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A Week in Cuenca, a Gem in the Ecuador Highlands

Cuenca's Plaza de Armas.

The Rebecca Adventure Travel team joined the 2023 Remote Latin America Immersion, the region’s premier luxury tourism experience fair, in its sixth edition. Along with other tour operators, the team delved into discovering and promoting Latin American destinations and services. They elevated knowledge about Ecuador’s beauties and generated insightful content.

Most importantly, they fostered a community of Travel Designers to create business opportunities for local establishments and craft immersive experiences to deepen the bond with each destination. In this blog, readers get a glimpse at enjoying the panoramic views at Turi, tasting the local flavors at Raymipamba, and unraveling the mysteries of Ingapirca.

South American Culture

Arriving in Cuenca


The New Cathedral of Cuenca.

After a 1-hour flight, we arrived in Cuenca city. Following a delicious breakfast at Mansión Alcázar, we were ready to embark on the adventure of exploring Cuenca’s historic center. One of the first stops, and a definite must-see, is The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, commonly referred to as the New Cathedral of Cuenca. This spot is the perfect place to take a few pictures and enjoy wonderful views of the city. We savored a moment of calmness and relaxation while discovering this beautiful architectural landmark. The skyline of its domes has become a symbol for the city.

Cuenca's Historical Center.

Cuenca’s Historic Center.

Just across the park, you can find the city tour bus, Turibus, the perfect way to discover all the city’s hidden treasures in a short amount of time. The bus will take you to the main attractions inside the city, where you can hop off and explore until the next bus comes to pick you up and continue the ride. The bust goes all the way to Turi, a wonderful viewpoint. It is recommended to go at night, so you can enjoy the wonderful city landscape.

After a delightful lunch at Raymipamba, we set off to visit our partner hotels, including the three-star Hotel Posada de Angel and the five-star Hotel Cruz del Vado. This is how we maintain our commitment to ensuring all our partners uphold the high-quality standards we value.

View from Turi, Cuenca.


Culture and Nature

Panama Hat Shop in Cuenca

Panama Hat Shop in Cuenca.

The second day brought us to Aurelio Ortega’s Panama hat shop. Aurelio shared the story of how hat-making has been a family tradition for generations, evolving into a family business that provides for all of them. This visit underscored the deep value placed on traditions and cultural heritage in Cuenca, highlighting a craft cherished by the community.

Santa Lucia Hotel

Santa Lucía Hotel in Cuenca.

Next, we visited Hotel Santa Lucía, where we engaged with the staff to gain deeper insights into the hotel’s service quality. Our afternoon was spent basking in the natural beauty of Cajas National Park, a mere 30-minute drive from Cuenca. Renowned for its vast biodiversity and stunning array of ecosystems, Cajas offered us a tranquil retreat. Its unique blend of páramo (moorland) and cloud forest environments make it a true jewel of Ecuador’s natural heritage. Here, amidst the fabulous landscape, we explored the serene Toreadora Lagoon, among other splendid lagoons.

Cuenca’s Surroundings

Tourists at Jubones Desert.

Exploring Jubones desert.

On day three, there was still so much to discover! Cuenca is surrounded by many captivating sites at a short distance from the city. So this day was full of activities! Our first visit was to Tarqui, the place where the famous namesake battle took place, and learned about Ecuadorian history. After this insightful experience, we went to explore the magical waterfalls of El Chorro Girón, where we spotted colorful birds amid the wonderful scenery.

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After a delicious lunch, we visited Jubones desert. This place completely clashes with the previous landscapes and temperatures vary greatly. It is incredible to witness the climate changes so close to the city. At night, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at El Mercado restaurant. On top of the delectable local cuisine, the ambiance is perfect for having a good conversation and a relaxing time after a long day.

Art and History

Fernando Encalada working on Ceramics.

Fernando Encalada working on ceramics.

We started the day with an art immersion at the studio of Fernando Encalada, a renowned ceramist representing the fourth generation in his family dedicated to the art of pottery. The studio is housed in a 136-year-old building, which still retains elements of its original traditional structure. It takes you back in time as you see how this art was performed. Fernando Encalda is known as a pioneer of black ceramics in Ecuador, offering lessons across various regions of the country.

Next, we visited the Pumapungo Museum, an ethnographic and art museum in Cuenca. Here, you can discover not only the archeological pieces but also a small zoo displaying Ecuadorian biodiversity. The museum is a haven of relaxation in the middle of the city. Best of all? Access is free of charge! We then visited the famous Escalinatas, where you can find lots of handicrafts and lovely artisans. This makes it the perfect place to stop and go shopping for any souvenir shops.

The day ended at Quinta Lucrecia, with an incredible traditional party, in which we enjoyed traditional Ecuadorian food, and games including the famous vaca loca. The “crazy cow” game features a person in a cow costume adorned with fireworks, part of festive celebrations. As the fireworks ignite, the “crazy cow” dashes around, creating a spectacle of light and sound, embodying the vibrant communal spirit and joy of Ecuadorian festivals and cultural events.

Savoring Cuenca’s Delicacies

This day was dedicated to the wonderful gastronomy of Cuenca. We began with a lecture from the experts of Cuenca Destino Gastronómico, who told us the ins and outs of the city’s best culinary experiences. Guided by them, we discovered the traditional flavors of Cuencan cuisine. In the afternoon, we visited Miguel Illescas’ studio, where we discovered his colorful iguanas, mermaids, and wonderful creations. He is yet another famous artist specializing in mixed media in Cuenca.

To end this beautiful day in Cuenca, we enjoyed an incredible 7-course dinner at Paccari, a display of local ingredients and traditional recipes, all provided by a famous local chef from La Chichería restaurant. All the dishes were a journey around Ecuadorian Cacao. There was even a chocolate tasting accompanied by the chef’s signature cocktails!


Artisans in Chordeleg

On day six, we went to the beautiful Chordeleg, just half an hour by car from Cuenca. This place is full of artisans who work with silver and gold to create jewelry. The main town square is filled with jewelry stores displaying each artisan’s skills in different shapes and forms.

Panama Hat Artisans

Panama Hat artisans at Chordeleg.

Among the artisans, one can find some of the traditional weavers of the miscalled Panama Hat, which actually originated in Ecuador. On the way here, we stopped at Gualaceo Market, a place where you can savor multiple traditional dishes. The star of the show is the Hornado, which some might say is the best pork you can find in the country.

Ingapirca Ruins

The last day revealed there was still so much to see! We opted to visit Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most important archeological site. Here, you can witness the merge of the Inca and Cañari civilizations as you explore this culture’s remaining ruins. This is home to a rare variant of South American camelids and local artisans who craft exquisite handicrafts. Amidst stunning rock formations, the Face of the Inca is reminiscent of the iconic Inca profile.

On the way here, we visited Santuario de la Santísima Virgen del Rocío, marveling at the incredible architecture and spectacular scenery. We also got the chance to try the traditional Cascaritas dish and witness it being prepared! A lovely close to a wonderful week touring the best that the fantastic Cuenca has to offer.

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