Tag Archive for: Cuenca Ecuador

Exploring Cuenca Ecuador: 10 Things That Make This City Unique

Cuenca, Ecuador is not just a city; it’s an experience that combines history, culture, and a vibrant community into one captivating package.

If you’re considering a visit or even a move, there’s much to know about what makes this place unique.

From the local food and architecture to the day-trip adventures that surround this Andean city, here are the top 10 things we miss most about Cuenca that stood out during our visit there.

#10 Diverse Culinary Landscape

Cuenca offers a rich array of dining options that range from international to local cuisines. One notable example is Paradise Indian Restaurant, owned by our friends Chinnu and Abin.

The city also provides choices for those with specific dietary needs, like vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.

And for those on a budget, the traditional Ecuadorian ‘almuerzo’ lunch specials start at just $1.50.

See Also: Popular Expat Restaurants in Cuenca Ecuador

#9 Historic Architecture

As you wander through Cuenca, you’ll be struck by the diverse architectural styles that reflect various periods of the city’s rich history.

The blend of colonial, baroque, and modern elements tells a multi-layered story of cultural influences and changes over time.

While there are contemporary constructions and modern condos, Cuenca maintains a harmonious balance with its architectural heritage, ensuring that the city’s historical charm remains intact.

#8 Local Markets: Mercados

One of the most authentic experiences in Cuenca is visiting the local mercados.

Beyond just shopping for fresh produce, these markets offer a lens into daily Ecuadorian life. Regular visits also allow you to get to know local vendors and practice your Spanish.

#7 Small-scale Retail Experience

The shopping experience in Cuenca is far from generic. The city abounds in small, specialized shops, which often turn shopping into an adventurous scavenger hunt.

While larger malls do exist, these small businesses offer a more personalized experience and are a significant part of local life.

#6 Green Spaces

Cuenca is home to a variety of parks, each with its own unique character.

From prominent parks like Parque Calderon to smaller neighborhood green spaces, these areas are community hubs that often host activities and events.

The city is also expanding its green footprint with new botanical gardens.

#5 A Multitude of Activities

The city’s cultural fabric is rich, offering activities from music and dancing to festivals and parades.

For those interested in more structured activities, there are classes available in everything from Spanish and dance to yoga and crafts.

Opportunities for volunteering and community involvement are also plentiful.

See Also: 48 Hours In Cuenca Ecuador: FUN Itinerary to Experience the Gem of Ecuador

#4 Day-Trip Opportunities

Cuenca’s location in the Andes makes it a great base for various day trips.

For nature lovers, Cajas National Park provides scenic views and hiking trails.

Other nearby places worth exploring include Girón with its waterfalls and the artisan towns of Gualaceo and Chordeleg.

#3 Hot Springs in Baños de Azuay

Just a short cab ride away, the hot springs in Baños de Azuay are a local favorite.

Not only are they affordable, but many find the waters to be therapeutic.

For a unique experience, try the cave at Piedra de Agua.

#2 Reasonable Cost of Living

Though the cost of living can vary depending on lifestyle choices, Cuenca remains relatively affordable, especially when compared to other Ecuadorian cities like Cumbaya and Manta.

However, it’s worth noting that there are now more high-end restaurants that cater to tourists, which can be pricier.

See Also: Cost of Living in Ecuador

#1 Community and Friendships

One of the most enriching aspects of Cuenca is its welcoming community. Both locals and expats are generally open and friendly, making it easy to forge new relationships.

There are numerous events, language exchanges, and communal activities where you can meet people.

See Also:

Final Thoughts…

Cuenca, Ecuador is a city rich in diversity, from its culinary options and architectural styles to its community-oriented atmosphere.

Whether you’re there for a visit or planning a more extended stay, the city’s unique blend of historical charm and modern amenities offers something for everyone.

And perhaps the most invaluable aspect of Cuenca is its people—both locals and expats—who add layers of depth to the city’s already captivating aura.

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How to Avoid & Treat Altitude Sickness in Ecuador

You might be drawn to the breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture of Ecuador, especially in high-elevation cities like Cuenca (8,500 feet / 2,560 meters) and Quito (9,400 feet / 2,865 meters); however, you may experience a unique challenge: altitude sickness.

