Capital of the highlands province Azuay, Santa Ana de los cuatro ríos de Cuenca or more popularly known just as Cuenca, is the third biggest city in Ecuador. Of all the beautiful cities in the country, Cuenca is apparently the most attractive city with its colonial background, cobbled streets and some breathtakingly beautiful historical monuments, cathedrals and one of the most elegantly cultured parks. Its historical city centre is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Trust Site.
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The first sign of habitation in Cuenca dates back to 8060 BC, when men were hunters and nomads. Due to good climatic conditions and the availability of rich soil and plenty of water, the inhabitants began to cultivate crops such as potatoes, squash, quinoa, chocho and melloco. By 500 AD, Cuenca became an important Cañari settlement, named Guapondeleg, meaning ‘land as big as heaven’. The Cañari were an intelligent race and had achieved great feats in astronomy and agriculture.
The Incas took over the settlement and although they followed their own culture, they imbibed the Cañari achievements and fused it with their own traditions. They named the new city Tomebamba. After the city was abandoned by the Incas, it was not until 12th April 1557 that it was founded by Gil Ramírez Dávalos, a Spanish explorer. The Viceroy of Peru commissioned the city and named it Cuenca after his hometown in Spain. The city then developed as an important colonial settlement.
Cobbled streets mark the city and the numerous enchanting landmarks create a magical display of the colonial era. While the historical city centre is a major tourist sight, there are several other attractions that Cuenca has to offer such as its fiestas and cultural programs that take place at different times of the year. Some of the important city landmarks include the 1557, Iglesia de El Sagrario and the majestic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with its symbolic white and blue domes.
Ruinas de todos los santos is an ancient Inca ruin in Cuenca that is worth exploring. Also there are notable museums that one can visit here. Outside Cuenca too there are various places of interest such as the El Cajas National Park, which abounds in natural beauty. The Cañar plantation is another great attraction with its Inca ruins and coloring market. The San Francisco Convent in Azogues is a renowned colonial building too.
Cuenca is served by the Mariscal Lamar Airport, which is a five minutes walk from the bus station (Terminal Terrestre) situated at Avenida España on the northeastern end of the city. The station is only a twenty minutes walk from the city centre and provides frequent bus services, making it most convenient to travel around the city. Cuenca has a mild climate throughout the year with warm days and cool nights. The best time to visit is between June to December, as these are dry months while January to May comprise the rainy season with heavy rainfall from March to May.