Situated in the Ecuadorian highlands, 8,202 feet above sea level, Saint Anne of the Four Rivers of Cuenca is Ecuador’s 2nd most important, and third largest, city, whose own stunning wealth of colonial architecture in addition to the natural beauty of its landscape makes it one of the country’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Believed by many who pass through to be the most beautiful city in the country, this “Athens of Ecuador,” marked by a vibrant artistic, cultural, and intellectual scene, with its quaint cobbled streets, wrought iron balconies and small city atmosphere that fascinates every visitor, is a perfect city to uncover on foot.
In Cuenca’s 500-year-old historic center that dates back to the 16th century, you will find charming squares, old-world churches, colonial parks and museums which reflect the district’s strong cultural and artistic aspects, and colonial homes and mansions (many of which have been converted to hotels) amongst cobbled streets and geranium-filled balconies. Most of this architecture dates back to the 18th century, much of it having been refurbished in the 19th century. The New Cathedral and the Old Cathedral, the Carmelite Monastery and the Santo Domingo Church are notable among those to be visited. At the heart of the historic district is Cuenca’s central plaza, Parque Calderon. Here you will find beautiful gardens, plenty of park benches shaded by palms and trees, fountains and a gazebo, and nearby markets in addition to the historical trees and monument to Abdon Calderon, a hero in Ecuador’s battle for independence.
Cuenca’s “New Town” found outside the historic district is where over 75% of the city’s inhabitants live. Here you will find some of the city’s first suburbs and modern condominiums, malls and cinemas, art cafés and specialty boutiques, several bars, an array of restaurants offering international cuisine, and a lively nightlife scene that ranges from bohemian to upscale.
Cuenca is known for its many craft traditions including fine leather goods, metalwork and the world’s finest Panama Hats which indeed hail from Ecuador. For outdoor lovers, be sure to visit El Cajas National Park for spectacular trekking and hiking opportunities, as history buffs should explore the halls of Museo de las Culturas Aborigenes, considered one of Ecuador’s best archaeology museums with some 5,000 pieces dating back nearly 15,000 years.
With a rich natural and architectural beauty, in addition to its safe status, low cost of living and ideal climate, Cuenca certainly lives up to its claim as a top retirement spot.