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Things to do in Cuenca | Ecuador

Updated: Apr 24

In this article, I will share with you some of the best things you have to see and do in Cuenca!

I will also share some of my personal favorite food places, some for great breakfast, some with really good wifi where you can work as a digital nomad.

Short in time, here is a dropdown of all the things to do in Cuenca:

  • Explore the old town of Cuenca

  • Experience the natural detox procedure in the local market

  • Visit some of the best museums

  • Learn the truth behind the 'Panama Hat'

  • Relax at the hot springs of Cuenca

  • Take a stroll by the river Tomebamba

  • Visit Turi viewpoint

  • Do a day trip to Caja National Park

Explore the old town of Cuenca

This is definitely the one must do as all the main sights are located in the old town.

This is where advice regarding accommodation is going to come in. I highly recommend booking your accommodation in the old town as it will mean that most of the things you want to do and see are within walking distance.

The main sight you have to see is the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción. You won't miss it, I promise. Definitely go to the top of the cathedral to see amazing views of the city. The entrance fee is 2 USD and you will find it on the side of the cathedral, on the first street in Cuenca 'Santa Ana'. Definitely walk into the courtyard of this cathedral, which is located on the left side of the cathedral. Now turned into a commercial area, you can enjoy a lovely lunch there but regarding all my favorite food places I recommend a bit later.

Opposite the cathedral, you will find Calderon Park through which you definitely need to stroll through, and at the end of the park, you will see a yellow building inspired by French architecture. This building historically and even now is owned by the richest family in Cuenca. The name of the building is 'Casa de Hortensia Mata', as it was owned for a long time by Hortensia Mata aka 'The first lady of Cuenca'. She had a lot of power and influence in the city and she also hosted the best parties as you can imagine. Now the building is turned into a commercial area with many lovely little cafes. Ideal if you like macaroons.

Next to Casa de Hortensia Mata, you will see the original cathedral of Cuenca - Iglesia del Sagrario, also referred to as the old cathedral of Cuenca.

On the other side of the main big cathedral, you find a flower square which can get very busy and is a very popular place in Cuenca.

Did you know that one of the world's finest roses is grown in Ecuador? It is called 'Ecuadorian Rose' and it can last a very long time as it has to grow in the Andes and that has made their roots hold the water and minerals longer after cutting.

Behind the flower square, you will find the church and monastery of Carmen de la Asunción. Can you imagine, that once a woman has decided to dedicate herself to God in this place she can't leave or ever be seen by people outside the monastery? They leave the monastery only on very few special occasions. They do produce some products so you can purchase them through a special window by the monastery.

Experience the natural detox procedure in the local market

If you are looking for a very special experience in Cuenca, then you have to go to the local market - Mercado 10 de Agosto. There apart from fresh vegetables, fish, meat, and local medicine, you will also find on certain days a very special detoxing procedure. This procedure can be done only by specific local women who arrive at the market 2 days per week. I was told they come on Thursdays and Fridays, but once I went there on Thursday I was told they come on Tuesdays and Fridays, so I guess the safest shout is to try on Friday unless it is a holiday.

The detoxing process starts with the woman rubbing an egg all over you. Then she cracks it and sees what is wrong with you, physically and mentally. Then using local plant medicine she will basically smack you and then spray alcohol all over you.

I am not sure how effective the procedure is as when I went there it was Good Friday and they were not there but if you try let me know ;)

Visit some of the best museums

Cuenca is a city rich in culture, boasting an array of diverse museums. Among the must-visit ones are:

  • Pumapungo Museum & Banco Central Museum

  • Museum of Aboriginal Cultures

  • Remigio Crespo Toral Museum

  • Cuenca's Conceptas Monastery Museum

  • The Modern Art Museum of Cuenca

I have a whole article on the best museums in Cuenca and a bit more detailed about them, as well as opening hours and entrance fees, so if you want to find out more read my 'The best museums in Cuenca | Ecuador' article.

