Best Things to Do in Cuenca

The iconic blue domes of Cuenca's New Cathedral stand out against the cityscape, a must-see architectural marvel in the heart of the city.

If you are looking for the best things to do in Cuenca, you have come to the right place.  


This southern city in the Ecuador highlands has a piece of my heart!  Cuenca holds a beautiful balance of tranquil lifestyle and a plethora of activity choices.  Find yourself surrounded by the majestic Andes Mountains enjoying the freshest water directly streaming from Cajas National Park.


Cuenca’s historic center was honored with the title of UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.  Its brilliant cultural and historic richness makes it one out of 5 UNESCO sites in Ecuador.  


Outdoor lovers can take a half day or full day trip to Cajas National Park for hiking and incredible views.  History buffs will love to take a free Cuenca walking tour for amazing facts and lesser known secrets about the city.  You can also visit Incan Ruins, INSIDE the city of Cuenca at a beloved museum, completely for free!  What to do in Cuenca Ecuador?  READ ON!

Cuenca, Ecuador views

How to get to Cuenca Ecuador

Quito to Cuenca: One hour airplane or approximately 11 hour by bus (I do not recommend this- for me personally, WAY too long).  

Baños to Cuenca: 7.5 hour direct bus (the schedule says 6 hours, but mine was 7.5 including stops).  There is no airport in Baños.  

Tena to Cuenca: 12 hour bus with one transfer in Baños.  You can alternatively take a 40mn airplane from Quito Airport into Jumandy Airport located in Ahuano, a 45 minute drive from Tena. 

Cuenca Planning Details

Cuenca Ecuador Weather: Thanks to its high altitude and location near the equator, Cuenca experiences pleasantly mild temperatures year round.

Daytime temperatures are between 64°F to 72°F and nighttime temperatures between 45°F to 54°F year round.

Like much of Ecuador, Cuenca has two main seasons – the dry season and the wet season. The dry season is from approximately June to December.  During this time, rainfall is relatively low and skies are clear.

The wet season is from January to May. While there is increased rainfall, the showers are generally short-lived and there are still plenty of sunny days.

Elevation in Cuenca Ecuador: Cuenca has a significant elevation of roughly 8,366 feet above sea level.  Due to thinner air, which breathing and physical activity for people not adjusted to high altitudes may be affected, so prepare accordingly before your trip!  

Food in Cuenca Ecuador: I HIGHLY recommend visiting the SuperMaxi market if you are on a budget.  This is a fully stocked supermarket and includes a vegan refrigerated section.  It was AMAZING to be able to prepare myself a veggie burger after weeks of traveling.  There are also many delicious restaurants hosting a variety of cuisine.  

Best things to do in Cuenca Ecuador

Flower Market

Flower Market in Cuenca

In 2012, UNESCO declared Cuenca’s Flower Market the second prettiest flower market in the world (But what’s the first??  I’ll leave you hanging here!)  It takes place daily outside of the Santuario Mariano Church next to the San Francisco Plaza.  This is approximately one block from Parque Calderon.  


Ecuador is known for having some of the world’s most diverse flowers- I mean, we’re talking 51 types of roses alone.  Come ON!  

Parque Calderon


You’ll find locals and tourists strolling and relaxing around this central meeting point.  Come for the slow pace and stay for street food stands like espumilla.  You’ll notice espumilla from its distinct ice cream like appearance with rainbow sprinkles and several sugar cones placed on top… and you’ll notice it’s not melting!  This is because it’s not ice cream, but a traditional Ecuadorian merengue treat. 

Calle Santa Ana

Calle Santa Ana in Cuenca

This festive, narrow street is nestled directly next to the New Cathedral.  Stroll through admiring the cobblestone street and colorful decor as you wander your way through Cuenca.

Visit some Iglesias

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Cuenca

Trivia time!  Cuenca has 52 churches!  Why?  Pause for a second… 52 weeks in a year, 52 churches.  I know, mind BLOWN, right?