Similar conditions are found across various mountain cities in Ecuador and throughout the Andes, so if you’re planning a trip, you may be wondering how to prevent or treat it.

This guide provides you with insights into the symptoms of altitude sickness and offers practical remedies and preventive steps.

With this knowledge, you can ensure your visit or move to Ecuador remains both comfortable and enjoyable.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult a doctor for medical advice, diagnosis and treatment if you experience any of these symptoms or others.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

It’s crucial to understand the symptoms so that you can distinguish between altitude sickness and other potential ailments.

View of Cuenca Ecuador from Turi.

Symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Racing heart
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little

The tricky part is that it’s unpredictable; some people may feel the effects immediately upon arrival, while others may take a few days.

Preventing and Treating Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is no joke. The adjustment, often underestimated, can play a significant role in your acclimatization to life in this beautiful Andean nation.

Whether you’re contemplating a visit, a move or you already live in Ecuador, understanding the implications of altitude and how to combat its effects is vital.

Here are a few tips to best prepare and adapt to the heights of your new home:

  • Ascend Slowly: Ideally, take a few days to adjust to the altitude. If you’re driving in Ecuador, be prepared for rapid altitude changes. The pass through Cajas National Park reaches 13,000 feet / 4,000 meters before descending to Cuenca’s 8,500 feet / 2,560 meters.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water. The high altitudes and dry air can cause dehydration, worsening symptoms.
  • Diet Matters: Eat dark leafy greens to increase oxygenation of your blood. Avoid fatty foods, as they can decrease oxygen levels in your blood. Also, abstain from alcohol since it can lead to dehydration.
  • Rest and Adjust: Don’t overexert yourself when you first arrive. It’s not advisable to engage in strenuous activities like running, biking, or mountain climbing until you’ve acclimated.
  • Amelia and JP holding a packet of Mate de Coca TeaMate de Coca: This tea, made from the leaves of the coca plant, is a natural remedy known to help with altitude sickness. However, be cautious, as it can result in a positive drug test when you return home.
  • Breathe Properly: Deep breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth, can be beneficial.
  • Consider Prescription Medication: Diamox is a drug that some travelers obtain before their trip as a precaution.
  • Relocate to Lower Elevation: In severe cases, the best remedy might be to move to a lower elevation. It’s a drastic measure, but for some, it’s the only way to find relief.

Our Experience with Altitude Sickness

One of the main reasons we left Cuenca back in 2020 was because of the elevation.

I’ve had episodes of altitude sickness both in Ecuador and previously in Colorado when we went to Summit County to go skiing. Sometimes, the symptoms were so severe that descending to a lower elevation was the only remedy.

However, after years of eating healthy and living the tranquilo Ecuadorian lifestyle, I no longer have issues with the elevation. In fact, we’re living at high elevation now and I haven’t had a single issue for over a year.

Most people adjust to the elevation in 3 to 5 days. That’s typically enough time for your body to increase the production of red blood cells, aiding in acclimatization.

If your body has difficulty adjusting, try one or more of the remedies listed above. Most importantly, drink lots of water and rest.

Watch Our Video About How to Treat Altitude Sickness

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Medellín vs Cuenca: Comparing Two Popular Expat Destinations in Latin America

Medellín, Colombia and Cuenca, Ecuador have become increasingly popular destinations for expats, digital nomads, and retirees.

Both cities offer a unique charm, vibrant cultures, and an array of attractions that cater to various lifestyles and preferences.

In this comprehensive blog post, you’ll learn about the many facets of living in these two amazing cities, including the pros and cons of each, comparing aspects such as living conditions, cost of living, infrastructure, and safety.

Hopefully, this will help you make an informed decision about which city might be the ideal destination for your next adventure or new home abroad.

Medellín, Colombia: A Jungle With a City In It

Medellín ColombiaMy first impression of Medellín, Colombia was that it’s a jungle with a city in it.

Medellín is nestled in the Andean mountains, but the elevation is low enough that it has lots of tall trees and tropical greenery, which provides an amazing backdrop for the bustling city life.

