What’s it like to live in Cuenca Ecuador? That question could have many answers. The response could differ greatly depending on who you ask, where they are from and what mood they are in at the time.
What’s it Like to Live in Cuenca Ecuador?
Cuenca Ecuador: An Expats Paradise?
We all carry certain perceptions and habits that could influence the outcome of experiences we have in Cuenca, good or bad. This could leave a person calling it a paradise or an unfriendly desert… depending. I think that holds true for just about anywhere.
The many things we like about Cuenca (…culture, architecture, climate, language, mix of modern and old infrastructure) could be the same things that other people don’t like.
One thing to remember when doing research about relocating is that when you read blogs, you are reading personal opinions – and opinions can differ greatly.
Opinions are generally more about feelings and less about facts. It’s always best to get a big picture by reading many different sources and then checking things out for yourself.
Whether or not Cuenca is a paradise for expats depends on the expat.
Here is a basic breakdown of our feelings about 5 different aspects of life in Cuenca.
Crime in Cuenca
For example, our family comes from small-town Canada and Cuenca is the first city we’ve lived in. Because of our small town habits we made the wrong decision to have a lengthy conversation on the street in front of our apartment in Cuenca, at night. We were having a relaxed conversation with our neighbor. That bad decision left us an easy target to the two thieves that robbed us.
We had been told that Cuenca is not all that safe at night (like most cities) but we had been there for a few years with no problems so we were feeling a little too comfortable. This probably would not have happened to people used to city life.
So should hearing that we were robbed make you write off Cuenca or Ecuador all together?
Would hearing that someone was robbed in a small city in the United States make you avoid that city, that state, or perhaps the U.S.A altogether?
It may sound funny to compare things that way. And as a foreigner, you may feel more vulnerable because perhaps you don’t know the culture or language, but when it comes to crime it often has more to do with habits and decisions than the area itself. Crime is just about everywhere.
Cuenca is not a crime-free paradise. It does have a low crime rate compared to cities of a similar size in North America.
So by taking precautions, like not being in isolated places (especially at night), not wearing gold and expensive jewelry, and wearing your bag diagonally across and in front of your body, you will avoid much of the crime that does exist in Cuenca and pretty much everywhere else.
Cuenca’s “Spring Like” Climate
Cuenca has a nice climate. It does get cold – cold enough to make you shiver and see your breath in the air. It also gets hot, hot enough that you can feel the top of your head burning as you walk to the corner store.
The climate in Cuenca can change a lot during the run of a day largely because of the altitude. Cuenca is high in the Andes mountains (8500 feet) so when the sun is hidden behind could cover it gets chilly, so you may see hail.
It also gets hot because of its high altitude and on the equator, so you’ll see palm trees, but you won’t see many outdoor pools.
Locals say that in Cuenca you get all the seasons in one day. You may be rubbing your hands together to warm them up while waiting for the bus/taxi in the morning and then arrive home in the afternoon carrying your sweater and jacket over your arm. An umbrella is a very useful tool for the rain and the sun.
In Cuenca, it can be cloudy and cool or sunny and warm for days on end.
Your feelings about the climate may depend on where you are from and your preferences. I really like the climate in Cuenca, I would rather be a little on the cool side than too hot.
Cost of Living in Cuenca Ecuador
Cuenca is known to be the most expensive city in Ecuador. With that being said, your expenses will probably be less than they are now if you are living in Canada or the U.S.A.
We’ve lived in a 5 bedroom 2 1/2 bath home for $280. We’ve also lived in a 3 bedroom 2 1/2 bath apartment in a security building with underground parking for $450 a month.
Even with the $450 rent, we were paying less for things like gasoline, electricity, water, groceries, health insurance, car insurance, car repair, and dentist bills.
Sometimes people are shocked to find out that not everything is less expensive here. Somethings even cost more, like electronics and brand name makeup (Cover Girl, Revlon…) other things cost the same, like imported food (Oreos, Cheerios…) and clothing.
