How to Drink the Tap Water in Cuenca Ecuador shares the best travel insights, facts, and photos. When you use our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Do you drink the water in South America? The topic of safe water is a hot one. Frequently, new expats will confidently state: “We always drink the tap water, and we’ve never gotten sick … since we arrived 3 months ago!”

How to Drink The Tap Water in Cuenca

Well, that’s good news. It’s good to stay healthy. But do you really want to leave your health in the hands of the municipal government? How many of us used to drink tap water back home? Probably not too many – especially if we were on city water.

Update September 2014: We ran lab tests on the water in Cuenca – read all the results.

Read more about boiling water.

In Canada, we had a 200 ft drilled well at our house – and we did drink the water from that. And it tasted really good. We lived on top of a small hill and it was some of the best water we’ve tasted. But we also ran the water through three filters.

One was to remove sediment. The other two were under the sink and were ceramic that removed both bacteria and amoebas. Maybe it was overkill, but there was a commercial farm just a few hundred yards down the road and we didn’t want to drink pig poop – no matter how diluted it was.

We also had an office in town, which was on town water. The water tasted bad so we always bought water. The truck delivered once per week.

After a year or two, the town discovered that the water was actually contaminated with chemicals from a dry cleaner shop that burnt down a few years before and people were getting sick from the water.

Is the three-month test sufficient time to prove that water is safe? Probably not. We have all had parasites and amoebas – really not much fun. And the medicine is awful. It’s actually hard to know which is worse. The medicine gives a metal taste in your mouth for close to a week.

So, Should You Drink the Tap Water in Cuenca? 

For us, we were afraid to. And then we got sick and refused to. What is interesting to us, is that while many expats insist that it is okay and safe to drink the water – many Cuencanos drink bottled water.

Stomach illnesses are common here, among both foreigners and local. It isn’t “Ecuador” that is the problem – we are on the equator and things are different here.

Yes, We Drink The Tap Water in Cuenca!

It’s true, but not exactly all that simple. You see, we used to drink bottled water. We had a great system setup where the man who delivered our gas tanks also delivered our water. So when we were getting a little low, I would call him and often within a few hours we would be stocked up again.

But as life goes sometimes, we would often run out of water. As you see below, we had a pretty great collection of water bottles. Eight to be exact. We would usually get a two week supply at a time.


Ecuador’s Tap Water is Cheap

We were drinking 3-4 large bottles each week. At $2.00 per bottle, it cost us roughly $8 per week or over $400 per year. It’s not a fortune but still a significant expense.

Because of things we’ve read about how the sun can affect plastic bottles (and these bottles often spend hours/days in direct sunlight) and because of the hassle of ordering and running out of drinking water, we decided to look into a water filter.

What we found is a 4 gallon countertop water filter. It is made by Zen Water Systems and we ordered it via Amazon and shipped it here via Club Correos.

Check out the Countertop Water Filter on 

There are two parts that need to be replaced: the ceramic dome (lasts 12 months) and the 5 stage filter cartridge (lasts 6 months).

So from what I can tell, the annual operation costs are just $62.10 (1 ceramic filter and 2 five stage filters) plus shipping.

4 Benefits to Owning a Water Filter

  1. Compared to the over $400 we were spending on delivered water, this unit will pay for itself within 6 months
  2. We don’t have to worry about running out of drinking water
  3. We don’t have the mountain of plastic bottles to store
  4. We have fresher and cleaner water

The filtration systems has two filters. The top flat disk  is the ceramic filter. This really is the most important because it filters out bacteria and debris. The secondary lower filter has five stages and I’m not to sure on the science with all of this – but I don’t think it hurts.

Check out the Countertop Water Filter on 

I recently wrote another article about portable water filters. I cover filters for both travelers and expats. Read that post here.

Do you drink the tap water? How do you get drinking water in Cuenca – or where you live abroad?

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    1. Thanks for this correction Sam. I have adjusted the link – I’m not sure what happened. The Zen brand is a great product and costs much less than similar products.
      Thanks again!

  1. “How many of us used to drink tap water back home? Probably not too many – ” Really? Of course I drink tap water in the US.

    1. Glad to hear you have good water where you live.
      In North America, many people supplement the municipal water system with home filtration – to add/remove certain elements and to improve flavor. And of course, the size of the bottled water industry suggests that many people don’t drink the tap water.

  2. Cuenca has the best drinking water in South-America:
    “Cuenca’s water is better than most water supplies in Europe and North America. We suggest the city’s tap water is better, in fact, than most bottled water available locally.”
    Hamburg, Germany-based International Drinking Water Council (IDWC) 2008

  3. I have those tablets that purify water & also a Brita that I was planning on bringing. Will those help make the water safe?

    1. I guess it depends on which tablets you have. You should confirm that they will treat the right things.
      In reviewing Brita’s site, it seems that they focus more on water taste. What you need to ensure the safety of the water is something that will filter out living things (amoebas and parasites) that can make you sick. Something else to remember is that water quality isn’t the same everywhere in the country.

