Planning a Trip
By Plane -- Tame (tel. 02/3977-100 central reservation number, or 07/2889-581 in Cuenca; www.tame.com.ec) and Aerogal (tel. 1800/2376-425 toll-free nationwide; www.aerogal.com.ec) both offer daily flights to Cuenca from Quito and Guayaquil. Icaro (tel. 1800/883-567 toll-free nationwide; www.icaro.aero) has several daily flights between Quito and Cuenca.
One-way tickets cost $50 to $70 (£33-£47) to or from Guayaquil; $60 to $90 (£40-£60) to or from Quito. All planes arrive at the Aeropuerto Mariscal LaMar (tel. 07/2862-203; airport code: CUE), located on Avenida España, about 1.6km (1 mile) northeast of downtown.
Taxis are always waiting for incoming flights, and a ride from the airport to the center of town cost about $3 (£2).
By Bus -- Cuenca is connected to the rest of Ecuador by frequent bus service. Several bus lines leave from Quito's main terminal at least every hour, around the clock, for the 8- to 10-hour ride. Flota Imbabura (tel. 02/2236-940 in Quito, or 07/2839-135 in Cuenca) and Cooperativa Express Sucre (tel. 02/2570-265) are the main companies making this run. The fare runs around $10 (£6.65).
From Guayaquil, a cooperative of five different bus lines takes turns departing from the main bus terminal roughly every half-hour throughout the day. The buses use two different routes, alternating each departure either via Cajas or Cañar. The former route is faster, taking about 4 hours, while the latter route takes around 5 hours. The fare costs around $8 (£5.35). Cuenca is also connected by frequent daily bus service to Loja, Macas, Machala, and Sigsig.
The Cuenca bus terminal (tel. 07/2842-023) is on Avenida España, about 1.6km (1 mile) northeast of the center of town, just before the airport. Taxis are always waiting here. A ride from the terminal to the center of town costs about $3 (£2).
By Car -- If you are driving from Quito, take the Pan-American Highway (E35) south through Latacunga, Ambato, and Riobamba, all the way to Cuenca. The drive takes about 8 hours.
Coming from Guayaquil, the best route is to take E70 east out of town to the junction with E25 south. Near the town of Jesús María, take the exit for Miguir and El Parque Nacional Cajas, and follow this scenic road to Cuenca. The ride should take around 3 1/2 hours. Note: In the rainy season (mid-Oct to early May), this route is sometimes hit with landslides.
Alternatively, you can take E70 east all the way to the town of Zhud, where it connects with E35 south, which will take you in to Cuenca. This route should take you about 4 1/2 hours.
In Spanish, cuenca means river basin, and four separate rivers run through the broad, flat valley here, eventually merging southeast of the city to form the Río Cuenca. The Río Tomebamba runs right through Cuenca, and the central core of the city lies along, and a few blocks north of, this river's bank. Three blocks north of the river, Parque Calderón is essentially the heart of Cuenca. On the southwest corner of the park is the Catedral Nueva, and on the southeast corner is the Catedral Vieja. From here, you can easily walk to all the hotels, restaurants, banks, and attractions in town. Running parallel to the Río Tomebamba is Calle Largo, where you will find several hotels and restaurants, as well as the Todos Santos ruins and Museo del Banco Central. Several sets of stairs lead down from Calle Largo to Calle 3 de Noviembre, where you'll find a pretty riverside pathway.
Taxis are abundant in Cuenca. A ride anywhere in town should cost no more than $2 (£1.35). A ride up to the Mirador de Turi should cost from $4 to $5 (£2.65-£3.35). If you can't flag one down, call Radio Taxi Ejecutivo (tel. 07/2809-605).
If you want to rent a car while in Cuenca, contact Inter Rent A Car (tel. 07/2863-915; www.interentacar.com), which has an office at the airport.
The main tourist office (tel. 07/2821-035) is located on Mariscal Sucre on the south side of Parque Calderón. The friendly staff can give you maps and help you get your bearings. For even better information, you should head to TerraDiversa (tel. 07/2823-782; www.terradiversa.com), on Calle Hermano Miguel 5-42, 1 1/2 blocks north of Calle Larga; or try Hualambari Tours (tel. 07/2830-037; www.hualambari.com), Av. Borrero 9-69, next to the post office. The owners of TerraDiversa are former tour guides who know all of Ecuador extremely well, while Hualambari is the local representative of Grayline Tours. Both companies can provide a wealth of information and can arrange a wide variety of tours around Cuenca, the region, and the entire country.
Fast Facts -- The main police station is on Calle Luis Cordero, near Córdova (tel. 101). The main office of the National Police is on Avenida Vallejo and Calle Espejo. You'll find the post office on the corner of Borrero and Gran Colombia (tel. 07/2838-111). It's open Monday through Friday from 8am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to noon.
Clínica Hospital Monte Sinai (tel. 07/2885-595), Miguel Cordero 6-111 and Avenida Solano, is the best hospital in Cuenca. Fybeca is a 24-hour pharmacy with several locations, including one at Bolívar 9-74 and Padre Aguirre.
Internet cafes are abundant in Cuenca; two of my favorites are Hol@net (tel. 07/2843-126), Borrero 5-90 and Juan Jaramillo, and Cuenc@net Café (tel. 07/2837-347), Calle Larga 602 and the corner of Hermano Miguel. Banks and ATMs are ubiquitous in Cuenca, and you'll find more than a half-dozen outlets within a block or two of Parque Calderón. For laundry service, head to La Química Automática (tel. 07/2823-945), Borrero 7-34 on the corner of Presidente Córdova, or to Durán e Hijos (tel. 07/2833-113), at Cordero and Jaramillo.
Whether you want to just brush up on your rusty Spanish skills or dive in for intensive instruction, contact Nexus Language & Culture (tel. 07/4090-062; www.nexus.edu.ec), which offers group and private classes. The school is located on a hill overlooking Río Tomebamba. Prices run around $9 (£6) per hour for private lessons, $6 (£4) per hour for small-group classes. A home-stay with a local family can be arranged for just $15 (£10) per day, which is quite a bargain, considering it includes three full meals. Nexus can also help arrange volunteer opportunities in and around Cuenca.