High in the Ecuadorian highlands, Cuenca’s jigsaw of red-roofed buildings is framed against the green of the mountains. At street level, delightful cobbled alleys, historic plazas, and flower-laden windows create a charming historic city, more than deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage listing.


Located in the heart of the highlands, Cuenca is second only to Quito in architectural beauty and cultural importance. With a laid-back atmosphere and a picturesque setting, Cuenca is also a lovely place to spend some time. Winding rivers dissect the city, and a daily flower market fills the square with the scent of lush tropical blooms. Cuenca’s historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts a number of buildings seemingly untouched by the hands of time.

The old town and its narrow lanes are best explored on foot, allowing you to glimpse inside quirky shops, lounge in atmospheric squares, and admire up close ancient colonial architecture. A must-see is El Sagrario, otherwise known as the ‘old cathedral’. It was first built in 1557 using materials from the ruins of an Inca city but eventually proved too small for its purpose. It was replaced by a new, bigger cathedral in 1880, and the original is today used as a museum. The interiors are decorated in pretty pastel colours, as well as displaying life-sized carved biblical figures. The huge, blue-tiled domes of the ‘new cathedral’ dominate the Cuenca skyline. The style of the building is a combination of Romanesque Revival and Neo-Gothic styles, with pink marble floors (from Italy) and alabaster interiors.

Beyond the city are endless green valleys sprinkled with handicraft towns famed for their textiles, jewellery, and woodwork. Visit the small town of San Bartolome and see the process of making a guitar by hand, or head to Gualaceo and browse the beautiful woven shawls and patterned clothing sold by the locals. By exploring these towns and villages you can get an insight into authentic Ecuadorian culture. Wildlife lovers should venture just outside of Cuenca to the El Cajas National Park, where you will be met by a stunning Andean landscape. Spend a day hiking through the elevated grasslands, looking out for Andean condors, hummingbirds, and wild llamas.

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