Here are the Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador during your visit to this beautiful and magical old-world city nestled high in the Andes Mountains. These are the activities we did with our friends and family when they visited and they LOVED them.
In 1999, Cuenca was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic and cultural significance. Everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful and historic to see, and photograph!
Without further ado, here is the list of Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador:
#10 – Get an Aerial View of Cuenca from The New Cathedral Terrace
Number ten on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to tour The New Cathedral, both inside the cathedral and the terrace located high above the city between the two front towers.
The official name of The New Cathedral in Cuenca is Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), but most people just call it The New Cathedral or La Catedral Nueva in Spanish.
The groundbreaking for The New Cathedral was in 1885, but construction wasn’t completed until 1975. It was originally designed to have two additional domes with bells on the front two towers, but they were never added due to structural issues.
The inside of The New Cathedral is lined with several altars dedicated to various saints in the Catholic religion. Each altar is made of different materials, and each is a work of art and craftsmanship. The main altar is covered in gold leaf, which is common in Ecuador’s larger cathedrals.
If you want an amazing aerial view of Cuenca Ecuador, you’ll want to pay the $2 fee and climb the brick spiral staircase to The New Cathedral Terrace. From there, you can get a 360 degree view of Cuenca and the surrounding Andes Mountains.
#9 – Step Back In Time at The Old Cathedral
Number nine on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit The Old Cathedral Religious Art Museum.
The official name of The Old Cathedral is Iglesia del Sagrario (Church of the Shrine), but everyone calls it The Old Cathedral or La Catedral Vieja in Spanish. It’s one of the nicest museums in Cuenca.
The groundbreaking for the cathedral was in 1567 and it was finished six years later in 1573. It’s much smaller than The New Cathedral located on the other side of Parque Calderon.
While it does contain some of the graphic imagery used to put the fear of God in people back in the 16th century, most of the art is from the past hundred years so it’s not as gory. You’ll really enjoy seeing the original murals painted over 500 years ago!
#8 – Reward Your Tastebuds with Fine Ecuadorian Coffee and Chocolate
Number eight on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to reward your tastebuds with some delicious fine Ecuadorian coffee and chocolate.
If you enjoy coffee and chocolate like Amelia, then you’ll LOVE Ecuador! The best chocolate in the world is made here from the best cocoa beans in the world.
There are several major brands of Ecuadorian chocolate like Pacari and Leyenda, but you can also buy unpackaged chocolate at the mercados. However, most of the mercado chocolate contains leche (milk) so keep that in mind if you’re vegan or lactose intolerant.
#7 – Model a Panama Hat at the Hat Museum
Number seven on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit Museo del Sombrero on Calle Larga y Padre Aguirre.
You’ll enjoy visiting the hat museum and the café on the deck above the Tomebamba River. You can try on some hats and then savor a coffee or tea while admiring the views of the river, Cuenca, Turi and the Andes mountains.
While these hats are commonly known as Panama Hats, they originated in Ecuador and the Cañari indigenous people who originally made this “paja toquilla” or “straw hat” still wear them today.
#6 – Soak in the Hot Springs at Baños
Novaqua, Hostería Durán and Piedra de Agua are the most popular places with expats, but there are other places in Baños. They all have a hot springs swimming pool, as well as the thermal hot and cold pools. Novaqua and Piedra de Agua also have a sauna, mud pools, steam rooms and hot boxes.
If you prefer a child-free experience, you need to be at least 16 years old to enter Novaqua and it’s a little less expensive than Piedra de Agua.
Hostería Durán is the most affordable option, but sometimes there are lots of kids playing in the pool, which can tarnish a relaxing spa experience. Of all three, Piedra de Agua probably has the nicest pools, atmosphere and a full restaurant, but it’s more expensive and does allow small children.
#5 – Taste Exotic Fruit at a Mercado
Buying your fresh produce at the mercado helps support local farmers and it’s very affordable. Plus, you’ll get to practice your Spanish and enjoy all the beautiful colors and culture.
