We were so excited to be able to return to one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world, Cuenca Ecuador. There’s so much to do, and we were able to pack a lot into 2 days.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Cuenca for a few days and want to make the most of your time, here’s an out-of-this-world itinerary to experience the breadth of the city in just 48 hours!
Birding in Parque Paraíso
Thousands of bird enthusiasts flock to Ecuador every year to experience the unique and thriving bird population. With over 1650 species of birds (including 132 types of hummingbirds) we have the highest density of birds in the world!
Our guide Carlos was so knowledgeable, and with his help, we were able to spot over 20 different species of bird in just 2 hours. Even if you aren’t usually interested in bird watching, seeing so many hummingbirds and waterfowl in one place was an invigorating experience that you won’t want to miss!
Tipping Your Hat at El Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla
This museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cuenca, and it’s clear why. Not only were we able to learn all about the history of the Panama hat, but we were able to get our own custom hats to take on the rest of our adventures!
Although the straw hats are named for Panama, they were worn by the indigenous people of Ecuador for hundreds of years before making their way north in the early 1800s. Popular during the California gold rush, Panama hats gained international fame when President Theodore Roosevelt wore one on his visit to the construction site of the Panama Canal.
While the history and behind-the-scenes tour is fascinating, one of the most memorable parts of this museum is the store. There’s a plethora of unique, handmade Panama hats for you to explore, and what’s more, they’re all completely customizable.
If you want a hat resized, fitted with a new band, or made completely from scratch, they’re able to provide whatever alterations you desire. It’s a bit like the Willy Wonka factory of hats!
While you wait for your hat to be made perfect, you can enjoy the café upstairs, complete with one of the most incredible views in the city.
Visit Diverse Markets like Casa Yangoe
If you know us, you know how much we love organic produce. That’s why we couldn’t miss the new market right near the hat museum. Casa Yangoe featured fresh fruits and vegetables, sourdough bread, handmade indigenous clothing, and of course Ecuadorian chocolate.
Explore Culinary Delights at Restaurants like LaMaria Cocina Libre
We consider Cuenca to be the culinary capital of Ecuador, so if you’re only visiting for a short time, tasting the local food is a must. LaMaria was an excellent choice for us because it was born as a tribute to the women who worked to protect Ecuadorian culinary traditions.
The menu featured a variety of gourmet traditional dishes including veggie ceviche, avocado, corn tacos, and more.
Experience the Wild Side at Prohibido Centro Cultural
With so many museums to choose from in Cuenca, it’s fun to get a bit off the beaten path and explore something more macabre. Prohibido Centro Cultural is an extreme art gallery that showcases the dark side of the city’s artistic imagination.
Eduardo Moscoso was constantly at odds with the more conservative town leadership of Cuenca before founding this museum. It feels a little like a haunted house, with depictions of demons, skulls, and destruction. The museum is small but packs quite the punch.
Cleanse Your Artistic Pallet At La Lira
If darker art isn’t your thing, right next door is a more traditional art gallery. La Lira features different artists every couple of months, so it always has something new to see. They also host poetry and book readings along with live music performances.
Walk Along History in the El Vado Neighborhood
This might just be the most significant point of interest in Cuenca because without it the city might not exist at all. El Vado was the first neighborhood created by the Spanish in 1557. The original residents had to wade across the Tomebamba river to enter the city, leading to the name El Vado, which translates to “the ford.”
The area also features a beautiful Palo Ensebado sculpture depicting a traditional game involving climbing a pole to get prizes. This is a great way to see the vibrant culture year-round.
Be Transported to the Incan Empire at Pumapungo
This free museum holds stunning artifacts from the ancient Inca Empire. Clay pots, ancient tools, art, and even shrunken heads abound!
While the inside of the museum is, of course, a joy, our favorite thing to do is walk around the grounds. They feature ruins from the 1400s, and if you’re lucky you might spot some llamas on the hills.
Let Your Cares Wash Away At Piedra de Agua
Just 15 minutes from El Centro is THE best spa in South and Central America. Piedra de Agua won the title just this year after opening in 2008. Enjoy thermal pools, mud baths, and delicious food and refreshments surrounded by breathtaking nature.
The hot water used at this spa comes from a spring that’s 4000 meters deep. They have food to cater to any dietary restrictions, so long as you call ahead and let them know.
We were able to enjoy the cave experience in a romantic underground area just for us. With various spa treatments and Champagne flowing, it was a one-of-a-kind experience that we will not soon forget.
Beyond the 48
There’s truly so much to do in Cuenca, this guide only scratched the surface. We have other guides to fill out your itinerary if you have more time.
From the New Cathedral to San Francisco Plaza, there’s always more beauty and culture to take in. And of course, you can’t miss the world-famous Cuenca flower market.
We recommend budgeting a full week to take in all this amazing city has to offer.
While two days may not feel like a lot of time to experience the culture and beauty of one of Ecuador’s oldest cities, if you know what you’re looking for you’re sure to experience something unique and exciting.
From breathtaking views to shrunken heads to underground spas, there’s an adventure around every corner. We know once your time is done, you’ll be jumping at the chance to spend another 48 hours in Cuenca!
Watch the 48 Hours In Cuenca Video
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