Dena Haines of Gringos Abroad has lived in Ecuador with kids since 2009. Her family (including daughter Drew, 14) are based in the pretty city of Cuenca and Dena and her husband, Bryan Haines, recently penned the Expat Family Handbook full of advice about life as a family traveling with kids. She tells suitcases&strollers why she thinks parents should plan a family holiday in Ecuador and especially in her adopted hometown of Cuenca.
Why should parents plan a family holiday in Cuenca?
Cuence is a beautiful city with four rivers and lots of green space along the banks.
There are many parks with space to run and play and lots of playground equipment.
Because of the elevation (8,500 feet), you don’t have to worry about malaria or dengue like some other places in Ecuador. [Do note that at this heigh above sea level, while mosquito-born diseases are not an issue, altitude sickness can be. For more tips on how to deal with altitude sickness in kids, see the suitcases&strollers story The Sacred Valley.]
You can also get a feel for the Andean culture in Cuenca: gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture and people dressed in traditional clothing.
There are also some modern things like shopping malls, movie theaters and good hospitals.
Where is your favourite place to take kids in Cuenca?
Our favourite places to relax with Drew are Parque de la Madre or Parque Calderon.
Parque de la Madre has lots of green space. There is also a planetarium and it’s not that far from the centre of the city.
Parque Calderon is in the historical city centre. We like to pick up some bread at one of the bakeries and feed the pigeons. It’s a great place to relax, people watch and take in the city.
Parque Parasiao is another gorgeous spot!
[Parks are a fun and free way to view a city when traveling on a budget with kids. For more travel tips on free things to do with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Free Things To Do In Most Cities With Kids.]
Where is your kid’s favourite place in Cuenca to hang out?
Drew likes the parks and Mall del Rio. She is a teenager and the mall has lots of clothing stores, a theatre, arcade, food court and a bowling alley so there is lots of fun stuff to do there.
What is the best free activity to do with kids in Cuenca?
We love to walk and explore, so I would have to say just walking the city and taking in the parks.
There are lots of cafes and ice cream shops to stop in and have a treat along the way. I wrote a kid friendly walking tour post, check it out to get an idea what it’s like to walk in Cuenca.
Also make a trip to [the town] Turi to take in the amazing views over Cuenca; you can see the entire city!
Where is the best place to take kids in Cuenca when the weather is bad?
What are some of the city secrets of Cuenca that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Cuenca?
Casa de la Mujer is one of those spots. It’s an inside shopping area full of artisans. You can find great souvenirs and see some of the artists working. They sell everything from Panama hats to silver jewellery and leather bags.
Banco Central Museum [Calle Larga and Av. Huayna Capac, Cuenca, Ecuador] is a nice museum where you can see a lot of history and culture from around the country. There is also a large outside area with gardens and an aviary.
The Amaru Zoo [Ecuador Highway 35, Cuenca, Ecuador] is also a fun spot to take the kids. It’s on a hill and has amazing views of the city.
And the Cajas National Park is beautiful and pristine. It’s about a half hour outside the city and you can go hiking and fishing. Dress warm; it can be cool and damp.
What’s the best way to have an authentic experience of Cuenca with kids?
Spend the day the same way a local family would. Go to the park, walk around the city and then go for a traditional meal.
Which is the best place to stay if you are on family vacation in Cuenca?
The Oro Verde Hotel is more central and Hosteria Duran is just a little outside the city. Taxi rides are easily arranged from either.
There are also many Flipkey rentals where you can stay in an apartment, cook your own food and enjoy Cuenca more like a local.
An amazing place to stay which is about a half hour from Cuenca is Hacienda Uzhupud. It’s a gorgeous spot where the kids can go horseback riding, swimming, feed chickens, milk a cow, ride paddleboats and eat traditional food.
What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Cuenca with kids?
A couple of weeks would make for a nice visit. There would be time to explore and relax.
When is the best time of year to visit Cuenca?
Cuenca does not have big seasonal changes; it stays pretty much the same all year.
There is what the locals refer to as “winter”. It corresponds with the winter in Canada and the States (December to March). It rains more often and feels colder because of that. The weather may be better from April to November but not necessarily…it all depends. You could come in December and have amazing weather or in April and have rain.
The weather changes a lot in the run of a day; chances are if you stay for a couple of weeks you will see nice weather.
I would avoid Carnival which is in February/March. During Carnival people throw water balloons (and use water guns) at pedestrians; the kids could get hurt. It might not be very likely but it could happen. Sometimes they throw other things (like ice, eggs and flour) even though the law says they shouldn't. There is also more of a party atmosphere. We stay in a lot during that time.
Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly meals in Cuenca?
What are your tips for kids' shops in Cuenca?
There are fun kids shops scattered all around the city. They are like card shops with toys and stuffed animals. There are fun shops at the malls as well.
What is the best way to move around Cuenca with kids?
Walk or, if you need to go farther, take a taxi. The buses are fine but they can get super packed (making it hard to get on and off) so, if your family is not used to that, it might not feel so nice.
[Should you bother to take a car seat with you for taxis when traveling to Ecuador with kids? See the suitcases&strollers interview with a car safety expert here to find out.]
What are your top 3 tips for families travelling to Cuenca with kids?
1. Spend lots of time at the parks.
2. Walk the historical part of the city, taking the time to stop into whatever shops look interesting to your family.
3. And if you shop at traditional shops, talk to the artisans. They are so friendly and love meeting and talking to your kids! You will need to learn a little Spanish for that and it’s worth it.
A family holiday to Ecuador with kids is not complete without a visit to the world famous Galapagos Islands. For travel tips on how to do the Galapagos Islands with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.