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Our time in Cuenca was unintentional. And it was amazing.

Originally, we planned to fly out of Quito after leaving Mindo. But plane tickets skyrocketed before we could press “purchase” and so we ended up scrambling for a Plan B. Our only financially feasible option, it turned out, was to fly out of Guayaquil four days later than we had hoped. Not enthusiastic about returning to the country’s most charm-less city, we looked for alternatives nearby.

We almost immediately settled on Cuenca, unanimously crowned the most beautifully preserved colonial city in Ecuador.

Yellow Rose in Cuenca

Colonial Church in Cuenca

Cuenca, we would find, is deliciously devoid of must-do tours, must-see markets or much unmissable anything. Which meant we were free to spend our days wandering the cobblestone streets, lingering over long lunches, and working on some big freelancing projects (for me, a graphic design gig, for Anders, a video editing assignment).

In four days, we literally made four visits to Cafe San Sebas, our daily lunch spot thanks to Indefinite Adventure’s excellent suggestion. We weren’t there long, but it was nice to remember what it feels like to have a routine.

Traveling in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca Art MuseumOkay — we did wander into one art museum, but that was it, I swear.

Cafe San Blas, Cuenca

It was no mystery where Cuenca got its reputation as a city of extreme beauty and character. Whenever I needed a break from the laptop, I simply grabbed my camera and we went for a wander, relishing the bright balconies and worn down cobblestones along the way.

Church in Cuenca, Ecuador

Architecture in Cuenca, Ecuador

Colonial Buildings in Cuenca

Colonial Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador

Even away from the famous cathedrals and the more ornately preserved buildings in the center squares, even on the residential side streets hidden far from the eyes of tourists, charm was never in short supply.

Sidestreet in Cuenca, Ecuador

Balcony in Cuenca, Ecuador

And though many backpackers breeze through Cuenca in a day or two, we didn’t get bored. Not when there were people to watch, buildings to unintentionally dress as twins with, and busy squares to photograph (which many have involved laying down in the middle of the street when there was a break in cars, pushing Anders to the brink of nervous breakdown.)

Architecture in Cuenca, Ecuador

Architecture in Cuenca, Ecuador

Architecture in Cuenca, Ecuador

Travel to Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca’s main cathedral was just a four-minute stroll from our hostel, and boasted unmatched views of the red-roofed city. I couldn’t help but experience a brief moment of confusion — did I accidentally teleport myself to Europe? Because if I didn’t know better, South America would not be the continent I’d think these photos were taken on.

Cathedral of Cuenca, Ecuador

Cathedral of Cuenca, Ecuador

Cathedral of Cuenca, Ecuador

Cathedral of Cuenca, Ecuador

Cathedral of Cuenca, Ecuador

Cathedral of Cuenca, Ecuador

While I was perfectly content to never leave Cuenca’s city limits, Anders was feeling a little antsy by our final day. So while I had a very exciting day-long date with my laptop, he hopped on a local bus out to Caja National Park. The notoriously moody-weathered park is a popular hiking spot and day trip from colonial Cuenca. And while I didn’t have the time (or, lets be real, the desire) to make the trip myself, I did make Anders promise to take lots of beautiful photos for all of us to enjoy.

I think he did a pretty good job, don’t you?

Caja National Park, Ecuador

Caja National Park, Ecuador

Caja National Park, Ecuador

Caja National Park, Ecuador

Caja National Park, Ecuador

Caja National Park, Ecuador

Caja National Park, EcuadorLlama selfie!

Caja National Park, Ecuador

I couldn’t be happier about the change of plans that brought us to our little bonus city. After not really meshing with Quito I felt like I had missed out on enjoying the colonial city aspect of Ecuador, but visiting Cuenca completely redeemed me. I can’t believe I almost missed out on such a beautiful place.

It was the perfect place to say goodbye to Ecuador.

Flower Market in Cuenca, Ecuador

Flower Market in Cuenca, Ecuador

Flower Market in Cuenca, Ecuador

I hope you enjoyed my coverage of Ecuador. Next up, I’m taking y’all to Panama!

