6 must see museums in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca isn’t a particularly large city but it has enough museums to satisfy even the most die-hard museum loving tourist.

When Dave and I first started travelling we almost felt like we had to visit every museum in every town to ensure we truly understood the culture of a place.

Dave and Carmen Cuenca selfie Double-Barrelled Travel

Me and Dave in Cuenca

These days we’re much more interested in meeting the locals living in the present, and learning about their customs and culture that way, rather than reading about their ancestors in dusty museums scattered throughout their town.

We’re still suckers for a good museum though, and during our two months living in Cuenca we did manage to suss out some of the best.

Here’s a list of our favourite six museums in Cuenca, Ecuador.

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The entrance to The Prohibited Museum

The Prohibited Museum

The Prohibited Museum (Prohibido Centro Cultural)  isn’t one for the faint hearted and easily offended. As a museum / cafe decked out in gothic objects, coffins, anti-Christian art and murals depicting death, some could be easily scared away. There’s even a crucifix of a Jesus with an erection.

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Rocking out at the Prohibited Museum with our Spanish teacher Bertha

The museum is so out there and doesn’t really fit in with the local way of life; Cuenca is a city covered in churches and shops selling Christian dolls. But this is why I liked it – it’s refreshing in its dark gothic way.

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I wasn’t surprised when my Spanish teacher, Bertha, told me locals had tried numerous times to close it down without success.

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But as I washed my hands in a fountain where the water came out from beneath a woman squatting, I thought that people should loosen up. If you don’t like that kind of thing, then don’t visit. But if you’re curious like me, go ahead – it’s interesting if nothing else!

forbidden museum cuenca sculptures Double-Barrelled Travel

What you need to know:

How to get there: The Prohibited Museum is located on the east end of Santos Street, which is between Calle Larga and the river.

When to go: The Prohibited Museum doesn’t really keep regular hours, so just pop by and ring the bell to see if it’s open.

Cost: Entry was $2 per person

Central Bank Museum

If you want to learn about Ecuador’s people, the Central Bank Museum (Museo del Banco Central) is the place to go for those into anthropology. Ecuador might be a small country but it’s a diverse one. The nation’s people vary drastically, both in looks and culture, from the Andes to the coast.

My favourite part of the museum is the shrunken heads display taken from the Shuar people living in the Amazon.

But the best part about the Bank Museum is its gardens. The museum itself is rather impressive – being housed over three floors – but the garden is beautifully landscaped and features many native plants and flowers found all over Ecuador.

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There’s even an aviary at the bottom of the landscape that features toucans, macaws and parrots – a good option if you didn’t get the chance to see them in the wild of the Amazon.

toucan bank museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

In the garden there’s a delicious crepe stall selling made-to-order Belgium crepes that my friends raved about (unfortunately we never got round to eating there).

bank museum cuenca gardens Double-Barrelled Travel

What you need to know:

How to get there: The museum is located on Calle Larga and Av. Huayna Capac. 

When to go: The museum is open Monday to Friday, 8am – 6pm and Saturdays from 9am – 1pm.

Cost: Entry is free.

Medicine Museum

Step back in time and see what the inside of a hospital used to be like at the beginning of the 20th century.

medical equipment medical museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

This place is somewhat creepy, but also extremely fascinating and in some parts I struggled to draw my eyes away from the cabinet displays. Dave enjoyed seeing all the old computers that the docs used to use – he even remembered using a few of the ancient 80s models!

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There’s a dead three year old boy that’s kept in one of those said cabinets, preserved like a mummy, which is especially eerie. There’s also a foetus that looks like it was near term when removed. Harrowing stuff.

8 month feutus medical museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel 3 year old boy medical museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

If there’s one thing this museum makes you feel it’s grateful for being born now. I would not have liked to have given birth on one of the metal tables, legs strapped into the obscenely high stirrups without any pain killers to dull my labour…

beds medical museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

What you need to know:

How to get there: The museum is located on 12 de Abril Avenue, between the Military Hospital and the San Vicente de Paul Building.

