The 3rd largest city in Ecuador is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and a stepping stone for Parque Nacional Cajas (Cajas National Park).
Cuenca was once a Cañari settlement called Guapondelig (also spelt Guapondeleg), which means ‘a plain as big as the sky’ in Cañari language. The Incas conquered it and called it Tumipamba (also spelt Tumipampa); tumi meaning ‘ridge’, pamba meaning ‘plain’. After the Spanish arrived in 1533, they called it Tomebamba taking after the Inca name.
Some people think Cuenca might have been the legendary golden city, El Dorado, which, if it turned out to be true, would make it one of the most fascinating archaeological finds of the Inca Empire. There are some small Inca ruins in the city but nothing as remotely impressive as the ones in Peru.
Cuenca is a pleasant city to be leisurely strolling around in. At the heart of it lies a pretty plaza called Parque Abdón Calderón (Abdón Calderón Park). On the western side of the plaza sits the city’s landmark: the huge ‘new’ cathedral, Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), which is one of the largest in the Americas. On the opposite side sits the much smaller ‘old’ cathedral, Iglesia del Sagrario (Sagrario Church), which was built in 1557 and is one of the oldest in South America.
However, despite the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status and its lovingly maintained Spanish colonial architecture, the highlight of the area for me was Parque Nacional Cajas.
If you have a sweet tooth, the 2 story market in the south west side of the city centre has ladies selling massive blocks of chocolate and dulces (sweets).
(Could somebody confirm the market is called Mercado 10 de Agosto and it is on Larga and General Torres streets, please?)
And while you’re at it, check out the shops outside for some beautifully hand-woven Toquilla Straw hats (Panama hats) the country is also famous for.
(Trivia: Panama hat originally comes from Ecuador, not from Panama)
TOURISM FOR CUENCA FOUNDATION
Homero Ortega (a Panama hat company)