Best of Cuenca

Top itineraries and travel advice in and around Cuenca
Like Quito, Cuenca is a striking Andean colonial city with a cobblestone-lined old town that’s landmarked as a Unesco World Heritage site. Unlike the Ecuadorian capital, however, Cuenca is much smaller and feels remarkably low-key, while not lacking for handsomely designed plazas and 17th-century architecture. Locals, in fact, feel they live in the prettier city. Given Cuenca’s location along four rivers, its Andean backdrop and proximity to misty páramo (mountainous grasslands), many travelers tend to agree.

Guided tours of Cuenca take in some of its finest buildings, including the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, a massive cathedral whose sky-blue domes are visible from all over town. Cuenca is an excellent base for day trips. You can visit the nearby towns of Gualaceo, Sigsig and Chordeleg, which are famed for their craft-making traditions. North of Cuenca, you’ll find Ingapirca, Ecuador’s best-preserved archeological site, home to ruins that predate the Inca. There is also a Panama Hat factory where you can see the painstaking work that goes into producing a quality sombrero de paja toquilla (toquilla-straw hat).
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Guest room at Hotel Victoria, Cuenca (photo courtesy of Hotel Victoria)
The 8 Best Boutique Hotels in Cuenca

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.

El Cajas National Park
Map of Highlights of Southern Ecuador - 11 Days
Highlights of Southern Ecuador - 11 Days

Get off the beaten path on this 11-day adventure around southern Ecuador. Begin the trip in Guayaquil, then base yourself in Cuenca as you explore El Cajas National Park and the Yunguilla Valley. Move onto the coffee-producing capital of Loja, side-tripping to Podocarpus National Park, and ride horses in Vilcabamba. Visit an Indigenous community and learn about native customs to finish the itinerary.

Vicuñas in front of Mount Chimborazo
Map of Best of Ecuador: Quito, Quilotoa, Baños, Cuenca & Guayaquil - 8 Days
Best of Ecuador: Quito, Quilotoa, Baños, Cuenca & Guayaquil - 8 Days

Experience the incredible Andes mountain range on this eight-day tour of Ecuador. Ride the Devil's Nose vertiginous train track, hike up volcanoes, kayak on a crater lake, and see Inca ruins. You'll also explore several high-altitude cities, including the capital, Quito, and colonial Cuenca. With plentiful guided activities, private transfers, and four to five-star hotels with breakfasts, this trip is the perfect mix of adventure and comfort.

Get to know the "Athens of the Andes" in southern Ecuador's colonial gem of Cuenca
Map of Luxury Southern Ecuador Exploration: Guayaquil to Cuenca - 7 Days
Luxury Southern Ecuador Exploration: Guayaquil to Cuenca - 7 Days

Journey from the Pacific to the Andes in luxury with this southern Ecuador trip that features 5-star hotels and grand haciendas. It starts on the coast in Guayaquil, where you'll visit historic parks, enjoy chocolate tours, and hike to waterfalls from your base at a sprawling countryside estate. Then, head inland to explore the prairies of Cajas National Park and the colonial charms of Cuenca, where you'll dive into local life with intimate cultural experiences and a visit to ancient Inca ruins.

Family adventures await in Ecuador
Map of Active Family Fun in Ecuador: Quito, Baños, Cuenca & Guayaquil - 14 Days
Active Family Fun in Ecuador: Quito, Baños, Cuenca & Guayaquil - 14 Days

This two-week family adventure starts in Quito, Ecuador's capital city. Explore local cuisine in a family cooking class, climb volcanic slopes via cable car, then depart for Baños, where you'll hike and bike to the Pailón del Diablo waterfall and relax in the town's healing hot springs. Continue to Cuenca for traditional pottery-making classes and hikes along the alpine lakes of El Cajas National Park, ending your tour in the vibrant city of Guayaquil with its stunning architecture, culture, and family parks.

Spot wild horses in Cotopaxi National Park
Map of Explore Ecuador's Highlands & the Galápagos - 13 Days
Explore Ecuador's Highlands & the Galápagos - 13 Days

See the many faces of Ecuador on this 13-day journey from the Andean highlands to the Galápagos Islands. Starting in vibrant Quito, strike out through Cotopaxi National Park to reach the cities of Baños, Cuenca, and Guayaquil—taking in the sights of waterfalls, volcanoes, forests, and pre-Inca ruins along the way. Then it's time to leave the mainland behind as you hop over to the Galápagos for swimming, hiking, and wildlife spotting on the islands of San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz.

