Cuenca: South American Beauty

Santa Ana of the Four Rivers of Cuenca (known familiarly as Cuenca) is one of the most beautiful cities in South America.

This is a place to relax and refresh—a charming collection of shady plazas, dazzling churches, and restored colonial mansions.

In 1999, UNESCO declared Cuenca’s historic center a World Cultural Heritage Site, in honor of the city’s harmonious mix of architectural styles.

Twin baby blue domes of Cuenca Cathedral in Ecuador, deep clear blue sky in the background

Tomebamba, Yanuncay, Tarqui, and Machangara

Cuenca’s setting is a high valley (8,200 feet above sea level) nourished by four rivers:

  • Tomebamba
  • Yanuncay
  • Tarqui
  • Machangara

These rivers originate in the surrounding mountains of the Southern Sierra, before eventually joining tributaries of the Amazon.

The fertile valley around Cuenca was first inhabited over 10,000 years ago.

Ancient stone doorway of Ingapirca, Ruined Inca city, Ecuador

Cuenca began as a Cañari settlement known as Guapondelega—a name signifying “The Land as Wide as Heaven.”

Cañari and Inca Roots

The Cañari made impressive advances in astronomy and agriculture over the next 900 years, achievements later adopted by their Inca conquerors in the mid-15th century.

After subduing the Cañari, the Inca renamed the city Tumebamba, and set about reshaping it into a second capital, intended to rival Cusco.

With the Spanish conquest in 1557, the city was recast again, this time in the orthogonal plan that survives today.

A white church with bright blue accents, photographed during leisure travel in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca: Perfect Base for Hiking Expeditions

Cuenca is the ideal base from which to explore the surrounding Andean towns and hiking venues.

Gualaceo, located 20 miles to the northeast, hosts a traditional Sunday market of produce and handcrafts.

Its neighboring village of Chordeleg is known for handmade textiles, ceramics, and jewelry.

Cajas National Park

The Cajas National Park, 20 miles west of Cuenca, protects Polylepsis woodlands, a section of the Inca Trail, and 232 glacial lakes.

Ingapirca, Ruined Inca city, Ecuador

Native species of Cajas range from toucans to condors. Mischievous dwarves are rumored to dwell in its forests and caves.

Ingapirca: Ecuador’s Largest Surviving Inca Site

Thirty miles to the north of Cuenca sits Ingapirca, Ecuador’s largest surviving Inca architectural complex.

Originally constructed atop an important Cañari temple, the resulting cultural fusion is unique.

The Temple of the Sun

Many of the structures have oval-shaped footprints, an anomalous feature among Inca sites.

Large ancient circular stone building and other ruins at Ingapirca, Ruined Inca city in Ecuador

Highlights include a beautifully crafted Temple of the Sun, a calendar stone, storehouses, and residences.

Climate in Cuenca

Cuenca enjoys a mild climate year-round, with highs in the mid-80s and evening lows near 65°.

The rainy season lasts from January to May, characterized sunny mornings and afternoon showers. Cuenca’s jacaranda trees are in full bloom in October.

Cuenca’s airport receives direct flights from Guayaquil (20 minutes) and Quito (45 minutes).

Twin powder blue domes atop the cream towers of a massive historical building in Cuenca, Ecuador. Photographed during leisure travel in South America

When you travel with LANDED, our team of travel experts and network of local contacts are at your service. We’ll handle the details, freeing you to savor the moments. Call us today at 801.582.2100. Dream big. We’ve got you.

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