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What To Do In Cuenca, Ecuador On A Budget


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Adela Fast



Welcome to Cuenca, Ecuador! Nestled in the Andes Mountains, Cuenca is a beautiful and vibrant city that offers a plethora of experiences to visitors. With its well-preserved historic center, numerous museums and art galleries, and stunning outdoor spaces, Cuenca is a destination that shouldn’t be missed.


But you may wonder, can I enjoy all that Cuenca has to offer on a budget? The answer is a resounding yes! Despite being a popular tourist destination, Cuenca remains relatively affordable compared to other cities in Ecuador.


In this guide, we will explore the best activities and attractions in Cuenca that won’t break the bank. From exploring the city’s historic center to indulging in the local cuisine, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make the most of your visit.


Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a unique cultural experience, Cuenca has something for everyone. With its cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and friendly locals, the city exudes charm and invites you to immerse yourself in its rich heritage.


So, prepare your backpack and join us as we take a budget-friendly journey through the enchanting city of Cuenca.


Getting to Cuenca

Cuenca is easily accessible from various parts of Ecuador. The most common way to reach Cuenca is by bus or car from the capital city of Quito, which takes approximately 8-10 hours depending on traffic and road conditions. Alternatively, you can also fly directly to Cuenca’s Mariscal Lamar International Airport from Quito or Guayaquil.


If you prefer a scenic route, consider taking the famous Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) train ride. This historic train journey departs from Alausi, a small town located between Quito and Cuenca. The Devil’s Nose section of the railway is known for its steep descent and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.


Once you arrive in Cuenca, the city is relatively small and can be easily explored on foot. Taxis and buses are also available for getting around the city, with affordable fares. If you prefer a more immersive experience, rent a bicycle and explore the city at your own pace.


It’s worth noting that Cuenca’s altitude is approximately 2,550 meters (8,366 feet) above sea level. If you’re not accustomed to high altitudes, take it easy for the first day or two to acclimate and prevent altitude sickness. Stay hydrated, avoid excessive physical exertion, and listen to your body’s signals.


Overall, getting to Cuenca is relatively straightforward and offers a variety of transportation options to suit different preferences and budgets. Whether you choose to take a scenic bus ride, fly directly to the city, or embark on a memorable train journey, your adventure in Cuenca is just a ride away.


Accommodation Options

Cuenca offers a range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious hotel or a cozy guesthouse, you can find the perfect place to stay in this charming city.


If you’re on a budget, consider staying in one of Cuenca’s many guesthouses or hostels. These accommodations are not only affordable but also provide a great opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Some hostels even offer private rooms for those who prefer a little more privacy. Look for options in the city center, as they are often more affordable and conveniently located near popular attractions.


For those seeking more comfort and amenities, there are mid-range hotels available in Cuenca. These hotels offer well-appointed rooms, friendly staff, and often include breakfast in the price. Some of them are located in renovated historic buildings, adding an extra touch of charm to your stay.


If you’re looking for luxury accommodations, Cuenca has upscale hotels and boutique properties to choose from. These hotels boast luxurious amenities such as spas, fitness centers, and gourmet restaurants. Some of them are located in historic buildings, offering a unique blend of history and luxury.


To find the best accommodation deals, consider booking in advance and comparing prices online. Websites like Booking.com and Airbnb offer a wide range of options, allowing you to filter by price, location, and amenities. Keep an eye out for special promotions or last-minute deals that can save you even more money.


No matter where you choose to stay, Cuenca’s compact size ensures that most accommodations are conveniently located near the city’s main attractions. Take some time to read reviews and check the location of your chosen accommodation to ensure it meets your needs.


With its diverse range of accommodation options, Cuenca ensures that every traveler can find a comfortable place to stay, no matter their budget or preferences. Whether you prefer a budget-friendly guesthouse, a mid-range hotel, or a luxurious boutique property, Cuenca has you covered.


Exploring the Historic Center

One of the highlights of visiting Cuenca is exploring its well-preserved historic center, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. With its cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings, and striking churches, the historic center offers a glimpse into Cuenca’s rich architectural and cultural heritage.