  4. Hi Bryan,
    Thanks for the response. I didn’t mean to get all nasty and vitriolic, it’s just that I’ve had some family members who got ripped off to the tune of thousands of dollars by similar water filtration devices, so I’m really, really sensitive on that particular subject, which makes me overreact. I really need to work on that.
    I do agree with you that the ceramic filter followed by the charcoal stage (activated charcoal does adsorb some VOCs and other nasties, along with the stuff that usually makes water taste awful) is the meat of that filter system, and the rest is just fluff. I think I just freaked out when I saw the stuff on the sales image from the water purification company – pseudoscience is one of my huge triggers *hanging head in shame, I should know better than to overreact like that*…
    Anyhow, I do appreciate the info you’ve put forth on your blog (and I really meant the comment from my other post about the cuisine coverage – I LOVE learning about authentic Ecuadorean cuisine instead of just the gringo-friendly stuff) – from what I’ve found you’re one of the few sources who are actually honest and objective, I did mean what I said about the water test thing though – I’m totally cool with grabbing a few samples while I’m down there in July and would be happy to share the results with you. My wife assures me it’s OK to drink, as do all the other gringos, but since I already admitted I won’t drink the H2O in my hometown, maybe I need some humble pie, eh? *laugh*

    1. Thanks Rabbit. We are careful not to recommend (or use) off-the-wall stuff. This filter is just $70 and it saves us much more than that on bottled water. Lots of expats just drink tap water and many more live off of bottled water. We’ve found this to be a good compromise.
      Thanks for being part of the community!

  5. Just want to add that these filters are readily available all over Quito. I bought one from a distributor but just the other day saw one in Megamaxi for under $50.

    1. I even got it for 19 dollars today in the old town of Quito. At least in Quito there is no need to import such a water filter.

  6. If water filtration is necessary why are there not filtering devices here in Cuenca. We’ve been here for a few weeks now and I have looked for a system I could hook up to the kitchen sink. Something that is a quick install and that can be dissembled when we move to a more permanent dwelling. No luck yet.
    Ideally I would like to find something that I could just hook to the spigot that would allow me to filter water for drinking and making coffee and ice and the disconnect it for other uses.

  7. I wish somebody would just send a few samples of Cuenca Tap Water off to a reputable testing service to get an accurate answer to this question about the quality of the water. Also ask the municipal water company for their test results, and compare the two sets of numbers. The local water supply must have these numbers available on a regular basis.
    Is their any evidence of any large outbreak of Gastrointestinal distress going on in the city? Parasitic Infections?
    Many contaminants can’t be tasted. And where do you think bottled water comes from anyway?
    Too much useless “testimonial” evidence here.
    Amoebas & Parasites in my organs, I drank the water & I got sick, I wore pink underwear and I got sick. Let’s get some valid, verifiable information and values.

    1. Why don’t you get the water tested once you get here? Then you can publish the results. Something that should be recognized is that the water isn’t consistent – sometimes it has a very strong chlorine smell, other times there is none. The water might pass today, but might fail tomorrow.
      Most people are smart enough to know that when something makes them sick they should avoid it. We didn’t test the water because we didn’t have to. We got sick, bought a filter and then didn’t get sick. It wasn’t that hard of an evaluative process.

      1. Bryan – It’s important to know what, if any, contaminants are in your water before you buy a filter. Then you can match the filter to the problem. Also consider how much water you consume vs. how much effort and disruption to your daily routine you’re willing to tolerate. Generally, the more contaminants you need to remove, the more complicated the filter, though there are trade-offs to every choice. Some of the highest scoring filters that Consumer Reports tested are Reverse Osmosis Filters. But this Clear2O CWS100A Filter is only $23 and scored a very high 93. (right up there with the best Reverse Osmosis Filters). Some of the high scoring RO filters are: Kinetico K5 Drinking Water Station – score 95 / Coway P-07QL – score 91 / Ecowater ERO-375 – score 91. And a counter-top model Amway eSpring 10-0188 – score 94.
        Chlorine was first used in drinking water to reduce waterborne infectious diseases in Jersey City, N.J. more than a century ago. It was so effective at destroying potentially harmful bacteria and viruses that the practice soon spread far and wide. Today some 98% of water treatment facilities in the United States use some form of chlorine to clean drinking water supplies.
        But at the same time there are opponents of Chlorination that aren’t so sure that any chlorine in drinking water should be considered safe.
        The American Water Works Association (AWWA), a trade group representing water utilities across the country, credits the presence of chlorine in drinking water with a 50% increase in life expectancy for Americans over the last century. Indeed, some consider the chlorination of drinking water to be one of history’s greatest public health achievements.
        Just some more fun facts and opinions du jour. Thanks for all you both do. I enjoy the heck out of your Blog.

