Snuggled in the Andes Mountains, Cuenca is where to get your fill of roasted guinea pig and "mote" (boiled corn kernels). A popular tourist destination for Europeans, South and North Americans, the city has a European charm splashed with Spanish colonial architecture of red-tiled roofs and floral wrought iron balconies. Laid-back Cuenca's skyline is flush with massive rotundas and sky reaching steeples with nuns marching along cobblestone alleys, historic churches and old ladies hanging over balconies gossiping with their neighbors.
The capital of the Azuay Province in Ecuador about 2,500 mt above sea level, its heart is a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site due to its historical buildings. The Spanish arrived in the 1540s to the remnants of what was once an Incan city called "Tomebamba". Prior to the Inca residents, the indigenous Canari people had been in residence for about 3,000 years.
The city is a treasure to stroll around with its traditional craftwork of ceramics and the famous Panama hat, which you just have to buy one to wear. The waterfront area of the Tomebamba River known as "Barranco" has bike trails to ride along for when you get over pounding the cobblestones. The central plaza is where you will find the Parque Calderon, home to the blue-domed Cathedral Nueva and the Cathedral Vieja (16th Century) that is now a museum, Museo y Parque Arqueológico Pumapungo stuffed with artifacts from the Incan city. If you want a great view of the city, you should head to "Turi" in the south of the city. There are a plethora of clubs, cafes and restaurants to frequent. If by some chance you are into shrunken heads, make sure you go to the Museo del Banco Central and Pumapungo. For those wishing to talk to the animals there is the Amaru Zoo that is an animal rescue and rehabilitation center where you can imagine you are hiking in the mountains.
For the history buffs or the pretend "Indiana Jones" characters, the ruins of the Inca Empire (UNESCO World Heritage Site) known as "Ingapirca" are outside of town. You can find thermal baths at Banos in the southwest, for the weary souls.
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