Start your exploration at Parque Calderon, the heart of the city. Here, you’ll find the impressive Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, a stunning cathedral that dominates the central square. Take a moment to admire its intricate detailing and step inside to experience its grandeur.


From Parque Calderon, wander through the narrow streets and discover the beauty of Cuenca’s colonial architecture. Make sure to visit the iconic blue-domed Iglesia de San Francisco and the picturesque Plaza San Sebastián, known for its charming white church.


As you explore the historic center, you’ll come across numerous art galleries, museums, and artisan shops. Visit the Museo del Banco Central, which houses a vast collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts, showcasing Ecuador’s rich indigenous history.


For art enthusiasts, the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Casa de la Mujer Trigueña are must-visit destinations. These spaces showcase contemporary and traditional Ecuadorian art, providing insight into the country’s thriving art scene.


Don’t forget to take a stroll along the scenic Tomebamba River, which runs through the historic center. Enjoy the picturesque views, visit the Pumapungo Archaeological Park, and if you’re lucky, catch a live musical performance at the outdoor theater.


Exploring Cuenca’s historic center is like stepping back in time. The vibrant atmosphere, stunning architecture, and rich cultural heritage make it a truly captivating experience. So take your time, wander the streets, and immerse yourself in the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Visiting Museums and Art Galleries

Cuenca is a haven for art and culture lovers, with a wide variety of museums and art galleries to explore. These cultural institutions offer a deeper understanding of Ecuador’s history, art, and indigenous heritage. Whether you’re interested in pre-Columbian artifacts, contemporary art, or traditional crafts, Cuenca has something to offer for everyone.


One of the must-visit museums in Cuenca is the Museo del Banco Central. This museum showcases an impressive collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts, including ceramics, goldwork, and intricately woven textiles. It provides a fascinating insight into the diverse cultures that thrived in Ecuador before the Spanish colonization.


If you’re interested in modern and contemporary art, head to the Museo de Arte Moderno. This museum features works from both national and international artists, offering a glimpse into Ecuador’s thriving art scene. From paintings and sculptures to mixed media installations, there’s always something new and exciting to discover.


For a unique cultural experience, visit the Casa de la Mujer Trigueña. This art gallery focuses on indigenous art and crafts, showcasing the rich traditions and skills of local artisans. Browse through the exquisite handmade textiles, pottery, and jewelry, and learn about the cultural significance of these crafts.


Cuenca is also home to a number of smaller art galleries, showcasing the works of local artists and artisans. Take a stroll through the art district near the Puente Roto, where you’ll find a variety of galleries featuring contemporary paintings, sculptures, and photography.


Another interesting museum to visit is the Casa de la Cultura, which exhibits a range of cultural and historical displays. From archaeological artifacts to Ecuadorian literature, this museum offers a comprehensive overview of the country’s heritage.


When visiting museums and art galleries in Cuenca, don’t forget to check their opening hours and any entry fees. Most museums offer discounted or free admission on certain days, so plan your visit accordingly to make the most of your budget.


Immerse yourself in the art and culture of Cuenca by visiting its museums and art galleries. Whether you’re seeking historical artifacts, contemporary artworks, or traditional crafts, these cultural institutions have something to captivate every visitor.


Discovering the Outdoor Spaces

Cuenca is not just a city known for its historical sites and cultural attractions; it also boasts stunning outdoor spaces that allow visitors to connect with nature and enjoy the beautiful scenery. From lush parks to picturesque riverside walks, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to partake in during your visit to Cuenca.


One of the most popular outdoor spaces in Cuenca is the Parque El Cajas. Located just outside the city, this national park offers breathtaking landscapes and numerous hiking trails. Explore its pristine lakes, dense forests, and high-altitude paramo ecosystems while enjoying the fresh air and natural beauty.


If you prefer a more relaxed outdoor experience, visit the Parque de la Madre. This urban park is situated near the Tomebamba River and features fountains, gardens, and jogging paths. It’s a perfect spot for picnics, leisurely walks, or simply sitting back and enjoying the serene surroundings.


For a unique outdoor experience, head to the Mirador de Turi. Located on a hill overlooking the city, this viewpoint offers panoramic views of Cuenca and its surrounding mountains. It’s a great place to capture stunning photographs of the cityscape and marvel at the beauty of the Andean landscape.