          1. Interesting challenge…
            I will take some samples when I’m in Cuenca this July and do just that – it would be cool to see how the results come out, and besides, empirical evidence (one way or the other) is always better than speculation. Heck, I have no idea what the water has in it here in PHX, much less Cuenca, except that my wife drinks Cuenca tap water without any problems and I won’t touch PHX tap water (it just tastes nasty). The only drawback is that to have a truly scientific result would require me to buy one of these ridiculous devices and that’s just not gonna happen.
            All that aside though, I have to freak out now. Wow… You’ve given so much good information on this blog, I feel compelled to comment that the filtration device brochure set off every single one of my BS detectors in full “RED ALERT” mode.
            – “Far infrared balls?” – No offense, but that sounds like pure pseudoscience… What exactly *is* that anyway? Do they somehow emit infrared? (If so, what’s their power source? Infrared isn’t magic, the energy has to come from somewhere.) Were they just bathed in infrared at some point (i.e. warmed up?) during their manufacture? Meh. Fancy sciencey words don’t kill bacteria, protozoa or other parasites…
            – “Driveway-sized gravel in the final stage?” For what effect, really? To filter out the tadpoles that somehow made it past the tiny ‘infrared balls’, activated charcoal and 2 extra-special kinds of sand? Actual filtration generally relies on gradual increases in fineness and/or absorbency as filtration substrates proceed (as demonstrated by the mostly non-BS first 2 stages of this filter that are basically the stages of a Brita filter anyway minus the magical silver).
            – The last stage of this ‘filtration device’ is spurious as well – if you’re missing those trace elements, take a one-a-day, don’t run a little bit of water over some rocks and hope the minerals somehow get dissolved in it at some meaningful level…
            Sorry man, I don’t mean to be contrary here (I really like this blog), but I have to speak my mind. I despise pseudoscientific BS and I really, really hate to see people waste money on useless garbage because somebody used some ‘scientifical’ terminology in their sales brochure. Worse yet is if people use it expecting it to actually work and do amazing things for them but they still get sick because it doesn’t do the magical crapola that it claims to do…
            Don’t get me wrong – if people like it or whatever, more power to ’em, but the ceramic filter is the only thing actually doing any good in this system. The activated charcoal (‘magical silver’ aside) just takes out any nasty-tasting organic compounds so the water tastes cleaner. Everything else in that chain is unadulterated BS (which the filter does not claim to remove – “Activates water molecules in cells and blood? WTF does that even mean?!?”).
            I apologize for this vitriol, but I really despise this kind of pseudoscientific garbage using fancy words to separate people from their hard-earned money. Also it’s part of my nature to call out BS when I smell it, and that’s definitely the case here – I’m looking for my waders as I type.
            I promise that I will take water samples when I leave Cuenca at the end of July and will have them tested by an independent (i.e. not owned or affiliated with a magic water filter company) lab back in the states, and will report back with the results.
            Anyhow, all I can close with is… Wow, just WOW…
            – Rabbit

          2. I agree with you. The second stage filter is an interesting piece. Like I mentioned in the post, I don’t know the science behind it – and it doesn’t really matter to me.
            The important part of the filter is the ceramic dome. This is based on solid science. When we were looking for a water filter, there were two main options: UV or ceramic. We chose ceramic.
            I won’t defend all those other stages in the filter. I don’t think they are even necessary in avoiding amoebas and parasites. There might be some benefits in removing chemical contamination but I’m not sure.
            We are looking into water testing and hope to have something within a month.

        1. I have to agree with Ken here about how you need to test the water first to know how to filter it. You could easily be filtering for the wrong things or missing something. It is not clear to me if all the water systems in Cuenca use chlorine. Can someone answer that question? As far as RO well it depends if you have things like arsenic in the water to remove? When you are near volcanos arsenic can be a likely possibility in the ground water, but not always. Do the water companies actually test the water and provide a break down? If not has anyone in Cuenca bothered to do this and post the results and list the system they are on in Cuenca? It might be very beneficial to collect this information. Is it that expensive to test the water there? How much?
          My guess is they use chlorine since I have read here the complaints about higher chlorine taste when repairs have been done. That is standard procedure in the U.S. where I live. That high content of chlorine can really mess up your gut flora in a big way. If you can taste it then you know you have been blasted. You can actually buy chlorine meter for about 1k in the U.S. if you want to test the water yourself. If the water has chlorine in it then wouldn’t it be killing all the bacteria and parasites etc? If the water systems use RO then you are removing things like arsenic so you are covered there. If they are using chlorine when doing repairs then they are killing off things that are introduced. All you really would need at this point is an undersink filtering system that would cost you very little in the long run and allow you to use a lot of water from a special faucet. I was very concerned with chlorine in our water. I want to keep good gut flora. I found an engineer who actually designs very expensive hospital water systems. I found out that folks who have to have kidney dialysis needs to have chlorine free water for the equipment. This expert helped me figure out a way to remove chlorine cheaply. I use this for a two person household on kitchen sink and added another smaller facet for this filtered water. I use a 5 micron filter to filter out particles that would just plug up the carbon filters faster. These filters are very cheap. I change them out every six months for the amount of water we use. I change out earlier than they suggest just in case. I then use two more filters with loose carbon not the block carbon. He said that the block carbons filters tend to clog up faster and have a shorter life span. I also buy the carbon filters made from cocount shells rather than the charcoal filters. I have two of the filters and then the water runs to the facet. This carbon filters are like 11.00 each and I change them out every six months as well but probably could go a year. I could buy a chlorine meter for 1

