Imagine a mid-sized city set in the midst of protective Andean peaks. Within the city itself, centuries-old structures from the Republican era still play home to religious ceremonies, banks, restaurants, and families. Four separate rivers weave their way through the urban landscape, while flowering shrubs and trees line their banks. And friendly locals greet you with a “Buenos Dias” when you pass on the street.
It may sound idyllic, but Cuenca, Ecuador fits the above description perfectly. With a year-round spring climate and plenty of activities to keep you busy, it’s also become an expat hotspot in recent years.
One of the city’s biggest attractions is its historic district which was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Here you can wander the cobbled streets, gaze upon the blue-tiled domes of the New Cathedral, or relax in Parque Calderon while watching street entertainers and families at leisure.
This is also a great place to grab a bite to eat at one of the many eclectic restaurants nearby. Don Colon offers upscale traditional Ecuadorian fare, Mangiare Benne serves up delicious Italian treats, and NOE is the place to go for sushi. When you’ve satisfied your appetite, head over to the large flower market adjacent to the cathedral. You’ll find a dozen roses for under four dollars and all manner of mixed bouquets for even less.
You don’t need to stick to the centro historico to keep busy in Cuenca, however. The city holds many parks which are ideal for getting a bit of exercise or just spending time in nature. There is a new planetarium and even an Incan archaeological site, Pumapungo, right within the city. Art of all types is prevalent as well, with galleries like that of ceramicist E. Vega open to the public, a modern art museum, and regular performances by the local symphony (typically free of charge).
Shopping in Cuenca is fun too. With many different craft items, including Panama hats, made locally, you’ll see plenty of interesting items for sale throughout the city. Fresh produce is sold in large open-stall markets and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll find new foods to try.
And if that’s not enough to keep you occupied, consider that Cajas National Park sits just west of the city. The park occupies more than 100 square miles and is a perfect place to hike, bird watch, or just spend an afternoon with friends.
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