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Plan to stay for a while in Cuenca: this Ecuadorian city of churches, river walks and colonial Spanish and Republican French architecture is a gem that has travellers extending their trips. And while the architecture might be grand, the leafy squares, green parks and mountainous surroundings give it a peaceful ambience – it's the perfect place to build some rest and relaxation into your travels. The temperate, spring-like climate also helps!
Hostels in Cuenca are usually in renovated colonial-era mansions, with original features like high ceilings. You can choose from beautifully redesigned co-working spaces, colourful buildings with balcony bars and artistic accommodation with Scandi-style vibes. Look for a Cuenca hostel with free linen and towels and free maps to help you take on the city. Hostel book exchanges are ideal for picking up a page-turner to read at one of Cuenca's charming coffee houses.
The UNESCO-listed El Centro (Old Town) is where most travellers first pitch up, close to the leafy main square and blue-domed New Cathedral as well as many of the city's 51 other churches. This area is easy to navigate thanks to its grid-like structure. You'll find more residential spots south of the Rio Tomebamba, the river that runs through the centre of Cuenca, while the neighbourhood to the west around Avenida Remigio Crespo has a modern, international feel with plenty of coffee shops and restaurants.
For things to see and do in Cuenca, it's hard to beat Parque Calderón, specifically the New Cathedral at its southwestern corner and the Old Cathedral to the southeast. If you'd like to stroll beside the river, take one of the sets of stairs from Calle Larga to Avenida 3 de Noviembre. Fan of nature? The high-altitude Cajas National Park is about 30km away, with paths through evergreen cloud forests and numerous lakes. Keep your eyes peeled for Andean condors, huge hummingbirds and cute coatis on the journey.
Cuenca's a walkable city, but taxis are also affordable. You can hop in a cab from the bus terminal, or just stroll 20 minutes to the downtown area. Buses leave regularly from right outside Terminal Terrestre as well – if you're making the reverse journey, jump on any bus that says 'Terminal' from Padre Aguirre close to the flower market. To get into Cuenca after a flight to Ecuador, take public transport from either Quito (an 8 to 10-hour bus journey) or Guayaquil (4 to 5 hours).