As Ecuador’s third-largest city, Cuenca is no new discovery among foreigners. In fact, it’s known for being one of the best places in the world to retire to. That’s not surprising, considering the gorgeous colonial architecture and cobbled streets, the low cost of living, and the relative ease of access to everyday conveniences that westerners are used to.
However, Cuenca was not the first city to stand in its place. The Incan city of Tomebamba occupied the site up until the Incan Civil War of the 1520s. When the Spanish arrived, they found the ruins of a city that was said to have rivalled Cusco in Peru with its grandeur. The city of Cuenca itself was founded on April 12, 1557. Today, its centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site, due to the many historically important buildings that are clustered within.
A stroll through Cuenca’s centro histórico can begin anywhere. Without a handy sense of direction, you’ll still find yourself stumbling upon epic cathedrals and a series of cobbled streets that make you want to trade in your current life for a new, more romantic ideal. But, for now, we’ll start at the river.
Stop 1: Yacimiento Archeologico de Todos Santos
An interesting site, that may be missed if you’re really sticking to the city’s core, is an archeological site that sits near the river. In 1972, the ruins of Todos los Santos were found during an excavation project. There is evidence of both Incan and Spanish construction in the space, giving a unique glimpse of these two cultures occupying the same geographic space.
Stop 2: Puente Roto
After finishing with the ruins, turn left up Calle Larga. After just a minute, you’ll come to Puente Roto—the Broken Bridge. Constructed between 1840 and 1850, this bridge was destroyed by flooding of the Rio Tomebamba in 1950. Today, it looks strangely unfinished. Though, it does act as a meeting place of sorts for plenty of events and festivities throughout the year.
Stop 3: Iglesia Patrimonial de Todos Santos
The Todos Santos complex itself is one of the most important historical sites in Cuenca. The church is quite large, extending the length of several blocks. A pearly white complex on the edge of an intersection, it doesn’t get as much attention as some of Cuenca’s other churches.
Stop 4: Catedral Vieja (Iglesia del Sagrario)
During Spanish colonization, this was the main place of worship in the city. Planning for the church began in 1557, while construction commenced 10 years later. Today, it houses the Museum for Religious Art. It flanks the Parque Calderon, sitting opposite the Catedral Nueva.
Stop 5: Nueva Catedral (Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción)
The New Cathedral of Cuenca sits opposite the Old Cathedral. Construction here began in 1885, lasting for almost a century. The sky-blue domes of this massive cathedral have become iconic—perhaps the city’s most recognizable architectural detail. These days, you can attend packed services several times a day.
Stop 6: Plaza de las flores & Iglesia El Carmen de la Asuncion
A city with a daily flower market seems like a thing of fairytales—and, sometimes, that’s exactly what Cuenca feels like. Nestled beside the Catedral Nueva sits Iglesia El Carmen de la Asuncion, constructed in 1730 in a Renaissance style. Its plaza is home to the daily flower market, which is probably the most scenic and colourful event in the city.
Stop 7: Iglesia Santo Domingo
The second-largest church in Cuenca, Iglesia Santo Domingo is known for its stunning and detailed interior ceiling—just don’t drop by in the middle of a church service if you are hoping to see it.
Stop 8: Iglesia de San Francisco
The Iglesia de San Francisco is one of the representative icons of Cuenca, admired for its neoclassical architecture and baroque features.
Stop 9: Plaza de San Francisco
At the end of a long walk, it’s always nice to peruse a market—even if it’s filled with a whole lot of mass-produced junk. Luckily, the Plaza de San Francisco does have a few stalls selling handmade items, with some food vendors lining the nearby streets.
While Cuenca is known for its historic churches and various significant architectural features, part of its beauty is in the colonial feel that dominates the old city’s streets. Here, any corner can yield romanticism and fantasies of day-to-day living in a city cemented in time.
I would like to thank Marie for her wonderful contribution to The Heritage Travels. Marie King is a Canadian travel writer with a million plans at all times. She is currently traveling through South America, writing about veganism, minimalist living, and getting inspired in the outdoors. Follow her adventures at marieaway.com. You can also follow her journey on Social Media:
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