Pros of Medellín Colombia

Medellín is a fascinating blend of modern comforts and jungle-like surroundings. It has a lot of great things going for it, such as:

  • Scenic beauty: Surrounded by mountains and lush greenery, Medellín offers a stunning landscape.
  • Pleasant weather: With a year-round spring-like climate, Medellín is known as the “Land of Eternal Spring.”
  • Lower elevation: While still at 4,900 feet / 1,495 meters, it’s much lower than Cuenca so it’s warmer and the air is easier to breathe.
  • Vibrant culture: The city is known for its colorful murals and diverse population of Colombians and other South Americans, plus tourists, digital nomads, and expats from around the world.
  • Cleanliness: In the neighborhoods we visited, streets were well-maintained, and dogs were on leashes.
  • Modern infrastructure: Medellín has drinkable tap water and a wide variety of restaurants catering to all tastes and dietary needs.
  • Transportation: Affordable taxis, buses, and a metro system are available throughout the city, along with Uber.
  • International airport: Direct flights to some locations in the United States and other countries make Medellín easily accessible.
  • Affordability: Housing, food, and restaurant prices are comparable to Ecuador and much lower than the United States or Canada.
  • High-quality healthcare: Colombia is known for its excellent healthcare facilities and is consistently ranked high by CEOWorld Magazine.
  • Housing options: While high-rise living is popular in Medellín, townhomes and single-family homes are available if you’re willing to venture further out. Check out our Medellín Colombia Real Estate Tour for more about housing in Medellín.
  • Kaime Medellin ColombiaExcellent restaurants: We ate at a variety of amazing restaurants in the Zona Rosa tourist area of El Poblado. You’ll find everything from street vendors to high-end gourmet restaurants, and the prices are very affordable compared to the US.
  • Service culture: Compared to Ecuador, Colombia has a high-quality service culture. Restaurant servers, drivers, tour guides, cashiers, etc. are attentive and care about the quality of service you receive.

Cons of Medellín Colombia

We enjoyed our time in Medellín and plan to go back, but a few things make it less than perfect:

  • Crowded city: With a population of more than 2.5 million people, Medellín can feel quite congested.
  • Colombian Peso: Conversion rates may be tricky for those used to the US dollar and the value fluctuates a lot.
  • Heavy traffic: The city has heavy traffic and swarms of motorcycles, which might be concerning for some. After getting moto-robbed in Guadalajara, Mexico, the swarms of motorcycles had us constantly looking over our shoulders.
  • Safety concerns: Moto-robberies, pickpocketing, kidnapping, and other safety issues are a significant concern. It’s important to be cautious and avoid certain areas, especially at night. It’s also common for sex workers and Tinder daters to lure foreigners to a restaurant or hotel room where they are roofied and robbed.
  • Tax residency: Staying in Colombia for more than 183 days per year might make you a tax resident, so consult a tax professional before moving there long-term.
 

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Cuenca, Ecuador: A South American Gem

Cuenca Ecuador View from Mirador Turi

Cuenca, Ecuador is a charming UNESCO World Heritage city with a rich history and stunning architecture. Like Medellín, it is also known as the “Land of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant weather.

While much smaller and about 1,000 miles / 1,600 kilometers south of Medellín, Cuenca shares some similarities with its Colombian counterpart in terms of cost of living, quality of life, and available amenities.

However, they differ in population size, safety levels, and currency (Ecuador uses the US dollar).

Comparing these two cities is a valuable exercise for those considering a move to Latin America.

Pros of Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca offers a slower pace of life, a welcoming expat community, and a unique blend of culture and nature that make it an attractive destination. It’s also much smaller than Medellín with a population of roughly 500,000 people.

