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Travel Guide South America Ecuador Cuenca

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Introduction

Cuenca is a city in the southern central part of Ecuador and is the country's third largest city with well over half a million people, more so in the total metropolitan area. The city is located at an elevation of more than 2,500 metres above sea level which gives the city quite a cool climate compared to what you expect elsewhere on the equator. The citycentre of Cuenca is one beautifully preserved colonial area which is therefore placed on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Cuenca's full name is Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca. The dominant features of the city's geography are also the source of its name; In Spanish cuatros rios means "four rivers" and cuenca means "basin", and the city is in a basin made by a confluence of rivers. These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Cañari culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance. The first three of these rivers originate in the Páramo of Parque Nacional Cajas to the west of the city. These four rivers are part of the Amazon river watershed. In fact, the locals are very proud of their rivers.

Cuenca is a city whose culture encompasses over 100 years or more at the same time. While walking in Cuenca, you will see modern buildings, use high-speed internet and wireless communications while seeing natives washing their clothes in the river while talking on cell phones. You will see many modern vehicles while seeing people move their cows, horses and donkeys to graze along the rivers and parks. In around the markets, you will see people milking their goats and others hauling milk into town on a donkey. This is the charm of Cuenca, a culture that encapsulates traditions and practices of many decades.

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Sights and Activities

The centre is on the Unesco World Heritage List and contains beautiful buildings like:

  • Old Cathedral (Iglesia de El Sagrario) - Construction began in 1557. It's no longer in use as a church, and is now a museum. A restoration project has been completed recently and the original paint and old murals can now be seen in certain sections. $2.
  • Monastery of El Carmen de Asuncion
  • Park Abdon Calderon
  • Monastery and Museum of La Concepcion
  • House of the Ecuadorian Culture
  • Municipal Museum Remigio Crespo Toral
  • Museum of the Central Bank
  • Museum of the Aboriginal Cultures
  • Church of Santo Domingo
  • San Blas
  • Ruinas de Todos los Santos

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Events and Festivals

  • Christmas Parade (Pase del Niño Viajero) - On 24 December, Cuenca offers a magnificent parade, considered to be the largest and best Christmas celebration in Ecuador and even South America. The procession begins at 10:00 at San Sebastian, goes along Simón Bolivar street, Plaza Calderón and ends up in San Blas. Thousands of musicians accompany the procession and every neighborhood decorates trucks, horses and whatever they can find with plenty of symbols. Children dress up in colorful costumes or as biblical figures. The parade last for at least 7 hours. During the parade, you will see thousands of people dressed up as Joseph, Mary, the three Wise Men, angels, etc. This is truly a sight to see.
  • Festival de Independencia - The independence of Cuenca is celebrated with a huge festival that lasts twice as long as the battle did. Each year it begins the first few days of November and lasts for three to four days. There are hundreds of art displays, craft booths, roving entertainment, street food, and general festivities. Artisans from all over Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia display and sell their works. During this time, there are also many stages with bands and performers. On the north side of the river, at the bottom of the Escalinatas, the grounds of the art museum CIDAP host much more elaborate display booths than those that crowd the sidewalks. A little farther up the river, at La Esquina des Artes across from the University of Cuenca, there are several artists, and a few vendors sell gourmet food products. La Esquina des Artes is an area of permanent shops of artists and artisans.

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Weather

Cuenca enjoys generally relatively warm/mild days but rather chilly nights when jackets are definately a good idea. Average daytime temperatures don't vary too much througout the year with around 22 °C to 24 °C and nights are between 6 °C and 8 °C in most months as well. June to December is the dry time of year though with regular overcast. January to May (especially from March onwards) is the wet season, thought it is generally quite sunny, warm and dry for most of the day with some (heavy) downpoors later during the afternoon.

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Getting There

By Plane

Aeropuerto Mariscal Lamar serves Cuenca. Flights exist to and from Quito and Guayaquil with Aerogal, Icaro, LAN Ecuador and TAME.

By Car

Localiza offers rental cars to explore the region.

By Bus

Cuenca lies on the Pan-American highway. Buses offer connections to many cities in Ecuador. The bus system in Ecuador is well developed. Buses can be obtained every one or two hours during the day. Loja for connections to Vilcabamba (4½-7 hr, $7.5). The Viajeros buses to Loja do not have a working bathroom and they can take up to 7 hours. San Luis buses run from Cuenca to Loja using the national park route and take 4½ hours, $8. Departures at 07:45, 11:00, 16:00, 19:30 and 24:00. There is a working toilet.

