Historic quarter of Cuenca at twilight

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 12 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery

Cuenca’s historic downtown

Some cities look really pretty at night and I think Cuenca is one of them. The seat of the Town Council, the office of the state Governor, two cathedrals, and the law courts ranged around the main square are very beautiful to watch during sunset as they start glowing in flickering neon lights.


↑ Old buildings north of the main square.

Parque Calderón, the central plaza

If you are visiting Cuenca, you would certainly stop by the central plaza, called El Parque Calderón, which is really the heart of the historic town. With streets running orthogonally, just like a typical Spanish town planner would design, Cuenca’s historic center is easy to navigate even for the directionally challenged folks. For walking GPS’s (like me), it’s nice to tune out of the grid and wander, because you cannot get lost.


↑ Sunset behind Cuenca’s east-facing central cathedral hurls a bright fiery glow in the sly. The cathedral, built in 1885 is the “new” cathedral, opposite to the west facing little cathedral called El Sagrario.

There are numerous buildings around the central park, all politically important like Quito’s central plaza. To the west of the park is the gigantic new cathedral of Cuenca. With the beauty of it’s gigantic blue domes and the intimidating dimensions of it’s decorative facade, the centrally located grandiose cathedral does an excellent job of making one feel insignificant and trivial in this house of god.


↑ Walking on the plaza.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cuenca’s historic centre is a UNESCO world heritage site just like Quito’s old town. Another contributor to the growing list of UNESCO sites I visited, Cuenca was inscribed as a heritage town for meeting the following criteria:

  • Criterion (ii): Cuenca illustrates the successful implantation of the principles of Renaissance urban planning in the Americas.
  • Criterion (iv): The successful fusion of different societies and cultures in Latin America is vividly symbolized by the layout and townscape of Cuenca.
  • Criterion (v): Cuenca is an outstanding example of a planned inland Spanish colonial city.


↑ Governer’s palace.

I spent a quiet evening here, sitting on different benches under leafy trees that cover the plaza, eating foamy meringue with strawberries, taking pictures and watching life go by. Sometimes, as a traveller, I feel far removed and distant from the reality of people who are, say, leaving from work to go home, or a group of friends huddled together, or kids running behind the balloon man and their mom’s running after them. Back in Toronto, I would be immersed in a generic routine like this, too busy to watch and observe life.


↑ Street leading to the main plaza at sundown.

Also, I was delighted to meet Dave who runs the Go backpacking travel blog, which I have been following for years now.

Cuenca is a pretty town. There are lots of young people, dressed nicer than anywhere else I had seen in Ecuador and you’ll hear some some funny sounds when they speak. If your itinerary allows you, definitely make a stop here even if it’s only for a couple of days.

Ecuador travelogue: Chapter 12 | Read other chaptersSee photo gallery