Quito's Plaza Grande
Coffee & Chocolate: A Taste of Ecuador - 13 Days

This 13-day tour of Ecuador will tap all of your senses, from seeing historical sights to tasting local chocolate and smelling fresh coffee. Start in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to see the Cathedral and Plaza de San Francisco and participate in a chocolate tour. Outside of the city, learn about the process of how coffee is made at a local farm. Take the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) train ride to see the scenic countryside, and stay in the colonial-era city of Cuenca known for its nightlife and dining.

Cuicocha Lagoon
Map of Ecuador Mountains to Coast: Andes, Quito, Cotopaxi, & More - 10 Days
Ecuador Mountains to Coast: Andes, Quito, Cotopaxi, & More - 10 Days

From Quito's colonial center to the volcanoes of Cotopaxi National Park, explore the best of Ecuador's mainland on this packed 10-day itinerary. Hike along the rim of volcanic lagoons, barter for Ecuadorian handicrafts at markets, and visit small mountain villages. You'll see cascading waterfalls, lush orchid farms, high altitude plateaus, and much more as you traverse the countryside.

Llamas in El Cajas National Park
Map of Uncover Ecuador: From the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Coast - 15 Days
Uncover Ecuador: From the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Coast - 15 Days

Enjoy all that Ecuador offers on this epic 15-day journey from mountains to sea. Start by visiting Quito's key sites, then explore Cotopaxi National Park by bike before enjoying the waterfalls of Baños. Discover the quaint Andean villages of Cuenca, Gualaceo, and Chordeleg, and hike through Podocarpus and Carjas National Parks to witness unspoiled natural beauty and wildlife. Finish on the coast near Machalilla National Park, where you'll snorkel with marine life and catch sea breezes.

El Cajas National Park
Map of The Ecuadorian Andes to the Amazon - 15 Days
The Ecuadorian Andes to the Amazon - 15 Days

See Ecuador off the beaten path on this 15-day trip that takes you from the towering Andes to the edge of the Amazon. Visit the major sites of Quito as you discover its local cuisine, then hike and horseback ride through Cotopaxi National Park. Explore waterfalls near Baños before reaching Tena, where you'll float along the river through the Amazon rainforests. Discover the Andean hill towns of Cuenca, Gualaceo, and Chordeleg, and witness the ruins of Ingapirca and El Cajas National Park

Countryside near Riobamba
Map of Best of the Ecuadorian Highlands - 7 Days
Best of the Ecuadorian Highlands - 7 Days

Traverse the very best of the Ecuadorian highlands on this 7-day itinerary. Starting and finishing in the capital, Quito, you will encounter bustling markets, awe-inspiring volcanoes, centuries-old colonial towns and Inca ruins. There's great hiking along the way in terrain ranging from glaciers and high-level plateau through to forests and waterfalls.

Marvel at Chimborazo volcano from Riobamba
Map of Ecuador Cities, Mountains & Jungle - 9 Days
Ecuador Cities, Mountains & Jungle - 9 Days

Discover Ecuador's fascinating culture and magnificent wilderness on this nine-day journey that starts in Quito and ends in Guayaquil. Between exploring the monuments and marketplaces of two major cities, you'll go hiking and bird-watching in the Yacuma Natural Reserve, see Inca ruins at Ingapirca, visit waterfalls and volcanoes near Baños, see how the Panama hat is made in colonial Cuenca, and so much more.

Climb the colorful Santa Anna Hill in Guayaquil
Map of Adventure Through the Andes, Southern Ecuador & the Coast - 16 Days
Adventure Through the Andes, Southern Ecuador & the Coast - 16 Days

Some of the deepest history in the Americas can be found in the Andes mountains—particularly in Ecuador. Experience this country's rich heritage and natural beauty over 16 days of adventures, starting on the cobbled streets of historic Quito with cultural excursions and cooking classes. After soaking in Ecuador's famous hot springs, you'll hit the highlands to hike extinct volcanoes and tour pre-Inca ruins before snorkeling and surfing the coast's prime spots.

Cuenca is full of colonial delights, including it's blue-domed Cathedral
Map of Ecuador's Cities, Highlands & Cloud Forests - 16 Days
Ecuador's Cities, Highlands & Cloud Forests - 16 Days

Waterfalls, beaches, exotic animals, and ancient ruins—these are just a few of the highlights you'll experience on this 16-day journey through Ecuador. Walk the cobbled streets of Quito's UNESCO-listed historic center, taking cooking classes and visiting nearby monuments and colorful textile markets. Then, venture into the wild highlands for cloud-forest expeditions, horseback riding around volcanoes, waterfall hikes, and touring ancient ruins before winding up on the sunny shores of the Pacific coast.

