Cuenca is a vibrant colonial city in southern Ecuador, the third largest in the country, and the capital of Azuay Province.
Cuenca lies in a valley at about 2,500m (8,200 ft), and is home to around 450,000 people. Its moderate climate makes it enjoyable year round.
Tourist information  is located on the south side of parque Abdon Calderon. Free English maps available.
With no international airport, there are daily local flights from and to Quito and Guayaquil. Currently TAME, and Latam both offer daily service to Cuenca.
Cuenca's Mariscal Lamar Airport is basic and small, with only a handful of gates (all of which lead directly to the tarmac). There are some basic services in the arrival/departure level (ground floor), like ATMs from 4 different banks, rental car desks and a few souvenir shops. Upstairs there is a waiting area with a basic food hall -- mainly for snacks, coffee and light meals.
A taxi from the airport to the center should run about $3 -taxis are available on front of the airport. All taxis in Cuenca have been required to have operating meters since 2014, though an occasional driver may try to trick a tourist with stories of broken meters or no need to use the meter. Insist that the driver start the meter, or get out and find another cab. Although a short distance may register below $1.50, it is accepted practice to pay $1.50 as a minimum for any metered ride.
The main bus terminal (Terminal Terrestre) is across the main road (Avenida Espana) and 800 meters to the left (southwest), less than 10 minutes walking. Because of construction on the light rail, it may be difficult to cross the road for the time-being, however.
Cuenca lies on the Pan-American highway high in he southern mountains of Ecuador. Dozens of bus companies connect Cuenca with the rest of the country and surrounding areas. The main Terminal is called Terminal Terrestre on Ave. Espana. There's a $0.10 platform tax.
Alausi. 4 hours (Transportes Alausi)
Riobamba. 6 hours (Patria)
Quito. 8 hours
Loja for connections to Vilcabamba (4.5-7 h, $7.5). San Luis buses run from Cuenca to Loja using the national park route and take 4.5 hours, $8. Departures at 7.45am, 11am, 4pm, 7.30pm and 12 midnight. There is a working toilet.
Piura, There is a new service to Piura leaving at 19:30, 21:00 and 23:00. This is a partnership between two companies, Pullman Sucre and CIFA International. It is necessary to change bus at either Machala or Huaquillas. The 19:30 and 23:00 services connect to a special sleeper seat service. The price is 12$-15$ depending on the class of service. It is a good idea to purchase your ticket a day in advance as it is not unusual for them to book out.
Tumbes As above, plus additional departures at 13:15 and 15:00. $7 from the border.
Chiclayo with Super Semeria from Terminal Plaza Norte Chiclayo. Leaves once a day at 5:30pm and takes approximately 12 hours in addition to the border crossing, which can itself last between 1.5 to 2.5 hours. It makes stops in Machala, Tumbes, Mancora and Piura. Cost is $21 per person (as of Oct 2018). Snacks are included.
Central Cuenca is easily walkable, and it is often faster than taking a cab through the narrow traffic-jammed lanes.
Cabs are readily available and charge $2-3 ($1 more at night) per trip. All yellow taxis are required to use taxi-meters.
City buses are also fairly easy to figure out. Most bus stops are marked. The cost is $0.30 per ride. Since April 2018 the only way to pay the fare is with the 'movilízate' card, which costs $1.75. You need to charge it before entering the bus. The card can be used by more than one person at the same time, just swipe it several times. You can find a guide to using the City buses, as well as maps of the routes and ask questions about navigating Cuenca's local bus routes CuencaBusSherpa.com.
Cuenca is a very bike-friendly city. There are great bike paths along Rio Tomebamba, and a Thursday-night 2-hour bike ride through the city that leaves at 8pm from Parque de la Madre. Bikes can be rented from Mallki Hostel (and are free for guests) or from the Casa do Brasil cafe.