          1. Oh I hit the wrong button and it posted before I finished! I have a three chamber filter system for chlorine and particles. I just wanted to add that these fancy filters systems you can buy that look great are more expensive than just buying the not so pretty simple filtering systems and stick them under the sink. You can install them yourself and put in housing for different kinds of filters depending on what your test results indicate. But you can’t just decide to filter water without testing and finding out what the water companies are actually doing and not doing.
            You can track down a Pentek 10″ slim line housing here in the U.S. for about 11.00 or so. Get 3 of them.
            The first filter is a 5 micron sediment filter for $1.60 and you can buy them by the case if you like:
            Then add on two granular carbon filters like this: (this is a 24 pack)
            Here is a filter that does it all it takes removed bacteria and chlorine etc:
            We connected all three housings together and sit it on the shelf under the sink. Don’t hang it all the wall! When we change it out every six months we made sure to add long tubing so it would easily slide out. We spent maybe $70.00 and bought directly from a plumber who had tons of these extras sitting around. When I replace the filter every 6 months it may cost be about $25.00. The only thing I would change is I would get a small facet that you didn’t have to hold the lever down with one hand to get water to flow. I would spend the extra 25.00 for better facet is all. The water tastes much better. What I learned when researching this whole clean water thing is this industry is just ripe for those who don’t bother to dig in to it much. Most people who sell this stuff really don’t understand the science behind this at all. They will lie to make sales and it is really hard to find the truth in all this. It is really hard for folks to find good information they can understand on this too. I finally got lucky and found someone who really understood the science and the engineering on how to remove chlorine and was willing to share this information.

  8. Hi guys. Enjoyed your water/filter article. It caught my attention, because the new water filter you purchased looks identical to the one at the Country store in the Greenwood mall. They always have it filled and ready to sample. Appears to be a good filter system.
    Take care and keep those amoebas to a minimum. 🙂

  9. Hi Bryan and Dena, how is the Zen 4 gallon water filter working for you? Would you recommend the 6 or 8 gallon over the 4 gallon filter? Or are you content with the 4 gallon?

  10. Hi Bryan and Dena, how is the Zen 4 gallon water filter working for you? Would you recommend the 6 or 8 gallon over the 4 gallon filter? Or are you content with the 4 gallon?

    1. Yes, it’s been good. I think the larger size – especially for a larger family – would be good. We ordered the smaller one because of shipping costs. And it works fine for the three of us – but we often run out when we have guests…

  11. Really enjoyed reading all the different comments. Especially that the same filter can be purchased instead of having shipped over. Safe drinking water is the sourse to keeping alive. We can do without food much longer that water. When we leave the mtns. of N.Carolina usa we were thinking more of the coast to relocate. I have seen few comments of expats speaking of their relocation to coastal life on your sites. I was wondering if there is a similiar site as yours of expats on the coast. I learn a lot by reading the post and will continue enjoying your helpful site. Thank you for all your hard work. Would appreciate it if you could direct me to a costal living site if there is one. Perhaps we should check out your home area in our search for our new permanent home.

  12. Bryan, I’m looking for general information on parasites invading a persons organs. We were just told we should not use the treatment from the pharmacy as it is too harsh and harmful to our bodies..that we should just use grapefruit seed extract. Grapefruit seed extract certainly would not help eradicate parasistes from organs would it? Any thoughts are appreciated. P.S. I know you’re not a doctor, I’m just wondering what you might know from your experience.

    1. I really don’t know – we’ve used pharmacy treatments (time for more tomorrow) and I can’t really comment as to the harshness. From what I understand, the order that they are taken in can be important. If taken in the wrong order, it can cause larger parasites into the organs. Best to check with a doctor on this question.

  13. Are the clear tanks on your Zen water system made of glass or plastic? Since grapefruit seed extract can be used to sanitize fruits and vegetables, could that also be used to sanitize the water in some way? Thanks so much for all your helpful tips.

    1. The tanks are poly-carbonate plastic. I’ve heard that the grapefruit seed extract can purify water – from living contaminants, but it should be confirmed by someone who actually knows…

  14. there are a number of good in-line and counter top filtering systems. I would like to point out a couple of issues. RO systems have three draw backs. first, you use 4 to 5 gallons to produce one gallon of processed water. Second, storing in plastic does contaminate the water because water naturally leaches minerals etc. from its environment, including “food quality” plastic bottles . Logically, this also means it is leaching minerals, bacteria, etc. from the water pipes. finally, it (and distilled water) leaches minerals from YOUR body – mostly calcium from your bones. another thought…your skin absorbs water through osmosis when you bath, shower and just clean up. Weigh yourself before and after a bath/shower to see. if it is not good enough to drink, you shouldn’t be bathing in it! I’d sure like to see an analysis of the water outside of Cuenca to see what minerals are available after going through the water lines. any such info available?

  15. With all this talk about water, I wonder why nobody has mentioned fluoride? Does Ecuador fluoridate water? I hope not. I am hoping to get away from that and many other pollutants in my life.

  16. Hi there. Sorry, this has nothing to do with the water issue, but Im a regular reader and had read an article you posted on the internet. I cant find it! Please help me and guide me to the right page. We will be making our move soon and I remember you mentioned a few things we could or should take from here regarding internet and also TV or cable. Thanks a lot!! I will be waiting your reply…or you could just send me a direct email and let me know. Appreciate it and as always appreciate greatly all the great information and personal insight you have shared with us through out your stay there. It truly has been helpful!!

