Cuenca - Ecuador's UNESCO Pretty City

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Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city. Its city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the multitude of historical buildings. The 16th-century Catedral Vieja (Old Cathedral) and the imposing blue domed Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral) are among the Heritage Listed buildings that adorn every cobbled street.


Cuenca is known for its four rivers which flow through its centre, the serene Tomebamba River waterfront, its Central Plaza, Parque Calderón (Plaza Abdon Calderon) and the exquisite local handicrafts including pewter work, ceramics (especially dinnerware), jewelry, leather goods, painting, tapestry, weaving and toquilla straw hats (Panama hats), the quality and craftsmanship of which are all exemplary.


Tomebamba River - Photo by Adelia Cook


Things to do and see in Cuenca: -


Mirador di Turi Cuenca

What a beautiful lookout to view this picturesque Andean mountain city from. The outlook from this elevated position is quite breathtaking. One needs to visit this spot twice - once by day and once by night. The sea of city lights is spectacular at night, on a clear day the majestic New Cathedral's domes in the valley are stunning against the surrounding terracotta roofs of this UNESCO World Heritage listed city.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay


The city tour bus takes the trip up to Turi a number of times per day and also does night trips. The beautiful illuminated church of Turi makes a great backdrop for photos, the custom that all who visit Turi at night need to purchase a "cervesa" (beer) and drink it while viewing the fairy-lights makes it a wonderful, most relaxing place to be. The curio shop diagonally opposite the church has a great selection of local arts and crafts too.


Museo Catedral Vieja

El Sagrario, Old Cathedral, is the oldest building in Cuenca, built in 1557. Situated opposite the Park Calderon, its brilliant white, pristine facade and ornate bell tower catch one's eye immediately, reflecting brightly in the sunlight. It was unfortunately closed for renovation when we visited Cuenca, so we were unable to enter. It is home to the Museum of Religious Arts.


Old Cathedral (Museum of Religious Arts) - Photo by Adelia Cook


Catedral de la Immaculada Concepcion

Also known as Catedral Nueva, it can be seen from almost everywhere in Cuenca. This huge religious building (one of the largest in South America), is simply awe-inspiring with its magnificent old carved doors, its ornate domes and beautifully carved stone arches. The interior is equally impressive, the gilt-work absolutely breathtaking. This cathedral is very much a work of art; a very fine sculpture, it is different from every angle, every side street, and every surrounding mountain! You simply can't miss it!


New Cathedral - Photo by Adelia Cook


Central Bank Museum

Happily taking photos of the outside of this beautiful building, we were invited by the friendly security guard to take a closer look inside. Unbeknown to us, the Central Bank Museum had an exhibition of photography by local artists, plus other artworks in different medias. The photographs, colour, sepia and black and white, were absolutely thought provoking. Not only studies of the architectural beauty of this much photographed city, but an array of very emotive observations of the people who dwell here adorned its walls. The architecture of the Central Bank Museum is as good inside as out. Well worth a look.


Plaza Abdon Calderon 

Plaza Abdon Calderon equates to tranquility in the centre of Cuenca City. Encompassed by stately old buildings and two very impressive cathedrals, (the old and new), this park, with its central statue of Abdon Calderon, is an ideal place to take in the surrounding architectural beauty. The well kept gardens are serene; a lovely place to stop and reflect, or to enjoy an ice cream while relaxing on a shady park bench. The tourist bus leaves from the Plaza, or alternatively, for those who are more romantically inclined, there is a horse drawn carriage which circumnavigates the park.


Park Caledron - Photo by Adelia Cook


Plaza de San Francisco Market 

The Plaza de San Francisco Market is a large flea market for local hand crafts displaying an interesting array of ironwork, pewter work, basketry, ceramics, wooden jewelry boxes and utensils. It also has indigenous Otavalos, native to the Andean mountains in northern Ecuador, selling weavings and hand knitted sweaters. On the west side of the Plaza de San Francisco is the artisan market, Cemuart, with more than 100 craft stalls selling handmade panpipes, embroidered items, jewelry and beautiful artwork.


Piedra de Agua Fuente Thermal and Spa

The beautifully presented Piedra de Agua Fuente Thermal and Spa is located approximately 10 minutes outside of the city centre. Literally carved out of volcanic rock it has caves with pools at various temperatures. The mineral rich mud is good for the skin the private spa relaxing and invigorating. For those that wish to relax and be pampered there is also massage available.


El Cajas National Park

The UNESCO Protected El Cajas National Park is 30 km west of Cuenca in the highlands. It is home to over 40 mammalian species, at least 17 species of amphibian and has an abundance of colourful flora.  With jagged mountains and mirror-like lagoons and lakes the tundra vegetation hardly covers the undulating hills and valleys. The scenery is extremely rugged and barren of trees.


El Cajas National Park - Photo by Adelia Cook


In summation Cuenca is an interesting, off the beaten track holiday destination. The pace of this city is ideal for meandering and relaxing. The equatorial climate remains a comfortable 23 degrees almost the entire year. The Cuencans are quiet and reserved, if somewhat insular. There is a postcard picture perfect photograph to be snapped almost everywhere you go. 

New Cathedral as seen from Park Caledron - Photo by Adelia Cook


I loved the architecture, the beautiful scenery, the soulful playing of the haunting panpipes and the serenity of Cuenca; I could feel the pulse of this picture book pretty city, however I couldn’t quite feel its heartbeat.


Photography and text by Adelia Cook for






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