To Alausi: 4 hours (Transportes Alausi). To Riobamba: 6 hours (Patria). To Piura, Peru: There is a service to Piura leaving at 19:30, 21:00 and 23:00. This is a partnership between two companies, Pullman Sucre and CIFA International. It is necessary to change bus at either Machala or Huaquillas. The 19:30 and 23:00 services connect to a special sleeper seat service. The price is $12–15 depending on the class of service. It is a good idea to purchase your ticket a day in advance as it is not unusual for them to book out. To Tumbes, Peru: As above, plus additional departures at 13:15 and 15:00. $7 from the border.

There is a $0.10 departure fee for leaving from the bus terminal.

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Getting Around

Cuenca's tourism office, iTur, is on the main plaza (Parque Calderón) and has lots of helpful maps and brochures to guide you during your visit in and around the city. (M-F 08:00–22:00, Sa Su 08:30–13:30 Mariscal Sucre, between Luis Cordero and Benigno Malo. +593 7-282-1035, itur@cuenca.com.ec). There is also a satellite iTur office in the airport (M-W 07:30–11:00, 14:00–15:30 and 17:00–19:00, Th F 07:30–11:00, 14:00–15:30, 16:30–19:00, Sa 08:00–12:00. +593 7-286-2203, ext 162).

Central Cuenca is easily walkable, and it is often faster than taking a cab through the narrow traffic-jammed lanes.

Cabs are readily available and charge $1.50-3 per trip. The fee should be negotiated before entering the car. Some taxis make use of taxi-meters.

City buses are also fairly easy to figure out. Most bus stops are marked. The cost is $0.25 per ride (exact change is required as you put coins into a machine, there is no fare collector on the bus) (July 2017). You can buy an SIT card for $1.75 at any shop that offers SIT recargas. You can find a guide to using the City buses, as well as maps of the routes and an online trip planner at CuencaTransit.com.

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Eat

  • Cafe Eucalyptus, Gran Colombia 9-41. Daily 17:00-23:00, later on Th-Sa. Very popular with travellers, they offer everything from Pad Thai to pasta, salads, hummus and guacamole, all very tasty. It's warm and friendly, and also good for groups. Quite expensive for Ecuador, $5 for a Coca-cola plus tip makes one think that the travellers are taken advantage of. Mains $3-9.
  • Goza, Antonio Borrero 4-11 y Calle Larga (1 block east and 4 blocks south from Parque Calderón), ☎ +593 7 2830350, e-mail: info@gozaespresso.com. One of the better cafés in the lovely historical centre of Cuenca, with a beautiful (heated!) street terrace and friendly staff. Great variety of coffees available. The food is also praised though pricier than most restaurants, coffees are the real deal here. Coffee from $1.50 to $4.70.
  • Jazz Society Café (The Jazz Society of Ecuador), 2nd floor (upstairs) of La Viña Italian Restaurant, 5-101 Luis Cordero y Juan Jaramillo (2 blocks from Parque Calderon along Luis Cordero down to Calle Larga), ☎ +593 93 934-2714 (English), +593 99 588-8796 (Español), e-mail: jazzsocietyofecuador@gmail.com. W-Sa 18:30-22:00. The music begins at 19:30. The Jazz Society Café is the Cuenca performance venue of the Jazz Society of Ecuador. It is above La Viña Italian Restaurant, and La Viña provides the food & beverages using the same menu and prices as downstairs, and has an excellent reputation for serving authentic Italian cuisine and pizza, as the owner and chef are from Italy. $5.
  • La Fornace. A well-known local pizza chain in Cuenca that has three or four branches. The fruit pizza is excellent and quite inexpensive. The ice cream there is also delicious and costs about 70¢ for the first scoop.
  • Mixx Gourmet Ice-cream, Parque San Blas. Home-made ice cream with a variety of flavors, including exotic gruits and alcoholic flavors such as whisky, beer, brandy or vodka.
  • Moritas, Hermano Miguel 4-36 y Calle Larga (From Calle Large (the road along the river with the all the bars and restaurants) a few meters up on Hermano Miguel), ☎ +593 983196709. 07:00-13:00. Nice little cafe which serves yum affordable breakfasts. Much of the food features raspberries in one way or another. breakfasts from $2.
  • Oliveto, Calle Larga y Luis Cordero. Tu-Sa. Romantic Italian restaurant with the largest wine selection in Cuenca. Serves lunch and dinner.
  • San Sebas Cafe, 1-94 San Sebastian y Mariscal Sucre (On the corner of Parque San Sebastian). W-Su. Great little cafe with a good atmosphere. Serves breakfast and lunch.
  • Women's Coop, on General Torres --near Mariscal Sucre (next to the artisanry market). closes around 14:00. Cheap, nutritious, and local lunch with a soup and a drink. Made by indigenous women in a sweet courtyard. Vegetarian and meat options. $1-1.50.

