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The magical city of Cuenca, Ecuador

Ask any Ecuadorian and they will tell you that Cuenca is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Ecuador. Known for its colonial style, historical centre and natural surroundings, Cuenca is a place where you can spend days wandering the streets, exploring the riverbanks, and relaxing at one of the many beautiful coffee shops.

Cuenca is a world UNESCO heritage site surrounded by the Andean mountains. Much of the city was constructed in the 18th century and completed during the economic prosperity of the 19th century. The city is flooded with culture and history.

Step back in time with a visit to the Pumapungo Archaeological Park. These ruins date back to the late fifteenth century when they were built by the Inca Empire. Explore the Temple of The Sun and have a chance to eat an authentic ‘pampa mesa’. You may be scratching your head wondering what exactly a “pampa mesa’ is! It’s a traditional community meal where food is laid directly on a cloth spread on the ground. This meal is seen as an act of social solidarity, where each member in the community brings a specific dish to share. We, in North America, like to call this a potluck style meal.

Head back to the 16th century with an overnight stay at the Mansión Alcázar Boutique Hotel, with its classic colonial style. Find yourself listening to the sound of running water from one of the fountains on the grounds or take a walk through the hotel’s gardens. Another option is the Hotel Victoria where you can experience the divine food, outstanding service and amazing views from your patio when you stay in a Suite.

Explore one of 53 churches found in Cuenca; each one has its own unique style and history. They all offer something wonderful to see, whether it is the beauty of the New Cathedral, the wood pillars within the Museo Catedral Vieja or the outstanding city view from the Iglesia Católica de la Santísima Virgen de La Merced de Turi.

For those wanting to explore more of the surrounding areas, there are many options ranging from adventurous to relaxing.

Soak in the natural minerals and unwind with a mud bath at one of the thermal spas (I personally loved Novaqua and Piedra de Agua). If you are looking for something more active, nearby El Caja National Park will get you trekking through the Andean mountains and spot cacti, birds and little waterfalls. The mountains, lakes and shrubs of El Caja National Park will take your breath away. You can feel the fresh air race through your lungs as you trek along the dirt path. Perhaps you may find yourself feeling tranquilized by the sound of the rushing rivers or the rustling leaves of the little patch of forest.

Take some time away from the hustle and bustle of Cuenca city centre, by spending the day or night at Montaruna. Here you can take a trail ride on horseback through the beautiful Cuenca countryside. Local operators offer one-day and multi-day tours around the mountains, sleeping in authentic Ecuadorian homes.

Besides all the beauty and nature, Cuenca is best known for its genuine and welcoming people. From their smiling faces to the warm hugs, you will begin to understand why so many people spend a lot of time here.

If you've never been to Cuenca, or even hear about it, I strongly suggest you go for a visit and see this magical city for yourself. 

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The location this year will be Quito, Ecuador.  Forty-one years ago, William H. Coleman, Inc. created the unique venue to provide Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations services for Travel to Latin America. 

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Photos by Greg Hemmings

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