What to Do on Your Motorcycle Tour Rest Day in Cuenca
Cuenca’s colonial charms hide cultural treasures that beckon to those who want to discover Ecuador's history while on a motorcycle tour of Ecuador. The country’s third-largest city has seen the pre-Incan culture of the Canari worship the moon and develop a sophisticated astrological system, the Inca build temples to the Sun, and the Spanish raise churches from the ruins and construct a Renaissance city plan that was drawn up by the king of Spain.
Today, the centrally located mecca for ex-pats has much to offer for those on a rest day. Nearby national parks, the historic center, and a wide selection of restaurants and local hangouts make discovering the city an active adventure. Keep reading for where to go, what to do, and what to see while visiting the Athens of Ecuador.
Arts and Arthitecture
Taking in the sights of the historic center of Cuenca has all the makings for a fun day discovering the colonial city's plazas and churches. Elsewhere around town, there is live music, theater, markets, and parks that bring the city's culture to life-putting you in the center of the action.
Pumapungo Theatre Complex
When the Inca occupied Ecuador, they built the city of Tomebamba, where the present-day Cuenca stands. Second in importance to Cuzco, the trade and commerce center played a vital part in linking parts of the empire. Pumapungo was the ancient city’s religious center. Today the area is a sweeping green space where you can find Inca ruins, a museum with artifacts dating back to the Canari culture, and a performance center.
The Symphony of Cuenca holds regular performances here, as do national and international artists. Banco Central or the Pumapungo Museum is part of the complex-displaying one of the best collections of artifacts from pre-Inca to modern times. There are also temporary exhibit halls highlighting the works of emerging Ecuadorian and international artists.
The outdoor ruins found here include foundations of barracks, an aqueduct system used for the expansive gardens, and a ritual bathing area.
Jazz Society Café
From Wednesday to Saturday every week, the Jazz Society Café has live jazz concerts that include Cuenca Symphony members. The café is on the second floor of La Viña Italian Restaurant, and the performances are part of the Jazz Society of Ecuador. The society has over 900 members living in Cuenca and is endorsed by international artists like Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis.
La Viña’s owner hails from Italy, and the menu has an ample selection of pizza, pasta including gnocchi, lasagna, and pumpkin ravioli- and small plates.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Often referred to as the New Cathedral of Cuenca, the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is one of the city’s most recognized Renaissance churches. Started in 1884 and taking 100 years to complete, three blue domes top an impressive structure whose massive door gives way to stunning stained glass windows, a gold leaf alter inspired by the one found in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and a crypt where many of the city’s statesmen, poets, and religious leaders are interned. The domes are open to explorers. A set of steep stairs lead to a vista of the historic center.
A historic site in its own right, the Flower Market is outside of the New Cathedral is a daily gathering of merchants selling fresh roses, orchids, and other colorful plants of the region. Nearby, the recently restored San Francisco Plaza is full of vendors, many from Otavalo, selling crafts.
Mirador de Turi
The Mirador de Turi sits watching over the city of Cuenca, a short ride by motorcycle from the city center. The views from the lookout next to the Turi church are breathtaking on a clear day, both of the city and the nearby mountains flanking the city.
Old Cathedral of Cuenca
The Old Cathedral of Cuenca was built in 1557 and served as a religious center during the early days of Spanish rule. Today, it’s a museum where paintings and artifacts from the time and the church's intricacies set the stage for discovering the ancient culture.
Explorer Charles Marie de La Condamine first visited Ecuador in 1739 as part of a geodesic expedition from France whose mission was to measure a part of the equator to determine Earth's dimensions. The team used one of the cathedral spires in their work as a point of reference to establish the arc of the earth.
La Condamine spent many years in Ecuador, exploring the natural landscapes, summiting volcanoes, and recording the events, including volcano eruptions, while in the country.
Iglesia de San Sebastián
One of the seven churches in Cuenca that parishioners visit during Holy Week, San Sebastián, is one of the first churches built in the Spanish city in the 1500s. The church is unique as it only has one tower, and its massive carved wooden doors are one of the highlights from the period.
The French team of explorers fell into trouble in the adjacent plaza of the same name when a crowd murdered one of the members of their party gathered for a bullfight over the love of a local woman. The park’s design is based on the gardens of Versailles in France.
Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla
One of the misleading names in the world is that of the Panama Hat. The straw hats are an Ecuadorian craft and were given their name by Teddy Roosevelt during the Panama Canal construction.
The artisans who make Panama Hats are from the communities near Cuenca, and the city has served as an export center for decades.
The Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla is part workshop, part museum, detailing the iconic hear gear's history to the 18th century and showing how each hat is woven by hand. There is a cafeteria on-site, and you can buy a hat before heading off to the next destination.
Padre Aguirre y Calle Larga
Museum of Prohibited Art
In the 1980s, the conservative powers that be in Cuenca banned artist Eduardo Moscoso’s work from the city for being too controversial. The Prohibido Centro Cultural or Museum of Taboo Art is owned by his family and is a place to find all things alternative, dark, and weird. Skull art, guillotines, erotica, and dark themes all have a place here in many mediums. The center also regularly shows a series of films focused on Ecuador's present-day people and culture. A must for any motorcyclist or biker!