Here are a few things we love about Cuenca:

  • Cuenca Ecuador New CathedralUNESCO World Heritage Site: Cuenca is rich in history and architecture, with Inca ruins right in the city.
  • Beautiful rivers and linear parks: The city has 4 rivers running through it, and numerous parks that offer scenic trails and relaxing spots to sit and read a book.
  • Land of Eternal Spring: Known for its mild temperatures, Cuenca offers pleasant weather throughout the year.
  • Walkable city: Most of the city can be explored on foot, with taxis required only occasionally for longer distances or heavy loads.
  • Incredible restaurants: Cuenca boasts a wide array of affordable, delicious, and beautifully plated food options. Check out Popular Expat Restaurants in Cuenca Ecuador for our recommendations.
  • Diverse expat community: The city is popular among retirees, families, and singles of all ages from around the world.
  • English speakers: Cuenca has a larger population of English speakers compared to Medellín, and a large number of Ecuadorians who speak English, making it easier for non-Spanish speakers to settle in.
  • Quality healthcare: Ecuador (especially Cuenca) is known for its excellent and affordable healthcare; CEOWorld Magazine consistently ranks it higher than the US. It’s easy to schedule appointments with high-quality medical professionals, and many speak English. Check out Our Ecuador Healthcare Experience for more details about healthcare in Ecuador, including costs and quality of care.
  • Affordable living: Housing prices in Cuenca are comparable to Medellín, with the overall cost of living being similar and about one-third of the cost in the United States.
  • Drinkable tap water: The tap water in Cuenca is safe to drink and tastes better than in Medellín (it’s not so heavily chlorinated)
  • Ecuador's Unique USD CoinsEcuador is on the US Dollar: The official currency in Ecuador is the US dollar, making it convenient for US American expats. It’s the exact same currency (except for a few special coins minted in 2000 that are not legal tender back in the US). Check out Money and Banking in Ecuador for more on this topic.
  • No tax on foreign income: Foreign residents do not pay tax on their foreign income, although it’s essential to consult a tax professional for accurate and up-to-date advice.
 

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Cons of Cuenca Ecuador

Like any place, Cuenca is not without its challenges:

  • High elevation: Cuenca is located at 8,400 feet / 2,560 meters above sea level (almost twice the elevation as Medellín), which can result in cooler temperatures and thinner air.
  • Limited international flights: While there is a semi-direct flight to Miami, Cuenca’s airport is small, and all international flights require a connection in Quito or Guayaquil.
  • Increased crime rates: Petty theft and robberies have become more common in Cuenca and throughout Ecuador, so it’s essential to be cautious.
  • Laid-back service quality: Ecuadorians have a more relaxed attitude toward service, which can be both a blessing and a challenge for expats adjusting to the local customs. At restaurants, you may need to find your server to take your order or bring the bill. And we often find that they deliver the courses in the reverse order (entree, appetizer and then drinks) so we have learned to order one thing at a time so we get things in the proper order.

Final Thoughts

Both Medellín and Cuenca are beautiful cities with their unique qualities.

Medellín may be better suited if you’re seeking a larger, modern city with great service, lower elevation, and direct flights to the US.

On the other hand, Cuenca might be the right choice if you prefer a smaller city with a slower pace of life, great restaurants, cooler temperatures, a higher safety level, and the convenience of spending in US dollars.

And remember, visiting each city before committing to a move is always the best way to get a true feel for what life there would be like.

Watch Our Video Comparing Medellín Colombia to Cuenca Ecuador

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Kristen Shares Her Story About Living In Ecuador as a Single Woman from the United States

We’re often asked, “Do single women live in Ecuador?” Yes, they do, and we’re excited to share Kristen’s story because she is a single retired woman living in Cuenca, Ecuador.

We met Kristen through Amelia’s belly dancing studio when we lived in Cuenca. She is one of those people who lights up a room when she enters it. She never meets a stranger and makes everyone feel welcome.

If you’re a single woman considering a move to Ecuador, you’re certain to appreciate Kristen’s perspective. Here’s her story…

Living Single In Ecuador Kristen Shares Her StoryYou’re Moving Where?

In 2014, my dear friends, David & Juan, moved to Cuenca, Ecuador and opened a business called “Cuenca Car Share”.

Why, Cuenca?”, I asked David.

He said, “You need to come down and see for yourself.”

So I did.

In 2015, my sister Kelly and I flew to Quito, Ecuador and then on to Cuenca for our first visit. We stayed ten days and in that time I lost my heart to Cuenca and the surrounding Andes Mountains.

I told my friends, “I think I could retire here!”

Six months later, David and Juan called and asked me if I was serious? It was completely out of the blue.

They said they would be willing to pay my round trip flight, I would have eight weeks to be alone in Cuenca and really see if that’s where I wanted to live.