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41 Comments...
  • J in Beijing
    March 4 2014

    So glad you found the perfect place to end Ecuador on a high note! It’s always nice to have an unexpected stop that turns out great. You’re right, the photos of the town do look like they could have been taken in Europe!
    J in Beijing recently posted..A Vineyard in Myanmar?

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      I haven’t traveled much of Europe, so I was hoping no one would call me out on that being inaccurate 🙂 Glad to hear my hunch was right!

  • So pretty! Definitely for the best that your original plans got scuppered and you wound up here instead. Way too charming and cute to miss!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Gorging on George Town: Does Malaysia’s Culinary Capital Live Up to the Hype?

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Totally worth the change of plans and the 17 hours of additional bus rides 🙂

  • Jasmine
    March 4 2014

    I believe that you always end up where you’re meant to be regardless of plans. lol. Your pictures are always beautiful!!

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Thanks Jasmine! It was such a photogenic city, it was hard to take a bad picture!

  • That’s my favorite when you go somewhere that has no attractions, no tourist activities.. so you can just wander! I recently got to go back to cochin (south india) and because I’d already done everything I just wandered & saw a whole other side of it
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Best Food in Singapore: A Foodie’s Heaven

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      I love going back to a place a second time for that very reason! No pressure, no guilt 🙂

  • tammyonthemove
    March 4 2014

    Cuenca is so beautiful. I just love all of these colonial South American cities. The NP looks awesome too actually. I have never heard of it. Looks like north England for a strange reason.
    tammyonthemove recently posted..Surviving The World’s Most Dangerous Road

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Interesting! Yeah, at least I’d agree on the weather 🙂

  • Annie of TravelShus
    March 4 2014

    I love cities with nothing in them. Feels like a much more real experience since what you see has nothing to do with travel.and beautiful photos as usual!
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..Visiting the Saadian Tombs

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Thanks Annie! Yeah, I agree. Cuenca is really popular among expats moving to Ecuador and I can see why. It just seems like a great city to live.

  • Emma
    March 4 2014

    Yay, I’ve been waiting for your Cuenca photos! It was my favourite place in Ecuador and I’m glad you enjoyed it. It is definitely a very photogenic city 🙂

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      I’m glad you loved it too, Emma! What a gem… so happy I didn’t miss it!

  • I have had a desire to travel the world for as long as I can remember. I have plans to travel around Europe in 2015 and I would love to make my way around Asia in the near future. South America never really called to me before, but after seeing your photos it is definitely on my list of places to go.

    It is refreshing to see two people on the same adventure that are willing to split up and go on their own mini adventures. I have had experiences in the past where I wanted to do one thing and someone else wanted to do something different, yet that other person did not want to separate. That left one of us doing something we really DIDN’T want to do and disappointed about not doing what we DID want to do. A little bit of freedom and independence can go a long way in keeping everyone happy!
    Kyle (GratefulWanderer.net) recently posted..From The Archives: France (January 2013)

  • Sarah Somewhere
    March 4 2014

    So beautiful, thanks for the heads up! Love your (and Anders) photos, that Llama selfie is fantastic!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Overwhelmed.

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Ha, after months in South America we were still not over the llamas! Really they are amazing creatures!

  • Emily Roth
    March 4 2014

    Love the Llama selfie! 🙂

    Another wonderful post with great pictures that really makes me want to travel.

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      That’s the greatest compliment a travel blogger could hope to get, Emily! Thank you!

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    March 4 2014

    Hey Alex,

    This city seems real pretty. Thanks for introducing us to this! Great pics too, btw.

    Cheers,
    Rekha
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..Big Bear Lake, CA

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Thanks Rekha! Cuenca definitely deserves a spot on anyone’s Ecuador itinerary. Such a beautiful city!