- Ingapirca The Northernmost significant Ruins of the former Inca Empire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ecuador, merging the Inca and Canari cultures. It makes a fabulous day-trip. Leave early in the morning when the weather is sunny for crisp pictures with blue skies. You can take a bus at Terminal Terrestre; it costs 2, 50 or book an organized tour. There is a fee you have to pay at the Entrance of $6 USD for foreigners and $2 USD for locals. There is also a 50% discount for students and seniors. Included in this entrance fee is a guided tour, which takes around 40 minutes. If you get there by bus at 9 a.m. you can get back with the same bus at 1 p.m. After the tour you can visit some other places, or enjoy an "almuerzo" (lunch) near the bus stop. If you need to stay near Ingapirca on your way north or west, El_Tambo, 30 minutes from the ruins, is a reasonably sized town with accommodation and food.
- Baños - A beautiful spot just outside of Cuenca to the southwest. This is not to be confused with the Baños in Tungurahua Province, which is the entrance to the Rainforest. There are thermal baths ($5.50) available at a hotel complex which includes a few hot pool at 36C (96.8F) and Turkish baths. Many people come here to relax in hot saunas, swim in the hot or cold waters of the pools and relax with family and friends. The most recent addition to the thermal resorts is the beautiful Piedra de Agua ($12 - 35, including 2 for 1 on Tuesdays on the $35 package). Only 40 min away from downtown by public bus Linea 12, which stops about a block away from Terminal Terrestre on Calle Vieja as well as numerous streets throughout the city. Get off at stop Hosteria Durán. Cost is $0.25 per person (as of October 2015).
- Turi A great viewpoint (or 'mirador') located to the south of the city. It has great views over the city both during the day and at night. There is no charge for the view, but a taxi to the viewpoint might cost a few dollars.
- The New Cathedral (c 1885). Looming over the main plaza (called Parque Calderon) is the city's main church, with its 3 beautiful sky-blue domes visible from around the city. The roof of the cathedral was recently opened to visitors, with a charge of $1 per person. A climb up a steep spiral stone staircase leads to an excellent view over the city. It is also possible to enter the crypt below the church, which also costs $1.
- Barranco The river Tomebamba (one of Cuenca's four rivers) runs through the heart of the city, creating a riverwalk area known as Barranco. The riverwalk itself is nice, with paved trails on both sides connected by numerous bridges. Stairs lead up the steep banks into the older part of the city on the north side, connecting to Calle Larga's restaurants and clubs. Puente Roto, literally 'Broken Bridge' is also located on the north side and is a popular meeting place. Various clubs, bars, a mall, and the newly renovated Parque de la Madre are lined up along the south side. Remember to be careful in this area, as thieves are known to approach people and demand cell phones and money.
- El Sagrario (the "old cathedral"). Construction began in 1557. It's no longer in use as a church, and is now a museum. A restoration project has been completed recently and the original paint and old murals can now be seen in certain sections. $2.
- Museo del Banco Central and Pumapungo. A great museum with sections on ethnography (the section on the Shuar and the shrunken heads were particularly interesting) and old Ecuadorian money (and with it a good explanation of history, though only in Spanish.) Free entry, as are all the other state owned museums (this only took effect recently). Pumapungo is an old site right behind the museum requiring some imagination. edit
- Amaru Zoo, Autopista Cuenca-Azogues Km 10 1/2 Entrada frente al hospital del Rio, ☎ 074-213982, . The Zoo (also an animal rescue and rehabilitation place) is a very entertaining place with a huge array of animals from across Ecuador, South America and the Americas. They also have rescued lions, pheasants and a crocodile. It's very green and fills more like you are hiking along the mountain in a big eucalyptus grove. Highly recommended. Trail takes 1:30-2 hours to complete but if you really take your time it can take you over three hours. $4 (adult). edit
- Cuenca High Life for news and current events in Cuenca in English. 