Volcano in Ecuador
Map of Ecuador Cities & Volcanoes: Quito to Cotopaxi - 12 Days
Ecuador Cities & Volcanoes: Quito to Cotopaxi - 12 Days

Visit the cities and volcanoes of beautiful Ecuador on this 12-day adventure. Start in the nation's capital, exploring its well-preserved colonial center and other cultural highlights. Then, head out on a busy tour through small towns like Cotacachi, enjoying several indigenous markets and villages along the way. You will also check off wondrous volcanoes like Pasachoa and Cotopaxi, as well as the unique paramo ecosystem of Chimborazo. The final leg of the trip takes you to Ecuador's lovely third city, Cuenca, before going full circle and ending in Quito again.

Feel the freedom of the open road as you navigate through Ecuador
Map of Ecuador Road Trip From North to South: Quito, Cotopaxi & Baños - 12 Days
Ecuador Road Trip From North to South: Quito, Cotopaxi & Baños - 12 Days

Get ready for adventure as you drive through Ecuador from north to south, making your way from high-altitude Quito to coastal Guayaquil. With the freedom to go at your own pace, start where the world divides in Quito and explore the base of an active 19,347-foot (5,897 m) volcano at Cotopaxi National Park. Swing over the "End of the World" in Baños de Agua Santa, and walk through a city with four rivers in Cuenca, ending your trip in Guayaquil as you return to sea level.

See dramatic waterfalls in Baños
Map of Ecuadorian Andes & the Galápagos Islands - 15 Days
Ecuadorian Andes & the Galápagos Islands - 15 Days

With such a wide range of landscapes, wildlife, and metropolitan areas, it's nearly impossible to see all of Ecuador in one trip, but this 15-day itinerary comes close. Start off in Quito, the nation's capital, before exploring volcanoes, crater lakes, waterfalls, and Cañari and Inca ruins across the highlands. Then, fly offshore to the Galápagos Islands, where you'll spend several days sailing, snorkeling, and hiking among some of the most stunning natural places in the world.

Drive past a sheep farm near Chimborazo volcano
Map of Road Trip Through Ecuador - 13 Days
Road Trip Through Ecuador - 13 Days

Hit the road for this exciting self-drive adventure through Ecuador. The 13-day itinerary begins when you pick up your rental car at Quito's airport. Take side trips to Mitad del Mundo and Papallacta before continuing to the famous Otavalo Market to shop for handicrafts. Drive to Cotopaxi National Park and Baños for hikes and outdoor activities, then finish with sightseeing in Cuenca and coastal Guayaquil.

Get up close to the vertiginous waterfalls in Baños
Map of Quito, Baños, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Cotopaxi & Guamote: Best Itinerary Ideas
Quito, Baños, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Cotopaxi & Guamote: Best Itinerary Ideas

Most people visiting Quito, Baños, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Cotopaxi, and Guamote spend about 15 days in Ecuador, which usually includes time for more stops as well. For travelers wanting to visit Quito, Baños, Cuenca, Guayaquil, Cotopaxi, and Guamote exclusively, plan eight to 10 days for a well-paced trip. Read on for the best itineraries.

On Isla Santa Cruz see iguanas relaxing in the sun
Map of Ecuador Expedition: From Quito to the Galápagos Islands - 13 Days
Ecuador Expedition: From Quito to the Galápagos Islands - 13 Days

This 13-day land, air, and sea tour offers the best of Ecuador's cities and natural wonders from Quito to the Galápagos Islands. Learn about Ecuadorian cuisine in Quito, explore the country's second-highest summit at Cotopaxi National Park, walk along Cuenca's cobblestone streets, and swim in Podocarpus National Park's waterfalls. Sail, snorkel, and kayak around the Galápagos Islands while spotting iguanas, sea turtles, and blue-footed boobies.

Spot whales and search for buried treasure off Ecuador's Pacific coast
Map of Ultimate Ecuador Family Trip: From the Andes to the Pacific Coast - 14 Days
Ultimate Ecuador Family Trip: From the Andes to the Pacific Coast - 14 Days

If your family is having trouble deciding between a mountain or a beach-focused vacation, this two-week tour of Ecuador ticks both boxes. Starting in the high-altitude capital Quito, you'll embark on a kid-friendly adventure through the Andean highlands, skirting the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Baños before ending up on the Pacific coast for some beach time and wildlife-watching fun.

