Cuenca Ecuador is a top destination for travelers & expats. Learn all about food, culture, attractions, travel, retirement and living in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Cuenca Ecuador: Complete Guide
Cuenca Ecuador is located in the Andes mountains at an elevation of 8500 feet. The city is famous for its architecture, climate and people.
Favorite dishes in Cuenca Ecuador include hornado and fritada (roasted and fried pork), cuy (guinea pig), chicken and mote (boiled corn kernels – served as mote pillo and mote sucio).
Cuenca is popular among South American, North American and European tourists. There is a large North American population of expats (estimates range from 3-5000) within the city. The majority are retired couples. Tourists generally come from Argentina, United States, Canada, and Spain.
Tons of articles have been written about the colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador. About how it’s so cheap, and how it’s such a great retirement place, etc.
Here is what you need to know about this great city.
7 Things to Know About Cuenca Ecuador
- Full Name and founding: Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca. Founded in 1557, by the Viceroy of Peru, Mr. Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza.
- Location: Southern Ecuador, Azuay Province. Ecuador is located on the north-west part of South America. Borders Columbia to the north, Peru to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
- From Guayaquil: South-east 155 miles (250 km). 3 1/2 – 5 hours by bus, just 30 minutes by plane.
- From Quito: South 274 miles (442 km). 9 hours by bus, less than 1 hour by plane.
- Elevation: 8400 ft (2560 meters)
- Population: 417,632 – (331,028 urban and 86,604 rural)
- Climate: known as “the land of eternal spring” Cuenca and surrounding areas experience very little climate change throughout the year. Expect warm to hot days (67°F – 82°F / 19°C – 28°C) and cool evenings (as low as 51°F / 10°C).
Getting to Cuenca Ecuador
- By Plane: There are two international airports – Quito (Airport code: UIO) and Guayaquil (Airport code: GYE). Both airports have daily flights to Cuenca. Expect airfares of roughly $45 – $55 from Guayaquil (on the coast) and $55 – $68 from Quito (in the Sierra). Choose from TAME Airlines, LAN or Aerogal. All flights to the Galapagos Islands go through Guayaquil Airport.
- By Bus: Cuenca is well connected to the rest of Ecuador by a network of buses. Buses leave from Quito every hour, 24 hours a day – the trip takes roughly 9 hours and costs between $9 and $12. Buses run roughly $1 to $1.50 per hour of travel time. From Guayaquil, buses are leaving every 30 min for Cuenca. The trip ranges from 3 1/2 – 5 hours, depending on if it goes through Cajas National Park or through Cañar – cost is roughly $7-9 each way.
Take a free tour of Cuenca in this 12 video post.
Many people say that Cuenca looks a lot like a European city because of the Spanish colonial architecture. Many of the buildings in the center are beautifully decorated in colonial style with red-tiled roofs, and little flower filled wrought iron balconies.
Interested to know the best of Cuenca? Check out Bryan’s post on National Geographic. It really sums up all the highlights in just one post: I Heart My City: Bryan’s Cuenca (for National Geographic)
What to Expect in Cuenca
In this article, we’ve put together the best of Cuenca Ecuador. You’ll read about:
- Cuenca for travelers
- Attractions near Cuenca
- General information
- Food in Cuenca
- Cuenca restaurants
- Expats in Cuenca
- Living in Cuenca
Read recent posts about Cuenca Ecuador.
Ready? Let’s get started!
1. Cuenca Ecuador for Travelers
Ecuador receives more than one million visitors each year. Cuenca (Ecuador’s third largest city) is a top destination for both travelers and expats.
Visitors to Cuenca will generally arrive either by bus or plane. We recommend booking your international flight direct through to Cuenca – saving you the hassles of making other arrangements once arriving in either Guayaquil or Quito international airports. Learn more about the Cuenca Airport.
Check out these top 10 attractions for tourists in Cuenca:
- Cuenca Video Tour: The best of Cuenca Ecuador in this 12-video city tour.
- My Top 10 Favorite Things about Cuenca, Ecuador
- The Flower Market: Prettiest Spot in Cuenca Ecuador (Video)
- Why I Love Cuenca’s Parque Calderon
- The Animals of Amaru Zoo (Video)
- Parque Paraiso (Paradise Park): Cuenca Ecuador’s Largest Park
- Parque de la Madre (New And Improved)
- Casa de la Mujer: Souvenirs
- Museo Banco Central
- The Amaru Zoo
- The Cuenca Orchidarium (Video)
Learn more about travel around Ecuador.
Cuenca Ecuador: Awards & Recognition
Cuenca has received many awards and distinctions. Cuenca has been recognized as:
- #1 city to visit in Latin America (Stern Magazine, 2009)
- #1 adventure destination (Outside Magazine, 2014)
- #1 open air flower market in the world (National Geographic, 2014)
- #1 city of the future (Foreign Direct Investment, 2013-2014)
- #1 for retired americans (CNN Money, 2012)
- top 10 City to Visit (Lonely Planet, 2010)
- #1 place for retirees (International Living, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013)
- Cultural Heritage site (UNESCO, 1999)
- #21 destination for travelers in Latin America (Trip Advisor, 2012)
2. Attractions Near Cuenca
One of the great reasons to visit Cuenca is all of the nearby day trips. From 30-60 minutes away there are a dozen amazing places. Here are nine of our favorites.
