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Cuenca is Ecuador’s most beautiful colonial city. It was founded by the Spanish in 1557, although the city is actually located on the site of Tomebamba, an Inca city. Tomebamba, however, was destroyed in the Inca civil war before the arrival of the Spanish. Today, virtually nothing remains of the Inca city.

The colonial centre of the city is full of beautiful squares and churches, and the city was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999. The city has 2 cathedrals, both on the main square. The 19th Century New Cathedral dominates the skyline, with beautiful sky-blue domes visible from much of the city. The original Old Catherdral dates from the late 16th Century, and is much more simple.

The flower market is also very close to the main square and is enjoyable to walk around to catch the colourful locals as well as the flowers.
There are several other churches which are worth visiting, as well as several good museums. The Museo del Banco Central contains displays about the Inca city of Tomebamba and an ethnographic display, including shrunken heads. The Museo de las Conceptas has a large collection of religious paintings and sculptures. The nearby skeleton museum houses an interesting collection of skeletons, ranging from hummingbirds to condors and llamas.

Also worth a visit is one of the factory shops in Cuenca makings panama hats. Cuenca is one of the centre’s of Ecuador’s panama hat industry.

20 miles from Cuenca is the Cajas National Park, an area of wilderness, with hills and lakes. Ranging between 3,000 metres and 4,500 metres, the park contains many beautiful polylepis trees. The pretty village of Baños, 5 miles from Cuenca, has hot thermal springs where you can bathe.

Between Alausi and Cuenca is Ingapirca, the most important archaeological site in Ecuador. The Inca’s occupied the site in the late 15th century, building over the existing Cañari site. Ingapirca contains an impressive structure known as the Temple of the Sun, which contains fine Inca stonework in an elliptical building.