- Sightseeing Bus. $8 for 2 hour tour of Cuenca and a visit to the Mirador de Turi (Turi viewpoint). Leaves from Parque Calderón. For one price, you can get off the bus anywhere you like and get on the next bus that comes. edit
- Night Bike Tours. a Thursday-night 2-hour long bike ride through the city that leaves at 8pm from Parque de la Madre. Bikes can be rented from Mallki Hostel (and are free for guests) or from the Casa do Brasil cafe. edit
- Live Jazz 4 Nights a Week at The Jazz Society Café. See Drink listing.
- Learn Spanish. There are many language schools for foreign visitors in Cuenca.
Buy some flowers at the flower market on Calle Sucre across from the new cathedral. Continue on about a block from there to get to the clothing and artisan market where one can also find knit crafts from Otavalo. Lovely handmade ruanas, sweaters, hats, mittens, and finger puppets are also available here.
Inside the yellow CemuArt building across from the police station at the market other artisans have booths with beautiful embroidery, metal, wood and leather work, Panama hats, musical instruments, knit goods, jewelry and other handicrafts.
- ABC Libreria, at Padre Aguirre 8-11 y Sucre, Phone: 593-7 2845 749. diagonal to the flower market has a tiny selection of English books.
- Rafael Paredes & Hijos, ☎ 831-569. To buy from their fine range of Panama hats. You get a short tour round, an explanation of how they are made and a chance to see your hat go from a simple woven straw cone to a finished wearable hat. Various styles, men's and women's and sizes. edit
- Carolina Bookstore - Used Books, Hermano Miguel 4-46 y Calle Larga (near Calle Larga). There are two wonderful used English book stores --although a bit pricey ($5-20) edit
- Mall del Rio, Av. Felipe II y Circunvalación Sur, . Cuenca's biggest shopping mall, with cinemas (mainly Spanish language) and food court. $2-2.50 by taxi (10 min). edit Millenium Plaza frequently has English language films.
- Artesanías Galapagos, Presidente Cordova 6-37 y Hno Miguel, . M-Sa: 09:00-19:00; Su: 09:00-13:30. Good selection of Postcards and tourist stuff - this shop will send items anywhere in the world. edit
- Tienda Nectar, (At same location as Nectar Tea House in Eat section below.). 11am-4pm Mo-Fr. Visit Nectar's organic health food store Nectar Tienda, where one can buy the only organic raw coconut oil produced in Ecuador. The majority of the products are made in Ecuador. edit
- Currency exchange Peruvian sols can be changed at Vazcorp bank on Ave. Roberto Crespo Toral, on the southwest side of the stadium.
- Women's Coop, on General Torres --near Mariscal Sucre ((next to the artisan market)). closes around 2pm. Cheap, nutritious, and local lunch with a soup and a drink. Made by indigenous women in a sweet courtyard. Vegetarian and meat options. $1-1.50. edit
- Cafe Eucalyptus, Gran Colombia 9-41, . 5-11pm, later on Th-Sa. Very popular with travelers, they offer everything from Pad Thai to pasta, salads, hummus and guacamole, all very tasty. It's warm and friendly, and also good for groups. Quite expensive for Ecuador, $5.07 for a coca-cola plus tip makes one think that the travellers are taken advantage of. Mains $3-9. edit
- Mixx Gourmet Ice-cream, Milenium Plaza (Avenida Jose Peralta), ☎ 098 882 0771. Daily 10AM-8PM, Holiday hours may vary.. Home made icrecream with a variety of flavors, including exotic fruits and alcoholic flavors such as whisky, beer, brandy or vodka. edit
- Govinda's, Juan Jaramillo 7-27 y Borreo, ☎ 098 333 518. Lunch and dinner. Nice Vegetarian restaurant with Indian style dishes at lunch (almuerzo) and also some italian options. Good juices and hot chocolate. Popular also with locals at lunch time. $3.25 for 'almuerzo' (July 2017), $3.50-7.00 for a meal. edit
