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The 14 Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador

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Are you looking for the best things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador? We spent one day here while traveling from Peru, and felt that it was the perfect first stop for our Ecuadorian travels.

Located in the South of Ecuador, Cuenca is one of the most charming cities in country. It is the closest big city to Peru, so it makes a great first stop while traveling through Ecuador from Peru. Cuenca has direct service from Chiclayo, Peru. In addition, you can easily get here from the Ecuadorian cities of Guayaquil, Baños, and Quito. Both charming and accessible, this is a great city to add to your list.

With its stunning architecture, lively atmosphere, and budget-friendly prices, Cuenca is a great place to add to your South American itinerary. Here are 14 of the best things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador.

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Where is Cuenca?

Cuenca is a small town located in south-central Ecuador. It is situated in the highlands, it is about 200 km south east of Guayaquil, and a little under 500 km south of Quito.

Where is Cuenca

Cuenca is located in the south central Ecuador.

Getting to Cuenca

When we visited Cuenca we had actually come from Chiclayo, Peru. Cuenca is well connected to Peru, as well as other cities in Ecuador like Guayaquil, Baños, and Quito.

If you'd like to book your bus to Cuenca, here are a few popular routes:

Quito to Cuenca

Guayaquil to Cuenca

Baños to Cuenca

What is the Closest Airport to Cuenca?

The closest airport to Cuenca is Aeropuerto Mariscal del Mar, which is just 2 miles from the city. The two cities that fly to Cuenca are Guayaquil and Quito. If you are traveling from outside the country, you'll need to fly into either Guayaquil or Quito.

Flying into Guayaquil

Cities that fly into Guayaquil include Bogota, Fort Lauderdale, Galapagos Islands, Lima, Madrid, Miami, New York, Panama City, Quito, San Cristobal, San Salvador, Santiago, and Santo Domingo.

Flying into Quito 

Cities that fly into Quito include Amsterdam, Atlanta, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Chicago, El Coca, Ft Lauderdale, Guayaquil, Houston, Madrid, Manaus, Manta, Mexico City, Miami, Lima, Loja, Panama City, San Jose, San Salvador, Santa Rosa, Santiago, Santo Domingo, and Sao Paulo.

Flight Tip: Using Skyscanner you can check the calendar to see which are the cheapest dates to fly to Quito.

Search for a flight to Quito:

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Entry Requirements for Ecuador

Before booking your trip to Cuenca, you'll want to make sure you're aware of all of the requirements to enter Ecuador. Here is everything you need to know before visiting.

Visa Requirements for Ecuador

The majority of nationalities can enter Ecuador visa-free for a period of up to 90 days. The ones that do in fact need a visa include Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, India, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Venezuela.

Covid Entry Requirements for Ecuador

As of this year, Ecuador has lifted all restrictions due to Covid.


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Local Adjustments

When traveling to a new country, there can be a lot to adjust to. Here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling in Ecuador.

What Language is Spoken in Cuenca, Ecuador?

The official language in Ecuador is Spanish. While some people may speak English, it will definitely help you to learn the basics of Spanish while traveling to Cuenca.

What Currency Does Cuenca Use?

The currency in Ecuador was originally the sucre, which is now no longer in circulation. Ecuador  currently uses the US dollar as its official currency. As there are many street vendors, shop, and restaurants that don't accept card, its always great to have extra cash on you.

What Plug Adapter Do I Need for Ecuador?

Ecuador has the same outlets as the United States- serving plug types A and B. The country operates on a 120 V supply voltage and 60 Hz. If you are from the US, there won't be any need to get any kind of adapter while traveling to Ecuador.

Can I Drink the Water in Cuenca?

Overall the water in Ecuador is not potable to drink, so you should stick to bottled water to stay safe.

Is it Common to Tip in Ecuador?

Tipping is not actually very common in Ecuador. However, due to low salaries and frequent tourists, it has become more appreciated by locals to receive tips. We suggest that if you have received very good service, to leave an extra 5% on top of your bill.

The Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador

Now that you know the basics for visiting, here are the best things to do in Cuenca.

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #1: Marvel at the New Cathedral

Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, also known as The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is the most beautiful structure in Cuenca. Commonly known as the new cathedral, its charaterized by its colonial architecture, and beautiful blue domes.

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best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador Pin
best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador Pin

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #2: Take a Look at the Old Cathedral

Although not as architecturally appealing as the new cathedral, it is still worth a look at the old cathedral. Formally known as Iglesia del Sagrario, the old cathedral dates back to 1557. It is located inside Parque Calderon, which is right across from the new Cathedral.

old cathedral of Cuenca, best things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador

Both the new and old cathedral are great things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Want to join a tour to see the best of Cuenca? Here are a few ones you can sign up for:

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #3: Stop at Plaza de Las Flores

This picturesque square is located right in the heart of the old town of Cuenca. The plaza features around 25 different stalls and vendors of all different types of plants and floral arrangements. Plaza de Las Flores is literally  the perfect spot to "stop and smell the flowers".

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #4: Walk along the Tomebamba River

The Tomebamba River runs right through the city of Cuenca. As a natural separation from the historical district to the modern area of the city, this makes the perfect place to see the best of both worlds.

Here you can enjoy the different types of views that the city has the offer. You'll see some beautiful nature,  charming historic homes, and even locals washing their clothes.

Tomebamba river, best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador

Walking along the river is one of our favorite things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #5: Admire the Views at,  Mirador de Turi

To get some seriously stunning views of the city, head to Mirador de Turi. We suggest going for sunset, to be able to enjoy the panorama during all types of light. From the beautiful sunlight, to when the sky turns colors, and also when the entire city lights up.

mirador in Cuenca, best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador
Cuenca at night, best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador

Mirador de Turi offers beautiful views at any time of the day.

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #6: Swing Above the City

While you're checking out Mirador de Turi, you can also do one our favorite things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador. Not only can you enjoy the views of the city below, but there's more! For a sense of adrenaline and freedom, you can also hop on one of the swings at the top. 

Not only will you get some great views, but the energy from swinging back and forth above all of Cuenca is truly magical. Each swing costs just $1-2, and you are strapped in for safety.

swing in Cuenca, best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador

Swinging above the city is definitely a highlight of visiting Cuenca.

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #7: Try on a Hat at Museo de Sombrero

Check out the hat museum to see all of the typical handmade hats in Cuenca. The "sombreros de paja toquilla" are all woven by hand and have unique designs. Learn about how they make their hats, or take one home with you as a souvenir.

museo de sombrero, best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador
museo de sombrero, best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #8: Have the Best Ecuadorian Chocolate

Located right above Barrancos Hat Factory, there is a great rooftop to add to your list. With beautiful views of the city, and some great coffee and chocolate, this spot is a must while in Cuenca. Grab a seat outside, enjoy the surrounding views, and enjoy the flavors of Ecuador.

Want to learn more about the art of chocolate? Here are some fun tours that you can do:

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #9: Relax in Calderon Park

Located right in the center of the city, this pretty little park is a great spot to hang out, people watch, or enjoy the surroundings. Parque Calderon is home to a great cathedral, and some beautiful architecture. It also offers plenty of plants, trees, and benches, making it the perfect place to grab seat and enjoy the city center.

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Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #10: Shop at San Fransisco Artesanal Market

One of the greatest parts of South America is their artisanal markets. Unlike other places in the world where the touristy areas sell cheap, nonsense souvenirs, the countries in this area have plenty of markets with handmade crafts, and beautiful knit clothing.

San Fransisco Plaza is a small square in the center of the city, with a group of great artisanal stands. We definitely suggest checking out the ponchos, as these are a local specialty. They also have great designs, are comfortable, and very affordable.

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Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #11: Try Some Local Street Snacks

One of our favorite things to do in new cities is to try the street food. All over the center of Cuenca you can find plenty of vendors on the streets selling great snacks. Some of these include plantain chips, ice creams, and whipped colorful cream topped with shaved coconut.

plantain chips, Cuenca
street whipped cream. Cuecna
street food Cuenca

One of the best things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador is to try the street food options.