  • San Sebastian– one of the oldest churches in Ecuador, San Sebastian sits at the western end of Cuenca’s historic center.  
  • Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception– Also known as the New Cathedral, it really is immaculate.  You’ll find its iconic blue towers from vantage points around the city.  Its formation began in 1885 and boasts international architecture, notably, its blue tiled Czech domes.  
  • Iglesia Sagrario– Building plans for Iglesia Sagrario, also known as the Old Church, began in 1557.

Ancient Ruins

Ruins at Pumapungo Museum in Cuenca

I am still SHOOK over being able to see ancient ruins in the city itself, totally for free.  They are located on the grounds of Pumapungo Museum.  You need to first enter and sign in at the front desk, and then you are free to explore.  


Alternatively, take a day trip to the Ingapirca Ruins.  

Puente Roto

This infamous bridge sits on Cuenca’s water walkway.  You can access it easily on your way back from Pumapungo Museum.  

Street Art

Street art in Cuenca

Cuenca, Ecuador is home to some beautiful street art.  Wander around the colorful murals and explore at your own pace!  

Street art in Cuenca


Mirador Turi Viewpoint in Cuenca

There are many places to take in Cuenca’s stunning beauty from above, ranging from your hostel rooftop to a famous viewpoint taking in even more of the city.  There’s no right or wrong here, but the famous viewpoints are free, so I highly recommend checking at least one of them out.  


Mirador Turi– The most famous viewpoint in Cuenca is Turi.  Try to visit on a day with not as many clouds- it generally can be a cloudy place, and weather can change from moment to moment.  So just do the best you can, and make the most of it!


Mega Parque Icto Cruz– I didn’t make it to this one personally, and I didn’t prioritize it either because I felt pretty sufficient on viewpoints after visiting Mirador Turi and experiencing the viewpoint from my Selina Hostel.  However, it sits above Mirador Turi and has larger viewing platforms so it comes highly recommended by visitors.  

Thermal Baths Cuenca Ecuador

Cave at Novaqua Thermal Bath in Cuenca

Cuenca has two public thermal baths: Piedra de Pelon and Novaqua.  If you are already going to Banos, I would advise visiting a hot spring there because they are much cheaper (starting rates of $3 vs. $16) but if you are looking for some relaxation after a long day or you are hoping to find a night activity, this might be a good choice for you.  There are also several add-on spa options for massage, food and beverage packages, and more.  

Is Cuenca Ecuador safe?

Cuenca Ecuador is SO safe.  It is known as one of the safest cities in the country.  I felt comfortable and safe walking to get groceries at 9:00pm (I typically advise the buddy system, but my hostel workers all confirmed this was totally OK, and I felt OK too!  But always trust your intuition)

How to get around Cuenca Ecuador?

Walking: Walking around Cuenca is totally safe!  


Taxi: For further locations or simply for comfort, it is safe to hail a taxi on the street.  Alternatively, book a taxi (like you would use Uber) using the app AzuTaxi.  This is similar to Uber, but you pay in cash on arrival, and negotiate the price with your driver or request they use the taxi meter.  I felt totally comfortable using taxis through Cuenca.


Bus: Alternatively, I recommend taking the bus in Cuenca Ecuador for day trips.  For example, it cost $4.50 total to get to and from Cajas National Park with no bus transfers.  The ride is approximately one hour.  


However, some day trips like Ingapirca Ruins are substantially longer on the bus due to the number of stops and taking a tour may be in your favor, but these are typically very expensive (Think $70 instead of $5).

Taking the bus in Cuenca Ecuador

Taking the bus in Cuenca felt totally safe.  The station is fairly large and can be a bit confusing, but practice your Spanish and ask for help, and workers are extremely helpful and will help point you in the right direction.  I recommend buying your tickets directly at the bus station themselves, as online third party booking agencies seem convenient but tend to charge add-on fees, and do not always have the most up to date schedule.


Before getting on the bus, it is required that you pay a 10 cent platform fee.  This is NOT included in your ticket.  AFTER purchasing your ticket, and directly before walking onto the platform, you will see an attendant next to the revolving metal doors.  Right here is where you will insert a dime into a machine, and a ticket will pop out.  Hand this ticket to the attendant, and you can access the platform.