I just had to house and pet sit, and run their business. How could I refuse?

I was certain I would be bored out of my mind, but I was delightfully busy!

I went on walks every day along the Yanuncay River with the dog. I went to Bingo on Wednesday afternoons. I met a lot of expats through Cuenca Car Share and some of them I developed personal friendships with that have lasted to this day. I played volleyball in Parque Paraiso; which I still do every Sunday.

I started reading Gringo Post every day to see what’s happening around town. I wandered around El Centro and checked stuff out.

Tribal Fusion Hafla 2019 Cuenca EcuadorCuenca is a beautiful, clean, tranquil city and my love for it grew deeper. I went to free symphonies! Who wouldn’t love that? I explored the cathedrals, domes, shops and mercados.

Two months went by in a blink and it was time to go home. I returned to LAX and was waiting about ten minutes at the curb with my luggage; the plane and city fumes began to fill my lungs and by the time my ride showed-up I got in the car and said to my neighbor, “I’m moving to Ecuador!”

She said, “You’re moving where?”

I said, “Cuenca, Ecuador!”

“When?” she asked.

“I’m going to take a year and get rid of everything, retire, start collecting my social security and then go in March 2017,” I told her.

And I did exactly that.

Eight Weeks Told Me All I Needed to Know

Unlike so many people who move to Ecuador, I did very little research.Kristen Julio Belly Dance Cuenca Ecuador

I mean, I did a little research for the purpose of allaying the fears of my relatives and friends who all thought I was crazy!

Cuenca, Ecuador was in the top ten places in the world to retire. The currency is the US American Dollar. The language is Spanish. And at the time I moved here I thought I spoke pretty fair Spanish! Ha!

In Cuenca, the weather is mild. I would honestly say that the weather here is like all the seasons, every day! It doesn’t snow here, so for me coming from Southern California that’s perfect!

Usually it is sunny in the morning and then in the afternoon around 3 or 4PM comes what I like to call, “The Witching Hour,” when it often rains.

Of course, it could rain at any time, even when the sun is shining! Which is why I learned to always to carry an umbrella in my bag. It doesn’t necessarily get cold when it rains, so the umbrella is a real lifesaver and I’m never without it.

The biggest thing I had to learn (besides actually how to speak Spanish) was how to slow down.

I opened fifty-three restaurants around the world during my career and I was the Food and Beverage Director for CBS Studios for twelve years.

I only had one speed: Fast!

In the eight weeks of living in Cuenca on my own, I was busy all the time, but never rushing everywhere until I passed out at night from exhaustion.

The pace of life here is so much more laid back. Granted, being retired makes it a whole lot easier, but I still had to work long and hard to change from constantly “doing” to “being”. It made a huge difference in my ability to not get fidgety and impatient in lines at a bank, for example.

I tend to walk a lot more than anywhere in the States, especially Los Angeles where you drive everywhere and the only walking you do is going back to your car. Since I opted to not have a car here, I either walk or take a taxi.

I keep pretty good records of my spending and would say on average unless I have something big, like a trip to Guayaquil when I hire a van or a private driver, my average monthly transportation expenses are usually under one hundred dollars.

There’s a plethora of activities for anyone interested in participating. You can always find a class to take and I’ve taken quite a few. Things I’d always been interested in learning but never had the time.

Just recently I took a stained-glass class and loved the process and was delighted with my piece, which now hangs in my living room!

I found a place called “Cuenca Soup Kitchen” run by some wonderful people: Des, Bill and Smith. With my background in food I thought it would be a great fit for me to volunteer.

It was one of the best things I’ve done since I’ve been here. They feed 175 families every week! I’ve helped fill food bags and sort donated clothing and I can tell you there’s nothing better than doing something for those unable to do for themselves. I’ve met so many friends there because they’re like minded people interested in giving back to the community we live in.

Beyond that, the clever Directors started “Abuela’s.” It’s a group of men and women who are willing to get a cake and gift for a child who otherwise would not have a birthday cake. I signed up immediately and can only tell you that every cake I make is a love letter. There’s very little that beats the random photograph we receive of our designated child smiling holding their cake and gift bag!

