Cuenca is Ecuador’s colonial masterpiece. Its rich past is evident in graceful, flowered courtyards, shady plazas, ironwork balconies, museums, and religious art treasures all recalling the city’s Spanish heritage. Cuenca is also home of the famed “Panama Hat,” originally woven here by Ecuadorians for workers building the Panama Canal. Markets and small artisan shops throughout the city sell the famed hats, leather, pottery, and distinctive, handcrafted jewelry. Beyond the city, Ingapirca, the Inca Empire’s northernmost major ruin, awaits the visitor as do many traditional villages and nearby national parks.
When to go
The Ecuadorian Highlands are blessed with a balmy climate year-round characterized by warm days, cool nights and steady temperatures averaging 65F. Best time to visit is during dry season (June-October) although rainy season normally offers sunny mornings and afternoons with potential evening showers.
• Colonial Architecture: Cuenca is one of the best preserved colonial cities in the Americas.
• Ingapirca: Ecuador’s most important Inca site is an hour’s drive outside town.
• Gualaceo and Chordeleg: Nearby indigenous villages popular as producers of fine traditional handicrafts.
• Laja National Park: Excellent hiking and bird watching.