Can you live in Cuenca if you are broke? Not really, but you can live on less money than in the States or Canada especially if you don’t buy the things that cost similar to or more than they do there.
Quality Of Life in Cuenca
From what I’ve heard about city life, Cuenca is pretty good.
There is good health care, with clean modern hospitals. There is even a cancer hospital (Solca) in Cuenca. There are a lot of specialists and medical care facilities, so it has never taken us much time to get an appointment. We pay around $20-30 for an appointment with a specialist.
There are nice parks, restaurants and cultural events to enjoy. It’s easy to have a healthy diet because there are lots of fresh fruit and vegetables available at the markets year round.
Is Cuenca a paradise for people looking for a higher quality of life? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on what you are comparing it against. The air is not crystal clear everywhere in Cuenca.
Because it’s a city there are fumes from cars and buses especially on the busy streets, but unless there are fires in the mountains (hardly ever happens) there is no smog. Or at least I can say that in the 4 years we’ve been exploring Cuenca we have never seen smog.
If you are planning a visit and traffic fumes really bother you it would be best to look for a hotel away from the center. It’s best not to buy an apartment unless you come and check out the area for yourself.
Big Picture Opinion of Cuenca Ecuador
Cuenca is a nice city with people that are friendly toward foreigners. If expats are friendly and polite, if they try to blend in and are careful not to be in isolated places at night – they should be able to enjoy the city and not have many problems.
Reasons Some Expats Decide Against Cuenca
People decide not to relocate to Cuenca for lots of reasons:
- it may not be as warm as they would like
- they may decide that they would rather be in a small town
- that a different culture would suit them better
- they may not be able to find everything they were used to having back home
- they can’t handle the isolation that comes with learning a foreign language
- they may have a health concern they were not expecting…
Here’s more about why some expats decide not to live in Ecuador.
Usually, when we hear people with an awful opinion of Cuenca it has more to do with a bad experience because of a lack of respect on the foreigners part, either for the language or local customs.
Sometimes it’s because they were expecting Cuenca to meet an unrealistic list of “paradise like” expectations. Or maybe they didn’t take proper crime precautions.
We were here for a number of years before being robbed. Because of that experience, I can understand why a person new to a foreign country could see everything about that country through scared and suspicious eyes if they were robbed the way we were.
It’s best to take precautions so a bad experience does not leave you with an unbalanced view of the area and ruin your experience.
If you already speak Spanish things will go much smoother and you will feel at home sooner. We didn’t speak Spanish when we moved just over 4 years ago and that made things harder for us, but we’re glad we moved when we did.
It’s easier to deal with the shock of total immersion when you know in advance that it will make relocating rougher.
We like Cuenca and we know many others that do as well. The best thing to do is come check it out for yourself and form your own opinions.
Please share your thoughts about Cuenca by commenting on this post.
9 Reasons We Chose to Move to Cuenca Ecuador
Thinking about a move abroad – but aren’t sure about where? Here’s why we chose to move to Cuenca, Ecuador.
Why We Chose Cuenca Ecuador
We have been living in Cuenca for almost a year now. Why Cuenca?
- We chose Cuenca because of the climate: Cuenca is springlike all year.
- The elevation. Being up this high means that there are not many critters to worry about, and no malaria.
- The health care. Cuenca is a center of education so the facilities are excellent.
- The cost of living. You can rent a nice 3 bedroom apartment here for around $180.00 a month or a house for $280.00 per month. You can buy a really nice house for $50,000.00 – $80,000.00. And your grocery bill will be about a third of what you are used to paying.
- The transportation system. We don’t need a car, the bus system here is excellent and cabs are cheap.
- The safety. The people are friendly and as long as you travel smart (don’t try to stand out or flash your money around) you shouldn’t have any problems. The crime/safety statistics are much lower here than in many cities in the States and Canada.
- Location. There are no volcanoes near Cuenca and there is an airport here as well.
- The size, and atmosphere. Cuenca is a big enough city to have all the modern conveniences, but not too big. It feels like a quaint European town, walking in the city on a sunny day still feels like a vacation. There are four beautiful rivers that flow through the city, and many lovely parks to relax in.
