Ecuador Attractions: Cuenca

Cuenca Attractions

The view of Cuenca's Cathedral.

Cuenca’s Cathedral is one of the most visited places in this city.

Plaza and Church of San Sebastian

The Plaza of San Sebastian was built in the 17th Century as an open marketplace for the western part of the city of Cuenca. On its side is the church of San Sebastian, with a magnificent carved door.

The Museum of Modern Art (The House of Temperance)

On the southern side of Plaza San Sebastian is the Museum of Modern Art, which occupies a building of the 17th Century, called the House of Temperance, begun in 1876 to house persons with drinking problems. It became a museum in 1981 and its thick walls and long white corridors built around flowery courtyards are an excellent setup for colorful modern paintings and sculptures.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Located on one side of Plaza Calderón, this is the most important religious monument in the city of Cuenca, and one of the biggest architectural works in the country. Its construction started in 1880 and it was finished in 1974. The cathedral, which is also called the “New Cathedral”, has imposing blue tiled domes and two towers in the facade. The decoration inside is also impressive, mainly because of its beautiful stained-glass windows, the gold leaf altar piece and the huge pillars covered with pink marble. Three styles are found in the architecture of the Cathedral: Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance. Austere, the Romantic elements are found in the main body, an enormous mass of walls and vaults; the Gothic is seen in the high steeples and the stained glass windows in the front and lateral walls; the Baroque is what most attracts attention, in the canopy of the main altar, an imitation of that of Saint Peter’s in Rome, enriched with a multiplicity of additional adornments. The roof of the Cathedral is in Renaissance style, a series of six blue cupolas of different heights.

The Tomebamba River Ravine (El Barranco)

This is one of the most charming places in Cuenca, along a ravine formed by the erosive action of the river. The flat terrain on which the colonial center of Cuenca is located, abruptly ends and descends to the Tomebamba River in a vertical drop. The cheerful noise of the water and the picturesque hanging style houses which stretch down the green slopes along the Tomebamba river, surprise the visitors with a peculiar combination of nature and architecture. Women still do their washing in the river and spread out the clothes to dry in the banks, in very colorful patterns.

Colonial Downtown Cuenca

The Historical Center is located on the second terrace of a big alluvial cone, which was formed by the erosive action of the rivers during thousands of years. It is characterized by the presence of narrow cobblestone streets and picturesque colonial and republican style buildings, which give the city a special charm. This is also the commercial center in the city, where most of the shops, banks, boutiques and hotels are found.

The National Ethnographic Museum of the Central Bank of Cuenca

The objective of this Museum is to offer a profound vision of Ecuador, through objects of daily use. The imaginary voyage that the visitor will experience through Ecuadorian regions and cultures, was in times past the multiple and real itinerary of the people who built and defined Ecuador’s identity.

This Museum is the human face of Ecuador, a multiethnic and pluricultural country, a living mosaic of the mestizos, resulting from the fusion of the original inhabitants who were here thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans, and later with people from Africa.

The visit of the museum starts at a Shuar dwelling, a universe of symbols of life and mythology of the Shuars. The pillars of the house join the lower world with the upper world, its elliptic shape represents the path of the sun. It has no internal walls, but the spacial distribution is rigorous: the feminine area or ekent to one side and the masculine area or tankamash on the other.

The Incas

The Empire of the Incas, from its capital Cuzco, expanded in the 14th and 15th Centuries to form the Tahuantinsuyo, which went from northern Chile to the north of Peru. In 1463 the ruling Inca, Tupac Yupanqui, began moving north to conquer Ecuador. The Inca armies met fierce resistance by the Cañaris and other local Indian groups, and it wasn’t until 1500 that the Incas finally settled in what is now Cuenca and surroundings, under the rule of Huayna Capac, son of Tupac Yupanqui and a Cañari princess. Ecuador’s new lords ruled for less than half a century, until the Spanish conquest in the 1530’s, but their legacy was the Quichua language, spoken by the majority of the Indian population of Ecuador, and an incredible network of roads connecting Quito with Cuzco along the highlands and Santiago de Chile and Guayaquil on the coast. The Camino del Inca was 8 meters wide (24 feet) and paved with stone – along which the Chasqui runners would bring messages and even fresh fish from the coast to the Inca.

El Carmen de la Asuncion Convent and Church

This important historical building belongs to the religious order of the “Carmelitas” which was established in Cuenca in 1682 and has been preserved in the original condition. The church shows a beautiful baroque front with several ornamental elements in carved in marble. It houses interesting colonial works, such as the wooden altarpiece and pulpit, both covered with gold leaf. Inside the cloister, the Carmelitas nuns keep artistic and cultural treasures, such as sculptures, documents, books, mural paintings and more. The mural painting on the wall and ceiling of the Refectory are m very well preserved and depict scenes of daily life together with religious motifs, the finest example of Cuenca’s cultural legacy.

Quinua (Keen-Wa)

One of the world’s most perfect foods, has been consumed for thousands of years in South America. This grain comes from the Andes Mountains of South America, and its origins are truly ancient. It was one of the three staple foods, along with corn and potatoes, of the Inca civilization. Quinua was known then, and still is known with respect, as the mother grain. Its small nutritious seeds resemble millet and is very versatile to a variety of cooking styles, inviting seasonings from mild to wild.

Quinua seeds are naturally coated with a bitter-tasting saponin that protects it from birds and insects, and they have to be washed and rinsed before cooking. Quinua flour, ground from whole seeds, has a delicate nutty flavor. A gluten-free product, it is suitable for anyone afflicted by wheat allergies.

Quinua contains more protein than any other grain; an average of 16.2 percent, compared with 7.5 percent for rice, 9.9 percent for millet, and 14 percent for wheat. Some varieties of Quinua are more than 20 percent protein of an unusually high quality. It is a complete protein, with an essential amino acid balance close to the ideal … similar to milk! Besides its unique protein, Quinua also provides starch, sugars, oil (high in essential linoleic acid), fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Quinua can be eaten as hot breakfast cereal; an infant cereal; a rice replacement; a nutritional thickener for soups, chili and stew; in salads, casseroles, desserts and more.