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Cuenca
Cuenca city centre, with attractive colonial architecture
Traditional open courtyard in Cuenca building
Cuency city map
Cuenca's Municipio, or municipal council office
Cuenca flower market
Cuenca cathedral

Cuenca is Ecuador's 3rd city.
Full of colonial architecture and attractive squares, it is a pretty place to wander.  Many retirees from overseas see Cuenca as the best place to retire to.




Cuenca - 
Ecuador Destinations
Cuenca is perhaps the most attractive city in Ecuador, set amongst the majestic Andes Mountains in the south of the country.  Its colonial architecture, traditional streets and leafy squares make it a very pleasant place to wander and the climate is usually agreeable.  Founded in 1557 and formally known as Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca, the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The traditional handmade sweets are an added attraction.  Having made its fortune exporting quinine and straw hats in the past, Cuenca is more recently known for silver, particularly in the form of some striking modern jewellery.  
Cuenca is also considered a great place to retire to by North American senior citizens, which is having an impact on the culture and atmosphere of the city.  Attracting and exploiting would-be retirees is now a big industry, with agencies offering to help find real estate and retirement homes, translate documents, facilitate house purchases, source furniture, ship belongings, furnish homes, teach Spanish and any other services you might require in order to settle into happy retirement in Cuenca.  Some of the immigrant retirees have set up businesses offering the cuisine and comforts that they miss from home, or retirement agencies promoting Cuenca as one of the best retirement communities.
If the city features in your retirement plans, you should have no trouble finding help with Cuenca rentals for while you are house-hunting.  There are even Cuenca tours specifically aimed at scoping out the area as a retirement destination, so you can experience the city's weather, food, shopping and current real estate situation.  The cost of living in Cuenca is attractively low to North Americans, but their presence seems to be pushing up prices for everyone else.  
Museums abound in Cuenca, but it is not easy to visit any of them.  Many are closed, even during posted "opening hours", and of those that are open, hostile staff seem to invent all-afternoon "lunch breaks" or abitrary rules (such as not letting visitors carry so much as a handbag) which appear designed to ensure that no-one qualifies to visit.  Staff at the tourist offices at the airport and the Parque Abdón Calderón are helpful and will provide Cuenca city maps and information on bus routes, hotels and other tourist necessities as well as arranging Cuenca tours.  It's a shame that their colleagues at the museums let them down so badly. 
The range of Cuenca hotels offers something for everyone at every budget.  At the tourist office's suggestion, I tried the pretty little Posada del Sol Hostal on Borrero y Sangurima.  Consisting of a few rooms on the top floor surrounding the space above an attractive courtyard, the hostal shares the building with a restaurant and other businesses.  Friendly service and clean, spacious rooms with private bathrooms make this a bargain by Cuenca accommodation standards at less than $25 a night.  Hotels in the city can be noisy due to local people's propensity to shout, rev engines or sound their horns at whatever hour of the day or night with no respect for anyone else.
The many North American retirees in Cuenca have created a market for some more unusual dining options.  If you've been travelling in Ecuador for a while you will appreciate the range of different foods available, though the pretentiousness and overinflated prices may start to grate after a while.  Choices include modern North American-style meals or upscale versions of traditional Ecuadorian fare.  Diners on a budget will struggle to find basic $1.50 almuerzos (set lunches), though there are a few to be had if you avoid the prettier parts of the city.
Cuenca's traditional sweets ("dulces típicos") are a delight.  Try "El Suspiro" ("the sigh" or "the meringue") on Hno. Miguel and Presidente Córdova for a range of handmade delicacies including fudge, chewy coconut treats, guava jellies and many more. 
The people of Cuenca seem to be viewed with some suspicion by Ecuadorians from the rest of the country.  They are suspected of sharp business practices, and I was warned to exercise extreme caution in any dealings with them - which turned out to be wise advice in some (not all) cases.  Foreigners and tourists definitely seem to be viewed as a resource to be exploited, and the Cuencan people certainly have the business acumen to do this, which can make the welcome seem more commercial than genuine.
Cuenca is well worth a tour or visit.  Pick a sunny day, bring a camera and just enjoy walking through the attractive streets and open squares or along by the rivers.  Sit in one of the parks with some traditional homemade sweets, shop for modern silver jewellery if your budget allows or wander around some of the churches.  A visit here is the logical first step if you are wondering whether to retire in Cuenca.
Getting to Cuenca: Domestic flights from Quito or Guayaquil are a quick and efficient way to avoid bus journeys of around 10 or 4 hours respectively.  Flying into Cuenca also offers some spectacular views.
Useful Spanish & other Vocabulary for visiting Cuenca, Ecuador:
Dulce: sweet
Dulces típicos: traditional sweets (usually handmade)
Jubilación: retirement
Ecuador Destinations: Cuenca
UNESCO World Heritage Site Cuenca is Ecuador's third city.
Famous for attractive colonial architecture, handmade sweets, modern silver jewellery and a popular retirement destination for North Americans,
Cuenca may be best enjoyed on a short visit.
Website www.ecuadortravelsite.org, text and photos by Sarah Clifford.
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