceramic, and is one of the best known artists regionally. You can see his workshop from the windows of the gallery, where you can appreciate his work, see his collection, and buy some of his pieces on china. If you are lucky, Vega might be in his gallery and is a great artist to just talk about Cuenca and the legacy his family has left for this town—a town that continues to push for more spaces for artists not just in the city, but in the entire country.

Eduardo Vega artwork on display at the Eduardo Vega Gallery and Workshop in Cuenca, Ecuador

If you feel like grabbing a cup of coffee in the historic district, head to El Cafecito, a classic among backpackers, and enjoy the bustle in this hub where many people go for a beer or a cup of coffee.

Finally, not that far away, head to have a drink in the lovely Hotel Victoria. This hotel, with an inner patio overlooking River Tomembamba, is located in the old town district. Its wood walls and floors bring the essence of old town and traditional houses of the city. Ask to be seated by the patio and enjoy an appetizer or a drink while you admire the architecture and scenery in one of the most charming towns in South America.

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