Also, I joined another offshoot called “Heart-Strings” where we knit or crochet hats, scarves, blankets and the like for when the temperatures drop here in Cuenca. Again, it warms you in a way you can’t imagine.

 

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After Five Years Here

In the five years I’ve lived in Cuenca, I’ve managed to take full advantage of how much this country has to offer.

I’ve never felt scared or afraid for my well being. This could be because I don’t walk along the rivers alone at night or because I lived in Venice Beach, CA. where gunshots were a common sound at night. I’m groomed to be aware of my surroundings at all times; wherever I am.

My sister Kelly and I went on an eight-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, which was unimaginably wonderful! We also took a bus to Peru! We took a gorgeous train ride train to Cusco, Machu-Picchu and Sacred Valley.

Kristen Crawford Hummingbirds Mashpi LodgeMy friend Rocco and I took a trip to The Amazon for New Year’s! We experienced The Amazon river up close and personal! However, I would suggest going at another time of year.

When we woke up on New Year’s Day, we realized the river had dried up and we had to walk 100 yards in deep mud to get to our boat! The following day it was 200 yards. Beyond that, it was magical!

The Amazon is like nowhere else in the world. From pink dolphins, red-eyed Caiman, blue, green and yellow Military McCaw’s, many types of monkeys, anacondas, piranha, spiders that look like sticks, spiders that look like spiders, and so much more, the Amazon is a world unto itself. We spent four days there and learned how little we knew about living without the outside world and technology.

We’ve gone to Ingapirca, Loja, Cajas, Cotopaxi, Izhcayluma, Vilcabamba, Biblian and plenty more.

We’ve been to and adore the coast: Guayaquil, Montañita, Olón and Puerto Lopez.

The capital city of Quito is rich in history and has lots of things to do and see.

Kristen Crawford Ecuador ShamanOne of my personal favorite adventures was to Mashpi Lodge, which is one of the 10 Most Amazing hotels in the World! I highly recommend a trip there if you can swing it! The price is high, but they often offer discounts and you can call and negotiate with them.

Rocco and I went for one night that seemed a lot longer. We were picked up in Quito and driven the three hours to the cloud forest. The last hour of the ride was so bumpy that when we stopped, I said a prayer of thanks before exiting the van!

After I stepped out of the van, the past hour vanished in the beauty of the grounds. We went inside and were treated to carefully prepared refreshments. This hotel lives up to its reputation for being amazing! All meals are included and we had a wonderful buffet lunch and three desserts to share!

We were taken to our room on the second floor and our guide told us about the room and said, “Let me turn on the TV for you.”

She pushed a button and the blinds that covered the windows began to rise. The ceiling to floor windows revealed the heart of the cloud forest and we both whispered, “Wow!”

We freshened up and joined our naturalists to choose our afternoon activity. It was pouring rain, but we still elected to visit the hummingbird sanctuary. They took us in a van and by the time we arrived the rain had decreased to almost a fine mist.

There were 10 huge hummingbird feeders and plenty of hummingbirds bouncing between the feeders. None of them seemed concerned with us.

The guides brought out bananas and peeled them and stuffed the fruit into large cracks in logs stationed about six feet off the ground. Very soon all types of birds appeared for lunch. It was amazing!

We decided to stop at the bar before dinner and I was treated to the best, most painstakingly prepared, Bloody Mary I’ve ever had! It took the bartender 15 minutes to craft this drink!

Then, on to dinner in the elegant dining room. Rocco is a professional photographer and he marveled at the lighting in this room. It was extraordinary! We made our dinner selections and once again, our meal didn’t disappoint.

Kristen Crawford Mashpi Lodge DragonflyBefore heading to our room, we decided to see if we could book a trip for the next morning on the Dragonfly, which is an aerial gondola taking you above the canopy of the cloud forest.

After a delightful night’s sleep and a wonderful buffet breakfast we took our ride on The Dragonfly. The gondola seats six with three rows of benches.

Our guide sat in the last row and gave us more history on how this hotel came to be built, which is an amazing story! He told us what we were looking at as we traveled over the cloud forest answering all our questions.