A greeting committee awaits at your historic lodgings in Cotopaxi (photo courtesy of Hacienda San Agustín de Callo)
Map of Luxury Getaway to Ecuador's Peaks, Plains & Rainforests - 14 Days
Luxury Getaway to Ecuador's Peaks, Plains & Rainforests - 14 Days

Spend two weeks in Ecuador walking amid history, hiking national parks, exploring the Amazon, taking cooking classes, and more. Explore Quito's colonial landmarks and snack on decadent Ecuadorian chocolate, followed by a trip to the famous Indigenous market in Otavalo and hikes around the snowcapped cone of Cotopaxi volcano. After the highlands, fly to the Amazon for a few days of rainforest adventures, then conclude with stops in Spanish colonial Cuenca and farm tours near the coast.

Cordillera Occidental Andes Central Ecuador
Map of Ecuador: Amazon, Andes, and the Coast - 16 Days
Ecuador: Amazon, Andes, and the Coast - 16 Days

Explore the best of Ecuador in this 16-day tour through the Amazon, Andes, and Coastal regions. You'll visit beautiful colonial towns, indigenous communities, and experience ways of life both ancient and modern in this diverse country.

Quilotoa Lagoon is a highlight of the trip
Map of Explore Mainland Ecuador: Quito to Guayaquil - 9 Days
Explore Mainland Ecuador: Quito to Guayaquil - 9 Days

Experience the best of Ecuador's mainland on this exciting nine-day itinerary. You'll kick off the trip in Quito with a city tour and a cooking class, then go horseback riding in Cotopaxi National Park. Base yourself in beautiful Baños, day-tripping to lagoons and waterfalls, before continuing to Chimborazo volcano and Cajas National Park. Finish the adventure with a guided exploration of coastal Guayaquil.

Spend a day hiking around the base of Ecuador's highest volcano: Chimborazo
Map of Ecuador's Avenue of the Volcanoes: Quito to Guayaquil - 9 Days
Ecuador's Avenue of the Volcanoes: Quito to Guayaquil - 9 Days

This active adventure covers some of Ecuador's most famous peaks and staggering volcanoes, rising to 20,702 feet (6,310 m). Starting in Quito, one of the world's highest cities, you'll drive south along the Avenue of the Volcanoes to hike in national parks, visit archaeology ruins, and explore charming towns and cities dating to the 16th century. Head west to the Pacific Ocean and take a sunset stroll along Guayaquil's boardwalk to finish the adventure.

Explore Ecuador's natural wonders by day and return to your luxury hacienda in the evening (photo courtesy of Luna Volcán)
Map of Luxury Hacienda Hop Around Ecuador's Mountains & Coast - 10 Days
Luxury Hacienda Hop Around Ecuador's Mountains & Coast - 10 Days

Venture into the wilds of Ecuador on a journey that will take you from highland volcanoes to the Pacific coast, stopping at historic cities and ancient ruins in between. Stay in first-class haciendas as you visit the museums of Quito, followed by horseback rides near Cotopaxi volcano. Then stroll the cobbled streets of historic Cuenca and hike around the pre-Inca ruins of Ingapirca before lapping up ranch-style luxury living in Guayaquil.

Cotopaxi volcano eruption and Panecillo's Madona seen from Quito, Ecuador
Map of Highlights of the Ecuadorian Highlands - 11 Days
Highlights of the Ecuadorian Highlands - 11 Days

Experience the wonder of volcanic landscapes and centuries-old architecture during this 11-day itinerary in Ecuador's highlands. Visit crater lakes, hot springs, and waterfalls in the páramo climate of the Ecuadorian Andes. Along the way, stop in metropolises like Quito and Cuenca to visit exceptionally well-preserved colonial buildings and the most extensive pre-Columbian ruins in the country.

Ocean scenery in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Map of Grand Ecuadorian Adventure: Quito to the Galápagos Islands - 13 Days
Grand Ecuadorian Adventure: Quito to the Galápagos Islands - 13 Days

See the highlights of Ecuador on this 13-day whirlwind tour. Start at Quito, the colonial capital, which will give you a glimpse of the local culture. Spend the next few days driving south, passing iconic destinations like Cotopaxi, Baños, and Cuenca while enjoying food and nature. Then, go to Guayaquil and take a flight to the Galápagos Islands, where you'll hike and snorkel to see fascinating endemic species.