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #12: Take a Trip to Parque Nacional Cajas

Looking to escape the city and get out in nature? Parque Nacional Cajas is the perfect place. Located just 30 km west of Cuenca, this makes a great day trip. Walk the trails, or take a dip in one of the many lakes. You can also admire the various wildlife, which includes condors, giant hummingbirds, and coatis.

Want to join an excursion to Parque Nacional Cajas? Here are a couple that you can take:

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #13: Check Out the Ingapirca Ruins

This archaeological site is home to the biggest Inca ruins in Ecuador. Located 80 kilometers north of the city, it takes about an hour and a half to reach. Being one of the most important sites in the country, it is definitely worth a stop. You can go on your own with an entrance fee of $2, or join an organized group tour.

Want to explore Ingapirca Ruins? Here are a few different tours that you can take:

Best Things to Do in Cuenca, Ecuador #14: Visit Baños

Not to be confused with the famous "Baños de Aguas Santas", this is another place called Baños that is right outside of Cuenca. The thing that they both have in common of course is the "baños", meaning baths, or hot springs.

Local buses run very frequently all day, and only cost 25 cents! There are a variety of springs for the budget travel to the luxury traveler, giving plenty of options for enjoying the thermal waters of Cuenca. 

Getting Around Cuenca

One of the things that we love about Cuenca is how walkable it is. Most of the best things to do in Cuenca are a short walk from one another, meaning that there is little need to get any kind of transportation.

However, if you do need to come from the airport, or visit the outskirts, there are buses, one tram line, and bikes for rental. You can sign up for a BiciCuenca membership for just $3, and the rides are 25 cents for every half hour, or $10 to be rented daily.

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Food & Drinks in Cuenca

One thing we loved about Cuenca was just how affordable meals were. Here are a few things that you should try:

  • Almuerzo- lunch deals usually include a soup or salad, protein, rice and beans, and sometimes even a dessert for around $2-3.
  • Churrasco- a giant plate of meat, rice, beans, and fries.
  • Chocolate- Cuenca is known for its chocolate so don't miss out!
  • Street Snacks- Some of our favorite foods where snacks like plantain chips, fresh ice cream, and whipped cream with coconut.

Want to learn about Ecuadorian cuisine? Check out these fun cooking classes:

Where to Stay in Cuenca

Being that Cuenca is so small, you can really stay anywhere in the center and be well connected to the best things to do in Cuenca. The city has a variety of different types of accommodation, ad has plenty of options for budget travelers, as well as those looking for a bit more luxury. Below you can see all of the different options for where to stay in Cuenca.

Is Cuenca Safe?

South America is definitely a place that you'll want to be extra cautious. We ended up having our things stolen in Quito, so it's important to keep a close eye on your belongings. Being that Cuenca is a small town though, we definitely felt much safer than we did in Quito, and met a lot of friendly locals.

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Other Things to Know About Visiting Cuenca, Ecuador

Now that you know the best things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador, and how to get around, we have just a few other things to share with you.

Weather in Cuenca

Being close to the equator, you might assume that it is always hot around the country of Ecuador. However, being at a high elevation, Cuenca actually experiences quite cool temperatures through a long period of the year. The winter months are in July and August, when it is the coldest, while the warmest and sunniest months are from March to May.

The Best Time to Visit Cuenca

The best time to visit Cuenca is from March to May, when the weather is the warmest, and driest.

Packing for a Trip to Cuenca

Some of the things that you'll want to pack for Cuenca are comfortable shoes for exploring the city, a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated, and a bag with a zipper to keep your belongings safe.

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Cuenca is small, but has a lot to offer. We suggest spending a full day to enjoy the city center, and a second day to enjoy the surrounding national parks and ruins.

Want to see some other great places in South America? We have plenty of other travel guides all throughout the continent to check out!

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