Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city, however its central historical district feels more like a charming old-world town, with tidy plazas, ancient churches and cobblestone streets lined with colonial-era adobe-walled buildings, with colorful balconies, plazas and markets, and are very well preserved, having now been transformed into small hotels, restaurants and shops.
Ecuador's best guarded treasure, Cuenca, is also known as the "Athens of Ecuador" (La Atenas del Ecuador), because many notable writers, philosophers, artists and poets were born in Cuenca. Additionally, even though Cuenca is the economic center of Southern Sierra, it still maintains its old traditions. Many travelers like to visit the Azuay province and enjoy its beautiful landscapes, delicious typical food, buy handicrafts, or visit tourist centers.
Offering a rich diversity of people, art, history and colonial architecture, the city boasts what is arguably South America's most impressive historic district.
A good deal of the city's colonial architecture remains intact -- Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the Spanish arrived here, Cuenca was the second largest city in the Inca empire (after Cusco). The foundations of former Inca palaces became foundations for the city's churches and government buildings. Amazingly, when the Incas conquered the area, in the late 1400s, the Cañari had already been living here for centuries. The Incas -- not unlike what the Spanish would eventually do -- used stones from the Cañari structures to build their temples and palaces. Several excellent museums here are dedicated to the city's rich and varied past. The Museo del Banco Central sits right next to the Pumapungo archaeological site, which was an Inca palace. Not only can you see the artifacts on display in the museum, but you can also tour the ruins of the palace, as well as its accompanying botanical gardens. A few blocks away, the Todos Los Santos archaeological site literally symbolizes the three layers of history -- in a single area, you'll see structures built by Cañari, Inca, and Spanish settlers.
Outside Cuenca, there's also plenty to see and do. Ingapirca, Ecuador's most impressive Inca ruins, is only 2 hours away, and Cajas National Park, which is full of scenic hiking trails and peaceful blue lagoons, is an 45 minutes north of the city.
Cuenca is located 442km (275 miles) S of Quito; 250km (155 miles) SE of Guayaquil; 254km (158 miles) S of Riobamba
Nationmaster.com - Excellent source of stats and facts - great for comparing Ecuador to other countries.
Cuenca.com.ec - The official website for the city of Cuenca, in both English and Spanish. Includes history of the region and the people, events calendar, maps, directories, and other useful information.