Multi-day offerings and a selection of Exclusive Tours bring to life intimate experiences in one of the country’s
Check the beauty of the cloud forests, the natural phenomenon of the Galapagos Islands, the allure of the equator, and the history and traditions of Quito off of your list, and you have pretty much traveled Ecuador, right? Not even close. There is also the magic of Cuenca, a vibrant, culturally rich artisan city tucked in the Andes in the southern reaches of the country, for whichMetropolitan Touring, a Destination Management Company and Virtuoso partner, designed a raft of new itineraries.
Bespoke Cuenca Experiences
There is much to discover in Cuenca, including a buzzing gastronomic scene, especially when accompanied by connected and conversant guides who really know their way around. Following numerous scouting trips, Metropolitan Touring has created three new urban Cuenca tours and four new journeys to its surrounding towns, National Parks, and archaeological sites. Metropolitan Touring has been sharing Ecuador with the world for 70 years and, based on relationships and know-how, crafted truly exclusive experiences, to give travelers an authentic feel for the fabric of the city, its rich traditions, and the warmth and creativity of its inhabitants:
After Hours Visit to Las Conceptas – Once home to cloistered nuns, today the Cloister of the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Immaculate Conception is a flower- and tree-filled patio house featuring an important collection of religious art as well as the tools and implements of those who made the convent their haven. Working with the museum’s director, Metropolitan Touring has crafted an exclusive after-hours experience that starts with a private, guided tour of the most significant pieces accompanied by a chamber orchestra performing baroque and religious music written by Ecuadorian women. In an adobe-walled side patio, a local yachakuna (female healer) will help guests realign their energies through a ritual limpia (cleansing) that dates back millennia, before the experience finishes with an array of Cuencano snacks, sweets, and drinks created by nuns.
At Home with the Milliner Ortega Family – Ecuador is where the famous “Panama Hat” originated and Cuenca is where many of the style icon’s top manufacturers dwell. Go beyond a tour of the factory of one of the most renowned hat-making dynasties to experience the cherished country retreat of Homero Ortega, just a short drive from the city center. Received by Mr. Ortega’s descendants, guests will tour the family’s private home, where they will hear tales of the family business and its remarkable growth, the techniques employed to create the finest hats, and the family’s pride in creating the world’s most famous straw hat – over a glass of wine, of course.
An Evening with the Vegas – Federica, the daughter of Ecuador’s most renowned ceramic artist, Eduardo Vega, has teamed with Metropolitan Touring to design an exclusive after-hours tour of their hillside retreat. Guests will enjoy a guided tour of the home’s must-see gallery and workshop, where the family shapes and fires their wares, as well as of their beautiful garden dotted with ceramic sculptures and redolent medicinal plants. They will also tour Eduardo’s ceramic-filled home, designed by the artist, who is also an architect. The evening will conclude with a five-course dinner at Federica’s restaurant, Amapola, celebrating the culinary diversity of Ecuador, with specialties served on dishes fired just yards away.
There are many more highlights awaiting guests on tour in Cuenca with Metropolitan Touring, including the Parque Calderón, a lively plaza flanked by historic and important buildings including the Old and New Cathedrals and colorful restaurants and stores; Santa Ana Street, a quaint pedestrian destination dotted with cafes and restaurants that was closed to the public for 53 years until 2017; the kaleidoscopic Plaza de las Flores, named one of the Top 10 Outdoor Flower Markets of the World by National Geographic; and bohemian Plaza San Sebastián, the ideal spot for a stroll through beautiful gardens, fountains and paths. There is also a walk along the Barranco, where the Tomebamba, the largest of four rivers that flow through the city, has pretty, tree-lined banks. The Turi scenic lookout has one of the best panoramic views of Cuenca, plus the colorful Vega Workshop and Gallery is just a stone’s throw away. And for the ultimate Ecuadoran accessory, pick up a Panama Hat from Homero Ortega Hats, one of the oldest companies producing and exporting them to the world.
Metropolitan Touring’s new 4-day tour includes the nearby artisan towns of Gualaceo, Chordeleg, and the Andean Kichwa community of Saraguro offers an exceptional immersion into a lesser-known region of Ecuador. The tour includes guides and transportation services, and lunch daily at first-class restaurants in Cuenca and its surroundings. Activities include visits to the city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; wilderness hikes and bird-watching in El Cajas National Park; a visit to the Gera community of Saraguro, with a spiritual cleansing; and encounters with luthiers, jewelers, wool weavers and more in Gualaceo and Chordeleg.
Cuenca’s (brief) History
The largest city of Azuay Province, whose first inhabitants arrived 10,000 years ago, Cuenca was founded around 500 AD as Guapondeleg – “land as big as heaven” – before being occupied by the Incas in the 15th century, who renamed it Tomebamba and considered the city to be a regional capital. The Spanish showed up before long and founded their settlement as Cuenca in 1557. After growing in significance through the colonial era, Cuenca became the capital of Azuay Province after Ecuador achieved independence in 1822.