  17. We are traveling to Ecuador in August and will be visiting Cuenca, Vilcabamba, Riobamba and Otavola. We are concerned about eating and drinking. I certainly don’t want to get sick whilst on the trip! I’m afraid of getting sick just from going from the extreme heat of Texas to the cool climate of Ecuador. Add in a few amoebas and I may end up in the hospital.
    I am a coffee addict and can’t imagine not being able to try some of the coffees in Ecuador. How can I protect myself? Also, when eating out, should we just go to the larger restaurants and only drink bottled water? Or, should I learn a bit of Spanish and learn how to ask the waitress if the water is filtered?

  18. Bryan — I have been reading your blog for awhile now and thank you for the wealth of information you and your wife provide about life in Ecuador. My family has been here for a little over 3 months. We live in Quito, and we also use a filtration system for our water. I figure, why take a chance? Especially with small kids, who are usually more vulnerable than adults with mature immune systems. Filtering your water has two advantages over drinking bottled: it’s more economical in the long run, and it’s kinder to the environment.
    Here is what we purchased, just in case anyone is interested in other options. We bought a Sawyer bag filter from REI. It is extremely portable, so it’s great for travelers. We bought it for my husband to use when he travels out to the jungle (we are missionaries), but we have been using it to filter all our water since we arrived in Ecuador while we wait for our countertop filter to arrive from the States with our shipment.
    The countertop filter we bought is a British Berkefield stainless steel gravity filter. These filters are used by the U.S. and British military and by organizations like Doctors Without Borders, so they are very high grade. We bought it from
    My sister and her family have been here a year, and they use a reverse osmosis filtration system by WaterLogix. They were in Bolivia for 5 years prior to moving to Quito and had a lot of problems with sickness until they bought this filtration system, and that took care of a lot of it.
    Anyway, just wanted to throw out those other options. Thanks for all your work and for a very informative website!

    1. Brian,
      When the water supply gets interrupted or contaminated
      That’s definitely a sign to filter. I’ve been doing the bottled
      Water thing, but all day today there’s been a yellow
      Film in the water.
      There’s been construction in the streets and some
      Power outage in Cumbaya. Could that cause it?
      It’s definitely disconcerting.
      Best regards,

  19. Thanks for all the info. I need make the first move to experience the Equador…Where do I start…..Thanks

  20. I have been drinking the tap water in Cuenca for over one year and have had no problems. Cuenca’s tap water comes from the Andes and the city has a state of the art RO system. The resulting water is the best in South America. Don’t waste your money on filters.
    Last year on my first trip to Cuenca, I came out of my hotel one morning to find a young boy filling plastic bottles with water from a garden hose. When I questioned him about what he was doing, his response was; ” crazy gringos want bottled water”.

        1. Bryan,
          Another idea is maybe the water processing plant is
          state-of-the-art, but the water line going to your
          Home in Cuenca may be 20 or 30 years old.
          I asked a local here in Quito and he would not drink
          The tap water unfiltered.
          Best regards.

    1. I guess some people have trouble seeing reality. I’m sure when the Cuenca water system is working at it’s best it might be safe to drink, but between the water treatment plant and your tap is where the problem lies. When work is done and lines are cut or broke or whatever, residents are not notified. We have gone through this stupidity. Many people get sick from Cuenca top water, that is a fact that cannot logically denied.

    2. Just a little story for you Tom and mine is real as opposed to your story of the young boy filling water bottles for crazy gringos. When we lived in Cuenca they did work on the water lines in our area. We had no notice of this taking place. So the water in this area was contaminated with ground water. We really don’t know for how long it would be unsafe. The treatment of water in Cuenca can be perfect, but it’s the trip from the treatment plant to your tap that is in question…and in Ecuador a lot of questionable things take place unbeknownst to us.

  21. Great tips and ideas.
    Someone mentioned boiling water. Really, in my research, I’ve found you only need to boil water for 10 seconds. That’s enough to kill any bacteria or parasites. In fact, they’ll be dead long before the water even gets to boiling.
    Even in Canada, I always order herbal tea at restaurants. Easy way to know that the water has been boiled. It’ll even evaporate some of the chemicals (like chlorine).
    But filtering is still better. You won’t get an infection from dead bacteria — but they’re dead “bodies” are still toxic.

    1. Hey John, thanks for the comment. I’ve heard some foreigners mention the need to boil water up to 20 minutes to kill everything. 10 seconds sounds a lot more doable. If you have a reference to share, it would be great.
      We have found that the ceramic filter – the first part of the filter to contact the tap water – gets clogged up within just a couple of weeks. It shows us how much material is in the water, beside the water itself.

