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Cuenca — one of Ecuador’s most historic cities and most popular tourism destinations — is about to introduce several new options for travelers, including hotels, transportation and attractions.
At least two new hotels are in the works. Near the city stadium, a new boutique property, the 45-room Hotel Zahir 360, is set to open in early 2014, with a restaurant, a conference space and a fitness center. And plans are underway for what local tourism officials say will be the first Starwood property in the city — although Starwood itself has made no official announcement about the project, which has been reported in the local media to have about 100 rooms, a spa, a gym and a restaurant, and carry the Four Points or Sheraton brand.
In addition, the Oro Verde Cuenca — one of the city’s existing full-service hotels, is in the midst of a renovation that has already brought fresh decor to the guestrooms. The lobby and public areas are slated for upgrades next.
The city’s historic city center — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is also scheduled for additional upgrades. Plaza San Francisco, a bustling city square that is currently congested with street vendors, is targeted for renovations that will open up more public space, repair infrastructure and introduce green areas that will bring the area up to par with the attractiveness of other squares downtown.
Even the way that visitors arrive in the city may change in the coming years. The government has signed a contract with a French company to build a new $230 million light-rail system that will, among other things, connect the city’s airport with the historic center. The Tranvia de los Cuatro Rios (Four Rivers Tram) will have 27 stations, including stops downtown and near the main bus station and airport, making it a viable alternative for international visitors. Construction on the first line is to begin by the end of this year, with a completion date scheduled for some time next year.
Some of Cuenca’s more modern attractions are also due for upgrades. Estadio Alejandro Serrano Aguilar, the city’s largest stadium, will be expanded and renovated in stages, beginning next year. And the Planetario Municipal Ciudad de Cuenca, a brand-new planetarium, is to open next year in Parque de la Madre, a city park.
For better or for worse, the city this year is marking another milestone: the arrival of McDonald’s. For all the delicious Ecuadorian cuisine available in Cuenca, some travelers will certainly welcome the arrival of not one but two locations of the fast-food chain — one freestanding location near Parque de la Madre and the other at Mall del Rio, a popular shopping mall. The city’s historic center may preserve its unique heritage and style, but some things cannot be stopped in the newer parts of town, apparently