Ecuador Walking Tours - A Stroll Around Cuenca

Arts & Culture

The mestizo women of the area present an amazing display of colors on their typical dresses

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A scenic morning flight over the Avenue of the Volcanoes has brought us, in less than forty minutes, from Quito, the historic capital of Ecuador on the northern Andes, to Cuenca, the nation’s third largest city and a true cultural and architectonic gem, on the country’s southern tip of the Andean Range.

As we make our landing approach, the view already reveals a city dotted with a high number of church domes and towers. In fact, Cuenca is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and a charming city which preserves its characteristic architecture and the colonial ambiance along its Historic Centre; lined with narrow cobble-stoned streets, flower-potted balconies and pretty plazas, stone fountains and beautifully restored homes with their traditional interior courtyards and, as the locals claim, one antique church for every week of the year.


Old Cathedral Cuenca

We’re here for one of the most charming tours in Ecuador. Marcelo, our driver, greets us cheerfully and takes us to the charming Cuenca boutique-hotel, located right in the heart of the old town.  The property is actually one of those neo-colonial homes, restored to perfection by local and international architects and maintains the classy atmosphere of an antique mansion, converted now into a posh hotel, providing all the amenities and technological facilities of the 21st Century within the walls of a 19th century grand home. The decoration keeps the fascinating utensils and details of the original family mansion in the bedrooms, corridors and public areas.  Paintings and sculptures, some of them accountable as art treasures, frame the small yet fascinating hotel. Superb bathrooms, wireless internet services, and a classy and superbly decorated restaurant and bar are part of the hotel’s facilities.  But we have to move on, so we will have time to enjoy the hotel later. Now it’s time for the first outing of our walking tour in Ecuador’s most beautiful city.

The streets are busy and within a couple of blocks we are already at the city’s main square, where the newly restored old cathedral stands quietly in one of the plaza’s corners. At the opposite end the new cathedral stands majestically, the city’s main symbol and icon, with its ornate façade, brown walls and the unique blue-lilac domes.  The City Hall and the nicely gardened square are the actual epicenter of the city’s activities; just around the corner, we find the unique Square of the Flowers, a small plaza, alongside one more of the myriad colonial churches, convents and monasteries which the city boasts.  Here, the typical “cholas cuencanas”, the mestizo women of the area, present an amazing display of colors on their typical dresses, as well as with the most beautiful roses, carnations and many other flowers.

Chola Cuencana

At the square of San Francisco we find a large market selling just about any imaginable article and a multicolor congregation of people.  At San Sebastian Square, an obelisk dominates the scene, while beautiful homes with wooden balconies add a touch of grace.  At one side of the square is the Museum of Medicine, the frequent venue to artistic events.  Cuenca is a centre of tourism in Ecuador for many more reasons: the four rivers which cross or surround the city; the arts and crafts; the creative spirit of its inhabitants and its peaceful and joyous atmosphere, framed by splendid hills and mountain scenery.  We have walked a good distance, guided by Marcelo, but we realize it was the best way to discover the “hidden treasure” of Ecuador. The tour takes us past small shops selling delicious traditional sweets and we marvel at the aroma of the bakeries street. The whole experience awakens our appetite so we head now for lunch at one of the great restaurants in Ecuador, located at another restored post-colonial home, with tables nicely laid around a stone courtyard, with its central fountain as natural decoration. The meal, of course, had to feature local delicacies and I indulge in an appetizer of the famous “mote pillo”, seasoned hominy, followed by a fabulous roasted pig with soft chunks of crackling skins, small tortillas and salad.  A fancy “naranjilla” ice cream sprinkled with mini-sweets and a perfect “downer” of Zhumir, local sugar cane liquor, completed the luncheon.

Whether you’re here for a holiday in Ecuador, or passing through as part of a greater journey, a tour of Cuenca is an absolute must to appreciate the beauty this country has to offer.

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Cuenca Church