Learn the truth behind the 'Panama Hat'

The above has brought me to my next point - the truth! Panama hats actually come from Ecuador and specifically from Cuenca and not Panama.

When the Panama Canal was built a company in Cuenca sent 'Sombreros de paja toquilla' to the workers in Panama to protect them from the sun. At that time Roosevelt was the president of the USA and he went to see the construction site. He liked the hat construction workers were wearing and he decided to get one for himself too. He appeared with the hat on the TV and the rest is history. People all over the world know it as the Panama hat.

In Cuenca, you will find several museums, workshops, and shops where you can learn more about the process of making this hat and also purchase the original one.

Relax at the hot springs of Cuenca

You will find hot springs in many Ecuadorian cities around the Andes, but Cuenca ones have been highly recommended to us by locals.

In Cuenca, you can find very luxurious ones, but also very basic and cheap ones.

We tried Piedra de Agua and the facilities were lovely but I would say it would have been quite pricy if we would have gone for the whole package that included, for example, the mud bath - 35 USD. So we stuck to the basic package of 15 USD that included the main reason we went there - the hot springs.

All the hot springs are around the same area, just a 15min drive by taxi to the outskirts of Cuenca. The drive shouldn't cost you more than 5 USD.

Take a stroll by the river Tomebamba

Flanked by four rivers, Cuenca's landscape is uniquely defined by these natural waterways, among which the River Tomebamba stands out. The river meanders gracefully through the city, cultivating a serene ambiance perfect for leisurely strolls. The riverbanks have well-maintained paths that invite visitors and locals alike to meander alongside the flowing water, taking in the city's beauty at a leisurely pace. The lush greenery and picturesque cityscape seen from these paths add to the overall charm and tranquility.

For a more active exploration of the area, bicycle rentals and tours are available. These offer an exhilarating way to navigate alongside the River Tomebamba. Cycling the river's edge allows you to cover more ground and to appreciate the city from a different perspective. It's a favorite pastime for many, allowing you to engage with the city's vibrant environment while enjoying the calming presence of the river. So, whether you prefer a peaceful walk or a scenic bike ride, the River Tomebamba provides a delightful backdrop to your Cuenca adventure.

Visit Turi viewpoint

For an unparalleled panorama of Cuenca, a brief taxi journey (approximately 10 minutes and costs around $3) will take you to the Turi Viewpoint. Here, you can revel in the city's vista at no cost. Moreover, several cafes and restaurants are available at this location, offering you the chance to enjoy the splendid views while savoring a meal or sipping on a cup of coffee.

Do a day trip to Caja National Park

If you have a spare day in Cuenca, you have to visit the Caja National Park. It is one of the most biodiverse natural parks in the Andes. Everyone who I met and had gone there said it is incredible so it was on my list too. Unfortunately, at the time when we were in Cuenca, it was raining a lot and there had been some landslides so the buses stopped going there. Our only option was a taxi that would have cost at least 20 USD one way and then there was no guarantee we will get a taxi back from the park so we gave it a miss and I can't share my personal experience with you but from what I have heard, you definitely need to add it to your Cuenca itinerary. The bus ride takes only around an hour and will cost around 2 USD.

Some of my personal favorite food and wifi places in Cuenca

For an excellent breakfast, I recommend Goza Espresso Bar. They also offer food for lunch and dinner and amazing cocktails! Medium prices and ok wifi.

A place with excellent wifi where you can work is cafe Austria. They also offer all-day breakfast and lunch deals.

For great Colombian food, I highly recommend Moliendo Café.

For an amazing ambiance, I recommend Filippo. Located in the cathedral courtyard it really offers an amazing atmosphere and food!

Best Areas to Stay in Cuenca

Some of the safest and best areas to stay in Cuenca are:

I go more into detail about each area and also areas you shoudl avoid in my 'Safest Areas to Stay in Cuenca' Travel Guide!


Visiting Quito soon? Take a look at my QUITO BLOG and video:

Amazon Trip and video:


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