Cuenca es tu trip is the tagline for the website visitcuencaecuador.com.ec developed by the Fundación Municipal Turismo para Cuenca (Cuenca’s official Municipal Foundation of Tourism for Cuenca). It is a not-so-well-known but excellent, bi-lingual resource for planning trips here and finding things to do while in the city.
I interviewed Maria “Coky” León, Director of the Foundation, and longstanding tourism city official and I will share what I learned with youth throughout this article. Coky explained that Cuenca became a tourist destination about thirty years ago, but it was a secondary priority for the city until about ten years ago, after publications started highlighting Cuenca as a retirement destination.
Before that, she explained, the city welcomed tourists, but they made no special effort to attract them. Cuenca is sometimes called the “best-kept secret of Ecuador.” The Foundation is trying to change that. She added, “Our objective now is to provide services to make it easy for people to visit and move to Cuenca.”
She went on to say that the pandemic changed tourism in Cuenca. “It highlighted the importance of interpersonal interactions and local experiences. The foundation is now trying to make Cuenca a destination for various types of experiences.”
In fact, the foundation’s website is a fantastic resource for finding such experiences. I highly recommend it to those looking for the best options to expand the breadth and depth of their experience for visiting and living in Cuenca.
A Portal To Learn About Cuenca
The site offers well-illustrated advice on how to get to Cuenca and how to get around, places to stay, to eat, and interesting sections of the city you might want to visit. It is easy to navigate in either Spanish or English. It also contains links to the Foundation’s various social media pages. Two of the coolest features are a schedule of events and blog posts from fellow travelers. Their events calendar tends to focus on including many of the city-run events, many of which are free or low cost. This makes it a great addition to the YapaTree events calendar that includes a bit of everything. We recommend checking both calendars.
You can also subscribe to their mailing list to receive news via email. You can also reach out to them through their contact information page or through WhatsApp directly from the website.
You can also follow the Foundation on social media. Search for visit Cuenca on your favorite platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest) for updates about what they’re doing and about tourism in Cuenca in general.
On a personal note, my wife and I first visited Cuenca in 2017, and we moved here last year. We love the city and think it has a lot to offer people. It is a lovely city with welcoming, kind, and helpful people.
Cuenca’s Unique Spirit
Of course, the US is a major target for the foundation’s tourism efforts, but they also work to attract visitors and expats from all over the world. A large part of that still happens through word of mouth. Other cities such as Quito and Montañita have, historically, received much more attention from tourists than Cuenca. In part, this is because Cuenca is more difficult to reach.
Per Coky, the city is taking steps to improve that, like flights from Cuenca to Miami with a relatively short layover in Quito, but many people find that Cuenca is worth the extra effort to reach. One story she related was about a French family who told her their travel agency had put them in Quito for a week and only a few days in Cuenca, but they wished it had been the reverse because they enjoyed Cuenca so much more than they had Quito.
The Foundation hopes to highlight the things that make Cuenca unique as a tourist destination in Ecuador regardless of one’s interests. Cuenca has its own spirit and ambiance that sets it apart. It is metropolitan enough to suit a variety of tastes while still having a small-town atmosphere.
Coky commonly hears from visitors from other Ecuadorian cities like Guayaquil that the people love Cuenca and visit once or twice a month. She added, “The hospitality of the Cuencanos makes visitors feel at home.”
Experiences are the focus of the Foundation, and it is encouraging the places and organizations featured on the website to adopt an experiential viewpoint. For example, museums in the city are making more and more effort to offer memorable experiences instead of simply offering art for people to admire.
As a wedding destination, Cuenca already hosts two or three destination weddings each month, and that number is expected to grow.
A relatively new feature of the website is the presentation of different kinds of “trips” that help guide visitors toward experiences that interest them most. These go well beyond the core categories of lodgings, restaurants, attractions, events, etc. Below are links to each “Trip” and some brief descriptions and examples.
From the traditional fare offered on Don Bosco to more modern and metropolitan options throughout the city, food tourists can find many places to tempt their palates. Ecuadorian restaurants, both Cuencano and from other regions that have different cuisines, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and more await the hungry traveler.
Did you know the “Panama” hat originated in Ecuador? It’s made from the leaves of the toquilla straw plant that grows in coastal Ecuador. It has been a traditional part of Ecuadorian clothing for centuries. Some believe it predates the arrival of the Spaniards. In the mid-19th century, they began exporting them to Panama, where they gained popularity among gold prospectors headed for California.
The Cajas National Park is one of the most important natural areas in the region. With over 235 lagoons and thousands of smaller bodies of water, you can walk among moors and forests, discover native flora and fauna, fish in the rivers, climb rocks, and camp in the grasslands under starry skies.
Planning a business trip? Cuenca is a great option. It is a city of great warmth, welcoming and respectful with a vast cultural heritage. In 2019, Cuenca was designated as the World City of Crafts by the World Council of Crafts, a non-profit entity based in Belgium. With diverse culinary options, sustainable transportation, beautiful architecture, and a beautiful landscape, it also hosts an extensive tourist infrastructure with more than 1,000 rooms available in four and five-star hotels, a convention center with a capacity of up to 4,000 people, and shopping malls. There are large properties and reception halls owned by major hotel chains and country houses and farms equipped with spaces and services for holding all kinds of events.
Take a tour of the only rum cellar in Ecuador or visit the Latitud Cero brewery. Cuencanos love to party, and there are festivals and festivities throughout the city all year. From Carnival and various independence days to the Inca celebration of Inti Rayma to Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter, there are big events happening throughout the year.
Each month, two or three couples travel to Cuenca to get married, and the number of destination weddings happening in the city is growing. It’s hard to top Paris as “the city of love,” but Cuenca definitely has its charms in that department. One of which is the Plaza de las Flores, the Flower Plaza, in the Historic Center. This market was named the top site to visit in the Top 10 Outdoor Flower Markets list in National Geographic in 2014.
The lights of Christmas are spectacular. Last year, they lit the largest Christmas tree in Ecuador, which stood forty-two meters (nearly 138 feet) and boasted 22,000 lights. Each year, there are over twenty light displays throughout the city. There are also public parks throughout the city. You might also consider the Amaru Zoo or Yurak Allpa Animal Refuge if you and your family like animals. For flower lovers, there are the orchids of Ecuagenera and the Botanical Garden.
Want a good place to have a cup of coffee and dive into your favorite book? Cuenca offers a variety of quaint cafés designed for your comfort. If that’s not relaxing enough, you can visit the natural hot springs at Baños or Pumamaqui.
Visit the website where you’ll find information about trips for the various categories, information about how to get to Cuenca, places to stay, and restaurants. The site is available in both Spanish and English and is a fantastic resource. I recommend you spend an hour or so on the site and promise you will learn about things you never knew that will increase your enjoyment of Cuenca.