The third largest and most charming city in Ecuador, Cuenca, has an old world colonial feel: flower boxes on the windows, wrought-iron balconies, red-tile roofs, cobblestone streets, winding rivers and a lively market. It is reputed to have 52 churches, one for every Sunday of the year. The finest is La Imaculada, an enormous stone and brick structure instantly recognized by its towering blue domes that dominate Cuenca’s skyline.
The city is also a vibrant center for arts and crafts, and many of the goods and handicrafts sold in Quito and Guayaquil come from this area. Cuenca is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, a fact that the locals are extremely proud of. The Cajas National Park, which lies just an hour outside of Cuenca, sprawls over 70,000 acres and includes every landscape from cloud forest to rocky lunar wastes, with more than 200 lakes scattered among jagged peaks.