Although Cuenca is the country’s third-largest city, it feels more like a charming old-world town and definitely the most picturesque city. It is characterized by its cobblestone streets and a rich collection of colonial-era churches, plazas, and buildings. Indeed, because so much of the city's colonial architecture has remained, it has earned the prestigious “World Heritage Site” designation from UNESCO. What makes this often missed destination even more attractive are the numerous day trips that can be experienced in and around the city. Such excursions include walking tours through the city’s splendid historic colonial district, where its emblematic blue-domed cathedral and quaint flower market can be discovered. You can also venture out of town to the Ingapirca archeological site – the most fully-restored Inca ruins in the entire country. Added to this, you might consider a full day of exploring in the pristine El Cajas National Park, with its scenic hiking trails and more than 200 peaceful blue lagoons. And should you happen to have any free time on your hands, there are also many popular city museums worth visiting (where else can you witness an authentic shrunken head?). Many are surprised to find out the actual origin of the Panama hats (look up for Homero Ortega).
An easily-manageable side-trip from Quito, it also makes for a convenient stop when traveling between the capital city and points further south, like Loja (Ecuador’s “City of Music”) and the Peruvian border.
“My wife and I just completed a 5-day tour around the Cotopaxi volcano and the stunning Quilotoa loop – overall an excellent trip and wonderful experience.”