  • Taylor
    March 4 2014

    I’ve really enjoyed your posts on Ecuador and can’t wait to try out some of the activities and cities you have pointed out throughout your time there.. Can’t wait to read about Panama!
    Taylor recently posted..Costa Rican Adventure Part 1

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      I’m so excited to start posting about Panama but a bit overwhelmed because I loved it to much I feel the stakes are high 🙂

  • BrownVagabonder
    March 4 2014

    I haven’t been to South America yet in my sojourns around the world, but Ecuador definitely looks like a place to stay in for a while. I just love the buildings and if there’s good people watching, I’m definitely in! Thanks for sharing such amazing pictures. I always feel like I am horrible at the sharing of pictures with my readers. You do a great job of it, though.
    BrownVagabonder recently posted..Our Quest To Get Good Seats On The Minibus

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Thank you! I spend a LOT of time taking, culling, editing, and uploading. But I feel the results are well worth it! Glad you do too 🙂

  • LOVE your photos! I’m actually in the process of planning a trip to Cuenca right now so this post made me even more excited. Will have to check out that cafe.
    Anna | The Blonde Banana recently posted..Packable: Roberta Freymann’s Global Chic Collection

  • Breanna
    March 4 2014

    Wow what a beautiful city. I love the old colonial age architecture. I was pleasantly shocked to find it in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Huh, I wouldn’t have expected in São Paulo. Cool!

      • Breanna
        March 5 2014

        Oh yes, the city centre is full of it. Makes a nice contrast to the modern architecture.

  • Jen
    March 5 2014

    Wow this is such a pretty city. And the architecture looks incredible. It really looks like it was worth staying longer in Ecuador for this place.
    Jen recently posted..Where in the World Wednesday

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      It turned out to be a really happy accident 🙂 It was the perfect way to round out our time in Ecuador.

  • Sam
    March 5 2014

    So glad you liked Cuenca, and Cafe San Sebas and thanks for the shout-out. We loved Cuenca for exactly the same reasons – I hate when there are all these ‘must-dos’ in a city, so nice to just enjoy being there instead. P.S. I love the picture of Anders twinning with that building!
    Sam recently posted..Best Reads: February 2014

    • Alex
      March 5 2014

      Ha, I was amazed no one had commented on that yet! That is my favorite photo from all of Cuenca!

  • Sue
    March 6 2014

    This looks so inviting! Great photos!

    • Alex
      March 8 2014

      Thanks Sue! It’s an incredibly photogenic destination!

  • Miranda Farley
    March 12 2014

    Wow. Your pictures are really awesome. Ecuador was not in my bucketlist but it is now! 🙂 I hope I can get to travel more like you in the future. 🙂 Cheers and safe travels! 🙂

    • Alex
      March 13 2014

      Thanks Miranda — and welcome to Wanderland 🙂 Glad to hear Ecuador is moving up the ranks!

  • Hi Alex!! I found this post at the perfect time because we are about to spend a few days in Cuenca! I’ve heard of its amazing charm and gorgeous churches and I am SO excited. We’re currently spending 3 weeks in Ecuador, mostly working with kids in Quito, but happy to getaway for the next few days. Thanks for telling your story so beautifully!
    Daisy @ Simplicity Relished recently posted..How To Get The Most Out Of Your Travels

    • Alex
      July 9 2015

      Cuenca is gorgeous — get your camera ready to be put to work 🙂 Enjoy, Daisy!

  • Cuenca Ecuador
    December 12 2015

    Cuenca is such a magical place. I recently returned from a 2 month journey down there and spent most of my time in Cuenca. The beautiful colonial buildings took my breath away. I made several video montages of Centro and the incredible churches and colonial style buildings. The weather is also incredible if you can adjust to the altitude, which was very difficult for me. Anyways, I linked my video to my name thing if you want to check it out. Just a basic little video…..my channel has other video of Ecuador’s beaches and what not too….Love the blog! fantastically written….cheers

    • Alex
      December 12 2015

      Thanks for the kind words… hm, I don’t know what to call you 🙂 Just a heads up, a lot of blog comment filters will mark you as spam automatically if you don’t put a name into the “name” field. I approved yours manually, but just something to watch out for in the future!

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