This chapter of the DIY Cuenca Ecuador Landing Guide is devoted to enjoying some of what Cuenca and the surrounding area has to offer. Cuenca is a great place to be if you enjoy sight-seeing, museums, hiking, walking, and the big outdoors...and the milder weather is great for doing all of those things. Click on the links to see the videos of our excursions to these places.
1. Paraiso Parque – Paradise Park is the biggest park in Cuenca; it has walking trails, several playgrounds, river walk, and paddle boat rides on the small lake. The park is located off of Avenida Paraiso.
2. Walk Downtown or Uptown along the River – The walk starts on Tres de Noviembre on either end, from downtown or uptown; your starting point depends on where you’re already located. If downtown, start in the downtown area off of Calle Larga by the steps on Av. Tres de Noviembre. If you’re uptown, start off on Avenida de Las Americas on Tres de Noviembre. Enjoyable walk along the Tomebamba River at about 2-miles! Most of it is paved with walking trail or sidewalk. It is a good way to see more areas of Cuenca. If you keep going you'll run into the Paraiso Park as both the Yanuncay and the Tomebamba converge into this huge, wonderful park.
3. Mall Del Rio Yanuncay River Walk – This is another wonderful 2-mile walk along the river, starting from Avenida de las Americas, along Av. Primero de Mayo and ending at Mall Del Rio where you can then check out the many restaurants in the food court for lunch. Bring your map, not sure which street we finally cut off onto and then walked two more blocks to the mall. This walk continues all the way to Paraiso Parque if you are up to it!
4. Tutto Freddo’s Ice cream – Ecuador has some of the best tasting ice cream we have ever eaten! Tutto Freddo’s has continental desserts at Ecuadorian prices.
5. Caja National Parque – This huge park is outside of Cuenca about 45 minutes. We have recently taken the very strenuous hike up into the mountains from this park. There is a lake, camping, hiking, walking, beautiful scenery, restaurants nearby, etc; there is a wooden walkway going around the whole lake area. Taking the Alto Pista through San Joaquin gets you there; watch for the signs.
6. Banos Mineral Springs and Spa – On the outskirts of Cuenca, about a 15 minute bus ride from Coral Centro that's located on Las Americas, is a quaint little town called Banos. Banos is right below a mountain where natural warm mineral water flows into the valley. They say that natural mineral spring water is very good for your health and bathing in these natural pools are good for joint pain, arthritis, and other physical ailments.
7. Day Trip to Chordeleg – Chordeleg is a quaint, clean, neat little town about 45 minutes outside of Cuenca. There is a good Cuenca bus system that takes you there for about $0.65 cents. What I liked most about Chordeleg…it was about 5 degrees warmer than Cuenca and it was sunny the whole day! There are a lot of silver shops in Chordeleg where they make a lot of their own silver craft items called “pedigree” silver and there are some artisan’s shops as well.
8. Tour of 180 Year Old Ecuadorian Casa – All I can say is this tour was amazing! You will definitely enjoy this tour if you like old things and history. And, its only $1 per person. Simply exquisite.
9. "Traditional” Festival – We believe that to experience Ecuador at its fullest you must try out new things, such as go to one of the many traditional festivals and see and hear all of the traditional music, dances, costumes, and foods of Ecuador.
10. Cuenca Carnival – Children love rides and cotton candy. Carnivals are fun for the whole family. It was fun to walk around and see all the booths displaying their crafts and arts, trying out an Ecuadorian coconut milk drink and watching other people ride on the rides! Located off of Avenida Las Americas and Mexico Calle. The carnival comes to Cuenca in the month of November and this year (2015) it was there in April, but I don't recall seeing it there before in April. Uh?
11. Celebrate Carnaval – “Canaval” is totally different than “Carnival”. Carnaval is celebrated in Cuenca with water balloons, squirt guns, and buckets of water…It’s during the month of February, but mostly on the days of the 18th through the 21st. Everyone does it, even the older Ecuadorians. Frank got bombed with water balloons by an elderly Ecuadorian woman. No one is immune, not even expats! Be prepared and have your balloons ready to throw at people for self defense! We mean it—its serious business here in Ecuador; it’s water war!
12. Try a Humita – Tasting a humita for the first time is fun in the sense that it is something new. It leaves a strange, but not bad flavor in your mouth. You’re not sure if you’re eating something sweet or not. Humitas, a traditional and very old timey food has been around since the first Ecuadorian civilization. Ya gotta try it, at least once, and well, if you like it, you can always have it again, and if you don’t like it, well, at least you can say you tried it.
13. Cuenca City Tour – this tour is four hours and takes you all over the city of Cuenca. During the tour you’ll learn about the culture, history and architecture of Ecuador. It makes several stops at highlight areas such as the Inca ruins and the Old and New Cathedrals, and Flowers Park. Price is $20 per person for the full tour or $5.00 for half tours.
14. Casa de la Mujer – this craft casa has over 100 crafts stalls and makes for several hours of great shopping. So, if you like to shop this is the place to go. Products include knit sweaters from Otavalo, traditional Andean musical instruments, Panama hats, jewelry, ceramics and weavings. Located on General Torres 7-33 and Presidente Cordova.
15. Feria Libre Mercado - This market is now called El Arenal – When we first stepped foot in this huge market we couldn’t believe our eyes. The abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables is amazing! This is a must visit Mercado, which doesn’t even come close to any of the other Mercados in size. Wednesdays are the busiest because on this day they also have many more stalls with vendors selling their crafts, clothing, toys, linens, and house wares. Located off of Avenida las Americas and Remigio Crespo. But remember, only take the smallest bills, $5 and one dollar coins. Please read our safety guidelines for entering this Mercado.
16. Free Cuenca Symphony – There is always something going on at the concert hall in old town Cuenca; whether it’s a musical, band, orchestra or symphony and they are all FREE concerts. Be sure to get there at least 45-minutes early or you might not get a seat. The free concerts get packed quickly. Many of the Ecuadorians dress in their formals to these concerts. You can watch the video here.
17. Plaza Rotary Artisans Market - Plaza rotary is located on one square block in downtown Cuenca, not too far from the hostels on Calle Larga. It’s on Mariscal Lamar & Hermano Miguel. Here you will find all kinds of custom made arts and crafts from the local people of Cuenca. There are beautifully designed rugs, pottery, beaded jewelry, furniture, leather goods, and more.
18. San Francisco Market – This market also has local artisan’s crafts such as handmade scarves, hats, sweaters, blankets made from llama, etc. This market is located one block west and one block south of the Main Cathedral in El Centro. A gringo had her iPad snatched here during the daylight hours. Don’t bring your valuable electronics.
19. Giron (El Chorro Falls) – Giron is about 50 minutes from Cuenca; you can take a bus to Giron and then flag down a taxi to take you up the mountain to the falls. It is gorgeous there. Watch the Video
20. Cuenca (big) Zoo - The Cuenca zoo is about 5 miles north on the PanAm (autopisto) Highway from El Centro. Most taxis should know how to get to the Cuenca zoo. It is a lovely zoo with lots of neat animals, however, the zoo is a continual walk up the hillside; we just want to let people know this ahead of time. If you have trouble walking or climbing stairs this zoo might not be for you. If that's the case, you can view the zoo in both of our videos right here.
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy in Cuenca Ecuador! Enjoy the Discover Cuenca Ecuador blog!