Colonial architecture, colorful markets, and indigenous people sporting locally-made Panama hats are just some of the things that give Cuenca, this historic city, its character and culture.
To get your bearings head to Parque Calderón -- Cuenca’s main plaza. It’s hard to miss the grandiose Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción with its huge blue domes. At times, Cuenca feels almost European and fans of historic architecture will love Cuenca as it’s packed with churches and quaint squares.
Scattered around the city’s cobbled streets are a number of little markets, selling everything from woolens and souvenirs to flowers and sweets. Local, highly skilled milliners make Panama hats in and around Cuenca. The city is famous for the woven headgear, in spite of being named after another country! Barranco’s Panama Hat Factory has hundreds of them for sale and a small museum devoted to the craft.
In spite of being on many a backpacker’s itinerary, and having plenty of hostels, Cuenca doesn’t feel overly touristy. Cuenca’s hostels tend to be central, of decent quality, and affordable; there are also a number of hostals, which are inexpensive guesthouses with private rooms. It is a walkable city and the majority of sights should be within easy reach of wherever you choose to stay.
Nightlife isn’t exactly wild -- especially mid-week -- but on weekends the small bars and salsa and karaoke clubs near the river, on and around Calle Larga, are a good place to sink back a few Ecuadorian Pilseners.
There are some nice day trips outside of the city too. Head to Baños (about thirty minutes via frequent buses) to relax in the thermal spa or indulge in a massage. Sundays are quiet in the city center so one option is to go to and explore the markets of Gualaceo and Chordeleg and sample some roasted cuy (guinea pig) or shop for silver jewelry. Buses depart frequently from the bus station (Terminal Terrestre) for Gualaceo (the journey takes around an hour), then you can pick up another bus to take you to the small hilltop town of Chordeleg (fifteen minutes).
The bus station and the tiny airport are close to each other and around a fifteen-minute bus ride from the center. Taxis are cheap here too; just make sure you agree on a price with the driver before you get in.
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