We’ve been in Cuenca for over a year and a half now and we’re still finding new and exciting things to do, but we wanted to share our current Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador with you. These are the activities we did with our friends and family when they came to visit and they LOVED them.
We never get tired of exploring Cuenca and the surrounding areas. In 1999, Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic and cultural significance. Everywhere we look, there’s something beautiful and historic to see.
I’m sure we’ll be doing more of these “things to do in cuenca” videos in the future. As Amelia said in the video, we already have another list started. We’re also going to do a video about the day trips you can take from Cuenca so be sure to Subscribe to our YouTube Channel so you don’t miss those!
Without further ado, here is our list of the Top 10 Things To Do In Cuenca Ecuador!
#10 – Get an Aerial View of Cuenca from The New Cathedral Terrace
Number ten on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to tour the The New Cathedral, both inside the cathedral and the terrace located high above the city between the two front towers.
The official name of The New Cathedral in Cuenca is Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), but most people just call it The New Cathedral or La Catedral Nueva in Spanish.
The groundbreaking for The New Cathedral in Cuenca Ecuador was in 1885, but construction wasn’t completed until 1975. It was originally designed to have two additional domes with bells on the front two towers, but they were never added due to structural issues.
Honestly, I think the cathedral looks better with the three big domes plus the three smaller ones. Two more giant domes may have been over the top.
The inside of The New Cathedral is lined with several altars dedicated to various saints in the Catholic religion. Each altar is made of different materials, and each is a work of art and craftsmanship. The main altar is covered in gold leaf, which is common of the cathedrals we’ve seen in Ecuador.
If you want an amazing aerial view of Cuenca Ecuador, we suggest paying the $2 fee and climbing the spiral brick staircase to The New Cathedral Terrace. From there, you can get a 360 degree view (blocked only by the towers and domes) of Cuenca and the surrounding Andes Mountains.
#9 – Step Back In Time at The Old Cathedral
Number nine on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit The Old Cathedral Religious Art Museum.
The official name of The Old Cathedral is Iglesia del Sagrario (Church of the Shrine), but everyone calls it The Old Cathedral or La Catedral Vieja in Spanish. It’s one of the nicest museums in Cuenca.
The groundbreaking for the cathedral was in 1567 and it was finished six years later in 1573. It’s much smaller than The New Cathedral located on the other side of Parque Calderon, but I’m sure it was massive to the Cañari indigenous people when it was built over 500 years ago.
We avoided The Old Cathedral for a long time because it’s a religious art museum and we aren’t religious and don’t particularly enjoy religious art. After seeing one of the impressive cathedrals in Quito two years ago, we assumed Cuenca’s oldest cathedral would contain similarly disturbing religious imagery from that period.
However, we were pleasantly surprised! While it does contain some of the graphic imagery used to put the fear of God in people back in the 16th century, most of the art is from the past hundred or so years so it’s not as gory. We especially enjoyed seeing the original murals painted over 500 years ago!
We were the only people in the cathedral for much of our time there and we found it muy tranquilo (very peaceful).
#8 – Reward Your Tastebuds with Fine Ecuadorian Coffee and Chocolate
Number eight on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to reward your tastebuds with some delicious fine Ecuadorian coffee and chocolate.
This made it on the list because Amelia enjoys both of these legally addictive stimulants immensely! I rarely eat chocolate now due to the high saturated fat content and my continuing battle with High Cholesterol. As for coffee, I can take it or leave it. Sometimes I enjoy a cup with Amelia in the morning or when we go to a coffee shop, but I actually prefer some fresh hot ginger or lemon tea.
If you enjoy coffee and chocolate like Amelia, then you’ll LOVE Ecuador! The best chocolate in the world is made here from the best cocoa beans in the world. And the we think they also have the best coffee. Neither of us drank black coffee back in the states, but it’s so good here we don’t add any non-dairy creamer, milk or sweetener to it. It’s rich with lots of depth and doesn’t need to be diluted.
There are several major brands of Ecuadorian chocolate like Pacari and Leyenda, but you can also buy unpackaged chocolate at the mercados. However, most of the mercado chocolate contains leche (milk) so keep that in mind if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant.
If you’re looking for REALLY high-end chocolate made from ancient cacao beans and the finest ingredients, give Altisimo Chocolate a try in El Centro on Gran Colombia y Benigno Malo.
#7 – Model a Panama Hat at the Hat Museum
Number seven on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit Museo del Sombrero on Calle Larga y Padre Aguirre.
We enjoy visiting the hat museum and the café on the deck above the Tomebamba River. We get to try on some hats and then enjoy a coffee or tea while admiring the views of the river, Cuenca, Turi and the Andes mountains.
Amelia has two hats from this hat store and I have one that I wear all the time. They keep our heads cool and shaded in the hot Ecuadorian sun.
While these hats are commonly known as Panama Hats, they originated in Ecuador and the Cañari indigenous people who originally made this “paja toquilla” or “straw hat” still wear them today.
#6 – Soak in the Hot Springs at Baños
Number six on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to soak in the hot springs in Baños Azuay located about a 20 minute cab ride from El Centro.
