Day tripping around Cuenca: Although there’s lots to do in the city, there’s even more on the outside
Though the historical center of Cuenca (as Ecuador’s third largest city) has a lot to offer in and of itself, there are so many other places in and around the Cuenca area that can each create a single day’s adventure (or even an overnight stay if desired)! And so, whether you call Cuenca home or are just visiting, the surrounding region has even more to offer than just the downtown.
Thus, the following day trip destinations include everything from nature hikes to artisan markets and breathtaking sites galore. Check them out below, and if something catches your eye, add it to your travel plans — you won’t be disappointed!
Cajas National Park: Hiking, Fresh Trout, and Great Vistas
Cajas is a perfect day trip if you love spending time outdoors. It’s just over half an hour outside of Cuenca, and is a beautiful and magical place, with lakes and marshes, mountains and endless geological formations. It has something for everyone, whether you want a gentle hike for a couple of hours followed by a lunch of fresh local trout, or a multi-day camping trip. The views in Cajas can’t be beat. It’s the perfect destination if you want to get out of town for some fresh air and generally cooler weather at that.
Giron: Great Hiking & Stunning Waterfalls
Giron is only around an hour from Cuenca, and the small town is known for its beautiful waterfalls, especially “El Chorro”. Giron sits at a lower elevation than Cuenca, and the weather is generally a little warmer too. This great day trip from Cuenca is always splendid, whether you want to take the rigorous three-hour hike to “El Segundo” (the second waterfall), or just take a five-minute stroll to “El Chorro” (that being the first and main waterfall) and enjoy a meal at any of the restaurants built immediately around it. There’s also excellent food at one of the main restaurants in town. If you’re visiting Giron for the first time and are taking the hike to “El Segundo” (as first referenced above) be sure to get some tips from the restaurant staff about the right path to take so as to not miss your mark.
Another place to visit while you’re in Giron is the “Casa de los Tratados”, especially if you’re interested in Ecuador’s history. A major peace treaty was signed at the Casa de los Tratados in 1829, marking the end of a past war between Peru and Ecuador.
You can get to Giron from Cuenca by bus: take the bus from Terminal Terrestre to Giron. You’ll be dropped off on Giron’s main street, and you can grab a camioneta (taxi truck) to the waterfall, or hike the few kilometers from town if you’re feeling energetic.
Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and Sigsig: Beautiful Artisan Products
If you’re looking to do some shopping and want to get out of the city for a day, a trip to either or all of these artisan towns is the perfect day trip from Cuenca for you.
Gualaceo is known for its leather products. If you want some high-quality, affordable shoes, then really Gualaceo is the best place to go: it’s where people from Cuenca head for their shoes, and there’s a shoe shop (or two or three) on every single street. You’ll also want to try the food, as you’ll find great hornado (roasted pig), yapingachos (mashed potato pancakes), and mote (local corn). While it’s definitely something you won’t want to miss or fail to try, do of course take it easy on the pork if you’re not yet used to the local food in Ecuador.
If you’re looking for jewelry, Chordeleg is the place to go. They’re known for handmade filigree (ornamental style) silver jewelry of all type persuasions. There’s something at every price point, so you can find some delicate simple earrings, or more elaborate, bracelets, necklaces and rings too. There’s also several great handmade ice cream shops (plus of course restaurants) in the main square when you need some refreshment.
The tiny town of Sigsig is the farthest from Cuenca and is less well known, but still well worth a visit. The town is famous for hat making. A women’s collective there weaves beautiful high-quality hats, and the workers are treated quite fairly. The town even attempted to get in the Guinness Book of World Records with the largest woven Panama Hat in the world: definitely something fun to see!
You can get to all three of these towns by bus from Cuenca. From Terminal Terrestre, take a bus to Sigsig, and then make your way back through Chordeleg and then Gualaceo. From there you can take a bus back to Cuenca, and that’ll make the most of your shopping pleasure.
Paute: Paragliding and More
The small town of Paute is only about 45 minutes from Cuenca, and the quaint town is worth the trip. Paragliding is the main tourist attraction here, and you can book a tour with a travel agency in Cuenca. That’s not all this town has to offer, though. “Restaurante Corvel” offers some delicious food and a lovely garden out back for outdoor dining. The town’s tourism industry is developing, with local artisans and farmers that are producing a variety of fair trade products.
Tarqui: Horseback Riding
Tarqui isn’t a major tourist destination, but the 45 minute trip from Cuenca is one of the most scenic drives you’ll experience in the area. The landscapes are lush and green and simply great to see, plus you’ll get some beautiful views of rural life in Ecuador. Tarqui does offer horseback riding tours, and they’re well worth it as a way to experience the world of rural Ecuador.
Yunguilla: Seafood & Relaxation
Yunguilla is just over an hour outside of Cuenca, in a beautiful valley. The weather is typically warm and sunny, and it’s such a peaceful place. If your vacation has been busy and hectic, a day or two in Yunguilla might be just what you need. You can have a delicious seafood meal at “Bambu”, and go for a peaceful walk or horseback ride. If a day isn’t enough, stay for the weekend at the “Live the Life Lodge” in Yunguilla.
Ingapirca: Historical Ruins
South America has many famous ruins, and Ecuador’s “Ingapirca” is definitely worth a visit. They’re located in the province of Canar, only about two hours from Cuenca. They’re perfect for a day trip. The Canari were the original indigenous population in the region until the Incans invaded many hundreds of years ago. These two groups clashed at first and then eventually coexisted in the region. Their society’s ruins have elements of both the Canari and Incan cultures.
While the ruins are great for a day trip, if you want to spend more time exploring and hiking, you can stay the night at “Posada Ingapirca”. It might be considered by some to be a little pricey by Ecuador standards, but it’s beautiful and relaxing and well worth it if exploring ruins is high on your list.
Biblian: Church Architecture
If you’re on your way to Ingapirca, consider stopping in Biblian, a little town that you’ll encounter an hour from Cuenca. The town’s church is simply stunning. Many of the churches in Ecuador have beautiful architecture, and Biblian’s church is no exception. It’s on the top of a hill, and inside of it you’ll see some exposed land as well as uniquely constructed walls. Definitely worth a stop!
Baños: Luxurious Hot Springs & Spas
Baños de Cuenca is known for its soothing hot springs and volcanic spas, located just 15 minutes from Cuenca proper (not to be confused with Baños de Ambato which is the adventure capital in the north of Ecuador several hours outside of Quito). It’s a great place to go for some healing and relaxation. The spas all use volcanic water that is full of minerals, which are great for your skin and detoxification purposes. A lot of locals visit these pools regularly. Spa “Piedra de Agua” is a little more expensive than some others, but you’ll get a great spa experience, along with a sauna, two different kinds of mud baths, and time in its alluring hot pools. Add a massage and a skin treatment to your package for extra luxury.
Naranjal: Waterfalls & Great Hiking
If you’re on the way to the coast from Cuenca, then Naranjal is a great stop along the way. This town, located about 2.5 hours from Cuenca, is a great place to grab lunch, with amazing fresh seafood. Take some time to visit the “Siete Cascadas de Naranjal” (Seven Waterfalls of Naranjal). On a hike that will take a few hours, you’ll pass all these amazing waterfalls. Bring a bathing suit and enjoy the water, and be prepared for some climbing. The park ranger will explain everything as you register to enter the park there.
The above indicated day trips from Cuenca will help make your Ecuadorian vacation even more memorable, and if you’re a new Cuenca resident, then they’re a great way to get to know the region that you now call your new home or at least your home away from home!