El Vado y La Condamine
Nightlife and Eating Out
Cuenca’s ex-pat community has brought attention to the city’s growing collection of Ecuadorian and international restaurants, cafes, and breweries. People from all over the world call the city home, and the variety of places to try while on a break during Ecuador motorcycle tours are a welcome sight after being on the road.
The ethos of Cuenca’s traditional food is what can grow in the Andes. Yucca, corn, quinoa, potatoes, cuy (guinea pig), and pork were the main staples until the Spanish brought chickens, beef, and many spices, fruits, and vegetables.
Anima Cocina de Autor
Using Ecuador and Spain's rich food culture as inspiration, Anima Cocian de Autor’s seasonal menu hits the right notes for taste, creativity, and balance.
Black clams, quality cuts of beef, wild boar, and fresh fish are some of the entrees served in the past. Each dish is an explosion of flavor-presented in test tubes, on rocks and driftwood, and in boxes-designed to ignite the taste buds and engage the senses. The menu changes every five months, revolving around the availability of ingredients from the land and sea.
Paseo Tres de Noviembre
Tiesto's Cafe Restaurant
Serving family-style portions of tender pork marinated in beer, chicken and beef in blue cheese sauce, giant shrimp in a garlic butter sauce, chicken curry, and Tiesto’s takes Ecuadorian cuisine of its box, turns it on its head, and brings satisfying food to the table.
Juan Jaramillo y Mariano Cueva
Jodoco Belgian Brew
Named after a Belgian monk who came to Quito and was the first to introduce wheat and grain to the country, Jodoco Belgiam Brew brings Belgium-style beer to Cuenca along with bistro food and a fun environment.
Five traditional house beers on tap, a selection of imported bottles from Belgium, and a decent wine list accentuate menu items like ribs, steak in chocolate sauce, mashed potatoes with sausage and veggies deglazed with beer, and beef stew. Lighter fare includes chicken curry, and roast beef sandwich, fried camembert, and a selection of shared tablas with beef, sausage, mussels, and cheeses.
Parque San Sebastian
Far Out Cervecería Alemana
With 32,000 rock, jazz, soul, folk, and metal CDs, four house-made German beers on tap, and a menu featuring pizza and snacks, this hole in the wall bar fits the bill for those who want a fun night out in good company. The owner is a local legend, his beer is right on the money, and you can choose from the library of songs by request.
Juan Jaramillo y Presidente Borrero
Le Petit Jardin
Cuenca has a unique relationship with France. Since the French explorers visited the city, many of the parks and buildings around the city were inspired by the European culture. Not surprising given this influence, Le Petit Jardin is one of the French restaurants in town that proudly serves Ecuadorian-French food that takes the food scene in the city to a different level. Executive Chef Giovanni Cambizaca trained in some of the best French kitchens in the United States. His menu changes weekly, depending on what ingredients are available at the main market in Cuenca. Some of the past dishes include vegetarian options like baked eggplant stack with vegetables, puree, and salad- and poached pears in wine for dessert. Other entrees have been frog legs, duck, coq au vin, and veal.
The place is out of the way in the San Miguel de Putushi area in a rustic house located in the hills. It’s is open Saturday and Sunday for lunch and dinner.
San Seblas Café
An ex-pat owned café that is a local favorite, San Sebas Café serves hearty breakfast and lunch fare, including scrambles, bagels, hash, biscuits and gravy, and a selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and quesadillas.
The restaurant also puts on monthly Vino & Van Gogh events. A local artist guides you step by step through recreating a featured painting. Monet, Van Gogh, and animals of the Galapagos Islands have inspired guests, along with reasonably priced wine, to find their inner artists.
Seasonal, farm-fresh, local ingredients fuel the menu at Dos Sucres, where chef Daniel Contreras puts new twists on traditional Ecuadorian dishes-deconstructing them into a fusion of flavor and creativity. Aged leg of lamb smoked for eight hours in a demi-glaze sauce with fig confit and goat cheese, a seven-course tasting menu for $30, and the personal attention of the chef who explains the origins of each dish make this a great place to unwind and enjoy the food culture of the country.
Roberto Crespo y Luis Moreno Mora
Take a motorcycle tour to Cuenca!
Cuenca’s attractions are vast and varied, allowing those on Ecuador motorcycle tours to leave the bike for a day and explore an area that has attracted cultures for thousands of years. The city has something to offer for all kinds of travelers and is a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of cities like Quito and Guayaquil. For more information about self-guided Ecuador motorcycle tours, see the links below.
10 days | 9 nights | PavedIn 10 day
11 days | 10 nights | PavedIn 11 day
About the Author
Jon Jared first experienced the itch for travel during summer trips with his grandparents to England, Scotland, and Wales. After visiting Zambia and traversing the mountain towns of Colorado, he moved to Ecuador in search of a new understanding of the world around him. In Ecuador, Jon has worked at hotels, restaurants, and bars; served as a local guide, and a freelance writer and editor. His work in print includes Delta Sky Magazine and the 2015 Moon Ecuador and the Galapagos guidebook.