Another popular outdoor activity in Cuenca is walking along the riverfront. The Tomebamba River is a picturesque spot to go for a stroll, with its charming bridges, colorful houses, and green spaces. Take a leisurely walk along the river, relax on a bench, or even rent a bike to explore the area at your own pace.


Cuenca is also surrounded by natural wonders and outdoor attractions that make for excellent day trips. The Cajas National Park, mentioned earlier, is just one example. Other options include the Ingapirca Ruins, the largest Inca archaeological site in Ecuador, or the stunning waterfalls of the Giron valley.


Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or simply looking to connect with nature, Cuenca offers a range of outdoor spaces and activities to suit your preferences. From hiking in national parks to leisurely walks along the river, the city’s natural beauty is waiting to be explored.


Trying Local Cuisine

A visit to Cuenca wouldn’t be complete without indulging in its delicious and diverse local cuisine. Ecuadorian cuisine is known for its use of fresh ingredients and bold flavors, and Cuenca offers a range of traditional dishes that will tantalize your taste buds.


One iconic dish you must try in Cuenca is cuy, which is roasted guinea pig. It is a traditional delicacy that has been a part of Ecuadorian cuisine for centuries. While it might sound unusual to some, cuy is a must-try for adventurous food lovers. It is often served with potatoes and aji (spicy sauce) for a flavorful and unique experience.


Another must-try dish is the Ecuadorian ceviche, which is made with fresh seafood marinated in lemon juice, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. The ceviche in Cuenca has its own regional twist, often featuring shrimp or fish from nearby coastal areas.


If you’re a fan of soups, make sure to try the traditional Ecuadorian soup called locro de papa. This creamy potato soup is typically garnished with avocado, cheese, and toasted corn. It’s a hearty and comforting dish that will warm you up on cooler days.


No visit to Cuenca is complete without trying the famous hornado. This popular dish consists of roasted pork, often seasoned with spices and served with potatoes, corn, and a side of llapingachos (potato patties). It’s a flavorful and satisfying meal that will leave you craving for more.


For those with a sweet tooth, Cuenca offers delectable desserts to satisfy your cravings. Don’t miss out on trying the traditional canelazo, a warm alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane liquor, cinnamon, and citrus fruits. It’s the perfect drink to warm up on cool evenings.


In addition to these traditional dishes, Cuenca also boasts a vibrant food scene with a range of international and fusion cuisine options. Explore the city’s restaurants and food markets to discover unique flavors and culinary fusions that will surprise and delight your taste buds.


To truly immerse yourself in the local food culture, consider joining a cooking class or food tour. These experiences provide an opportunity to learn about the ingredients, techniques, and stories behind Ecuadorian cuisine while enjoying delicious meals along the way.


Indulging in the local cuisine is an essential part of experiencing Cuenca’s vibrant culture. From traditional dishes to international flavors, the city offers a culinary journey that will leave you craving for more.


Shopping for Souvenirs

When visiting Cuenca, shopping for souvenirs is a fantastic way to bring back a piece of the city’s charm and culture. With its rich artisan traditions, Cuenca offers a wide variety of unique and handcrafted items that make for perfect mementos of your trip.


One of the most popular souvenirs to purchase in Cuenca is the iconic Panama hat. Despite its name, the Panama hat actually originates from Ecuador, and Cuenca is famous for producing some of the finest quality hats in the world. These finely woven straw hats come in various styles and sizes, and you can find them in specialty hat shops or local markets.


Another popular souvenir option is the colorful handicrafts made by local artisans. Visit the nearby town of Gualaceo, known for its artisan market, where you can find beautifully woven textiles, intricate ceramics, and vibrant paintings. These handmade items showcase Ecuador’s rich artistic heritage and make for unique and meaningful souvenirs.


Cuenca is also known for its silver and gold jewelry. Explore the city’s jewelry stores and markets to find exquisite pieces crafted by local artisans. From intricate filigree designs to bold contemporary styles, you’ll find a wide range of options to suit your taste and budget.