Then, after about 45 minutes he said, “Okay, I’m going to let the cloud forest tell you the rest of the story.” He never said another word for the remainder of the trip which was about another 45 minutes. Crazy amazing!

Every year that I live here, I fall more in love with this country and its people. It may not be for everyone, but for me: It’s the smartest decision I’ve ever made to come here and I’m so thankful for this beautiful life!

Cuenca Ecuador Neighborhoods

Cuenca Ecuador has several neighborhoods that are popular with expats.

We lived in El Vergel, which was more popular with Ecuadorians at the time, but now has become more popular with expats, as well.

In this article, you’ll learn about the inner and outer neighborhoods of Cuenca Ecuador that are most popular with expats.

Cuenca’s Outer Neighborhoodshttps://ameliaandjp.com/cuenca-ecuador-neighborhoods/

Then we worked our way east to Challuabamba before looping back to the north to Cebollar and finally west to San Joaquín.

The east side of Cuenca where Challuabamba is located is about 1,000 feet (305 m) lower in elevation, which means it’s also warmer, sunnier, and drier than El Centro and the western neighborhoods.

San Joaquín is about 1,000 feet higher in elevation than El Centro and near the base of El Cajas National Park so it can be quite cool, especially at night. It also rains a lot more in that area and it’s cloudier.

Cuenca Outer Neighborhoods Map Legend

  1. Turi
  2. Ciudadela de los Ingenieros
  3. Machangara
  4. Challuabamba
  5. Colinas de Challuabamba
  6. Cebollar
  7. San Joaquín

Cuenca Outer Neighborhood Map

Watch a Video About the Outer Neighborhoods of Cuenca Ecuador

Xavier Montezuma owns and operates Apartamentos Otorongo, which I like to call the “Expat Landing Zone” because it’s so popular with new expats. He is a Cuenca native and offers neighborhood tours like the one in this video, as well as more adventurous hiking and mountain biking tours.

 

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Cuenca’s Inner Neighborhoods

Most new expats choose to live in the inner neighborhoods of Cuenca Ecuador. Unlike the outer neighborhoods, you’ll able to walk most places and easily find taxis and buses, which means you won’t need a car.

The most popular areas are El Centro, San Sebas, El Vergel and Gringolandia, which is a bit of a misnomer. While there are a lot of expats living in Gringolandia, they account for less than 5% of the population in that area. It was given that name mainly because it has western-style housing and highrises.

Cuenca Inner Neighborhoods Map Legend

  1. El Centro
  2. San Sebas
  3. Gringolandia
  4. El Batan
  5. Sucre
  6. Don Bosco
  7. El Vergel
  8. Cañaribamba
  9. Totoracocha
  10. Miraflores

Cuenca Inner Neighborhood Map

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering a move to Cuenca, we recommend checking out the inner neighborhoods first so you can get around easily without a car.

After living in Cuenca for awhile, some expats choose to move further out from El Centro where the rents tend to be less expensive and the neighborhoods are quieter. However, they usually buy a car to make transportation easier.

 

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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Cuenca vs Cotacachi Ecuador Comparison: Finding the Perfect Expat Haven in Ecuador

Cuenca and Cotacachi Ecuador are two popular destinations for expats in Ecuador, each offering unique experiences and lifestyles.

In this article, we’ll compare the two cities and help you decide which one is right for you. Let’s dive in!

Common Characteristics

Cuenca vs Cotacachi

Both Cuenca and Cotacachi are expat-friendly, situated at higher elevations, and offer affordable living costs.

They boast clean environments, proximity to nature and hiking trails, and share similar aspects in terms of safety, nature, expat communities, shopping, restaurants, weather, elevation, and walkability.

Cotacachi Ecuador – The Serene Small Town

Cotacachi is perfect for those who prefer a small-town atmosphere, with an extremely safe and quiet environment.

The town is home to an older population and has a nice variety of restaurants catering to different tastes.

There is a large expat community, especially given the small size of the town, and every Thursday you can enjoy an organic market offering fresh produce from local farmers.

Cotacachi is a 1.5-hour drive from the Quito airport and just 25 minutes from the Ibarra Supermaxi. It’s just a 10-minute drive from Otavalo, which offers more amenities and hosts one of the world’s most famous markets.

