As Quito’s old town, important buildings in Cuenca are declared protected as World Heritage by UNESCO. There are no flashy buildings as in Quito, but the city is more elegant. And it is smaller and easier to pick up to the tourists.
We start at the parque Calderón. This small park is surrounded by colonial buildings. On one side of the park we have ” the new church” where the construction began in 1885. The old, “El Sagramio” is on the other side. Construction work here started as early as 1557. The Europeans had not been here long time before they proceeded to build churches.
The second mark on the city map is the river Rio Tomebamba. Walk along it and admire the colonial architecture. You can go out on the old stone bridge and watch the river’s strong currents. You can not get over it, because only half of it is left. Thus the name “El puente roto” (the broken bridge).
Cuenca has a wide selection of museums. The largest is the Museo Pumapongo with an ethnographic exhibition in which we get familiar with Ecuador’s different cultures. We meet the mountain farmers, rainforest Indians, creoles from the interior and African descendents from the northern coastal strip. There is also a collection of shrunken heads. A visit at the Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes is also recommended. Here you can inspect archaeological treasures from 20 different prehispanic cultures, some of them dating back to 13,000 years BC.
If you ever thought of buying a Panama hat, you should do it in Cuenca (contrary to expectations, they are made here in Ecuador and nowhere else you might think). There are specialty shops with great selections, fits, colors and price. The least expensive has a price of 10-15 dollars. If you are concerned about quality you have to pay a lot more. At Barranca on Calle Larga, you can visit the factory and learn about the history of the Panama hat.
From Cuenca you can take day trips to the natural delights of the region. Inca-ruins of Ingapirca is not more than a two hour bus ride away.
There are connecting flights to Guayaquil and Quito. An inexpensive and interesting choice is the bus trip from Guayaquil. Admire the stunning scenery while the bus rises in the mountains.