Arguably Ecuador’s most beautiful city, riverside Cuenca is the country’s third largest town and the perfect first stop in if you’re travelling north from Peru. From small cobblestone streets to contemporary art museums and grand churches, Cuenca offers up a well preserved colonial city with modern conveniences. There are a number of cultural and historical museums including the ‘new cathedral’ the ‘old cathedral’ and Museo de Arte Moderno near the town’s main plaza that are worth checking out as well as several other smaller churches and historical museums spread throughout the city.
Looking for a breath of fresh air? Stop by the flower market and take time to stop and smell the roses, literally.
The town is situated around the Rio Tomebamba which is lined with tree covered pedestrian walkways and swank eateries, perfect for a sunny afternoon stroll. Farther down the river there is an interesting patch of Inca ruins located within a small park which also contains an aviary displaying indigenous and exotic birds. Of course no park in this part of South America would be complete without llamas and there are several roaming around the park making for a great photo opportunity. The park is free to explore and if you work up an appetite there is also a small café inside that makes authentic Belgium waffles.
Hostels line the streets surrounding Larga and Hermano Miguel, with several backpacker options available to suit your style and budget. If you’re looking to blow off a little steam, or work a few of those extra vacation pounds, there is even a nearby gym with drop in rates of only $2 for the day.
Girl Gone Gallivanting Overall Recommendation: Colonial Cuenca may not have the grandeur and charm of Arequipa or Cuzco, but it’s a great first stop in Ecuador and ideally located near the border of Peru. Enjoy cheap almuerzo lunches starting from only $2.50 for a 3-course meal and then work it off strolling by the river or at the nearby gym.