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Colonial Old Town Cuenca

OLD TOWN CUENCA, ECUADOR: FASCINATING DESTINATIONS! World Heritage Sites: Colonial Cuenca, Ingapirca & Cajas Park. 5 Best museums

At a road distance of ±440km from Quito, Cuenca, at an elevation of 2500 masl, is located in the Andes of Ecuador slightly lower than capital Quito. With about half a million inhabitants, Cuenca, capital of the Azuay Province, is the third largest city of the country. The colonial center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage for its beautiful colonial buildings. Most tourists visit the historic part of town, which is small and incredibly charming. No doubt, colonial old town Cuenca is among the ten most beautiful historic cities of Latin America and absolutely worth a visit. Rather poorly known internationally, even during the tourist season, the streets are dominated by the Cuenqueños (inhabitants from Cuenca).


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The first major settlement was named Guapondeleg and built by the Canari people. About 50 years before the Spanish arrived, the Incas conquered the Canari and rebuilt and renamed the city Tomebamba. Nevertheless, when the Spanish arrived the city had been largely abandoned. The reason remains a mystery. Indians told the Spanish stories about golden buildings and splendor in Tomebamba and of course it became one of the candidate places for the El Dorado myth. The Spanish founded Cuenca - named after the city in Spain - on the ruins of Tomebamba in 1957 and used stones of the ruins for the construction on their new buildings, including for the Sagrario Church.


While not known for any specific economic activity in particular, the city is relatively prosperous with a variety of different economic activities. From a touristic point of view, it is important for the aforementioned UNESCO World Heritage nomination of its old town Cuenca with its colonial monuments. Interestingly enough, the Panama hats are not produced in Panama, but in Cuenca and many tourists buy themselves one of those wonderful ornaments. Of course, the fashion has evolved and nowadays, Panama hats are available in many shapes and colors for both men and women, including modern straw caps. I recently revisited Cuenca after many years and was amazed by the outstanding state of restoration of almost all the colonial buildings and monuments and of course, I bought several Panama hats in the large shop at the south side of the Calle Largo (see detailed map by clicking on the map below).


Colonial Cuenca: Map of Old Town Cuenca.

Map of old town Cuenca.


Colonial Cuenca: Concepción Inmaculada Church, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Concepción Inmaculada Church entrance, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: Flower market, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Concepción Inmaculada Church, a fabulous brick building, Old Town Cuenca.

Debatably the Inmaculada Concepcion Cathedral is one of the most impressive cathedrals of Ecuador. Construction started in 1885, so it is not at all a colonial cathedral and not all that old for South American standards. It replaced the old cathedral, the Iglesia del Sagrario, across the street, in front of which you find a beautiful flower market.

Colonial Cuenca: Concepción Inmaculada main door, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: Colonial building in Cuenca, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: City Hall Gallery of Cuenca, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: colonial street in old town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: historical street in old town Cuenca.

Though tourists are present, the colonial streets of Cuenca are dominated by Ecuadorians living their day to day lives.


Colonial Cuenca: Shoe shine stand in the gallery of the Immaculada Concepcion Cathedral, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Shops and vendors at the gallery of the Plaza Calderon with Cuenquenos going about their business, Old Town Cuenca.

Shoe shine stand in the gallery of the Immaculada Concepcion Cathedral.

Shops and vendors at the gallery of the Plaza Calderon with Cuenquenos going about their business.


Colonial Cuenca: Old Cathedral Sagrario, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Interior Museum Former Cathedral Sagrario, Old Town Cuenca.

Construction of the Catedral El Sagrario started in 1567 with stones from the ruins of Tomebamba. For centuries this old colonial church served as Cuenca's main church and later as cathedral until the Immaculada Concepcion Cathedral took over that function. It was no longer used for regular services and after its restoration in 1999, the church became a museum of religious arts, concerts and cultural events.


Colonial Cuenca: San Fransisco Church, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: San Sebastian Church, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: Santa Domingo Church, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: Santuario Mariano Monestry with flower market, Old Town Cuenca.


San Fransisco Church, top left.

The San Sebastian Church, top right.

In front of the Santuario Mariano Church is a very picturesque flower market. above.

Santo Domingo Church, left.



Panama Hats

Colonial Cuenca: Panama Hat shop, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Rafael Paredes Panama Hat factory and shop, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Panama Hat production, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: Panama Hat shop Rafael Paredes, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Traditional Panama Hats, Old Town Cuenca.Cuenca Panama Hats sold in Otavalo.

Rafael Paredes is probably your best deal for shopping for a Panama hat. Located on the South side of Calle Largo, you can recognize it by the display of a hat on the wall. The actual shop is deeper inside. It is a great place because there are hatmakers weaving the hats behind the displays. The prices are pretty much what you pay at the small shops but here you have a great selection of both men and women's hats and the quality is rather nice. The shop also includes a great workshop where you can see how hats are being made, as well as a Panama Hat Museum, which we further elaborate at our webpage Museums of Ecuador and on Museums of Cuenca.


There is a more upscale shop, that looks more sophisticated, but other than a slicker display and higher prices, I could not see any difference in the products. For those that can't make it to Cuenca, shops are also found in Quito at the Mercado Mariscal and the shops in Ejido Park. An alternative location is the Plaza de los Ponchos en Otavalo.


Inca Ruins of Pumapungo

Colonial Cuenca: Pumapungo Ruins, Old Town Cuenca.Colonial Cuenca: Former Inca Regional Center and Cañari Capital Pumapungo, Old Town Cuenca.

The Inca city of Pumapungo - the Puma Door - was supposed to be more beautiful than Cusco, but no European has ever seen the city in its full glory as the city was abandoned and destroyed some time before the Spanish arrived. It now is an archeological site at the South side of colonial Cuenca and managed as part of the Pumapungo Museum of the Banco Central.

Colonial Cuenca: Reconstruction of the Cañari Capital Pumapungo, Old Town Cuenca.


Posada del Angel

Colonial Cuenca: Hotel Posada del Angel, Old Town Cuenca.

Colonial Cuenca: Posada del Angel Hostel, Old Town Cuenca.

When in colonial old town Cuenca, I stayed in the lovely Posada del Angel Hotel, owned and operated by an extremely capable and nice Argentine family, great food and good wine for a reasonable price. For our Southern package we like to book you in this hotel.


Cuenca is your most convenient hub for seeing


the Ingapirca UNESCO Inca World Heritage site;


Cajas National Park.

City tours are almost daily available. Our Andes Trek, Ecuador program includes the best National Parks of Ecuador in the Andes as well as the famous cultural highlights, like Quito, Cuenca and Ingapirca.  Please contact us for information, rates and bookings.


For detailed information on climate and weather conditions read: climate of Cuenca, Ecuador; climate Galapagos Islands in Ecuador; climate in the Amazon of Ecuador and climate of Ecuador. If you want to learn more about the country, read Ecuador Facts.



Cuyabeno Lodge / Neotropic Turis Office in Quito, Ecuador:

Shyris Park Building, Av. de los Shyris N36-188 & Av. Naciones Unidas, Office 608, 6th floor.

Phone: (++593) (0)(2) 292 6153

Cell (mobile) phone: (++593) (0)999 80 3395


Find it on the Quito Map Zoom in, it is a very detailed map!