About nine hours south of Quito and four hours east of Guayaquil, the striking city of Cuenca was founded in 1557 on the site of an old Inca settlement. Home of the Panama hat, the city retains much of its old colonial atmosphere. One of the most attractive cities in Ecuador, and regional capital, Cuenca’s historic centre has cobble stoned streets, flower-filled plazas and churches dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
La Cajas National Park is located 19 miles to the northwest of the city where visitors can hike or fish in breathtaking landscapes. The numerous glacial lakes are set amongst stunning scenery at 10,000 feet, and it is excellent area for walking and birdwatching. You can also explore the valleys of Gualaceo and Chordeleg from Cuenca. Visitors to the region can travel overland via Cajas to Guayaquil, to the country's principal coastal port city, in just a day, making Cuenca the perfect stepping stone across to the Galapagos Islands after exploring mainland Ecuador, as all flights to the islands go via Guayaquil.