- Nectar, Benigno Malo 12-27 and Gaspar Sangurima, . 11am- 4pm. Vegan, vegetarian food open for preorder takeout only, and health food store, run by great people. Has wonderful Mediterranean cuisine, which includes Andean, flavors. edit
- El Cafecito, Mariano Cueva 11-28 y Mariscal Lamar (On the plaza of the Mercado 9 Otumbre), . 1 PM - 10 PM. hostel-bar-restaurant. Shared rooms appear noisy (private rooms are in the back away from the noise), but it is a good place to eat lasagna or sandwiches. Nice open dining room with glass ceilings and large swaths of fabric hanging over. Open 7 days a week, all day (from 8AM - 10PM). International breakfast from 8-12 Noon (pancakes, french toast, omeletes, country style hash browns, etc.). When you get a breakfast meal, you get a choice of either tea or coffee and you get free refills! Lunch and dinner - soups, salads, sandwiches, Mexican food, pastas (really good gnocchi and lasagnas). Fresh coffee, not instant. Free wifi, nice garden out back. Drinks: they do 2 for 1 cocktails 6-8 PM for $3,50. edit
- La Vinotteca, Av. 12 de Abril y Calle del Farol An incredible combination of Japanese and Italian. tel. 0984 883 868
- Casa Alonzo, in the wonderful Mansion Alcazar Hotel, Calle Bolivar 12-55 y Tarqui tel: 7 2823-918 Gourmet.
- Trattoria Novecento, in the Hotel Santa Lucia. Wondrous setting. Antonio Borrero 8-44 y Sucre, tel. 7 2828 000
- La Viña Ristorante Pizzeria Italiana, Luis Cordero 5-101 y Juan Jaramillo (Cuenca Ecuador), ☎ +593 72839696, . Mon - Sat: 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm. Italian restaurant. Gastronomy in northern Italy, in the province of Bergamo, environments dedicated to culture and good food. Live jazz 4 times a week at the 2nd floor (upstairs). edit
- Jazz Society Café, The Jazz Society Café is the performance venue of The Jazz Society of Ecuador in Cuenca, Ecuador. It's located on the 2nd floor (upstairs) of La Viña Italian Restaurant, 5-101 Luis Cordero y Juan Jaramillo. La Viña provides the food & beverages using the same menu and prices as downstairs, and has an excellent reputation for serving authentic Italian cuisine and pizza, as the owner and chef are from Italy. The Café is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 6:30pm to 10pm, the music begins at 7:30pm (minimum contribution expected $10, as off 08/18). Email: [email protected] Phone: +5939342714.
- La Mesa is a great salsateque on Wednesday nights. Full of locals and extended stay travelers. Extremely fun.
- Banana Cafe, Banana's has just moved to a new location, where the Kookabura Cafe used to be, on Calle Larga and Benigno Mal. Run by three local women, Banana's serves an outstanding breakfast at a fair price. Their new hours are 8 a.m. to 3p.m. for breakfast and lunch. Then they open again in the evenings for dinner from 6:00 to 10:30. The dinner menu features mainly seafood. Closed on Monday's. The menu includes such items as GREAT omelets, pancakes, french toast, homemade granola, fresh fruit juices, smoothies & yogurt (plus numerous other yummy breakfast goodies). edit
- Goza, Antonio Borrero 4-11 y Calle Larga (1 block east and 4 blocks south from Parque Calderón), ☎ +59372830350 ([email protected]), . Arguably one of the best cafés in the lovely historical centre of Cuenca, with a beautiful (heated!) street terrace and friendly staff. Great variety of coffees available. The food is also praised though pricier than most restaurants, coffees are the real deal here. Coffee from $1.50 to $4.70. edit
- Broken Bridge Bistro (Puente Roto), Tres de Noviembre a Puente Roto, ☎ +59399 390 0879, . 5.30pm to 10.30pm. A charming bistro along Tomebamba next to the historal Puente Roto. Enjoy great food, live music and good vibes. Open Mondays thru Saturdays from 5:30pm to 10:30pm. Reservations email [email protected] $5. (-2.9042122,79.0014421) edit
