1. Visit the New Cathedral & Climb the Towers
Visiting the Interior of the New Cathedral
Touring the New Cathedral Towers
For a small fee, guests can take a tour of the New Cathedral Towers. I highly recommend this, as the views from the top are incredible (and offer great photo opps!). The tour will talk you through the Cathedral’s history, and then grant you access to a terrace that’s located on the roof of the Cathedral. Guests have to walk up a flight of 150 steps to access the terrace. From the terrace, you will see Parque Calderón and the surrounding areas of the city.
2. Learn about Cuenca's Religious History at the Old Cathedral
The Old Cathedral (Church of the Old Shrine) is located next to the New Cathedral, near Parque Calderón. The Church was established in 1557, which is the same year that Cuenca was settled by the Spanish. The Old Cathedral was once the central place of religious worship for the city but it’s no longer active today. Now, it functions as a Museum for Religious Art. The museum is open for those who are interested in exploring within its walls and learning about the history of religious practice in the city.
Check out The Old Cathedral’s Facebook Page for information regarding current fees for entry & hours of operation.
3. Look at Cuenca from Above from Turi Viewpoint
Turi Viewpoint is accessible from the historic center of Cuenca via a quick and affordable cab ride or bus ride. I highly recommend a visit to Turi Viewpoint, as it gives visitors the ability to see the Cuenca city-scape in it’s entirely from above. It’s a stunning view and will make you really appreciate the city. There are also quite a few great restaurants and churches that visitors can check-out in the area.
Dusk is a great time to visit Turi Viewpoint as the sunset looks beautiful over the city. It’s advised to leave before nightfall, as there is said to be increased crime in the area at night.
4. Learn about the History of the Panama Hat at Museo del Sombrero
Contrary to popular belief, the Panama hat did not originate in Panama—it originated in Ecuador! The creation and original mass production of Panama hats started in Cuenca, Ecuador in 1836. Workers in the Panama Canal liked the hats because they were great for keeping the sun out of their eyes. The hats grew in popularity by workers in the Panama Canal, thus earning them the name, “Panama Hat.”
Visitors of The Museo Del Sombrero can go on a historic tour to learn about Panama hats and see replicas of the first machinery used to produce the hats.
After visitors are done touring the museum, they’re invited to purchase locally-made Panama hats of their own. If you don’t want to purchase a hat, then the museum/store also welcomes you to try them on for a photo opp.
For details on museum/store hours of operation, visit the Museo del Sombrero website.
5. Spend Some Time Relaxing Along the Rio Tomebamba
6. Browse a Local Market
7. Check out Parque Calderón
Parque Calderon is a small park in the center of Old Town, Cuenca— located near The Old Cathedral and The New Cathedral. The park spans about one city block and is a hub for a lot of random activities, such as pop-up markets and concerts. The park also serves as a meeting space for many tour groups, since it’s so central and recognizable within the city.
8. Stroll through the Flower Market
A little known fact is that Ecuador is the third-largest flower exporter in the world. Cuenca has a large flower market located next to the New Cathedral called Mercado de las Flores. There are dozens of vendors that lined up in front of the cathedral selling flowers—including high-quality roses. This is a great activity to do before or after visiting one of the surrounding cathedrals in the area.
9. Try the Local Food & Drinks
Agua de Pitimas: This is a traditional Ecuadorian drink that has been around for almost 300 years. It’s served as an elixir that cures nerves and headaches. They sell the drink in cups or bags, I bought it in a bag and tried it (we punched a hole in the bag and drank it out with a straw). It’s very sweet tasting, like liquid sugar.
Arroz con Pollo (or Camarones): Rice and chicken, served up with lots of delicious spices. This is a classic Ecuadorian dish that I highly recommend.
Huevos Chilenos: Ecuadorian version of the donut. They’re fried balls of dough. You can buy these in the market.
Choclo: Dried corn, this is a great snack. Can be bought in the markets.
- Cuy (Guinee Pig): If you’re an adventurous eater, it might be worth trying the Cuy. I tried this in Peru, and didn’t love it … but some say that it’s great, so give it a go!
10. Take a Day trip from Cuenca to Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park is located 28KM from Cuenca, which amounts to a 1-hour drive to/from the city. The park is a breath of fresh air away from the city life. At the park, visitors can hike through Andean lakes and waterfalls. Visitors can either hike the park and return to the city of Cuenca within the same day, or camp at the National Park overnight.
There are several tours that leave from the Cuenca Historical District for day trips to/from the city. To find a tour, walk into one of the tourist offices near Parque Calderon and ask for information—they’re usually able to book you on a tour on the same day that you inquire barring the timing of your request.
Enjoy your time in Cuenca, Ecuador!
These are just a few of the best things to do in Cuenca, Ecuador. My trip was about three days long, and I was thankfully able to do a lot while during my time there. I loved the city so much, that I’d like to return one day and explore more. If you participate in any of these activities during your time in Cuenca, I hope that you enjoy!