Cuenca, as Ecuador’s third largest city with a population of 600,000, has a strong intellectual tradition, boasting three major universities and several smaller ones. With its large student population and popularity with foreigners, the city also has a modern edge, with international restaurants and art galleries all tucked into its quaint and colonial architecture, narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed, red-tiled buildings, handsome plazas and domed churches.
Cuenca's location in one of the country's most traditional regions also bestows the city with a very strong indigenous presence, and the city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the center of the Panama hat trade and positioned as an important crafts outlet, the shopping is excellent.
Cuenca is also a good base for visiting nearby Parque Nacional Cajas, local hot springs, villages and markets, and the Inca ruins of Ingapirca.