  22. After living in Cuenca for almost three years, my family has never been sick with stomach problems, with exception of one my sons when we spent several days in the Playas. I have to be very careful with our diet because he has a sensitive stomach and allergic to certain things.
    For my family, it is not true that if you live in Ecuador, you will get sick from the water and food. For my family, the key to not contracting parasites and amoebas is that we only drink bottled water. In Cuenca, we only eat at probably ten different dining establishments that we know have clean kitchens and restrooms. And no, these are not the gringo establishments that we cater to.
    I cook with tap water and make our drinks with tap water that we have boiled. I think that another item that keeps us healthy is that before we eat in restaraunts, we either go wash our hands or use hand sanitizer. I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer when we are out and use it even after I have handled money.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Sherlynn. Things like bottled water and hand sanitizer go a long way in preventing many problems.
      Since we moved here, we buy hand sanitizer in 1 liter bottles, to refill the small ones. My wife and daughter always have some with them.

  23. Hey Bryan, I am no expert on the water, however it would be really nice when you write articles like this, if you could do a little in-depth research and provide some facts. I know you make your decisions for your family on what you believe is in their best interests, and a personal blog is a perfect place to post your perspective on anything. But many people look to this site as a guide, and regard you as an “expert” on life in Cuenca. That’s why some real facts would be appreciated. When we visited for a month, our gringo friends recommended bottled water, and kind of made us scared of drinking tap water, although International Living mag says it is safe to drink. (They are supposed to be experts, too!) And then I started to wonder about the bottled water that some local Cuencan was delivering – where did it come from? how do I know that this bottled water is any better quality? For all I knew, some local fellow attached his hose to his tap, and filled a bunch of jugs. Does someone ever test the water? So, we didn’t like the hassle of big jugs, or the extra expense. We started boiling the tap water in our kettle for 15 minutes while eating breakfast everyday, and drinking that. And you know what – it tastes great! I like your info on the water filter, but I think alot of people out here would really appreciate it if you could follow up your perspective on this subject with some factual answers about the water quality. There must be someplace you can get some answers about how the water is treated, tested, etc. Oh, and how long would I really have to boil the water to make sure it is safe?

    1. Hi Trudy, you need to remember is that this is not a newspaper. It is our story. We write from our experience. Just being thought of as experts doesn’t make us experts. We have never taken that position. When we don’t know the answer, we say so (often).
      When you read what International Living writes you need to consider: What is their agenda? Do they ever cover topics that might make someone not want to move abroad? Their information is not fact checked – they just publish as they receive it, and it isn’t always accurate. We’ve seen it first hand. The only thing they do, is fluff it up a bit – make it a bit more shiny to get people excited enough to buy a magazine subscription or an overpriced Country Guide.
      If you come visit again, you can get the water lab tested and decide for yourself. For our family, we have decided to drink filtered water. It seems like the best option right now. Maybe we’ll adjust in the future. Who knows?

  24. Hi Brian,
    Not to belabor the point about why people prefer to drink bottled water, but I’d like to make a small point. Studies done in the United States pointed out that one of the purest supplies of municipal drinking water is in New York City, which sources the great majority of it’s water from huge, strictly regulated rainwater reservoirs in the Catskill mountains. It consistently beat all other municipal supplies (as well as many of the top rated bottled brands)in both purity and flavor. However, New York City also ranks among the highest in bottled water consumption per capita in the country.
    Consequently I believe that in many cases the consumption of bottled water has more to do with convenience, hype and slick marketing (it’s a cash cow) then out of any real necessity – – even by Ecuadorians.
    But, as you say, to each his own.
    Keep up the good work and thanks for the interesting subjects.

    1. Hi Frank – you make a very good point. Certainly many municipalities in the US and Canada have excellent water systems. No question. And I agree about the “convenience, hype and slick marketing” of the water industry. It is more convenient to buy a 500ml bottle of water than bring one along. We buy water almost every time we are in the center.
      When it comes to the large bottles of water though, I think it is actually less convenient. Those large bottles are only used in homes and offices – both of which will have water taps. It is frustrating to use those bottles – both to load them and to stay in stock. It makes me think that there is another reason why people deal with them. For us, and more many expats that we’ve spoken with, it was for the quality of water. The problem with some of the bottled water, is that it gets a bad plastic taste. As a result we switched to the filter. It is the best water that we’ve tasted since we’ve arrived.
      I appreciate your input on this topic, it has added to the discussion.

  25. I grew up in Halifax, and never drank bottled water. I drank from the tap, and so did everyone I know. We didn’t get sick. I’ve been gone almost 12 years, and I don’t think much has changed.
    Living in Korea I am more careful about my water. If I’m boiling it for tea, then I will take it from the tap. If I want to drink cold water, bottled.
    I like the look of that water filter. I probably spend about the same as you were, so it could be a good investment.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Nancy, great to meet you. Nice to meet another Nova Scotian abroad (we’re from Greenwood). You’re right that it’s different abroad. We always cook with tap water, but try to drink filtered (sometimes bottled) water.

  26. Bryan – Obviously you are correct to say that just because I have never become ill from drinking the water in Cuenca, that doesn’t mean that one cannot, but that is simply stating the obvious. However, it is evidence (although not conclusive evidence) that the water is OK. On the other hand, I know of no evidence at all that the water will make you ill. If you are worried about the chlorine, just put it into a jug and let it stand for a while to let the chlorine evaporate.

