Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city with the highest number of expatriates, sitting at an altitude of 8,370′. There was a great deal of culinary variety as it caters to locals, travelers and expats alike. Cuenca has a big city feel, so the people are not as outwardly friendly and keep more to themselves.
Driving in Cuenca
The drive from Mindo to Cuenca was our longest stretch – 10 hours with a few stops and a 20-minute nap. Sasha drove the entire thing in one go, as I can’t drive a manual and driving in Ecuador would terrify me! The photos below feature some of the beautiful mountainous views we were treated to while driving through the Andes. It blew my mind that the locals still use manual labor and can farm at such high altitudes (between 9,000′ – 12,000′ / 3,000 – 4,000 meters). We saw a few donkeys and horses, but they mostly used human power. The views were incredibly drastic as we went from the cloud forest to sea level, where it was 35 C (95 F) degrees and humid, to the mountains where it dropped to 10 C (50 F) degrees where the fog was so thick we could barely see a meter in front of us.
THINGS TO DO IN CUENCA
Days Spent in Cuenca: 5
Time of Year Visited: April
Hike in Parque Nacional Las Cajas
Just a 30-minute drive outside of Cuenca is a beautiful National Park with free entry. The park ranges from 9,500′ – 12,000′ altitude, so take it easy when hiking and be sure to drink lots of water. Temperatures are a bit cooler as you are in a higher elevation, so a rain jacket/wind breaker is recommended.
(Click on each photo to enlarge it.)
Platos tipicos of the Andes: trucha (trout), vegetables and yuca frita (fried yuca)
Walk Around Downtown Cuenca
Downtown Cuenca is a lively place and well known for its nightlife. Free concerts are also offered, which we unfortunately did not take advantage of. You can find more information in the city center. There are several wall murals, and traditional cultural garb is worn by women here. I loved seeing the mothers and grandmothers in traditional wear, holding their little daughter’s hands who wore a modern pink getup with Barbies on it. The restaurant that we were blown away by, that I would highly recommend is Pedregal Azteca – authentic Mexican cuisine. The prices are higher than average for Cuenca, but completely worth it. The atmosphere was lovely and the service was attentive.
Swing High Above the City at Mirador Del Turi (Turi Lookout)
This was the highlight of our time in Cuenca and one of the highlights of our entire time in Ecuador. There is a tiny little town called Turi, tucked away high up on the hill, about a 25-minute drive from downtown. The views are spectacular and it is basically a playground for kids and adults alike. For only $1 entry fee, you get to feel like Tarzan with swings, ziplines and bridges. The only thing that costs extra is “the swing”, called El Columpio. You get strapped into a makeshift chair, locked in and released from the top of a concrete platform. Then, you are freed into the abyss flying high above the mountains with the city below you. Sasha did this and I had fun capturing it!
Have you been to Cuenca before? What was your experience like?
An Overview of Ecuador, South America – Contours of a Traveler's MapNovember 2, 2017 at 11:17 pm
[…] CUENCA TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN THE ADVENTURE TOWN OF BAÑOS THREE DAYS IN OTAVALO […]
twobytourNovember 9, 2017 at 7:07 pm
We Just got to Cuenca last week and will be spending two months here. While we’ve been mostly exploring on foot, the recommendations are really helpful. Will definitely check out Turi!
contoursofatravelersmapNovember 9, 2017 at 10:07 pm
That’s wonderful that you’re spending an entire two months there!! You should be able to get a taxi (or maybe even a bus!) to Mirador Del Turi if you’re staying in town. Be sure to check out Parque Nacional Las Cajas as well! It’s stunning, but try to acclimate to the elevation for a few days first. Have an awesome time!! My mouth is salivating just thinking about going back to that Mexican restaurant in downtown Cuenca. I hope you get the chance to try it! 🙂
Top Highlights of our Six-Month Journey Abroad – Contours of a Traveler's MapFebruary 13, 2018 at 10:02 pm
[…] ECUADOR – read the full blog post here Visited: April, 2017 Length of Time Spent in Country: 2 weeks Mode of Transportation: Rental Car Highlight: Discovering a “do-it-yourself” park called Mirador Del Turi where we were strapped into a makeshift swing and released to look out over the city of Cuenca at over 8,000′ (2,666 meters) elevation Cities Visited (you can read the full blog posts by clicking on each of the links below): Quito Otavalo Top Ten Things To Do In The Adventure Town of Baños An Overview of Ecuador, South America How Much Money We Spent in Ecuador Mindo, Ecuador Cuenca, Ecuador […]
Three Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador's Capital - Cultural FoodiesJuly 1, 2018 at 3:08 am
[…] Govinda’s, an excellent vegan restaurant in the city. This is a chain (there was also one in Cuenca where we dined as well.) For $3, you get a full lunch buffet consisting of soup, arroz integral […]
Travel In the Time of Coronavirus, A Virtual Culinary Journey Around the World - Cultural FoodiesJune 27, 2020 at 4:54 pm
[…] Our Favorite Dish: Trucha (trout) with Yuca. Yuca is cassava root and has a starchy consistency, similar to potatoes but more dense. Trout was particularly common in the high altitude Andes region of Ecuador in Cuenca. […]
Top Highlights of our Six-Month Travels Abroad - Cultural FoodiesFebruary 7, 2021 at 3:06 pm
[…] Broke down crying (me, not Sasha) in Cuenca, Ecuador two weeks into our travels (in the moment I felt overwhelmed outside of my comfort zone with bad […]