- The Five Best Side Trips From Cuenca Ecuador
- Chordeleg – Makes a Great Day Trip From Cuenca
- Road Trip – Cuenca to Paute Bus Trip (Video)
- Santuario Hibiscus: A Country Villa in the Yunguilla Valley, Ecuador
- Cuenca Attraction: El Chorro de Giron
- Hiking in the Andes: Ecuador’s Cajas National Park (Video)
- Ingapirca: Ecuador’s Largest Incan Ruins
- Hacienda Uzhupud: A Cultural Ecuador Experience (Video)
- Gualaceo: Just Outside of Cuenca
Video of Cuenca Sidetrip: Paute
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Hiking Outside of Cuenca Ecuador
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3. General Information: Cuenca Ecuador
Although Cuenca lies just south of the Ecuador, it isn’t as hot as you might imagine. Due to the altitude, it can get cool at night. See what weather to expect in this Annual Weather Chart.
Do you have a question about Cuenca Ecuador? Here are answers to some of the common questions about Cuenca:
- What Language in Cuenca?
- How to Drink The Tap Water in Cuenca
- What Vaccines Will I Need In Cuenca?
- What Are Cuenca’s Newspapers?
- Is it Cold in Cuenca Ecuador?
- Where Are the Dangerous Areas in Cuenca?
- How Should a Gringo Handle Cuenca Taxi Rates?
A few years ago, we were featured on House Hunters International.
4. Cuenca Ecuador Food
Since arriving in Ecuador five years ago, we’ve come to love the food here. Grilled beef, traditional Andean dishes and seafood are all readily available and surprisingly inexpensive. Full meals start at $2.00 and cost an average of $2.50 – $4.50 each.
- Pork and Cuy: Street Food
- Yuca Bread
- Guaba Fruit: Ecuador’s Delicious Ice Cream Bean
- There’s a Guinea Pig On My Plate! Culture Shock for Dinner
- Making Wood Oven Pizza
- Dragon Fruit
- Corvina Apanada (breaded fish)
- Encebollado (tuna soup)
- Higos con Queso (figs with cheese)
- Ecuador Chocolate
- Cubanito Coffee
- Ecuador Desserts
Learn more about the typical dishes in Ecuador in our huge guide: Travelers Guide to Ecuadorian Food.
Seafood in Cuenca
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Making Pizza in a Wood Oven
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5. Cuenca Ecuador: Restaurants
There are amazing restaurants and bakeries on every corner in Cuenca. The majority offer a mix of the traditional with both unique and international dishes. Here are some of our favorites:
- Raymipampa: Traditional Ecuador Food Near Parque Calderon
- Appettito Bakery / Cafe
- Seafood in Cuenca: El Sabor de las Costeñitas
- Tutto Freddos: Where to Eat in Cuenca for Pizza and Ice Cream
- Carrot Cake Ale and Buffalo Wings: The Andean Brew Pub (Video)
- PANESA Cafe Bakery
- Cafe Austria: Gringo Hangouts in Cuenca
Andean Brew Pub in Cuenca
6. Expats in Cuenca Ecuador
Over the past few years we’ve interviewed a few of the expats living here in Cuenca. These profiles help give a glimpse into the challenges and benefits of living in Cuenca. Learn about living abroad through the eyes of these expats.
- Ecuador Expat Profile – Gary Sisk
- Ecuador Expat Profile – Franziska & Daniel Pedersen, La Unión
- Ecuador Expat Profile – Susan Schenck
- Ecuador Expat Profile – Maureen Douglas
- Behind the Scenes: House Hunters International in Cuenca Ecuador
Read more Ecuador expat profiles.
Living in Cuenca, Ecuador
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7. Life in Cuenca Ecuador
Here are a collection of our top posts about living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Since moving here in 2009, this is one of our favorite topics to write about.
While some of these topics will apply to travelers, they are written with long term expats in mind.
- What’s it like to live in Cuenca Ecuador?
- Why We Chose Cuenca
- The Parishes (Parroquias) of Cuenca
- Reality Check: Housing in Cuenca
- Is Cuenca Safe for Expats?
- How to Travel in Ecuador Without a Car – Part 1: Using Taxis in Cuenca
- How to Travel in Ecuador Without a Car – Part 2: Using City Buses in Cuenca
- Dr. Jose Acosta: Our English Speaking Dentist
Learn more about living in Ecuador.
Cuenca Ecuador’s Parque Calderon
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While we love Cuenca, it (obviously) isn’t perfect. The climate, altitude and crime have affected many travelers and expats. We continue to write about specific concerns for visitors and how they can avoid the problems. Although there are some challenges we love living here.
So there you have it. Our top 56 posts about Cuenca, Ecuador.
Keep reading: Guide to Ecuador’s 18 Largest Cities
What food, restaurant, and attraction would you add to the list? Please include it (along with any travel tips) in the comments below!