Butterflies in Mindo's Cloud Forest
Map of Ecuador Adventure Loop: Amazon, Pacific Coast & Andes - 13 Days
Ecuador Adventure Loop: Amazon, Pacific Coast & Andes - 13 Days

See the many faces of Ecuador on this epic, 13-day adventure that takes you through the Andean foothills and the Ecuadorian coast to the rainforests of the Amazon. You'll witness colonial history in Quito, journey into the cloud forests of Mindo to discover birds, chocolate, and waterfalls, and head to the Pacific coast to swim with the marine life. Settle into an Amazon lodge to hike through El Gran Cañon and go whitewater rafting, then stop at hot springs and crater lakes on the way back to Quito.

Take in pristine landscapes in the Gálapagos
Map of Grand Ecuadorian Adventure: Quito to the Galápagos Islands - 15 Days
Grand Ecuadorian Adventure: Quito to the Galápagos Islands - 15 Days

This exciting 15-day itinerary introduces you to the highlights of mainland Ecuador, then whisks you off to the Galápagos Islands for an unforgettable adventure. Start with sightseeing in Quito, then ride a horse in Cotopaxi National Park and hike to waterfalls near Baños. Get to know Guayaquil before catching a flight to the Galápagos to explore several islands, see giant tortoises, and snorkel with sea turtles.

School of Fish in the Galapagos
Map of Best of Ecuador: Quito, Amazon, Cotopaxi, & Galapagos  - 14 Days
Best of Ecuador: Quito, Amazon, Cotopaxi, & Galapagos - 14 Days

Experience the best of Ecuador while getting to know its three main ecological regions: the Amazon rainforest, volcano highlands, and Galapagos Islands on this 14-day itinerary. Start the trip in Quito to see the UNESCO designated colonial city center, then head to the rainforest for three days at an ecolodge. Hike near volcanic lagoons and browse mountain markets, then catch a flight to Santa Cruz for three days of exploring uninhabited islands and spotting endemic wildlife.

Explore the Ecuadorian Amazon by canoe
Map of Ecuador's Pacific Coast to the Andes & Amazon - 15 Days
Ecuador's Pacific Coast to the Andes & Amazon - 15 Days

Ecuador boasts a wide variety of geographical regions, each with its own distinct landscapes and ecosystems. Spend 15 days exploring the country from the shores of the Isla de la Plata to the verdant rainforests of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Along the way, you'll hike past volcanoes, crater lakes, and Inca ruins in the highlands and visit some of Ecuador's largest cities, like Guayaquil and Quito.

Pichincha volcano is just one of the three volcanoes you'll hike
Map of Hiking & Culture in Ecuador: Volcanoes, Lakes & Ancient Ruins - 16 Days
Hiking & Culture in Ecuador: Volcanoes, Lakes & Ancient Ruins - 16 Days

Strike out on an adventure across Ecuador's most famous regions, from the highlands to the Amazon rainforest. It begins in Quito with a tour of the capital's UNESCO-listed colonial center and cultural monuments before hiking to waterfalls, lakes, and volcanoes in the highland Cotopaxi region. Then, explore awe-inspiring pre-Incan ruins before rounding out the adventure with canoe rides and nature hikes in the pristine Amazon forests at Yasuní National Park.

The colorful neighborhoods of Guayaquil
Map of Culture, Nature & Wildlife in Ecuador: From the Pacific to the Highlands & Into the Amazon - 16 Days
Culture, Nature & Wildlife in Ecuador: From the Pacific to the Highlands & Into the Amazon - 16 Days

Ecuador delivers massive doses of natural beauty and rich culture. Dive deep into both on this 16-day journey, starting on the coast, from the tree-lined waterfront in Guayaquil to the mangroves of ecological reserves. After exploring the coast, travel inland to see ruins, colonial landmarks, and national parks around Cuenca, then venture into the Amazon to visit native villages and enjoy rainforest adventures before winding up in Quito to browse the historic Otavalo Market.

Other popular travel destinations in Ecuador
Quito · Baños · Cotopaxi · Otavalo · Guayaquil · The Amazon · Riobamba · Yasuni National Park · Papallacta · Tena · Archidona · Mindo · Quilotoa · Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve · Isinliví · Cacha · Lago Agrio