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Drink

  • La Mesa. Great salsateque on Wednesday nights. Full of locals and extended-stay travellers. Extremely fun.
  • El Cafecito. Hostel-bar-restaurant. Appears very noisy and uncomfortable as a hotel, but it is a good place to eat lasagna or sandwiches although more expensive than most places. The perfect place to start your night with a few drinks and to then proceed elsewhere.

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Sleep

  • Hostal Villa Del Rosario, 5-25 Honorato Vasquez, Cuence (Opposite El Capitolio hostel). Lovely, quiet place, with a mix of rooms to suit all travellers: singles, doubles, double en-suites. Gorgeous little courtyard with garden in the middle of it all; a hummingbird likes to hang out there sometimes! Very cheap, but really clean, and just nice. $2 breakfast: eggs, toast, juice, coffee, bread and jam. Towels provided. Lady owner very friendly, but it really helps to speak Spanish! Cuenca is really safe, but even more so in this area - Calle Larga is a block away. Reception is next door, but there is a bell to ring to the left of the main door to get someone to come over - it's hard to spot it, but the bell is there! $8-10.
  • La Casa Cuencana, Hermano Miguel 4-45, ☎ +593 7 282 6009, e-mail: lacasacuencana@hotmail.com. Owned by an Ecuadorian family, this hostel is located in the heart of Cuenca's historic district. Dorms and private rooms available with or without private bathroom. Hostel is quiet enough to get a good night sleep but in the same neighborhood of all the great restaurants and bars. from $6 for a dorm room.
  • Tourist of the World Hostal, Calle Larga 5-79, ☎ +593 7 2829125, e-mail: esperanzab65@gmail.com. Hostel with nice views on the river, a kitchen, and lots of random DVDs. Also, extremely friendly owners. Just ring the door bell across the street. from $6 for a single room.

Casa Sol, Estévez de Toral 10-33 and Gran Colombia, ☎ +593 7 2822507. Nice family run hostel near center. Bed quality varies, atmosphere is great and the owners (Luis and Maria-Elena) are very helpful. You can use their kitchen and laundry facility is available. To get there, take bus 28 from the bus terminal (25¢) and get off at Estévez de Toral. The hostel doesn't have a sign, so look for the number. $9 including breakfast.

  • Hostal Villa Flora, Borrero 5-15 (entre Juan Jaramillo y Honorato Vásquez), ☎ +593 7 2846-842, +593 7 2845-935, e-mail: villafhotel@hotmail.es. Check-out: 14:00. A cheap option in the historic centre. Includes a cafeteria service, a laundry, and cable tv. from $10 p.p. with private bathroom, $8 single shared bath.
  • Casa Naranja, Mariscal Lamar 10 38 & Padre Aguirre, ☎ +593 7 2825415, +593 8 8867661. Nice, clean rooms at less than $13. Features 2 indoor patios, fully equipped kitchen and is 3 blocks from the main square in a safe area. Colonial house with indoor balconies and has single, double, triple and quadruple rooms.

Hostal Yakumama, Luis Cordero 5-66, Cuenca Canton, ☎ +593 7-283-4353. Hostel run by Swiss siblings a couple of blocks away from Cuenca's main square. The place features an amazing design and also has a very nice restaurant and bar. 6-bed dorm $8, 4-bed dorm $9, 2-bed dorm (bunk) $9/$10, double (shared bathroom) $20, double (private bathroom) $27. All prices include breakfast.