We have been to Novaqua, Hostería Durán and Piedra de Agua, but there are other places in Baños. They all have a hot springs swimming pool and you can swim laps in them. And they have the thermal hot and cold pools. Novaqua and Piedra de Agua also have a sauna, mud pools, steam rooms and hot boxes.
Between Novaqua, Hostería Durán and Piedra de Agua, we prefer Novaqua because you have to be at least 16 years old to enter and it’s a little less expensive than Piedra de Agua.
We liked Hostería Durán a lot, but sometimes there were lots of kids playing in the pool, which can tarnish a relaxing spa experience. Of all three, Piedra de Agua probably has the nicest pools, atmosphere and a full restaurant, but it’s more expensive and does allow small children.
#5 – Taste Exotic Fruit at a Mercado
Number five on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to go to a mercado and buy some exotic fruit to taste.
We buy almost all of our fresh produce at the mercado because it’s delicious, helps support local farmers and it’s very affordable. Plus, we get to practice our Spanish and enjoy all the beautiful colors and culture.
When we lived back in the USA, we rarely ate fruit because it was so expensive and often flavorless. But here in Ecuador, it’s the exact opposite! There is a wide variety of highly affordable fruit, both familiar and exotic. This is one of my favorites! It’s called a Pitahaya here in Ecuador, but you may know it as a Dragon Fruit. We usually get these 2 or 3 for a dollar!
This funky prehistoric looking fruit is called a Soursop a Guanabana as it’s called here in Cuenca Ecuador.
Amelia loves the sourness of this Guanabana, but I prefer the sweetness of its cousin, the Sweetsop or Chirimoya as it’s called here in Cuenca Ecuador.
You may like some more than others, but a trip to the mercado for some delicious exotic fruit is well worth your time.
#4 – Take a Selfie with Wild Llamas at Cajas National Park
Number four on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to go to Cajas National Park about 30 to 45 minutes from El Centro.
We enjoyed both Lower Cajas and Upper Cajas, but we both preferred Lower Cajas. It’s much lower in altitude so it’s much greener with more plants and animals to see. However, we highly recommend hiking in both parts of the park.
As you can see in this picture, Upper Cajas could pass for the Scottish Highlands, or an entirely different planet!
Upper Cajas National Park near Cuenca Ecuador
It’s common to see wild llamas in both areas of the park. We saw multiple herds of llamas on both of our hikes and they’re very tame so you can get very close to them, but we encourage you to keep a safe distance so you don’t disturb them and they don’t spit on you.
If you’re an orchid lover, you’ll want to visit Lower Cajas to see the abundance of wild orchids growing in the trees.
See More: Cuenca Parks
#3 – Visit Turi on the City Bus Tour
Number three on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit Turi Ecuador on the Cuenca City Bus Tour.
The Turibus costs $8 for adults and $4 for kids, with a deal for families. It takes about one and a half hours to do the full tour and it provides a nice Cuenca history lesson and tour of the city before heading up to Turi Ecuador for some amazing photo ops. It’s a hop-on hop-off bus so you can enjoy different parts of the city and catch the next bus when it goes by.
Cuenca Ecuador View from Mirador Turi
Once you’re at Turi, you can spend about 45 minutes tasting a complimentary canelazo, wandering around or enjoying the views before your bus heads back to El Centro. However, you can spend some extra time taking pictures of Cuenca or get some adrenaline pumping at the Aventuri Adventure Park.
We’ve already taken this tour four times! Once by ourselves to film our video and three times with friends and family. It’s definitely worth your time!
#2 – Take Time to Smell the Roses at the Cuenca Flower Market
Number two on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to take time to smell the roses at the world famous Cuenca Flower Market located across the street from The New Cathedral.
The Cuenca Flower Market has been designated one of the Top 10 Outdoor Flower Markets in the world by National Geographic, and a quick stroll around the flower stands is enough to understand why.
Flowers are one of Ecuador’s major exports, so there’s a good chance you may have enjoyed some in one of your bouquets without know it. However, you probably paid a lot more than we do here in Ecuador. You can buy two dozen roses for between $5 and $7. The lillies in the picture usually cost around $5 to $10 depending on how many we get.
#1 – Get Creeped Out by the Shrunken Heads at the Pumapungo Inca Ruins
Number one on our top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to get creeped out by the shrunken heads at Museo Pumapungo and then enjoy a walk around through the 500+ year old Inca ruins.
The museum doesn’t allow photography inside so we don’t have any pictures of the shrunken heads to share, but trust us when we say they’re creepy! We’ve walked through the museum a few times and enjoyed learning about the history of the Incas in this part of Ecuador. However, we go to Pumapungo to walk around the beautiful grounds.
In addition to the Inca Ruins dating back to the 1400’s, we also enjoy the gardens and lake.
It was hard to choose a number one for our Top 10 Things To Do In Cuenca Ecuador, but we both agreed on this one because it’s such an iconic landmark in Cuenca, and it’s such an enjoyable place to visit. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
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