- Cuenca's walkable center is the place to stay, to the north of the Río Tomebamba
- If your accommodations don't include a transfer, the airport is an inexpensive 10-minute taxi ride from the city center
- The city is safe for strolling, but keep your wits about you when walking at night and stick to well-lit areas
Cuenca's abundance of beautifully restored, 17th- and 18-century colonial buildings means tons of options for uniquely charming accommodation. Most visitors will want to base themselves in the city's old center, on the north side of the Río Tomebamba. Depending on the structure, refurbished colonial buildings can sometimes be less than soundproof; however, Cuenca does not tend to be a raucous, late-night city.
Generally speaking, these hotels have at least some English-speaking staff and include breakfast and free wifi. Most can help arrange airport transfers, city tours, and day trips to nearby handicraft villages, Parque Nacional Cajas, or the ruins of Ingapirca.
At the most elegant, sumptuous digs in Cuenca, 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 more quiet and privacy than in many refurbished, less-than-noise-proof historic homes.
Where: Bolívar 12-55 & Tarqui
Contact: (+593) 7-282-3918, www.mansionalcazar.com
Hotel 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.
Where: Bolívar 5-05 & Cueva
Contact: (+593) 7-282-3920, www.casasanrafael.com
Hostal Posada del Angel
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.
Where: Bolívar 14-11 & Toral
Contact: (+593) 7-284-0695, www.hostalposadadelangel.com
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, traditional carved furnishings, and small balconies in each room add to the typically Cuencan charm. Clean and impeccably run, it's a superb deal.
Where: Borrero 12-08 & Sangurima
Contact: (+593) 7-284-2103, www.hotellosbalconescuenca.com
Homey and welcoming, the two low-scale buildings of Casa Macondo are separated by a tiny, peaceful garden with hammocks and sitting areas in 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.
Where: Tarqui 11-64 & Lamar
Contact: (+593) 7-282-1700, www.hostalmacondo.com
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 constructions materials give it some solid environmental cred.
Where: corner of Av del Estadio & Florencia Astudillo
Contact: (+593) 7-410-5000, www.hotelzahir360.com
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.
Where: Calle Larga & Borrero
Contact: (+593) 7-282-7401, www.hotelvictoriaecuador.com
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 historic 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.
Where: Borrero 8-44 & Sucre
Contact: (+593) 7-282-8000, www.santaluciahotel.com