- And last but not least, the language. Cuenca is known to be a very easy place to learn Spanish because they speak at a slower pace, and there are English restaurants, book stores and cafes in the city where you can make connections.
Things to Do in Cuenca
There are lots of outdoor things to do in and around Cuenca: horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking, climbing, and cycling.
Golf is also an option. Some of the courses include:
- The Cuenca Tennis and Golf Club
- The Los Chillos Club
- Los Cerros Golf Club
- The Casablanca Club
- The Quito Tennis and Golf Club,
- The Los Arrayanes Country Club
- The Guayaquil Country Club
Curious about where to move? Here are 7 reasons that Ecuador is the best country for expats.
We love it here, it’s actually better than we were expecting. I can’t really speak for the rest of Ecuador in terms of safety, but Cuenca is a wonderful place to live and explore from.
We have been to some of the smaller towns around Cuenca and we can picture ourselves living there as well. We have an upcoming trip planned for the Coast, so keep your eye open for that post sometime in August.
Why We Sold It All to Move to Cuenca Ecuador
When we lived in Canada we had our own business, home (a fixer-upper) and car. We were also homeschooling our daughter. Things were very busy!
We were so occupied with making a living and fixing up our home that we didn’t have the time we wanted to do the things we loved to do as a family. Our daughter was growing up fast and we wanted more time with her.
So we started searching for a place where the cost of living was lower. With a lower cost of living, we would work less and have more time to enjoy our family.
We did a lot of searching, we even took a trip to Margarita Island, Venezuela to see if that would be right for us. When that didn’t work out, we started looking into Ecuador.
Ecuador stood out to us because they use U.S. currency, and even though we are Canadians we could easily set up a U.S. bank account. We also liked that the country had lots of travel opportunities. It’s kind of a small country, but with the Galapagos, the Andes, and the Amazon, there are lots of places to explore.
As we looked into Ecuador, Cuenca quickly came to the top of our list. Cuenca is the third-largest city in the country, the high altitude means no mosquito-borne diseases and the climate is nice, not too hot, not too cold.
There are also lots of good hospitals and some modern conveniences like shopping malls, grocery stores, and movie theaters.
So we sold everything and moved in 2009. It was amazing to start over like that! And it was also very challenging. We didn’t even speak Spanish, we didn’t have any work and we had never lived in a foreign country before.
Sound crazy? Well, doing that crazy thing made us push ourselves to learn news ways to support our family, to learn a foreign language, and adapt to a new culture. All of those things made us pull closer together, become stronger and more resourceful. The move also gave us what we wanted, more time to do the things we loved doing as a family.
Parque Calderon in Cuenca Ecuador
I Heart My City: Bryan’s Cuenca, Ecuador
This is a post that I wrote for National Geographic Intelligent Traveler Blog for the series: I Heart My City. We were invited by Gio Palatucci to highlight our city on National Geographics Intelligent Traveler Blog.
Check out the post on National Geographic Intelligent Traveler Blog
I Heart My City: Bryan’s Cuenca.
Cuenca is My City.
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Parque Calderon. It is beautiful and a great way to see the city. And there are awesome cafes and bakeries on every street.
When I crave amazing pizza I always go to Tutto Freddo. They aren’t a pizza shop – in fact, they are famous for their ice cream, but they also make the best personal-size pizzas around. Less than $5 for an 8″ made-to-order pizza and bottle of coke.
To escape the beautiful colonial architecture I head to Mall del Rio – Cuenca’s largest commercial development – complete with the latest multiplex theater, bowling alley, and huge food court (yes, even with Burger King). It’s a palace of steel, glass, and concrete.
If I want to waste three full days I go to the Transit Authority to register my car for the year. When I purchased my first car, it took more than a week of running around to municipal, provincial, federal government offices, the Red Cross, notaries, and a driving school collecting original documents, paying taxes, and making triplicate photocopies of everything. I treasure my vehicle registration – I even had it laminated like everyone else here.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in Paradise Park. Well, not completely quiet, but just about as good as it gets in a city. It is super relaxing – little kids and families playing and a small river runs through it.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the flower vendors at the flower market off of Parque Calderon. The setting is beautiful and they are quite willing to pose for a photo (especially if you purchase some flowers). One lady even agreed to be filmed when we were shooting the House Hunters International episode.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Creta it has to be the filet mignon. Good beef is hard to find here – and it’s the best that we’ve had yet.
La Victoria is my one-stop-shop for great electronics (think Cuenca’s version of Best Buy – much smaller but still the best selection around).
Locals know to skip gringo pricing and check out the real prices instead. It’s long been said that there are two economies here. Sometimes due to skin color, and frequently dependent on your ability to communicate in Spanish, the gringo price can appear. After a while, you will learn that taxis never cost $10 and seldom $5. And that 5 apples don’t cost $3.00 like back home (maybe $1).
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go on the bus ($0.25), buy some Yuca Bread ($0.15 ea), sit on a bench in Parque Calderon and people watch. Our whole family can do this for less than $4.00.
For a huge splurge, I go to an all-you(I)-can-eat-breakfast-buffet for $12. It comes with everything and it’s all hot and fresh. It can’t be beaten – just one block off the main center.
Photo ops in my city include the old town architecture, flower market and Parque Calderon (yes, again) and the best vantage points are from the restaurant above Fruitalados and from Turi – a look-off south of the city.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Johnny Depp – sophisticated yet quirky and a little eccentric.
The most random thing about my city is the weather. No one knows if or when it will rain or be extremely hot. You can start the day with an insulated jacket and scarf, be down to a t-shirt by noon and have a rainstorm in the afternoon.
My city has the most soccer-obsessed men. Of course, the word obsessed is a little strong, but how else can you describe men who work 12 hours a day and find the time/energy to play soccer for an hour at lunch? And on Sunday. And after work. Yeah, soccer is pretty important here.
My city has the most friendly women. Friendly in a social way. They make conversation at grocery stores, restaurants, and on the street. We seldom go downtown without chatting with a local Cuencana.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves running errands in the city (everyone walks everywhere). On a day off, almost everyone heads to a park. There are some great hiking places just outside of the city – the city is surrounded by mountains.
My city’s best museum is Museo Banco Central (Central Bank Museum). It has everything from a complete history of the country and its indigenous people, to restored Incan ruins and an amazing aviary. Count on spending 3 hours or more exploring and learning about the area.
My favorite jogging/walking route is Avenida 12 de Abril. It has wide sidewalks that run alongside the Tomebamba River. When it hits Solano Avenue, there’s a stone staircase that leads into the old town.
The mall food court is the spot for late-night eats. Because everything else shuts down by 7pm. The mall is open late – until 9pm.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends read the local paper or check the tourist bureau – they have a full listing of everything going on. There are lots of free events and concerts.
You can tell a lot about my city from a drive from the airport to the center. You’ll pass modern apartment buildings, luxury car dealers, adobe houses, and colonial architecture.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they sing while they speak. Cuencanos are known throughout the country for “singing” as they speak. It is thought to be one of the most beautiful forms of Spanish.
In the spring, summer, fall, and winter you should try to remember what season it is – because nothing changes here. Sometimes it rains a little more. Sometimes the sun is out more. The exception is November when you can see the trees on Avenida Solano bloom into an amazing purple, our daughter loves it.
A hidden gem in my city is the hot baths in Baños (not the big one near Ambato – Cuenca has its own hot springs). You can swim in natural hot springs under the stars and then dine in a fine restaurant at Hosteria Duran. Just a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown.
For a great breakfast joint try one of the breakfast buffets at the expensive hotels. For $8 to $12 you can stuff yourself (not that I would know) on a huge variety of bread, cakes, fruit, eggs, and breakfast meats – oh, and cereals, fresh juice, and coffee. All with amazing service and luxurious surroundings – and for the price of fast food back home.
