Considered the colonial jewel of the south with a UNESCO-listed old centre full of many historic buildings, Cuenca is quite possibly Ecuador's most handsome city. With narrow cobblestone streets and grand whitewashed buildings topped with red-tile roofs, balconies and interior courtyards, Cuenca shares much of its architectural style with the old town of Quito. So much so that there is an ongoing debate within Ecuador as to which of the two cities is the most beautiful. Perhaps Cuenca's setting above the grassy banks of the Río Tomebamba seals the deal - a walk along the river will reveal local women drying their clothes in the sun, a slice of a simpler way of life that is often hard not to be seduced by.
The sky-blue domes of the 19th century Catedral Nueva is Cuenca's most recognisable and equally impressive landmark. Stood to the west of the central square, the cathedral's facade is immense, looming large with two three-storey towers. Stood opposite, the Catedral Vieja houses late 16th century frescoes and cyan toned murals. Off the main square the daily flower market takes place at Plaza de las Flores where chola women dressed in traditional skirts and checked aprons and sporting long plaited hair and Panama hats sell their colourful and fragrant wares.
Look beyond the colonial grandeur and you'll find a surprisingly modern side to Cuenca, championed by the city's large student population. As well as glorious architecture from a by-gone era you'll also find thoroughly international restaurants, trendy art galleries and cafes and plenty of bars in elaborate settings.
To get you started with planning your holiday to Cuenca, we have showcased below some popular itineraries requested by our clients which we hope will inspire your visit to South America