    1. Hi Tom – I’m not on a campaign to switch everyone off the water in Cuenca – it is a personal decision (of course). If you are happy and healthy, then why switch? The water situation in Cuenca is significantly different than in Santa Isabel> where we lived for a year. Water would often come out like chocolate milk, sometimes with actual mud.
      For us, using a filter is a preventative measure. The fact is that in Canada I grew up in farm country and never got E. coli. But the possibility of my daughter, or even my wife and I, getting sick from the water was enough for us to purchase a filter system in Canada. And we are doing the same here.

  27. Bryan, thanks for info on a good option. Specifically in Cuenca, the municipal water flow is frequently interrupted, resulting in backwash in the distribution system, and who knows what lack of cleanliness at a repair site. Plus, the “appropriate” care of a municipal system involves the addition of chlorine (or its substitutes). Filtration, ionization, UV, and other methods are ALWAYS a good idea. Some of my Cuencano neighbors continue to use their rooftop storage tanks, to handle the intermittent flow and variable water pressure. They advise me to do the same. To that storage I will surely add filtration to the kitchen. I think you have alerted us to an important issue, and hope you will follow up with more info, if less expensive and more local sources are found.

  28. Hi Brian
    We have very much enjoyed your comments and information regarding living in Cuenca, but I do have a bit of an issue with the drinking of water in Cuenca.
    We have been fortunate enough to have traveled the world a good deal, and have always been cautious in what we eat or drink in areas of questionable water quality. However, since we plan to live permanently in Cuenca we think it is as important to acclimate to the culture (including the food and drinks) as it is to acclimating to the dry weather and the altitude. And, since we enjoy eating in restaurants, off the street carts and the in the homes of our Ecuadorian friends,it is not always possible to control what water is used for washing vegetables, making ice or drinks, for cooking, or for the cleaning of plates and utensils. So, over a period of a few months we have weaned ourselves off of bottled or filtered water to give our bodies a chance to acclimate to the different bacteria and particulate levels of our new home, and to date, with no ill affects. After all, the Ecuadorians have done it quite successfully.
    Thanks again Brian, and keep up the good work.

    1. Hey Frank,
      I appreciate your point of view. I had a situation recently that agrees with your comment. A couple months ago, I was in the hospital with food poisoning and the doctor asked how long I had been in Ecuador. He said that as a tourist my system might not be able to handle the water. When I told him that we have been here almost three years, he said that I should be accustomed to it by now. But no one gets accustomed to amoebas, parasites or contaminants in the water. And these are the things that a water filter can either reduce or eliminate.
      We don’t exclusively avoid the water, we’ll also drink juices and other foods (made with tap water) at restaurants or at friends homes. But in our home where we can control the variables, I like to know what I’m feeding my family. This is what we also did in Canada.
      I agree that many Ecuadorians (the majority, by far) drink tap water. But not all do. There must be a reason for that. Why would someone spend money unnecessarily? In todays paper, there was an article about a new water bottling plant in Oña. This isn’t just for some of us crazy gringos – there are too many trucks on the road and too many tiendas selling refill bottles for it to be just for foreigners.
      Thanks for your comment Frank, I appreciate your input.

  29. I still don’t understand. If there is nothing wrong with the water, why wouldn’t you want drink it? I imagine the reason many expats “feel compelled” to say that they drink the water is because others feel compelled to imply that there is something wrong with it without offering any evidence to support such a claim.

    1. Hi Tom, I understand your confusion. Just because someone hasn’t gotten sick doesn’t mean that it is safe. As mentioned in the post everyone in our family have had amoebas and parasites while living in Cuenca. Now, is it from the water or food? I don’t know. But we do want to take precautions to avoid getting them again – at least too often. 🙂
      We’ve noticed that sometimes the chlorine smell in the water is strong – other times we can’t smell it at all. This makes us question how regulated and consistent the water quality is.
      A couple weeks ago, Dena was telling a friend (an Ecuadorian who has lived her whole life in Cuenca) that we take amoeba medicine every six months. Her friend said that she does as well, she gives it to her whole family because the water here isn’t good. Of course, this is her opinion but it is something to consider.
      Something else to consider, is that the governments in Ecuador (like much of the rest of the world) don’t babysit their citizens like we are used to in Canada and the United States. If a couple people get food poisoning there – there might be a massive food recall. Here? Not likely. I’ve never heard of it.
      Over the last couple of weeks there have been at least two serious accidents on the Autopista near Mall del Rio here in Cuenca. In both cases, cars hit a rise in the road, went airborne and landed upside down on the other side of the median in the oncoming lane. It wasn’t until the second accident that the road crews put up sufficient signage to advise drivers. The ground is unstable (due to excessive ground water, I’m told) and is continually heaving. It currently has a rise of more than 1 meter in height, and while road crews have been trying to repair the problem, there hasn’t been signage to warn of the risk. The problem isn’t new, its been a dangerous section for more than four months and until now, there hasn’t been warning signs. Imagine both the law suits and public outcry if this happened somewhere else. Here, people are used to looking out for themselves. The missing manhole covers and hanging electrical wires usually stand out to new expats – those risks just couldn’t exist back home – the lawsuits prevent it.
      While we aren’t suggesting that you shouldn’t drink the water, we don’t drink it. This isn’t exclusive, of course. When we are at friends homes or restaurants we aren’t fanatical, we eat and drink what is provided. But in our home we like to ensure the quality of what we consume.
      Thanks for your comment!