Just outside my city, you can visit Chordeleg. It is just a 45-minute drive and is famous for silver jewelry. There isn’t a woman in the world (or husband, right?) that wouldn’t love to spend a couple of hours looking at the handmade silver jewelry. It is very inexpensive.
The best way to see my city is on foot. Cuenca is a walking city. There is no other way to take in the architecture – or find all the great bakeries.
The best book about my city is one I have yet to find. All we have so far are travel guides – and they don’t represent Cuenca well at all. Somehow a list of restaurants and hotels isn’t very compelling for such a beautiful and diverse city. I’ve seen some Spanish ones downtown that I’ve got to check out.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Beautiful Day by U2.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the $1.50 DVD stores and all the ice cream shops. Gourmet ice cream for $2.00 or less – it’s a kids heaven.
Roasting cuy (guinea pig) and pigs on every street corner could only happen in my city. A little shocking to see at first, they have become a familiar part of life here. No, I haven’t eaten the street food yet. Maybe next year…
My city should be featured on your cover or website because it is a fabulous jewel that deserves more attention than it gets. If someone is planning a first-time trip to South America they should start in Cuenca and get their Latin legs. It’s like South America for beginners.
Expat Profile: Dena Haines in Cuenca, Ecuador
And to close out our guide to living in Ecuador, we’ll share Dena’s expat profile. This was written in December 2010, so some details have changed since then.
When did you get the idea of living in Ecuador?
Bryan and I always had the itch to move abroad, both before we met and after we were married in 1999.
When our daughter came along in 2000 we decided to wait until she was, what we felt was a good age to make a major move.
We wanted to move to have more time to spend together as a family, somewhere less expensive so we wouldn’t have to spend so much time working.
We also wanted to give our daughter the gift of a second language and the richness that comes with being exposed to a different culture.
So when she was around 7 we began seriously sorting out our options.
We had a house and business that we had to sell, and we needed to narrow down the options of which country would best suit the personality of our family.
How’s your Spanish?
The primary language here in Ecuador is Spanish, and we are learning slowly but surely.
We didn’t know any Spanish when we arrived, so it’s been a steep learning curve. After about a year and a half, we can understand most of what we hear, and make ourselves understood.
Knowing the language before arriving would have made things much easier, but sometimes if you wait, you never make it because things keep coming up.
I would say that if you know you can’t move for a year or two, learn Spanish, but if you can move now – just do it.
I do think it’s important to learn to speak fluently while living here, but it takes time and it’s a bumpy road, so don’t stress to much as you work to progress.
What do you do?
Bryan and I are both writers. Bryan writes for About.com, a New York Times Company, as do I. We both blog here on GringosAbroad.com and I do some travel writing.
Bryan is a photographer, and I do some graphic design.
How do you find the cost of living in Ecuador?
We are very happy with the cost of living here. Because things are less expensive we only work part-time, and have more time for other things.
What do you love about Ecuador?
Wow, what do I love about Cuenca? A lot! The culture is more laid back, people don’t worry as much about having the best car or clothes or house. Family is very important, and Ecuadorians are warm people. The climate, cost of living, food . . .
One thing I don’t like is standing out. Because we look at different people stare at us, this is not a big deal but I’m the type of person that likes to just blend in.
We read all kinds of weird stuff before we moved, we got the feeling that we would be targets of all kinds of scams, like being sprayed with mustard . . . but we’ve never even seen anyone being scammed, or heard any of our friends talk about being scammed.
The housing here is very nice. Lots of new homes and apartments to rent and it’s very affordable.
The only advice I would give is to do your research and be realistic. If you don’t enjoy really hot weather, you shouldn’t buy a place on the beach.
If you like to feel secure, make sure you move to an area that had the proper infrastructure in place to give you what you require. Oh yes, and if you have the means and desire to do it, do it now! 🙂
Hi, I’m Dena Haines. And I’m co-founder of Storyteller travel. I love to cover food, animals, and destinations around the world. I also blog about photography at ClickLikeThis.