Cuenca and the Southern Highlands
The history and culture of the city of Cuenca combine with the natural beauty of Cajas National Park and the intriguing Inca ruins at Ingapirca.
Ecuador’s Southern Highlands have plenty to offer even the most discerning of visitors. Cuenca’s architectural splendour is matched by its cultural and artistic heritage. It is a thriving university city with an historic centre, stylish shops, restaurants and bars and a welcoming vibe. Take a break from city life with a trip to admire the photogenic lakes and mountains of nearby Cajas National Park and to marvel at the vast complex of temples and tombs of Ingapirca, remnants of the famous Inca empire.
- Cuenca’s charms & culture: The city was founded in 1557 by the Spanish and its well-preserved colonial centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The white-washed old cathedral, now a museum, is a fine example of 16th-century colonial architecture while the blue and white domes of the new cathedral have become a symbol of the city. It’s long been a centre for learning attracting thinkers and artists and various museums showcase the city’s heritage and history. Unwind with a walk in Calderon Park and over a meal in one of the many cafes and restaurants.
- Mountains & lakes: El Cajas National Park’s beautiful scenery includes lakes, paramo grassland, mountains and forests. There are many walking trails ranging from a few hours to a few days which enable you to enjoy the park’s tranquillity and to seek out its wildlife which includes wild horses, llamas, toucans, the rare South American condor and the giant hummingbird, the largest hummingbird in the world.
- Incan Ingapirca: Sometimes referred to as ‘Ecuador’s Machu Picchu’, Ingapirca is the largest Inca complex in the country their northernmost citadel. They incorporated existing buildings of their predecessors, the Canari people, into the stronghold, some of which can still be seen, and added impressive structures of their own. Among these is the Temple of the Sun, a fine example of skilled Inca stonework and design, positioned for the sun’s rays to shine through the doorway on solstices. Similar sophistication in design is shown in the underground system of channels which ensured all areas of the city had a supply of water.