Cuenca, City of Churches. My introduction to Ecuador.

A Unesco World Heritage Site, Cuenca is situated in the Ecuadorian highlands at 2500m and the climate is cool.

I arrived at Cuenca early in the morning on an overnight bus from Mancora, Peru. The Peru to Ecuador border crossing was straight forward. We got off the bus at the border and went into the large immigration office. We queued up at the Peru booth to return our Peruvian immigration card and get an exit stamp. Then we queued up at the Ecuadorian booth where we were given a form to complete. I wrote ‘estudiante’ in the occupation box, because I didn’t think that registering myself as unemployed was a good idea!

I handed back the completed form, the officer stamped my passport and I returned to the bus. I didn´t enjoy standing around in the immigration office at 2 in the morning as I would have prefered to have been asleep, but the process was otherwise painless.

The Ecuadorian immigration officer gave me a leaflet with general safety information for tourists, which I read as we pulled into Cuenca bus station at about 6am. Among other things, the leaflet described how to recognise state taxis by their yellow colour and the orange number plate.

After collecting my rucksack I went out of the front door of the bus station to the taxi rank and to a queue of cars that matched the description I had read. I was amazed that nobody shouted “taxi?” at me. I had written my hostel`s address on a piece of paper which I handed to the driver of the first car. I got in the taxi and was surprised to see two security cameras. One was aimed at the driver and one was on the door frame, aimed at me.

The currency in Ecuador is the US dollar and the driver told me that the fare would be 2$. Having just arrived from Peru and having never been to the USA, I didn`t know how much that was in pounds. But 2 sounded like a low amount! So in my tired state I agreed.

Of course it is advisable to know the value of the currency of the country you are in, otherwise you are just asking to be ripped off. I knew that a dollar is a bit less than a pound but should have had a clearer picture. When travelling through several countries it can be hard to keep on top of everything and I was lucky to have a driver who quoted me the correct price.

He dropped me at Yakumama, my hostel that I had booked the day before in Mancora. I had breakfast and left my rucksack there, before beginning setting out to start exploring Cuenca.

I take overnight buses for journies of 7 hours or more whenever I can. Not only do I save the cost of a night in a hostel, but I arrive in the new place in the morning, with the whole day ahead of me. Generally I arrive at my new accommodation before check in, and cannot shower or get changed, so I spend the first morning in the new place feeling a bit grubby. However, I much prefer arriving in daylight because a gringo with a rucksack draws attention and can be a target for crime. (Read more about how I stay safe here.)

My hostel was two blocks away from the main plaza so I went there first. Home to two cathedrals,

Catedral Nueva Parque Calderón Cuenca Ecuador
Catedral Nueva, Parque Calderón

a park with lots of palm trees and some beautiful buildings with charming balconies, it was love at first sight. The new cathedral boasts distinctive blue domes

Catedral Nueva, Cuenca Ecuador
Catedral Nueva

and I climbed up a tower for views over the rooftops.

Catedral Nueva, Cuenca Ecuador
Catedral Nueva

Cuenca is full of churches. It felt like there was one on every corner,

Iglesia San Roque Cuenca Ecuador
Iglesia San Roque
Iglesia San José del Vecino cuenca ecuador
Iglesia San José del Vecino

and I stumbled across them without even looking for them.

Iglesia Santo Domingo Cuenca Ecuador
Iglesia Santo Domingo

Many of the churches had wonderful doors. If you follow me on Instagram you will know that I love doors. Many were beautifully carved

Iglesia San Alfonso cuenca ecuador
Iglesia San Alfonso
Iglesia Santo Cenáculo Cuenca Ecuador
Iglesia Santo Cenáculo
Catedral Nueva Cuenca Eucador
Catedral Nueva

and I spent as much time admiring them as I did the interiors

Iglesia San Alfonso Cuenca Ecuador
Iglesia San Alfonso

of the churches. The highlights of Cuenca for me were:

  • The old cathedral 
Catedral Vieja Cuenca Ecuador
Catedral Vieja, museo religioso

which has been turned into a museum, and

  • Calle Bolivar, the prettiest street in the city with many lovely facades

Calle Bolivar Cuenca Ecuador

along it. Iglesia San Blas is at one end

Iglesia San Blas Cuenca ecuador
Iglesia San Blas

and Iglesia San Sebastian is at the other.

Cuenca is a large city with plenty of shops, restaurants, banks and museums. It is a grid so is easy to wander around without getting lost. It is clean and there is not much traffic in the old centre. If you like architecture, I highly recommend spending a few days here.

Find out more: Cuenca tourist information 

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