A walking path along the Tomebamba River, one of four rivers in the city, connects many neighborhoods in Cuenca. A popular stretch lies between the Calle Larga and the University of Cuenca. Keep your eyes open for beautiful historic homes, and don’t be surprised if you catch someone washing their laundry on the shore.
Famous for its classic blue domes and rose-hued alabaster facade, the New Cathedral is one of the most visited destinations in Cuenca. Although the church is fairly new (it was only completed in 1975) it took almost a century to construct. Take the time to tour the entire church, including the rooftops and the underground mausoleum.
Located in the middle of town, the Parque Arquelogico de Pumapungo holds an impressive collection of ancient Incan structures. The archaeology site includes a multi-terraced pyramid structure that was likely a palace and the residence of a great Incan ruler. Ancient baths and a mausoleum have been identified underground. The park also includes extensive gardens, ancient aqueducts, and a small aviary of Ecuadorian parrots.
A visit to the Todos Santos neighborhood is a history lesson in both pre-Columbian and Colonial Cuenca. Tour the ancient Cañari-Incan ruins and the Todo Los Santos Church before walking the local streets, picking out the oldest buildings along the way.
Located on the west side of the New Cathedral is the most colorful flower market in Cuenca. Even on a cloudy day, the vibrant colors of locally grown roses, orchids, and other beautiful flowers overwhelm the eye. This is one of the most picturesque spots in the city.
The traditional Panama hat is an Ecuadorian invention. Locals call them sombreros de paja toquilla, or straw hats. Learn all about the history and making of the Ecuadorian Panama hat at the Museo del Sombrero, or visit one of the many shops selling these mementos.
There are several locations around town where you can buy keepsakes to take home with you, but the best artisans’ market is indoors, just off the Plaza San Francisco: the Centro Municipal Artesanal. Several vendors have small shops selling traditional dolls, colorful baskets, intricate jewelry, hand-loomed textiles, and the work of local painters and artists.
Visit the Mirador del Turi for amazing views over the city of Cuenca. There are several ways to do this, including by taxi, local bus, and tour bus. Many travelers to Cuenca make this a day trip, but the view at night is spectacular, even on a cloudy day.
The most impressive Incan ruins in Ecuador, at Ingapirca, are located an hour and a half outside of Cuenca. The Temple of the Sun, a golden-green edifice built in the style favored by the Inca for religious and ceremonial structures, stands as a centerpiece among an ancient city first built by the local Cañari tribe. The hiking trail outside of the main park leads to the best views of this impressive monument.
Just an hour outside of Cuenca, the Cajas National Park is a stunning high-altitude wonder. Pocket lakes, granite mountains, and boggy tundra make for an outdoor adventure fit for intrepid hikers. One of many great national parks in Ecuador, Cajas is a jewel of the Ecuadorian Andes and well worth the trip.