If you’re a fan of ceramics, don’t miss the opportunity to purchase traditional pottery from Cuenca. From functional kitchenware to decorative items, these handcrafted ceramics showcase the region’s artisanal talent and add a touch of charm to any home.


For those with a sweet tooth, the famous chocolate from nearby towns such as Tena and Baños is a delectable souvenir option. Ecuador is renowned for its high-quality cacao beans, and you can find a variety of chocolate products, from bars and truffles to hot chocolate mixes, all made from locally sourced ingredients.


When shopping for souvenirs in Cuenca, don’t forget to haggle and bargain, especially when visiting local markets. It’s part of the cultural experience and can sometimes lead to great deals. Additionally, keep an eye out for fair trade shops that support local artisans and ensure that your purchase has a positive impact on the community.


Shopping for souvenirs in Cuenca is not just about acquiring material goods; it’s about preserving and supporting the city’s rich artisan traditions. By bringing home a piece of Cuenca, you take with you a tangible reminder of the city’s beauty, craftsmanship, and cultural heritage.


Enjoying Nightlife in Cuenca

Cuenca may be known for its historical and cultural attractions, but when the sun goes down, the city comes alive with a vibrant and lively nightlife scene. Whether you’re looking for a cozy bar to relax in, a live music venue to dance the night away, or a trendy nightclub to party until dawn, Cuenca has something to offer for everyone.


Start your evening by visiting one of the many bars scattered throughout the city. The historic center and surrounding neighborhoods are home to numerous establishments where you can enjoy a wide range of local and international beverages. The chilled-out ambiance and friendly atmosphere make these bars a great place to socialize and meet both locals and fellow travelers.


If you’re in the mood for live music, Cuenca has a thriving music scene with venues that cater to various genres. Enjoy a jazz performance, catch a rock concert, or immerse yourself in traditional Ecuadorian music. Check local listings and ask locals for recommendations to find out what acts are playing during your visit.


For those who enjoy dancing, there are several nightclubs in Cuenca that offer a mix of popular music, Latin beats, and electronic tunes. These venues often have a lively atmosphere, with DJs, dance floors, and energetic crowds. Put on your dancing shoes and let loose on the dance floor until the early hours of the morning.


Cuenca also offers an alternative and bohemian nightlife experience. Explore the hip neighborhoods and discover cozy cafes, artsy bars, and intimate venues that host poetry readings and small theatrical performances. These hidden gems provide a unique and laid-back experience for those seeking a more eclectic and artistic atmosphere.


No matter your nightlife preferences, it’s important to stay safe while enjoying the evening in Cuenca. Stay in well-lit areas, travel with friends, and be mindful of your surroundings. Like in any city, it’s always a good idea to take precautions and keep an eye on your belongings.


Whether you prefer a relaxing evening sipping cocktails, dancing the night away, or immersing yourself in the local arts and music scene, Cuenca’s nightlife has something to offer for everyone. So, when the sun sets and the stars come out, get ready to experience the vibrant energy and excitement of the city after dark.


Day Trips from Cuenca

While Cuenca itself offers a plethora of attractions, taking day trips from the city allows you to explore the surrounding regions and discover even more of Ecuador’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. Located in the heart of the Andes Mountains, Cuenca serves as a perfect base for day trips to nearby towns, national parks, and historical sites.


One popular day trip from Cuenca is a visit to the Ingapirca Ruins, the largest Inca archaeological site in Ecuador. Located about two hours away, these ancient ruins are a testament to the country’s rich indigenous history. Explore the impressive stone structures, learn about the Inca civilization, and take in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.


For nature lovers, a visit to El Cajas National Park is a must. Located just a short drive from Cuenca, this breathtaking park is home to a diverse range of ecosystems, including high-altitude paramo and pristine lakes. Explore the park’s hiking trails, spot unique wildlife, and marvel at the stunning landscapes that feature rugged mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and rolling green hills.


If you’re interested in traditional crafts and indigenous culture, consider visiting Gualaceo and Chordeleg. These two nearby towns are known for their artisan markets, where you can find beautifully woven textiles, intricate ceramics, and vibrant paintings. Immerse yourself in the local culture, witness artisans at work, and purchase unique handmade souvenirs.