- AlterNative Hostels, Av. Huayna Capac y Cacique Duma esq. ([email protected]), ☎ +593 7 4084101 // 0995674347, . Modern designed hostel. Ideally located in the heart of the Historic District, across the street from the Pumapungo Museum and a 10 minutes walk from the historic “El Centro” area. Rooms : : From $9 for a dorm room, Private twin rooms with shared bathroom $20. edit
- Mallki Hostel, Calle Aurelio Aguilar 1-31 y Av. Solano ([email protected]), ☎ +593 7 404 4266, . Located in a modern and safe neighborhood 2 blocks from the historic center and Calle Larga, Mallki is great for travelers who want to make new friends and feel at home. Free daily activities include breakfast, bike rides, market tours, family dinners, and cocktail nights. Bilingual staff are welcoming and helpful. Pet-friendly, and there's also a very sweet hostel dog. 24/7 reception, open kitchen, free wifi, theoretically free bikes - they just dont have any brakes, garden, balcony bar, and great movie collection. Dorm rooms $7-$9, Private rooms $22-$25. edit
- La Casa Cuencana, Hermano Miguel 4-45 ([email protected]), ☎ +593 7 282 6009, . Owned by an Ecuadorian family, this hostel is located in the heart of Cuenca's historic district. Dorms and private rooms available with or without private bathroom. In the neighborhood of all the great restaurants and bars. from $7 for a dorm room (Oct 2012). edit
- Hostal Villa Del Rosario, 5-25 Honorato Vasquez (Opposite El Capitolio hostel). ATTENTION: Do not go here when there is party on calle larga - you will NOT be able to sleep, even with earplugs. Otherwise lovely, quiet place, with a mix of rooms to suit all travellers: singles, doubles, double en-suites. Very cheap, but really clean, and just nice. $2 dollar breakfast: eggs, toast, juice, coffee, bread and jam - check to not miss you breakfast, which at times can only last until 8:50. Towels provided. Lady owner very friendly, but it really helps to speak Spanish! Cuenca is really safe, but even more so in this area - Calle Larga is a block away. Reception is next door, but there is a bell to ring to the left of the hostel door to get someone to come over - it's hard to spot it, but the bell is there! $8-10. edit
- Hostal Yakumama, Luis Cordero 5-66 y Honorato Vasquez (Old City Center), ☎ +593 72 834 353, . checkout: 11am. The Terrace up in the 3rd floor gives you the chance to sleep at a very low price in hammocks in the heart of Cuenca. There are also private double rooms for couples and 6 or 4-bed dorms for groups. In the courtyard at the back of the building is a beautiful garden, including a 'Reggae-Bar' with drinks. In the front part of the building, there is the bar/restaurant with free breakfast. Drinks and food are served the whole day long (except Sundays). 24/7 Reception. Cash on arrival. Breakfast and taxes included from $4.50 to $27. edit
- Tourist of the World Hostal (Hostal Tourista del Mundo), Calle Larga 5-79 ([email protected]), ☎ +593 7 282 9125. Hostel with nice views on the river, a kitchen, common room with hammock and lots of random DVDs. In the court yard you can securely park a motorbike or bicycle. Also, extremely friendly owners. Just ring the door bell across the street. Rooms are really noisy traffic starts flowing at 5.30 am you can't get much sleep after that. The shower has just one knob so there is no way to adjust the temperature which was too cold. $8 pp for a private room with shared bathroom, $10 pp with private bathroom (08/18). edit
- Casa Sol, Estévez de Toral 10-33 and Gran Colombia, tel: +593 7 282 2507, Nice family run hostel near center. Price: 7 USD (Oct 2012) including breakfast Bed quality varies, atmosphere is great and the owners (Luis and Maria-Elena) are very helpful. You can use their kitchen and laundry facility is available. To get there, take bus 28 from the bus terminal (25 cent) and get off at Estévez de Toral. The hostel doesn't have a sign, so look for the number. Walking to Terminal Terrestre takes about half an hour.