  30. I have had problems with my Knee joints for years. Almost 20 years ago I was told I was a canadate for knee joint replacement. They were giving me considerable discomfort.
    In a friend living in the same apartment building highly recomended Dr Vallejo at Mt Saini, as he had a hip joint replaced and all went very well. As my Spanish is not the best, I decided to go to the hospital to make the apointment. At the entrance, I was told to go to the 5th floor, across the street. At the 5th floor, I was told 503. When I went to 503, I told the man behind the desk that I wished to make an apointment. He asked me what was the problem. I told him and he asked me to come to the examining room. The name tag on his uniform said Dr Vallejo. He examined both knees. More carefully than any previous US Dr,gave me a slip and told me to go to the 1st floor and have x-rays taken. They took the slip and apoligized and said it would be a little while. I sat down for a whole 2-3 minutes when I was called. 10 minutes later I had the X-rays in my hand and was headed back up to the 5th floor. As I had no insurance, I paid full price, $32. Dr Vallejo put them on a light table and discussed them with me in detail. He then said that he felt that surgery was not necessary if I just lost some weight, but come back in 6 months or so for a follow-up exam. He gave me some ibuprofin for the swelling. His fee for an almost 1 hour visit, $20.
    I have never had better treatment or faster service. The same x-rays and a blood test in the US took me 2 weeks and cost $730.

  31. I know it is a little off-topic, if I am careful, would I be able to avoid amoebas and worms if I live in Cuenca? Or is amoebas and worms inevitable (get it sooner or later) if I live in Cuenca? How safe are the restaurants? Thank you for answering my questions.

  32. Hi Bryan,
    I found all your posts very helpful and very reasonable. But I have to put this post at the top of the list for being useful. I’m a little tired of buying the water bottles and hoisting them onto the cistern and I’ve even wondered about how sanitary the bottles are despite my wiping them with bleach. I believe one of our next purchases may be a filter that you mentioned above.
    I don’t know much on the science of parasites, but would the filter eliminate amoebas(sp?).

  33. I have used a reverse osmosis for around 15 years. don’t trust municipal water supplies. had one in Toronto. Have one here in Coquitlam BC. expect to have one where ever I go.

  34. No doubt you would be afraid of drinking the water in Ecuador if you were afraid of drinking the water in Canada. Most of the bottled water in Canada, that isn’t “spring water” is from “public sources” that is code for tap water.

  35. So what exactly is wrong with the Cuenca tap water? The article didn’t seem to say. We have drunk it for two and a half years without any problem.

    1. Hi Tom – nothing specifically. Just that it is municipal water. It surprises me the number of expats that feel compelled to declare that they drink the tap water here. Especially when many people don’t drink the tap water back home…
      The point of the article is to show why we don’t buy bottled water anymore – and safely use the tap water.

  36. Interestingly, you can buy that same water filter in Cotacachi or Ibarra without paying shipping, etc. I think it’s around $34 or so. A couple of my friends have purchased them here. I bought a water pitcher in Ibarra that has a filter and then it utilizes ultraviolet. That was pricier – $140 plus $10 for a filter every few months.

    1. Thanks Terri – do you mean the water filter we purchased cost just $34? Because there are other vendors in the US that sell it for close to $200. I’ve never seen an imported item for less in Ecuador.

    2. Yes, sir. One of the little corner stores. It may have been $50, it was over a year ago that my friend purchased it. We also saw it for even less at a store in Ibarra. If you get to Cotacachi, I’ll be happy to show you. Looks exactly the same.
      Thank you for your info and I wish people would quit arguing with you. It’s your blog and you’re entitled to your opinion.

  37. Hey Brian, your water filter system is very interesting. Here in Cumbaya they say the tap water is fine, but we too only drink bottled water. Years ago when I was only visiting Ecuador I had tried the tap water and got sick. Maybe things have improved drastically, but I still don’t risk for myself or the kids.
    Best to you and the family,

  38. If you already own a water crock, you can buy this model, which costs $12 less and weighs 3 pounds less, which will translate into at least $10 less in shipping with Club Correo.

  39. Do you use filtered water to wash your vegetables and fruit? Have you heard about a grapefruit extract to sanitize vegetables? If so, is that available in Cuenca?

      1. Hi Bryan
        Love the quality and tone of your blog!!!!
        Our travel doctor said some people shouldn’t use the grapefruit seed soak for fruit and veggies if they are on meds that could cause the meds to be less effective. Have you heard anything about that. Thanks for any info., Patti

        1. No, I haven’t heard anything about that Patti. But we aren’t on any medications either. Appreciate the point and thanks for your feedback on the blog.

        2. I’m not a doctor, but grapefruit and many other foods (including certain cheeses, wines, etc.) can have very dangerous effects when combined with Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs).
          Usually people who are prescribed MAOIs are placed on a very restricted diet due to these potential interactions. Honestly I’m not sure about grapefruit seed extract, but I know that grapefruit in general is a bad thing when those drugs are prescribed. It’s not that it makes the drug less effective, but that the interaction with naturally-occurring compounds in the food can cause death when it interacts with these drugs.

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