Plaza de San Sebastián
Marking the western edge of the historical center, this quiet plaza, Cuenca's most beautiful, is anchored by the 19th-century Church of San Sebastián. In 1739, when the plaza was still used for bullfights, it was a mob of cuencanos (Cuenca folks) – not the bull – who mauled a member of explorer La Condamine’s geodesic expedition here, apparently because of an affair with a local woman.
Plaza de San Francisco
Resplendently colonial yet curiously ramshackle, this plaza's set-piece is the 19th-century Church of San Francisco which features an important gold-leaf altar from the colonial period. The plaza itself is flanked by old arcaded buildings with wooden balconies, as well as one of Cuenca's main street markets.
Parque Calderón & Around
The city's largest plaza is abutted by two stunning cathedrals. The park's name comes from independence hero Abdón Calderón, whose monument graces the center – accessed through prettily hedged walkways.
Parque San Blas
On the east end of the historical center and occupying what was once known as the ‘low neighborhood,’ this slightly decrepit park has one of the city's largest churches, the Church of San Blas, at its eastern end. It's the only Cuenca church built in the form of a Latin cross.
Río Tomebamba & Calle Larga
Majestic colonial buildings line the grassy shores of the Río Tomebamba, which effectively separates Cuenca’s historic sector from the new neighborhoods to the south. The building facades actually open onto the street of Calle Larga, which runs parallel to and above the Tomebamba, while their back sides ‘hang’ over the river. This arrangement gives rise to the local name for the fashionable neighborhood, El Barranco (cliff). Steep stone stairways – the most used of which is the wide flight of steps known as La Escalinata – lead down to Paseo 3 de Noviembre, an attractive walkway and cycleway which follows the river’s northern bank as far west as El Vado.
Clustered around the Plazoleta de la Cruz del Vado and Calle La Condamine are galleries, cafes, restaurants and talleres (artisanal studios) specializing in everything from traditional embroidery to copperware to saddles.
South of City Center
The more modern part of the city south of the Río Tomebamba might lack architectural beauty but it's increasingly the cool place to go out – and has a couple of attractive green spaces worth leaving Cuenca's colonial heart for.