- Hostal Villa Flora, Borrero 5-15 (entre Juan Jaramillo y Honorato Vásquez), ☎ +593 7 284 5842 or 284 5935. checkout: 02:00pm. Very charming and comfortable hostel, excellent location in the historic centre. The rooms are well decorated, and it is clean. Also includes a cafeteria service, a laundry, and cable tv. 8$ the single room with shared bathroom. [email protected] from 10$ p.p. with private bathroom. edit WARNING TO TRAVELLERS: Hostal Villa Flora is a dump. The hostal is mostly used for young Ecuadorian couples to have sex. It is not clean, the rooms are cramped and stuffy. There are no windows except to the hallway and the bathroom smells like raw sewage. The staff are really indifferent and make a lot of noise all through the night. This place should be avoided.
- Casa Naranja at Mariscal Lamar 10 38 & Padre Aguirre has nice, clean rooms at less than $US 13. Features 2 indoor patios, fully equipped kitchen and is centrally located just 3 blocks from the main square in a safe area. Is a colonial house with indoor balconies and has single, double, triple and quadruple rooms. [email protected] Telephone: +593 7 282 5415; 24h mobile +08 8867661.
- Hostal Perla Cuencana, Mariscal Lamar 8-44 between Benigno Malo and Luis Cordero (2 blocks north from Parque Calderón), ☎ 07-2850-792 ([email protected]). checkout: 12:00. Owned by a local family, the hostel is perfectly located, very central. Clean and comfortable though some might find it bare and old with its creaky wooden floors and uncharming facade. Large rooms with windows and some with balconies (the best are at the back, away from the noise of the street). Free and good Wi-Fi (in the rooms), laundry facilities, communal kitchen (very basic), towels provided, and roof terrace. Great and cheap place. The owner is very helpful and friendly. From the bus terminal, walk one block north and catch the westbound bus n°28 ($0.25/pers) and get off at Luis Cordero. $7/pers/night with shared bathroom, regardless of the type of room (Aug 2014). edit
- Hotel Casa Ordonez, Mariscal Lamar 859, ☎ 593-7-2823-297 ([email protected]), . Spanish Colonial House in the Historic Center of Cuenca, Tripadvisor Travelers Choice 4 years in a row. $US 50.00 for two people, excluding 12% tax and free breakfast. edit
- Hotel Casa del Aguila, Mariscal Sucre, ☎ 593-7-2849580, . In a pictorial colonial-style building in the the Historical center. 17 comfortable rooms with bathroom, distributed in 3 floors $US 67.00 for two people, excluding 22% tax and free breakfast. edit
- Hostel Calle Angosta, Tarqui I2-38 entre Sangurima y Vega Munoz ([email protected]), ☎ 593 7 282 2489, . This place is set back off the road, so it's pretty quiet. You are immediately treated like family, and they will do anything reasonable to help you out. There is parking, and you are about 8 blocks from central park. The water hot and they provide cable TV. While it does lack a little homeyness, it's because the facility is brand new. From $27 for a single room with private bath, $40 for a couple with private bath - all include breakfast: bread, juice, coffee, and eggs. edit
- Posada del Rio Lodging, +59372823111, . Nice hostel in the center of the city with a full kitchen, hot showers 24/7, and the friendliest service in town. Warm, homey, and very centrally located. From $8 for the dorm, $20 double, $15 single.
- Hotel Inca Real: Charming heritage site at General Torres 8-40 between Sucre and Bolivar, behind the new cathedral. Most rooms are large, and all are quiet. All room windows open onto interior courtyards. Three colonial houses joined into one charming hotel. There are three interior courtyards. The first is the hotel lobby and breakfast room, the second has a lovely fountain, and the third is a quiet hideaway. Phone: 07-2823-636. $US 45.14 for two people, including tax and breakfast.