For a unique day trip experience, consider visiting the small town of Chordeleg, which is famous for its silver jewelry. Explore the local workshops and shops to find intricate and high-quality silver pieces crafted by skilled artisans. You can even witness artisans creating their masterpieces, giving you a firsthand look at the traditional techniques passed down through generations.


Another day trip option is a visit to the stunning waterfalls of the Giron valley. Located about an hour from Cuenca, this lush region is home to several impressive waterfalls, including the famous San Rafael Waterfall. Take a hike through the beautiful landscape, marvel at the cascading water, and cool off in natural pools.


These are just a few examples of the many day trips you can take from Cuenca. Whether you’re interested in historical sites, natural wonders, or cultural experiences, the surrounding regions offer a wealth of opportunities to immerse yourself in Ecuador’s diverse landscapes and traditions.


Budget-Friendly Tips and Recommendations

Exploring Cuenca on a budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the best experiences the city has to offer. With some savvy planning and the right mindset, you can make the most of your trip while keeping your wallet happy. Here are some budget-friendly tips and recommendations:

  • Take advantage of the city’s free attractions, such as exploring the historic center, wandering through the parks, and visiting churches like Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción and Iglesia de San Francisco.
  • Consider visiting museums and attractions on their designated free or discounted days. Many museums offer free admission on certain days of the week or have discounted rates for students or seniors.
  • Sample the local street food for an affordable and delicious meal option. Look for food stalls selling traditional dishes like empanadas or llapingachos, or visit local markets for fresh produce and snacks.
  • Save on transportation costs by walking or using public buses to get around the city. Cuenca’s compact size makes it easy to explore on foot, and public buses are an affordable way to reach surrounding attractions or neighborhoods.
  • Consider staying in budget-friendly accommodations such as guesthouses or hostels. These options often provide comfortable and clean accommodations at a fraction of the cost of larger hotels.
  • Shop in local markets for souvenirs and handmade goods. These markets offer a wide range of affordable items, such as textiles, jewelry, and crafts, that make for unique and budget-friendly souvenirs.
  • Take advantage of happy hour deals at bars and restaurants. Many establishments offer discounted drinks or food during specific hours, allowing you to enjoy a night out without breaking the bank.
  • Plan your meals strategically by opting for the daily lunch specials, known as “almuerzos.” These fixed-price meals often include a soup, main course, and drink at a fraction of the cost of ordering individual dishes.
  • Consider visiting during the shoulder season or offseason when prices for accommodations and attractions may be lower. This is also a great way to avoid crowds and enjoy a more relaxed experience.
  • Research free or low-cost events happening in the city during your visit. Cuenca often hosts festivals, cultural performances, and art exhibits that can be enjoyed without spending a fortune.

By incorporating these budget-friendly tips into your trip, you can experience the best of Cuenca without straining your finances. Remember, the most rewarding experiences don’t always come with a hefty price tag. Embrace the charm and authenticity of this beautiful city, and create memories that will last a lifetime.



Cuenca, Ecuador offers a wealth of experiences for travelers on a budget. From exploring the historic center to immersing yourself in the local culture, this charming city has something for everyone. Whether you’re wandering through cobblestone streets, admiring colonial architecture, or indulging in delicious local cuisine, Cuenca’s affordable attractions and activities ensure a memorable visit without breaking the bank.


By taking advantage of the city’s free attractions, sampling the local street food, and exploring the vibrant art and cultural scene, you can enjoy the best of Cuenca while staying within your budget. Additionally, with careful planning and consideration, you can find affordable accommodations, shop for unique souvenirs, and even embark on day trips to explore the surrounding natural beauty and historical sites.


Remember to embrace the local traditions and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere that Cuenca has to offer. Whether you spend your days exploring the historic center, visiting museums and art galleries, or enjoying the picturesque outdoor spaces, Cuenca will captivate you with its beauty, culture, and warm hospitality.


So pack your bags, prepare your budget, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Cuenca. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and warm and welcoming locals, this city is sure to leave a lasting impression on you. Enjoy the charm, authenticity, and affordable wonders of Cuenca, and create memories that will last a lifetime.