How Guayaquileños are fueling Cuenca’s tourism boom; Int’l tourism is also increasing

Nov 8, 2023 | 0 comments

By Sylvan Hardy

“The biggest tourism event in Cuenca history.” That’s what city tourism experts are calling the four-day independence holiday weekend that ended Sunday.

Cuenca’s festivals, such as last week’s independence holiday, are attracting large numbers of tourists from the coast.

“We were expecting about 150,000 people from out of town but we had 250,000 or 260,000,” said Municipal Tourism Director Lorena Aristizabal. “It was unbelievable. The hotels were full, the restaurants were full, and the vendors at the crafts and food fairs say they had the best sales ever.”

The majority of tourists flooding into the city during Cuenca holidays come from the Guayaquil area, Aristizabal says. “Cuenca has been discovered, so to speak, by the Guayaquileños and the numbers keep rising,” she said. “Although many of them came for the holidays, they are coming on a continuing basis, especially on the weekends. We are very happy to host them, as are the businesses that depend on tourism.”

According to Cuenca hotel and restaurant owner Cornelio Vintimilla, travelers from Guayaquil began coming to Cuenca in greater numbers during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Many of them are middle class folks who might have traveled to Bogota or Medellin or Miami before, but because of the travel restrictions they started coming to Cuenca,” he says. “They discovered we have great food and lodging here and that there are many family attractions in the area. They loved the historic district, the restaurants, the tram and the general sophistication of the city.”

He adds: “Fortunately, when the pandemic ended they kept coming.” As a result, Vintimilla’s company, Sociedad Gourmet, continues to open new restaurants in Cuenca’s historic district.

Cuenca’s growing restaurant scene is a major attraction for tourists.

Another big attraction for Guayaquileños is the relative safety of Cuenca. “This is a huge factor for many of the visitors from the coast,” says Jorge Goya, an adjunct tourism professor at the University of Azuay. “People there know that Cuenca is safe and doesn’t have the gang violence, and they want an escape. Once they experience the city, they realize that Cuenca is a great escape.”

Another factor encouraging tourists from the coast, Goya says, is the improved highway through the Cajas Mountains. “They were coming before, despite the landslides and repairs, but now it is much easier and much quicker to get here.”

Guayaquil newspaper articles and travel blogs are also fueling Cuenca’s tourism boom. A recent headline in El Universo read: “Looking for a great family weekend in a safe, sophisticated city? Cuenca is only three hours away.” The article quoted a Guayaquil man who said he took his children to the city’s Rio Guayas malecón before the pandemic. “I can’t do that anymore since there are now murders there during the daytime,” he said. “Thank God we discovered Cuenca. The kids love the parks, the tranvía and the restaurants and all the things to do outside of town.”

Aristizabal acknowledged that the massive influx during the holidays put a strain on city infrastructure and said accommodations need to be made by the municipality to handle growing crowds. “There were traffic jams and the tranvía could not handle the demand despite adding more units,” she said. “This is actually a good problem to have since the visitors are helping the local economy. On the other hand, we must improve our ability to deal with the numbers.”

Aristizabal added that international tourism is also growing in Cuenca. “Despite all the negative articles about crime on the coast, people read that Cuenca and the sierra are safe and they are travleing here, particularly young people from Europe,” she said. “There was an article in the New York Times two weeks ago that our holiday crafts fair was the best in Latin America, and this attracts people from overseas.”

Compared to 2022, Aristizabal says foreign tourism has increased 25% so far in 2023.

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