  • Hostal Perla Cuencana, Mariscal Lamar 8-44 between Benigno Malo and Luis Cordero (2 blocks north from Parque Calderón; or from the bus terminal, walk one block north and catch the westbound bus n°28 ($0.25/pers) and get off at Luis Cordero), ☎ +593 7 2850-792, e-mail: hosperlaecuenca@hotmail.es. Check-out: noon. Owned by a local family, the hostel is perfectly located, very central. Clean and comfortable though some might find it bare and old with its creaky wooden floors and uncharming facade. Large rooms with windows and some with balconies (the best are at the back, away from the noise of the street). Free and good Wi-Fi (in the rooms), laundry facilities, communal kitchen (very basic), towels provided, and roof terrace. Great and cheap place. The owner is very helpful and friendly. $7/person/night with shared bathroom, regardless of the type of room.
  • Hostal Alternative, Av. Huayna Capac y Casique Duma Esq., Cuenca, Ecuador. Well-run hostel located next to the Pumapungo museum and archaeological site. Relaxed atmosphere, clean rooms and a free to use kitchen. Great escape from the chaos and noise of the downtown bars while still being within walking distance. $9.
  • Hotel Casa del Aguila, Mariscal Sucre, ☎ +593 7 2849580. In a picturesque colonial-style building in the Historical center. 17 comfortable rooms with bathroom, distributed in 3 floors. $59 for two people, excluding 22% tax and free breakfast.
  • Hostel Calle Angosta, Tarqui I2-38 entre Sangurima y Vega Munoz, ☎ +593 7 282 2489, e-mail: hostalcalleangosta@hotmail.com. This place is set back off the road, so it's pretty quiet. You are immediately treated like family, and they will do anything reasonable to help you out. There is parking, and you are about 8 blocks from central park. The water hot and they provide cable TV. While it does lack a little homeyness, it's because the facility is brand new. From $27 for a single room with private bath, $40 for a couple with private bath - all include breakfast: bread, juice, coffee, and eggs.
  • Posada del Rio Lodging, ☎ +593 7 2823111. Nice hostel in the center of the city with a full kitchen, hot showers 24/7, and the friendliest service in town. Warm, homey, and very centrally located. From $20 dorm, $28 private weknights, more on weekends.
  • Hotel Inca Real: Charming heritage site at General Torres 8-40 between Sucre and Bolivar, behind the new cathedral. Most rooms are large, and all are quiet. All room windows open onto interior courtyards. Three colonial houses joined into one charming hotel. There are three interior courtyards. The first is the hotel lobby and breakfast room, the second has a lovely fountain, and the third is a quiet hideaway. +593 7-2823-636. $45.14 for two people, including tax and breakfast.
  • La Cofrada del Monje, Phone: +593 7-2831251. Great location on Plaza San Francisco at Presidente Cordova 10-33 y Padre Aguirre. The rooms may be a bit noisy with the windows open, but the street noise will die down after dark when the buses quit running. If you're concerned about noise, the quietest rooms are on the sides: 1, 2, 6, 7. The hot water available. $32 for two people, tax and breakfast included.
  • Hostal Macondo, Calle Tarqui 11 64 & Mariscal Lamar. An old colonial building with a pretty courtyard. The price includes breakfast. Very pretty but simple rooms, quiet, with a self-serve kitchen, free wireless, book exchange, and large DVD library. Very nice hot showers with good pressure.
  • Hotel Milan, Presidente Cordova 8-89 (corner of Padre Aguirre), ☎ +593 7 2831104. The most affordable nice hotel in town. Located in the center, across from the church and square of San Francisco. Most rooms have a balcony. All have cable TV and hot water. Price includes breakfast on the roof. Friendly staff, excellent value. $17 for one person, $25 for double.
  • Hotel Crespo, Calle Larga 7-93. Overlooking the river, it has woody carpeted rooms, some with great views. Breakfast is included, Wifi is free, and they also have a computer near the lobby. From $50.
  • Mansion Alcazar, Bolivar 12-55. From $120

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes can be found nearly everywhere in the major cities and in many of the smaller ones. Cost is from $1 to $2 per hour in the large cities, and the better places have high-speed access. In some cafes, restaurants, and hotels you can find free wifi access, most of them protected by passwords; in most cases, you just have to ask for the password.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The international telephone code for Ecuador is 593. The general emergency number is 911, but there are special ones of police (101) and fire (102).

The centre of most towns, cities and villages have telephone 'shops', advertised in the street as 'cabinas'. Go in, ask for a free phone booth and call. There is usually a digital display giving the cost (per second) of your call, whether local, national or international. You can call the United States for about $0.10 per minute and Europe for a bit more. Avoid making a phone call through an operator; the cost for an international call can be $3 or more per minute. For calls within Ecuador, it is possible to use a telephone cabin.

Some mobile phone SIM cards of various networks have problems working in Ecuador - you can purchase a local network SIM (for an unlocked phone) for a few dollars in local mobile phone shops. The costs of calling are higher though at around $0.45 an hour.

Post

Correos del Ecuador is the national postal service of Ecuador. It's fairly reliable to send postcards and letters to other countries, though count on at least 5 days up to weeks for it to arrive. In general, postal services to North America are much faster than to other western countries. Prices start at around $1 (up to 20 grams), but rise steeply after that. You can get stamps at post offices or small shops/kiosks. Post offices generally are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday and 8:00am to noon on Saturdays, although there are slight variations throughout the country. If you are going to send heavier post or post which has more value, it might be better to contact private courier companies like DHL, TNT, UPS or FedEx, which are generally about the same price and much faster!

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This is version 9. Last edited at 13:14 on Feb 15, 18 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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