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Falling for Cuenca in Southern Ecuador

La Catedral in Cuenca, Ecuador
View of the three blue domes atop La Catedral

I spent two weeks in Cuenca, but it could've just as easily been two months.

The center of Ecuador's third-largest city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, feels small and safe like a pueblo yet offers a much wider variety of dining and nightlife options.

Architecturally, it looks like Cartagena was transplanted into the mountains. I'd also liken it to an old European city, complete with narrow, one-way cobblestone streets.

To be blunt, it blows the historic city center of Quito out of the water.

Cuenca also acts as a convenient base for exploring the region, including archaeological sites and nearby El Cajas National Park.

Monumental front facade of La Catedral
The monumental front facade of La Catedral

On my second day, I met a local woman, and we proceeded to spend quite a bit of time together (one of many reasons it pays to learn Spanish).

Our regular meeting point was in front of the massive Cathedral. We'd go for food, drinks, or salsa dancing. On the best nights, all three.

Maybe it's my fondness for architecture, but I found it incredibly romantic to be meeting my date in front of a cathedral as grand as the one in Cuenca.

Walking around, arm in arm, I'd notice just how many other couples were doing the same.

There was a sense of tradition in the city and its people, which I found endearing.

Langostinos bathed in garlic butter at Tiesto's Restaurant
Langostinos bathed in garlic butter at Tiesto's Restaurant

As I travel around the rest of South America, I'm keeping an eye out for places where I could see myself living for an extended time.

To fit the bill and compete with the likes of Medellin, the city has to have fun nightlife.

Eating and dancing are my hobbies beyond travel and blogging, and I was excited to find Cuenca delivered on both fronts.

Over my two-week stay, I discovered new Ecuadorian dishes, gave cuy a second try, got my sushi fix with Ant and Elise of Positive World Travel, lunched at an authentic Indian restaurant, and overdosed on langostinos at Tiesto's, the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor.

Salsa dancing at Zoe on a Saturday night
Salsa dancing at Zoe on a Saturday night

On the first Thursday night in town, I went dancing at Cafe Verde, Pinton y Maduro.

The small discoteca had just enough people to create a fun atmosphere without an overcrowded dance floor.

As I got to know my date's dance style, I was also taking note of the other dancers. In particular, one bald guy (in the picture above) was an excellent salsa dancer.

A few nights later, we were walking around Cuenca's Zona Rosa when I heard salsa music coming out of a place called Zoe.

A poster indicated it was salsa night, so naturally, I wanted to check it out.

The quality of the dancing was very high in there. The majority of dancers were Ecuadorian, but a handful of foreign women were also sporting their dancing shoes.

After a few songs in the crowded main level, my date and I sought seats and space on the second floor. Small tables lined the balcony.

However, there was no room to dance around them, so we took over the empty bar up there instead.

We danced for a solid three hours until I could dance no more—the usual suspects.

As much fun as I was having in the nights, I also enjoyed my days.

I'd sit in the garden of hostel Macondo, writing and working on the new design for Go Backpacking.

The hostel was akin to a Bed & Breakfast, featuring the most comfortable bed I'd have in Ecuador, delicious fresh bread for breakfast, and dependable Wi-Fi.

The white church I walked by every day in Cuenca
The white church I walked by every day in Cuenca

As easy as it is to meet new people traveling, sitting still in one city works best if you want to meet other travel bloggers.

In addition to meeting up with Ant and Elise (Positive World Travel), I hung out with Ryan (Ryan Goes Abroad), who I'd first met in Medellin, and Priyank (Final Transit), a long time reader.

After two weeks, I forced myself to leave Cuenca. The longer I stayed, the harder it would be to move on. I promised myself I could always return. 

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Saturday 26th of November 2011

I generally never leave contrarian comments, but I need to say that Cuenca for me was a little bit over-billed. I didn't like the cold nights, the slow internet, the sub-par gyms, the deadness of the early parts of the week... "To compete with the likes of Medellin", it has fun nightlife? As a single guy, I would not in a million years pick Cuenca nightlife over Medellin. They aren't even in the same category... However, I can see the highlights of your time in Cuenca, and I myself enjoyed a few nights out.

I think it is a good place for anyone to visit. I didn't have a hard time leaving, though.


Wednesday 2nd of November 2011

Nice pics, especially the church which has an European aspect. I imagine that there people are more relaxed and ready anytime to enjoy life.

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

Tuesday 1st of November 2011

I can understand why it was hard to move on, looks like an enchanting city!


Monday 31st of October 2011

You keep adding to my list of places I must visit in South America!


Monday 31st of October 2011

It's a wonderful city -- can't say enough good things about it. I still have my rose-colored glasses on. :)

Kevin Post

Monday 31st of October 2011

If I had to move back to Ecuador I'd definitely live in Cuenca. Out of all the larger cities in Ecuador it is the cleanest, friendliest, safest and has the best weather. Not to mention the proximity to a playground such as PN El Cajas ;)

It's sad to leave places we fall in love with (and in) but it's true that it's not going anywhere and you can always return.


Monday 31st of October 2011

Yep, you summed it up Kevin. Cuenca is the bomb, and visiting again would give me a great excuse to see more of southern Colombia along the way.

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