As you venture south, you arrive at one of Ecuador’s most beautiful colonial jewels, Cuenca. Formed at the confluence of several rivers and surrounded by mountains on all sides, Cuenca is at the watershed between the tropical coastal lowlands to the west and the Amazon rainforest to the east. Explore its cathedrals as well as some fascinating small museums, a pretty park and of course stroll along one of its riverbanks.
Most visitors concentrate on the historic area between the river Tomebamba and the street Gran Colombia to the north, General Torres to the west, and Hermano Miguel to the east. This area's compact grid-like layout and numerous readily identifiable monuments make it easy to navigate and a good place to wander at will through its dozens of narrow colonial streets.
Explore its old and (relatively!) new cathedrals, dating back to the 16th and 19th centuries respectively as well as beautiful local parks, monasteries and fascinating museums on native cultures, art. Cuenca is alive with Andean culture, tradition and colour, and the indigenous people still wear traditional dress and converse in the ancient language of the Incas.
Observe skilled local artisans at work both in Cuenca and in the small towns and villages surrounding it. These skilled craftspeople make fine silver jewellery, ceramic pottery and the famous hand-woven Panama hats from the finest toquilla straw. Folklore says the hats were worn by workers during construction of the Panama Canal to protect them from the fierce tropical sun. The trend caught on and the name stuck.
Stay in an old converted colonial mansion amid the beautiful baroque architecture and cobbled streets of this UNESCO Heritage site as your base from which to venture out to small rural markets and villages beyond or to beautiful Cajas National Park, home to a unique paramo environment and also several species of endangered endemic birds such as the giant hummingbird, the South American condor curiquinga.
This makes a great stop enroute to the coastal port of Guayaquil, from where you can most easily access the beautiful Galapagos Islands by air or head along the coast to Machalilla National Park where in the summer months you may spot whales offshore, try kayaking along coastal inlets and mangroves or take a boat trip out to the beautiful Isla de la Plata. We will help you design your perfect bespoke itinerary exploring colonial history and stunning landscapes in the Andean highlands.