- La Cofriada del Monje, Phone: 2831251. Great location on Plaza San Francisco at Presidente Cordova 10-33 y Padre Aguirre. The rooms may be a bit noisy with the windows open, but the street noise will die down after dark when the buses quit running. If you're concerned about noise, the quietest rooms are on the sides: 1, 2, 6, 7. The hot water available. US $29.00 Single, $48.00 Double, tax and breakfast included.(November 2013)
- Hostal Macondo at Calle Tarqui 11 64 & Mariscal Lamar,  is situated in an old colonial building with a pretty courtyard. The price includes breakfast. Very pretty but simple rooms, quiet, with a self-serve kitchen, free wireless, book exchange, and large DVD library. Very nice hot showers with good pressure. A private room with a private bathroom is $28 USD (Sept 07).
- Hotel Milan, Presidente Cordova 8-89 (corner of Padre Aguirre), ☎ 2831104, . The most affordable nice hotel in town. Located in the center, across from the church and square of San Francisco. Most rooms have a balcony. All have cable TV and hot water. Price includes breakfast on the roof. Friendly staff, excellent value. $25 for one person, $?? for double. (Nov. 2013) edit
- Hotel Crespo, Calle Larga 7-93, . Overlooking the river, it has woody carpeted rooms, some with great views. Breakfast is included, Wifi is free, and they also have 1 computer near the lobby. $50+. edit
- Mansion Alcazar, Bolivar 12-55, . This beautiful hotel is probably the best in town. $140+. edit
* Hotel Oro Verde, modern, elegant, all amenities, 5 minute taxi from old Cuenca $150+
* Hotel Santa Lucia, period, elegant, amenities, in the very center of old Cuenca $100+
At the time of this writing, (May 2013) there are many new boutique hotels about to open.
Cajas National Park A 45min drive or 1 hour bus ride to a beautiful national park with beautiful lagoons (over 250 in the whole park). The temperature is very cold in this area and trout fishing is a good pastime in this area. To get there, go to Terminal Terrestre and take any bus going to Guayaquil and ask the driver to get out at the visitor center. There, you have to register and you can ask about different routes and trails throughout the park. You can go with a guide or explore on your own since the trails are marked well. Entrance is free of charge as indicated by a sign outside the visitor center.
Sig Sig and Chordeleg Lovely towns about an hour outside of Cuenca. The landscape during the bus ride is quite scenic. Chordeleg is known for its silver and gold and is a pleasant town to walk around in. Sig Sig is known for a co-op of women who weave 'sombrero de paja toquilla' aka 'Panama Hats' or 'Montecristi'. There is a beautiful river to sit by and a market to visit.
Crossing to Peru: There are three road crossings from Ecuador to Peru. The two closer to the coast are the more conventional ones. The crossing from Loja / Vilcabamba into Jaén is off the beaten track, more challenging but offers incredible vistas all the way. From Loja / Vilcabamba it is 7/6 hours and 9/8 dollars by bus to Zumba, a few times a day (5am, 8, 10.45, 12.50pm, 14, 17.30, 21.30). The last 50km are very curvy; some landslides and stones cover the road. Mainly in the raining the road might sometimes be closed for buses and you then need to change in one of the towns to take a collectivo pick up for the final part to Zumba. From Zumba there are two to three (earliest at 8 am) rancheras (trucks with wooden benches in the back) for 2.25 dollars to the border (up to two hours over a bumpy road - wait with breakfast). Border crossing formalities are a breeze. The border is only open during daylight hours. From the border shared taxis leave to San Ignacio and charge 15 soles pp. You need to walk through town or take a mototaxi for 2 soles to take a combi to Jaén (10 soles 2 hours). From Jaén, again walk through town or take a mototaxi for 2 soles to take a 5 sol combi to Bagua Grande, which is a biggish town on the main road going east to Tarapoto or west towards the coast and Lima. The bus station is on the east side of town. From Bagua Grande there is also direct transport to Chachapoyas. There are decent hotels in Zumba, San Ignacio, Jaen and Bagua Grande. If you leave early from Cuenca you can make it in one day to Zumba and the next day to Chachapoyas. You can change money at the border or the bigger towns along the way. This description is as of February 2016.