Let me tell you a little secret. Sometimes I don’t plan my travels. At all.

When I decided that we would do a brief excursion to Cuenca during our 3 weeks in Ecuador, I figured we would stroll its quaint streets, people-watch at cafes, window-shop the artisanal alleys and pretend we were in Europe. The only planning I did was to purchase our tickets and reserve a place to sleep. I left the rest up to our whims.

We did do those things, but Cuenca was smaller than I expected. We finished seeing almost everything on foot in one full day (granted we’re fast walkers!).

And so, with 2 days remaining, we had to ask ourselves: what are we going to do? We decided to slow down, take a breath, and see the city all over again.

The best part about having 2 more days “stuck” in Cuenca? We went back to the same sights and saw things we didn’t see before. The detail on the edge of a stairwell. The variation of florals in the balconies.

Because wandering slowly through is exactly what Cuenca is for. Its old-world charm and subtle details take time to see. Not to mention, there’s a bustling life (and smog-breathing buses) to look beyond.

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First stop was the Catedral Nueva, known for its three blue domes that tower over the rest of Cuenca. Its facade is oddly reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris, with two towers, a circular stained-glass window, arches, and a stunning door.

We realized as soon as we entered the Catedral that its interior was not quite as fabulous as its exterior, so we figured we would pay the extra dollar to go up its front towers. And man, the view of the city from up high was out of this world!

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It’s hard to find anything that will really top this view in Cuenca. Of course, the whole city is nestled in the Andean range, which means there are plenty of ups and downs to enjoy!

One thing that Cuenca has, that Quito doesn’t, is a lively river (Rio Tomebamba) that runs through town. By the river, we found a cozy cafe, pretty homes, a summer market and delicious pasta. Not bad!

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During the rest of our time in Cuenca, we simply enjoyed sitting in the plazas, admiring gorgeous facades of colonial buildings, lusting after flowers and fruit at its markets, and people-watching the expats from the US that don’t speak any Spanish.

Wandering these streets is a dream, if you don’t mind the occasional car horn or resulting exhaust– this is a developing area after all, and it’s less of a town than it is a small city.

Still, Cuenca’s museums, galleries, and churches are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen to date. And there’s always a shop or cafe that’s just waiting for visitors to pop in and fall in love.

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No plans, no problem.

The one thing I wanted to accomplish in Cuenca was to get a decent photograph of the pretty blue domes on Catedral Nueva. They’re quite difficult to capture on camera, because the church is so tall and surrounded by other less-tall buildings.

We spent a good amount of our time circling the church so that I could get my shot. How odd, in fact– Aaron used to be the one that  had to follow around everywhere for one perfect shot. Roles have reversed, apparently.

And in the end, despite a brief moment of un-harried panic that we’d have nothing to do for two more days in Cuenca, I’m glad we didn’t make any real plans. We indulged our time at the cafes, chatting over decent local coffee. We lingered in plazas to watch pigeons shift their position from one side to the other. We entered shops just to say hello and greet somebody local. Not only is slow travel fantastic, but unplanned travel can be wonderful too. 

where to go in cuenca ecuador

Have you ever traveled to a place without making plans in advance?