Cuenca is capital of the province of Azuay and the third largest city in Ecuador, with something of a European flavour. The city has preserved much of its colonial ambience, with many of its old buildings originally constructed from the travertine quarried nearby and recently renovated. Most Ecuadoreans consider this their finest city and few would disagree. Its cobblestone streets, flowering plazas and whitewashed buildings with old wooden doors and ironwork balconies make it a pleasure to explore. In 1999 Cuenca was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

As well as being the economic centre of El Austro, as southern Ecuador is called, Cuenca is also an intellectual centre. It has a long tradition as the birthplace of notable artists, writers, poets and philosophers, earning it the title 'The Athens of Ecuador'. It remains a rather formal city, loyal to its conservative traditions. Many places close for lunch between 1300 and 1500 and on Sunday.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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