South America doesn’t seem to get the coverage other continents do. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we decided to move here. Anyway, after a lot of prayer and thought, we finally decided that our next home would be Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ecuador. (There’s another Cuenca in Spain too, and it is a UNESCO site as well. Go figure.)
Sitting high in a valley in the Andes, Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city and some would say its prettiest city. Certainly its beauty is one reason so many expats have moved to the city recently.
Ever since it was founded in 1557, its colonial center, El Centro, has been inhabited. Unlike some Spanish Colonial towns, it’s not a touristy museum; it shows all the lived-in wear and tear that any place would have after all that time. And that gives it much of its character.
Why Cuenca is a World Heritage Site
UNESCO’s website listed a lot of reasons for it, but basically Cuenca is a planned Spanish colonial city, planned in the mid-1500, which means Renaissance urban planning in the Americas. Cuenca has respected the original formal town plan ever since.
The various populations and cultures in the city have intermingled, so there are no specifically Spanish or indigenous areas. Cuenca is a blend of architecture from all the different societies and cultures that live here.
It is laid out on a strict grid of perpendicular streets stretching out from Parque Calderón, the main square, where the seat of the Town Council, the Office of the Governor, two cathedrals, and the Law Courts are located.
El Centro is small enough to explore on foot and still has the cobbled streets from its colonial days. Sunlight manages to reach street level because of the low buildings and wide streets …
… but El Centro is just as pretty when its cobblestones are wet from rain.
With all of the detailed woodwork on their façades, windows and doors, Cuenca’s buildings are charming. No matter where you walk you’ll find graceful ironwork balconies overhead.
Everywhere you look, you’ll see fine town houses and quaint market squares. UNESCO called Cuenca “noteworthy for the presence of parks, squares, church cloisters and other public areas.”