Cuenca, set in the southern sierras at 2,550m, is a quintessential Spanish colonial city. It has the cobbled streets, leafy plazas, baroque churches and whitewashed façades with heavy wooden doors that you’d expect, but the pale-stoned centre is particularly beautiful.
This university town is also a centre for artisan work, notably the panama hat, which originated here, but also ceramics, basket ware, jewellery and ponchos. A quiet, somewhat conservative place, it is the tranquil base for a number of language schools; foreign students can be spied indulging in the many cake shops and cafés. Outside town in the lake-dotted moorlands of the southern sierras is the lovely Cajas National Park.
When to go
Cuenca has an all year round spring-like climate with an average temperature of 20°C. Most days have a sunny morning but there may be rain in the afternoon. Feb-Apr are the wettest and cloudiest months, Jun-Aug the driest.
Getting local currency
Ecuador uses the US dollar. There are a number of banks in Cuenca. Notes can be withdrawn from ATMs using a UK credit or debit card.
GMT -5 hours.
The Avenue of the Volcanoes, 250 km to Riobamba (3.5 hrs by road); the port of Guayaquil, 175 km (2 hrs 40mins by road).
Average flight time is 13 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK to Ecuador, popular routes to Quito involve a change of plane in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid.
Bienal de Cuenca: Biennial painting competition and exhibition for three months Apr or Nov, odd years. Holy Week: Good Friday procession through Cuenca.
Septenario: Religious festival prior to Corpus Christi, with masses, fireworks and balloons.
Dia de Independencia: Cuenca 3 Nov, along with All Saints and Souls days on 1-2 Nov combines to create a three-day holiday with markets, music, dancing and parades.
Pase del Niño Viajero: Christmas Eve children’s costume parade.