When to go: The museum is open Monday to Friday, 8:30am – 12pm and 1:30pm – 5pm.

Cost: Entry is $2 per person.

Modern Art Museum

I’m not really in to modern art. Some of it I just don’t understand, and this museum certainly has some of that kind of art. For example, there’s a glass cabinet housing power tools. And a video of a woman vomiting blood. And this is meant to be art…?

inside modern art museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

Modern art…?

Dave likes some of it though. He reckons free expression is better than the usual religious art from history. Agree to disagree!

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The beautiful grounds of the Modern Art Museum

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However, the building the Modern Art Museum (Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno) is in is fascinating and worth the trip alone. The museum is housed in a former mental hospital for women and the cells – where the art is now displayed – are claustrophobic and it’s difficult to picture people living in those conditions.

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There’s a sculpture garden out the back though, and some of the existing wall is still standing nearby. You can see how it was originally traditionally built with mud and twigs before being replaced with concrete over the years.

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Dave and Bertha in the sculpture garden of the Modern Art Museum

What you need to know:

How to get there:  The museum is located at Sucre 15-27 at Coronel Talbot on the south side of San Sebastian square.

When to go: The museum is open Monday to Friday 8:30 am – 1pm and 3 p.m – 6:30 p.m. On Saturdays, it’s open from 9am – 1pm.

Cost: Entry is free.

Museum of Aboriginal Culture

Before we went to Cuenca, Dave’s dad excitedly told us that there was gold artefacts displayed there that people living today have no idea how they could’ve been formed.

We really wanted to see it, so we enquired around… only to find that it’s gone missing.

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Me posing on an Inca chair in the museum

Much of it used to be housed in the Bank Museum, but other works have been sold or have simply disappeared. This is a shame, because I feel like ancient artefacts like these should be kept for generations to come.

Anyway, some of the artefacts that were bought are now displayed in the privately-owned Indigenous People’s Museum. There’s a lot of pottery, jewellery and art from hundreds of years ago. It helps if you go with a guide, or at least pick up the English manual on your way in, as the descriptions next to the objects are poorly written.

aboriginal art museum pots Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel aboriginal art museum Cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

What you need to know:

How to get there:  The museum is located on Calle Larga 5-24 between Hno. Miguel and Mariano Cueva Streets.  

When to go: The museum is open Monday to Friday, from 8:30am – 6pm and Saturday 9am – 1pm.

Cost: Entry is $2 per person

Eduardo Vega Gallery

Not strictly a museum but I feel it should certainly be in the art gallery category. Eduardo Vega is a local ceramic artist and I would personally buy all of his art if I had a house to put them in.

The gallery is perched on the edge of a cliff in Turi, with sweeping views over the whole of Cuenca. It’s a short taxi ride from the city centre up the winding hill that’s wrapped around the south of the town.

Entering his house-like store, walking through his displays you can see pottery in all different colours, shapes and sizes. Some of them are made with a theme in mind – like the Chinese teacups and Galapagos-themed candle holders – whilst others are stand alone pieces that you’d show off on your mantelpiece.

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In the workshop below the gallery you can see Vega’s minions hard at work, bringing his designs to life. One of my friends said that she didn’t like that about Vega’s work – that it’s not him that actually creates the pieces. But I don’t mind it, as it makes his work much more affordable for those on an everyday budget, like myself, to buy his work.

And who knows? Perhaps Dave and I’ll return to his gallery one day when we’re ready to kit out a home. But until then, I’m more than happy to look.

vega art cuenca Double-Barrelled Travel

What you need to know:

How to get there:  The gallery is located in Turi, a 5 – 10 minute taxi ride from downtown Cuenca.

When to go: Unfortunately, the opening times are not listed on Vega’s website.

Cost: Entry is free.

Have you been to Cuenca? What was your favourite museum?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

2 comments on “6 must see museums in Cuenca, Ecuador”

  1. Thomas Reply

    Modern Art … the woman vomiting blood won 1st prize in this year’s Cuenca Biennal. Not my cup of tea but someone loved it. I guess art is in the eye of the beholder.

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