extracted from the Traveler's Ecuador Companion © The
Globe Pequot Press. Reproduced with permission.
Photos by Dominic Hamilton.
the most beautiful city in the country, Cuenca likes to call
itself the Athens of Ecuador. But its narrow, cobbled streets,
houses with wrought iron balconies, flower-filled patios and
many fine old churches are more reminiscent, to my mind, of
ancient hill towns like Ronda and Córdoba of Andalucía in
southern Spain. "Of all the earth, as far as I know it," wrote
the early twentieth century traveler Harry A. Franck, "Cuenca
has the most perfect climate." Most visitors wholeheartedly
city is proud of its colonial-style architecture, its many
churches and its artistic and intellectual heritage. The University
of Cuenca is rated as one of the best in Ecuador and Latin
America, and at the same time the city issomething of a colony
of artists and artisans. The city ranks among the most Roman
Catholic of the continent: its motto is "Primero Dios, Después
Vos" (First God, Then You).Cuenca is also the biggest production
center of the misnamed "panama" hat.
you enjoy exploring back street markets, delving into old
churches, museums and craft shops, sitting around in patio
cafés and watching the world go by, then Cuenca is for you.
THINGS TO SEE:
pink marble façades and magnificent sky-blue domes of the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (New Cathedral) overlook
the square's elegant houses. The domes are the finest features
of the cathedral.
Just round to the left of the Old Cathedral as you face it,
the small Plazoleta del Carmen is more commonly known as the Plaza de las Flores, one of the most charming squares
in the country.
The Museo de las Conceptas, housed in the infirmary
of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception on Hermano Miguel
6-33. The chapel contains a beautiful, but lurid, display
of crucifixes created by local artist Gaspar Sangurima, considered
to be the Father of Arts and Crafts in Cuenca. Religious art
from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.
Museo de Identidad Cañari, on the first floor of an antiques
The rebuilt Iglesia San Francisco by the square of
the same name, which is famed for its beautiful carved high
altar and gold-leaf pulpit, and the Iglesia de San Sebastián,
about six blocks west of Parque Calderón and marking the old
The Museo del Banco Central displays artifacts (with some
beautiful jewelry) relating to regional Inca and pre-Inca
civilizations, as well as great reconstructions of indigenous
cultures, from Shuar huts to sierran masked dancers.
Museo de Artes Populares is housed within the beautiful
old mansion of the Centro Interamericano de Atesanías y Artes
Populares (CIDAP). Colorful arts and crafts from across the
Americas fill the display rooms, including musical instruments,
ceramics, wood carvings and papier-maché, with some works
Around Gran Colombia and roads leading off it, shops sell
ikat weavings, woolen sweaters, leather goods, carvings, basketwork,
antiques, jewelry, filigree work, silver and gold items, precious
stones, paintings, sculpture, pottery, ceramic tiles, candelabra,
cameras, camping equipment, panama hats, and more.
The area around the Iglesia and Convento de Las Conceptas
is also packed with some great antiquarians and souvenir
shops. The two main markets are around the Plaza de San Francisco
and Plaza Rotary, which are best for craft items. Stands are
open most days of the week, but the main market days are Thursdays
Panama hats: Homero Ortega y Hijos tel (07) 809000 fax
(07) 876600 email: email@example.com
Avenida Gil Ramírez Dávalos 3-86, close to the terminal terrestre.
There are two great new places to stay in Cuenca: The Mansión del Alcazar www.mansionalcazar.com, and the Hotel Santa Lucía, www.santaluciahotel.com. I have only visited the Santa Lucía. It was a delightfully restored 20-room hotel set in a old mansion. It's in the old part of town. The Mansión is similar, but more luxurious and expensive.
Hotel Oro Verde tel (07) 831200 fax (07) 832849, on
Ordóñez Lazo on the northwest outskirts, boasts all the facilities
of a swank hotel. Service is generally excellent, and the
restaurant first-class. It's a taxi-ride from the busy center
of town, but is therefore very peaceful. Expensive
Always highly praised for character and friendliness
is the Hotel
Crespo tel (07) 842571 fax (07) 839473 email
firstname.lastname@example.org, Larga 7-93 and Cordero.
Cheap: Set within a lovely old mansion, the Hotel Inca
Real tel (07) 823636 fax (07) 840699 email email@example.com,
General Torres 8-40 between Sucre and Bolívar, has plenty
of well-appointed and comfortable rooms set around their flower-filled
Hostal Chordeleg tel (07) 824611 fax (07)
822536 Gran Colombia and Torres, whose old-house setting and
glass-covered patio are more inviting than the rooms themselves,
though they're still very good value.
El Cafecito tel (07) 827341, sister to its namesake in
Quito, on Honorato Vásquez and Luis Cordero, is a popular
backpacker stop. A great place for a drink and a snack in the evening.