Can I drink the water in Cuenca Ecuador?

The water in Cuenca Ecuador is very safe to drink.  This is because 60% of the water flows in directly from the mountains in Cajas National Park.  It is then conserved in the city. 

Cuenca has one of the BEST water qualities in the ENTIRE continent.  However, tap water is not safe to drink everywhere in Ecuador.  Research water safety for the city you are planning to visit in advance.  

Where to stay in Cuenca


There are many hostels in Cuenca Ecuador.  Private rooms at an Inn cost as little a $10 per night.  This is also the standard cost of a dorm bed in most hostels in Cuenca. 


Selina- I loved my stay at the Selina- this Selina specifically was structured more like a boutique hotel than a hostel.  A private room cost $30 per night (including breakfast, with two beds).  They have a beautiful rooftop terrace where breakfast is served but it is closed when the restaurant is not open.  However, the views can still be enjoyed from the wellness room (where yoga classes are offered, and the room is always open), and the co-working space (that costs $10/day to use).  


Hotel Verde Inn Cuenca- Hotel Oro Verde Cuenca provides a 5 star luxury experience to guests with a spa and pool on site, all without breaking the bank!  The downside is that you are 2 miles outside of downtown Cuenca so you will likely be hailing more cabs to arrive at your activities.  

Day Trips from Cuenca

The southern Ecuador highlands are a wonderful place to be.  Some of the most well known day trips from Cuenca Ecuador are as follows:

Cajas National Park

Cajas National Park

Cajas National Park is like another planet- there’s not quite any way to fully describe it that gives its beauty justice.  


Cajas National Park Weather: Cajas National Park experiences relatively cool temperatures year round due to its high elevation. Daytime temperatures range from 50°F to 64°F but can feel cooler due to strong winds. 


Due to its high elevation and mountainous terrain, the weather in Cajas National Park can change rapidly throughout each day, so come prepared!

Cajas National Park

Ingapirca Ruins

These incredible ruins can be visited on a day tour from Cuenca or via the public bus.  The Ingapirca Ruins are open to the public four days a week, Wednesday – Sunday, so I didn’t end up making it due to my trip itinerary.  

Chordeleg, Gualaceo, Sig Sig

Taking a day trip to Cuenca’s neighboring smaller towns of Chordeleg, Gualaceo, and Sig Sig is a popular tourist route offered through many companies.  It’s important to note if you sign up for a tour, the main purpose is shopping and NOT exploring.  I have learned from travelers that artists set up specific exhibits to sell authentic craft items to tourists aligned with tour bus arrival.  So unless your purpose is to shop, skip the tour.  


If you want to explore the towns at your own pace without shopping as your central focus, hop on a local bus at Terminal Terrestre.  

Cuenca Packing List

Here are a couple of items I recommend planning for a trip to Cuenca Ecuador:

Supportive Shoes– Compfy shoes always- enough said!

Water bottle– Hydration is always key, especially at higher elevations.  The water is safe to drink in Cuenca.  

Packable backpack– I love a collapsible backpack because it rolls up easily into luggage and is perfect for a day of exploring.

Rain Jacket– Weather in the Ande mountains can be unpredictable- especially when visiting Cajas National Park.  Come prepared!  

Travel Towel– It’s convenient to pack a travel towel in case the hot spring you visit charges for a rental.  If you are staying at a hotel with a towel you can borrow, don’t worry about this.  

Puffer Jacket– Puffer jackets are easily collapsible fitting into almost any bag.  They will come in handy during chilly temperatures and I recommend having one with you year round.  Alternatively, a fleece jacket would do just fine but takes up more space in the bag!

Museum in Cuenca, Ecuador

Is it worth visiting Cuenca Ecuador?

In my personal opinion and experience, YES, one million times over!  However, I think Ecuador is a totally beautiful country and I always advise prioritizing time you spend enjoying each destination, as opposed to time racing to the next place.

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As a full time employee who loves her job, learn how I honor my wanderlust while working a 9:00-5:00 (because I want to!) This blog welcomes all, and specifically provides resources for those seeking travel intertwined into a busy schedule (3 days to 5 weeks).