Parque Calderon & Nearby Attractions
Parque Calderón is the historical heart of Cuenca and the center of the action. Here you'll find both the Catedral Nueva and the Catedral Vieja. The Catedral Vieja (Old Cathedral), also known as the Iglesia del Sagrario, is the oldest structure in the city. Construction began in 1557 and utilized stones taken from the nearby Inca ruins of Pumapungo. Because cities can't have two cathedrals, once the Catedral Nueva opened in 1967, the old one ceased functioning as a house of worship. Today it houses a modest museum of religious art. The museum (no phone) is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm; and on weekends from 10am to 1pm. Admission is $2 (£1.35).
In 1885, construction began on the Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral), also known as the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, but it wasn't completed for almost another 80 years. It has a mix of styles -- Romanesque on the outside with Gothic windows. It is modeled on the Battistero (Baptistery) in Florence. The two massive blue domes are distinctive and visible from various vantage points around the city. The floors are made of white marble imported from Italy, while the stained-glass windows contain a mix of Catholic and indigenous symbols (the sun and the moon, for example). In 1985, when the Pope visited this cathedral and saw the Renaissance-style main altar (which is modeled on the one in St. Peter's in Rome), he looked confused and asked, "Am I in Rome?" The cathedral is open Monday through Friday from 7am to 4:30pm and Saturday from 9am to noon.
Around the corner, on Padre Aguirre and Sucre, is the Iglesia del Carmen de la Asunción. The church is not open to the public, but from the outside you should take note of its unique stone entrance and neon-lit altar. The church sits on the delightful and colorful Mercado de las Flores (Flower Market). In the early part of the 20th century, women weren't allowed to work. To create a diversion for them, the men of the city decided to set up this little market for the use of women only. Nowadays, anyone can wander around the fresh-smelling market. Ecuador is one of the world's largest exporters of flowers, and some beautiful varieties are found here. At the market, you'll find folk remedies for all sorts of illnesses, too. Nearby, on Presidente Córdova and Padre Aguirre, is the Iglesia y Mercado de San Francisco.
If you're interested in archaeological finds, stop by the small Todos Los Santos archaeological site. Discovered in 1972, the short loop path here takes you through overlapping constructions by the Cañari, Inca, and Spanish cultures. As you walk the path, you will see the remains of massive Spanish milling stones alongside an Inca-period wall with four of the style's classic trapezoidal niches, as well as pieces of wall that date to the era of the Cañari. The site is located at the intersection of Calle Large and Avenida Todos Los Santos (a few blocks down from the Museo del Banco Central). At the entrance to the site, you'll find the Museo Manuel Agustín Landiva (tel. 07/2842-586), which has a small collection of archeological artifacts, and also serves as a gallery space for young Cuencan artists. The museum and archeological site are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm and 3 to 6pm; Saturday from 9am to noon. Admission is $1.50 (£1). It will only take you about 30 minutes to tour both the site and museum.
For a bird's-eye view of Cuenca, take a taxi up to the Mirador de Turi. In Quichua, turi means twins, and from this site you can see twin mountains in the distance. A taxi here should cost about $4 to $5 (£2.65-£3.35) each way. You can -- and really should -- combine a visit here with a visit to the ceramic gallery Taller E. Vega.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.