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?