There is a wide variety of delicious and affordable fruit, both familiar and exotic. We HIGHLY recommend trying a Pitahaya, or Dragon Fruit in English (shown below). They’re very sweet and juicy, but they’re also prescribed as a natural laxative so perhaps start with a half of one and see how it affects you before get too carried away!
This funky prehistoric looking fruit is called a Soursop in English, or Guanabana in Spanish.
Amelia loves the sourness of this Guanabana, but I prefer the sweetness of its cousin, the Sweetsop or Chirimoya as it’s called in Spanish.
You may like some more than others, but a trip to the mercado for some delicious exotic fruit is well worth your time.
#4 – Take a Selfie with Wild Llamas at Cajas National Park
The Lower Cajas is much lower in altitude so it’s also greener with more plants and animals to see. However, you’ll enjoy hiking in both parts of the park.
It’s common to see wild llamas in both areas of the park. We saw multiple herds of llamas on both of our hikes in El Cajas National Park. They’re very tame so you can get very close to them, but we encourage you to keep a safe distance so you don’t disturb them (and so they don’t spit on you).
If you’re an orchid lover, you’ll want to visit Lower Cajas to see the abundance of wild orchids growing in the trees.
#3 – Visit Turi on the City Bus Tour
Number three of the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to visit Turi Ecuador on the Cuenca City Bus Tour.
The Turibus costs $8 for adults and $4 for kids, with a deal for families. It takes about one and a half hours to do the full tour and it provides a nice Cuenca history lesson and tour of the city before heading up to Turi Ecuador for some amazing photo ops. It’s a hop-on/hop-off bus so you can enjoy different parts of the city and catch the next bus when it goes by.
Once you’re at Turi, you can spend about 45 minutes tasting a complimentary canelazo, wandering around or enjoying the views before your bus heads back to El Centro. However, you can spend some extra time taking pictures of Cuenca or get some adrenaline pumping at the Aventuri Adventure Park.
#2 – Take Time to Smell the Roses at the Cuenca Flower Market
Number two on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to take time to smell the roses at the world-famous Cuenca Flower Market located across the street from The New Cathedral.
The Cuenca Flower Market has been designated one of the Top 10 Outdoor Flower Markets in the world by National Geographic, and a quick stroll around the flower stands is enough to understand why.
Flowers are one of Ecuador’s major exports, so there’s a good chance you may have enjoyed some in one of your bouquets back home without knowing it. However, you probably paid a lot more than they cost in Ecuador. You can buy two dozen roses for between $5 and $7.
#1 – Get Creeped Out by the Shrunken Heads at the Pumapungo Inca Ruins
Number one on the top 10 things to do in Cuenca Ecuador is to get creeped out by the shrunken heads at Museo Pumapungo and then enjoy a walk through the 500+ year old Inca ruins.
The museum doesn’t allow photography inside so we don’t have any pictures of the shrunken heads to share, but trust us when we say they’re creepy! You’ll enjoy walking through the museum and learning about the history of the Incas in this part of Ecuador.
In addition to the Inca Ruins dating back to the 1400’s, you’ll also enjoy a relaxing stroll around the gardens and lake.
It was hard to choose a number one for the Top 10 Things To Do In Cuenca Ecuador, but we both agreed on Pumapungo because it’s such an iconic landmark in Cuenca, and it’s such an enjoyable place to visit. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do on your next visit to Cuenca Ecuador.
Top 10 Things To Do in Cuenca Ecuador Conclusion
Whether you visit Cuenca as a tourist, or if you’re on an exploratory trip to plan for an eventual move, you won’t be disappointed by taking some time to enjoy all the city has to offer.
There are several other things to do, like visiting the Museum of Modern Art or Parque de la Libertad, but these are the top 10 things that most visitors want to experience. Be sure to have your camera ready so you can share the sights with your friends and family back home!
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