Easily one of the most beautiful cities in Ecuador, compact Cuenca is crisscrossed by rivers and surrounded by Andean slopes. Crammed with gorgeous colonial cathedrals, a relatively cosmopolitan variety of eateries, and lovely boutique accommodations for all budgets, the city makes an appealing place to linger for a few days.

Mansión Alcázar

Library at Mansión Alcázar
Library at Mansión Alcázar

At Cuenca's most elegant, sumptuous digs, both "mansion" and "castle" serve as apt descriptors at this florid boutique hotel. From the friendly and discreet staff to the inviting sitting areas with overstuffed chairs and orchids to the romantically lush garden, the Alcázar hits all the right details.

If you're looking to go all out, this is colonial-style Cuenca luxury done right. Choose from several types of rooms and suites, all of which offer the amenities you would expect at this tier, as well as a bit quieter and more private than in many refurbished, less-than-noise-proof historic homes.

Hotel Casa San Rafael

Fireplace at Casa San Rafael
Warm up by the fire at Casa San Rafael

Yet another gorgeously maintained colonial-style house in Cuenca's historic district, Casa San Rafael, sets itself apart from its peers with admirable hospitality. Tile and wood floors, thoughtfully curated art and handicrafts, and comfortable rooms come standard in these lovely environs. Be sure to request a room with windows to take full advantage of all the casa has to offer.

Hostal Posada del Angel

Exterior of Posada del Angel
Posada del Angel's typical colonial architecture

If you're comforted by the idea of angels looking over your shoulder, check into this colorful, rambling inn that's liberally accented with a cherubic theme. It's family-run, with friendly but no-nonsense efficiency. Simple, snug little rooms go up several floors, with the most private and quiet ones at the top of several flights of creaky stairs. The yellow colonial building is a block from the Plaza and Church of San Sebastián, on the western end of Cuenca's historic center.

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Hotel Los Balcones

Room at Hotel Los Balcones
A room with a balcony view at Hotel Los Balcones

This beautifully renovated mansion occupies a tidy corner of the old city center, making it both quiet and walkable. Wood-floored rooms in this former artist's home surround an inner courtyard with beamed ceilings, with breakfast served on a skylit indoor terrace. Hand-painted accents, traditionally carved furnishings, and small balconies in each room add to the typically Cuencan charm. Clean and impeccably run, it's a superb deal.

Casa Macondo

Interior courtyard of Casa Macondo
Interior courtyard at Casa Macondo

Homey and welcoming, the two low-scale buildings of Casa Macondo are separated by a tiny, peaceful garden with hammocks and sitting areas in the shade and sun. Accommodations vary, from quaintly painted, high-ceilinged rooms in the creaky wood-floored main building to the smaller, tiled rooms in the back building. But all rooms are decorated with Ecuadorian textiles, art, and a modest, cozy touch. Set back slightly from the street, it feels like returning to a secret little refuge.

Zahir 360 Hotel

Room at Zahir 360 Hotel
Room in the contemporary Zahir 360 Hotel

South of the Río Tomebamba, the Zahir 360 stands out both geographically and architecturally. There's nothing vintage about this sleek and contemporary hotel, which is a short stroll from the galleries, restaurants, and bars on the north side of the river. Flooded with light, guest rooms have clean bamboo flooring and a minimalist, modern style, affording privacy and a departure from Cuenca's more typical old-school aesthetic. Eco-friendly details such as LED lighting, water-saving faucets, and sustainable construction materials give it some solid environmental cred.

Hotel Victoria

Warm, cozy rooms (photo courtesy of Hotel Victoria)

Hotel Victoria has an enviable location, perched as it is on the Barranco overlooking the Río Tomebamba. Most of the classic, Spanish-feeling rooms have views of the river, while the well-appointed suites are the most spacious and private. If the sedate style isn't quite your speed, it's worth stopping for dinner at the hotel's international El Jardín restaurant.

Hotel Santa Lucía

A beautiful inner courtyard dining rooms (photo courtesy of Hotel Santa Lucía)

Super central and well-established, the Santa Lucía is an excellent choice for a more low-key upscale experience. The decor here does not ooze over-the-top colonial flair but instead offers a more conventional look and feel with nods to historical elements. The staff is professional and hospitable, the public areas quite luxurious, and it's merely a block from the heart of the historic center, near Parque Calderón and the famous Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción.