Cuencan Character

09/Diciembre/2011 | 11:46


Not all cities have personality, at least not the kind which makes itself apparent through the everyday activities and annual festivities of the town.  Celebrations throughout the year lend identity, from the feast of Corpus Christi, which offers dozens of traditional sweets, to the Pase del Niño at Christmas, Cuenca is a destination where the cultural, social, and economic blend together. 


Cuenca has long been known for its artisan crafts, a remnant of the past when beauty and utility were inseparable from daily life.  Today that link is fractured throughout most of the world, but in Cuenca it seems to be hanging on, perhaps even thriving.

Panama hats have always served a useful purpose.  Lightweight, flexible, and protective, they are perhaps more useful today than ever before.   Though the legacy of the Panama Hat has diminished with time (due to other commercial products with less identity), it has  not disappeared.

The tradition of finely woven headware is  kept alive in Cuenca by different producers like Homero Ortega and Serrano Hat.    The headquarters of Homero Ortega is home to the Magic of the Sombrero Museum, the result of five generations of hat makers who desire not only to continue production but to preserve tradition.

Cuenca also stamps its identity on the local ceramic artisanry.   Names such as Artesa and Vega are associated with the  finest ceramic ware combining both beauty and utility.

 And perhaps where beauty  supersedes utlity is in the fine artisan jewelry of southern Ecuador.   Generations of jewelers in Cuenca have offered the highest quality gold and silver creations, again combining pre-Columbian designs with imported techniques, such as filigree.

Through all of these traditions Cuenca has elevated its artisan roots like no other region of the country.  It is home to numerous artisan centers.    In the private arts sector Diana Sojos converted an old family property into one of the city's commercial and cultural centers – home not only to artisan craft shops, but to a public space that supports cultural and artistic events.


In Cuenca, identity is not only woven into fabric or forged into jewelry, it is mixed, sautéed, and digested.   Though you can select so many places in Cuenca that communicate character through cooking, one in particular stands out.

Juan Carlos Solano is an artisan in his own right.  Walk into his restaurant, Tiestos, and you sense the aura of an old, Spanish-style cantina.  But the wall paintings  and ceramic plates  immediately bring you back to Cuenca.  The ceramic ware is not for admiring, though; the large round dishes, known as tiestos, and traditionally used for making corn tortillas, are put to use daily by Solano to prepare all of his dishes.

"The tiesto gives flavor," he says, "but it also receives flavors, it ripens and matures flavors, and it relaxes flavors in the food.  It is very different to prepare food in a new tiesto than an old tiesto.  The flavors are distinct."

Cuenca's oldest fine dining restaurant is El Jardin, which for the past eight years has been part of the Hotel Victoria.  They offer international and tradition dishes in a classic atmosphere. 

And Villa Rosa Restaurant, though not as old as El Jardin, is run by three sisters who offer their family recipes in an elegant central, colonial-style patio.


The best hotels and lodges in Cuenca  testify that this is a place to stay a while.  They have a character reflected in their designs and ambiance.

Mansion Alcazar is a grand, Republican house in central Cuenca and part of Cuenca's protected, architectural heritage.   Cuenca's identity is derived, in part, from the preservation laws that protect its physical patrimony.  Though they can be restrictive for property owners, they helped to ensure that Mansion Alcazar maintain its traditional character.  Throughout the hotel the keen placement of antique wood, wrought iron, paja toquilla, and decorative touches has evolved from the hotel's inception.

Something similar, but distinct, is found at another classic lodging in Cuenca. Daniel Duran, manager of Hotel Victoria says, "All of the lamps, pictures, woodwork, flooring - all is made in Cuenca…the designs are unique here; they are created especially for the hotel."

The local  identity does not disappear even when you escape the city limits to relax at the only true hacienda near Cuenca,  Caballo Campana.  Its serenity is on par with Cuenca's charm.  And just over the hillside, in the town of Baños, Balnearios Duran captures the local spirit by harnessing the town's greatest natural  resource – its geothermal springs – to create a community resort and a springboard to attracting national and international tourists to its hotel, Hosteria Duran.

And Cuenca would not be Cuenca without its celebrations and.  Visitors are amazed at the quantity of traditional sweets found throughout the city but which are particularly on display during the festivals, such as Corpus Cristi, throughout the year.   Fiestas de Cuenca and Pase del Niño are two other celebrations that mark the yearly calender with ritual, music, and tradition.  

Overall, few places in Ecuador exhibit their character and integrate it into daily life like Cuenca does.

Must visit

La Esquina de Artes, Av. 12 de Abril y Agustin Cueva,  07-281-5505

The Magic of the Sombrero Museum - Homero Ortega, Gil Ramirez Dávalos 3-86, 07-280-9000

Tiestos Restaurant, Juan Jaramillo 7-34 & Borrero, 07-283-5310

Villa Rosa Restaurant, Gran Colombia 12-22 & Tarqui, 07-283-7944

El Jardin Restaurant, Calle Larga 6-93 & Presidente Borrero, 07-283-1120

Where to stay:

Hotel Victoria, Calle Larga 6-93 & Presidente Borrero, 07-282-7401

Mansión Alcázar, Bolivar 12-55& Tarqui, 07-282-3889

Hostería Duran, Av. Ricardo Duran / Baños de Cuenca, 07-289-2301

Caballo Campana, Sector Huizhil via Misicta-Baños. 07-289-2360


Recuerda que son opiniones de los usuarios y no de HOY se reserva el derecho a eliminar las expresiones ofensivas, injuriantes o no acordes a la temática tratada.
  1. Angel Idrovo desde - New York

    Bonito articulo de Lance sobre los atributos de la hermosa Ciudad de Cuenca.