New for 2024, Ecuador’s leading travel company Metropolitan Touring, will launch a host of carefully crafted one-to-four-day journeys through Cuenca. Each tour is designed to give you in-depth access to the city and its surrounding region’s architectural, artistic and cultural riches from Andean artisans, Panama hat milliners and museums, to engaging experiences across its restaurants, historic sights and nearby towns.
Located in the Southern Ecuadorian Andes, Cuenca has long been one of Ecuador’s cultural highlights with its intriguing tapestry of indigenous and mestizo cultures. One of Ecuador’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one the best-preserved historic centre in the Americas, Cuenca is an architectural treasure built around four rivers atop former settlements founded by the Cañari and later, the Incas. Filled with old-world charm, the city’s urban fabric retains its original character, but over recent years, has also begun to attract a wave of artists, creative chefs, expats and craftspeople from Ecuador and abroad, bringing new life and vitality to its much-loved cobbled streets, iconic architecture and cultural hotspots.
Metropolitan Touring has designed various itineraries that take in the bustling heart and soul of the metropolis from the Parque Calderón and the colourful Plaza de Las Flores, bursting with native Andean flowers and considered one of the world’s top ten outdoor flower markets, to the vibrant riverside neighbourhood of Barranco, and many more sights and sounds.
As evening falls, you will enjoy exclusive after-hours access to El Museo de Las Conceptas, a former monastery dating back to 1599. Once home to cloistered nuns, today the museum is a carefully preserved example of traditional architecture with an open courtyard scented by heady daturas, acanthus and linden trees. Inside, you will wander the collection of religious paintings, sculptures and altarpieces, accompanied by a local chamber orchestra playing baroque and renaissance music composed by Ecuadorian women, a nod to the building’s feminine history. To finish, there’s a limpia, a millennia-old ritual performed by a yachakuna (female healer) for a cleansing energy treatment using a combination of ancestral Andean medicinal plants, herbs, flowers, cane liquor and rhythmic incantations.
A stone’s throw from the panoramic vistas of the Turi lookout lies the hillside retreat of the family of Ecuador’s most celebrated ceramicist and muralist, Eduardo Vega. Known for his fascinating designs, inspired by the natural beauty of the Andean landscape and budding wildlife, you will join Eduardo’s daughter, Federica, for exclusive out-of-hours access to Eduardo’s self-designed home, original ceramics, must-see gallery and workshop, where his craft comes to life from ideation to kiln. With the magical backdrop of Cuenca by moonlight, you will join Federica in her restaurant, Amapola, as you enjoy a five-course dinner using seasonal fare as she tells unheard stories of the family’s oeuvre.
Just a short drive from the city centre, you will journey to the charming country retreat of milliner Homero Ortega; one of the nation’s most renowned hat-making dynasties of the famous, erroneously named ‘Panama hat’ that in fact originates in Ecuador. You will be exclusively welcomed to the family’s home where you will hear first-hand tales and learn the ancient techniques of this fine art, using only biodegradable materials in both the crafting and finishing of the globally adored fine straw hat.
Further afield, you can now opt to explore the foothills of Azuay province and discover the picturesque towns of Chordeleg, the original silversmith town of Ecuador, and Gualaceo where you will encounter luthiers hand crafting guitars, jewellers using fine filigree technique, and the captivating process of ‘ikat’ to hand weave shawls and ponchos.
When Quito’s Nuema became the first Ecuadorian restaurant to land a prized position in the highly coveted World’s 50 Best back in 2020, it led to a flurry of restaurants joining the enviable 50 Best Discovery list including Urko, Somos and Ciré in the capital, and Dos Sucres and Tiesto’s in Cuenca; a sure sign that Ecuador is starting to catch up with neighbouring Peru as a culinary mecca.
For a journey through Cuenca’s foodie hotspots, you will begin with a visit to the bustling Mercado 10 de Agosto for an authentic taste of Andean cuisine and the favourite Agua de Pitimás, a refreshing drink infused with medicinal herbs and plants such as lemon verbena, rose petals and valerian. Continuing on, the famed bakeries of the Todos Santos neighbourhood await, accompanied by the sweet aroma of warming dough fresh from traditional wooden ovens, while the cobbled streets of Las Herrerías serve much-loved humitas, tamales and quimbolitos. On Parque Calderón, newcomer Consuelo serves fine Cuencan and Ecuadorian dishes amid eclectic and colourful décor for lunch. Come evening, craft brewery enthusiasts will enjoy a tasting inside local taproom Latitud Cero for an insight into Ecuadorian brews, before sunset cocktails with privileged, sweeping views of the city’s iconic three-domed Cathedral at Casa Firenza.
Finally, Metropolitan Touring has created a full-day journey through the stunning green hills and valleys of the provinces of Azuay and Loja to the Kichwa town of Saraguro, where local guides will accompany you to learn more about the Saraguros’ lives, livelihoods, language and culture, including a meal at the unexpected ShamuiCo, the passion-project of Chef Samuel Ortega. Inspired by his native Saraguro, he marries the freshest ingredients with techniques perfected from his time working in two Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain. The cultural immersion continues in the afternoon, with a spiritual ritual in the company of a yachak (healer) and a visit to a Saraguro hat workshop.