Where in Europe is Cuenca?

Cobblestone streets. Art shows. Outdoor cafes. Museums. Beautifully preserved buildings.

Wait a second, I thought we were in Ecuador?!

No, our bus did not magically transport us to Paris, but to the lovely town of Cuenca, which is most definitely in Ecuador (if you’re looking for it on a map, it’s pretty far South).

Cuenca had been on our must-see list because everyone seemed to recommend it. Every time it was mentioned, we promised our fellow traveler that we would make it there. The funny thing is, we never bothered to ask why it was so wonderful. Luckily, it didn’t take long for us to see Cuenca’s charm. As a matter of fact, I think we figured it out before our cab even made it to our hostel.

The streets of Cuenca

Cuenca was a great place to relax and enjoy the city life. Despite the fact that we were there in the middle of Ecuador’s five-day holiday weekend, there wasn’t a ton to do or see, but soaking up the city’s atmosphere turned out to be enough.

For us, it is just about the perfect “big” city size with about 500,000 people. It had a great variety of food (hello, shawarmas!), friendly people, street performers (more than just pan flutes!), beautiful churches, and a great central square.

Cuenca's cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Ok, so we did find a few things to do besides sip coffee, eat street snacks, and people watch. One morning we indulged our intellectual sides and paid a visit to El Museo del Banco Central. Although this museum had a small exhibit of coins and was located next to a bank, the majority of the displays focused on different indigenous cultures found in Ecuador.

The traditional costumes were interesting, but the real draw was their collection of shrunken heads. Yes, real human heads (and one sloth), that have been shrunken during special ceremonies in the Amazon. While I am sure that Kristen’s extraordinarily large head would have been quite the prize, this process has now been outlawed (well, for humans at least).

Unfortunately, we don’t have any pictures to share because they confiscate all backpacks, purses, and cameras at the entrance. That was kind of a bummer, but seeing as the museum is free, I guess we can’t really complain too much.

If you want to know what a shrunken head looks like, feel free to Google it, or just watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The shrunken heads looked just like the driver’s assistant hanging from the rearview mirror on the Knight Bus.

We were allowed to get a picture of the ruins located outside of the museum.

Ruins under the museum


One afternoon, we joined many other Ecuadorian tourists for a ride on a double-decker bus around the city. It took us around and explained the sights as we passed, but the highlight was heading up the hill to a church for a lookout over the whole city.

Joe enjoying the view from the top of the bus

Joe also enjoyed watching the unsuspecting tourists on the upper deck duck at the last second to avoid getting hit by tree limbs and power lines.

View of the river and the "Broken Bridge"

View from the lookout

So, to recap, Cuenca is a great place to unwind and enjoy a different side of Ecuador. This is one of the few cities that we both agree would be great place to rent an apartment and settle down in for a prolonged period of time.  (Don’t worry parents, no rental agreements have been signed…. yet.)  If you ever make it to Ecuador, come on down to Cuenca and enjoy.

Added bonus! Kristen randomly mentioned craving cotton candy in the Galapagos, and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw a vendor pushing his cotton candy cart next to the park in Cuenca! After he started up the machine (by pushing 2 exposed wires together), we got the freshest and tastiest cotton candy ever. Combined with the park views, this treat can’t be beat!

What a find! Cotton candy from a street vendor! (you can see the vendor in the background)


Cuenca sadly marked the end of our amazing time in Ecuador, and the start of the three-day adventure to Chachapoyas, Peru, and that is quite a story in itself.

About shoefry

Taking off for a year to see what the world has to offer.
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5 Responses to Where in Europe is Cuenca?

  1. Dad and Mom Fry says:

    Just looking at the photo with the square and cotton candy….I can almost smell the cotton candy right now. The town of Cuenca reminds me a bit of our trip to Costa Rica. Take care.

  2. Tee says:

    Oooh cotton candy. I like that the guy had to hotwire the cart to get it to work. That’s awesome.

    Also, Cuenca really does look European. Crazy!

  3. Lo Osborne says:

    Ok… So who knows where you are or what you’re doing right now… But…HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! (today/tomorrow…kinda…not sure the time difference) The Osbornes are thinking of you & hoping you have a wonderful adventure filled year! ( & you’re off to a good start!) miss you guys!

    • shoefry says:

      Thanks Lo, Chris, and Wyatt!

      I had a great birthday hiking in Peru.

      We really miss you guys! Just yesterday I was asking Joe if it was too early to start planning our next get together. Maybe summer or early fall? We will be back in the states by June, and we are not sure when Joe is going back to work.

      Miss you! Give Wyatt a hug from us!

  4. Pingback: Ecuador: Final Thoughts | shoefry

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