Cuenca Siteseeing and Attractions
Cuenca offers nearly limitless sightseeing opportunities, and is a veritable paradise for travelers interested in Ecuador’s colonial era. Below are a few of city’s notable sights and museums. You may also check out our Cuenca museum list, complete with hours, street addresses, and phone numbers. Please note that many museums and, especially, religious sites have irregular schedules.
Parque Calderón – is the city’s main plaza and the spot around which Cuenca revolves. The impressive New Cathedral (Catedral de la Inmaculada) and its huge blue domes dominate the plaza. On the opposite side of the plaza is the Old Cathedral (El Sagrario). Construction of the New Cathedral was begun in 1885 and, after numerous stops and starts, was finally finished in 1967. Construction of the El Sagrario began in 1557, the year Cuenca was founded.
Parque Calderón is the city’s main plaza and the spot around which Cuenca revolves.
Conceptas Church, Monastary, and Museum – the church is attractive but Cuenca offers better. On the other hand, the monastery and the museum that occupies part of it warrant a few hours. The entire complex takes up an entire block and appears somewhat like a fortress. If that doesn’t scare you, wait until you see the many morbid, though interesting, religious artifacts in the museum’s collection.
Inca Ruins – ruins may be found along Calle Larga, Avenida Todos los Santos, and along the river. Though the Spanish destroyed all the complete structures when they built Cuenca, some interesting walls and stonework remain along this stretch. If you’re interested in Inca ruins, you should also take a day-trip to Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most important Inca ruin. It’s about 70 kilometers north of Cuenca on the Pan-American Highway. Buses for Ingapirca leave frequently from the Terminal Terrestre.
Markets – on Thursdays and Saturdays there is an outdoor market around the church of San Francisco and a smaller one at the Plaza Rotary. The San Francisco market has a more local flair but both are worth a visit.
Panama Hat Factory – as any self-respecting Ecuador traveler knows, Panama hats are not made in Panama, they are made in Ecuador. Homero Ortega & Sons craft some of Ecuador’s finest hats at their factory on Avenida Gil Ramírez Dávalos near the bus station. The factory is open for tour weekdays from 0900 to 1200 and 1500 to 1800.
Church of Santo Domingo – the second largest church in the city, it boasts twin 40-meter high brick towers and a beautiful facade. It’s located at Gran Colombia and Padre Aguirre.
Las Cajas National Park.
Church of San Blas – one of the largest churches in the city and the only one built in the form of a Latin cross. The original church, built in the 16th century, was replaced with a new one in the beginning of the 20th century.
Church of Todos Santos – the first church built in Cuenca. Next to it is one of the four crosses that marked the city’s original limits. The church is located on the descent of Todos Santos off of Calle Larga near the river.
Plazoleta del Carmen – a block from Parque Calderón, at the corner of Sucre and Aguirre is the church of El Carmen de la Asunción. Few people come to visit the church, it’s seldom open, but many come to take a look at the daily flower market in the church’s plaza.
Museo del Banco Central – contains a permanent collection of black and white photos of 19th and early 20th century Cuenca, as well as displays of art and archeological pieces. The entrance is hard to find. It’s on Calle Larga near Huayna Capac.
Museo de las Culturas Aborígenes – a new museum that houses a private collection of 5,000 archeological pieces representing over 20 pre-Columbian cultures of Ecuador. It’s at least as good as the Banco Central’s collection.
Other Museums – see our complete Cuenca museum list. It includes hours, street addresses, and phone numbers.
By Jason Halberstadt
Updated January 21, 2013