 

Nestled close to the mountains, Cotacachi provides ample shopping options. However, the town has fewer activities, and healthcare facilities are limited to small health clinics.

During national strikes (paros), the only road in and out of the town can be blocked.

 

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Cuenca – The Vibrant City Life

Cuenca is a larger city with numerous parks and walking trails for outdoor enthusiasts.48 Hours In Cuenca Ecuador Things To Do

The city has a LOT of great restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, large mercados and small neighborhood mercaditos.

Cuenca has an array of excellent and affordable healthcare options, and a lot of expats travel to Cuenca from other parts of Ecuador for medical procedures.

The expat community is much larger than Cotacachi. In fact, it’s estimated that about 10,000 expats live in Cuenca, which is larger than the entire population of Cotacachi. Cuenca has a population of roughly 500,000 so the expats still make up a small percentage.

However, with more expats and several universities, there are also more English speakers in Cuenca, including English-speaking Ecuadorians.

Public transportation is efficient, and Cuenca has its own airport with daily flights to Quito.

The city is rich in culture, with lots of museums and cultural activities for residents to enjoy.

The major drawback of Cuenca is the weather, which can be colder and rainier, and the road to Guayaquil through Cajas is often closed due to heavy rain and landslides.

The city is also a lot noisier than Cotacachi, which is very quiet at night starting around 9PM.

While crime is mostly limited to petty theft, it has increased lately.

Like Cotacachi, Cuenca can also get cut off from the rest of the country during paros.

Final Thoughts

Cuenca and Cotacachi both have their unique charms, and the choice depends on your personal preferences.

If you want a quieter, small-town atmosphere, Cotacachi is the perfect choice. However, if you prefer a more vibrant city life with better healthcare options and cultural activities, Cuenca might be the right fit for you.

Ultimately, both destinations have thriving expat communities, making either one an excellent choice for your new home in Ecuador.

Watch Our Video Comparing Cuenca and Cotacachi Ecuador

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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The Dark Side of Cuenca Ecuador!

Cuenca is a popular expat destination in Ecuador. It’s a beautiful city with a colonial center and friendly people. Cuenca’s healthcare is high quality and affordable. The cost of living is also relatively low. But, there is another side to Cuenca that is not so pretty.

The cloudy, rainy weather during some periods of the year is a lot to handle. Panhandlers, a steady rise in crime, noise, high elevation, pollution, and heavy traffic when it rains are other negative aspects of Cuenca.

If you’re considering relocating to Cuenca, you’ll find the information below helpful.

This post details the cons of Cuenca that expats wishing to relocate should know.

The Rainy, Cloudy Cuenca, Ecuador Weather

The Rainy, Cloudy Cuenca, Ecuador Weather

It is often cold and rainy in Cuenca throughout the year,  but it is also sunny and beautiful some of the time.

The nights can be chilly, and the days dark, cloudy and windy. Daytime, on the other hand, can be very hot and windy, with UVs reaching a high of 11.

It can be damp and cold when the temperatures dip into the low 40s F / 5 C and feel much more like Seattle. The weather changes are also drastic. It could be super hot, and then, in just half an hour, it’s raining!

Cuenca has had more rain recently, causing floods in parts of town and on the outskirts. There are also mudslides in Cajas, making it difficult to drive along the windy road.

Four rivers run through Cuenca, and they can get inundated with water. There were flash floods in May 2021. Rivers and streams overflowed, and river Tarqui broke its banks and completely changed its course.

The 8,400-foot Cuenca Elevation

Cuenca is a high-elevation city. Mind you, we’re referring to the city’s elevation and not altitude. Sometimes elevation and altitude are interchangeable terms, but altitude refers to the height of an object above the Earth’s surface, while elevation is the height of a place above sea level.

The high elevation means high exposure to UV rays, which can go above 11 on the UV index scale.  Always wear your sunscreen and a hat to avoid sunburns.

The air is thinner in high-elevation areas like Cuenca compared to lower regions. The higher the elevation, the less air there is per unit volume.

Additionally, in high-elevation zones, the air pressure is much higher than at lower locations, so the air is less able to hold gasses and particles.

High elevation makes breathing more challenging and may lead to breathing problems. You’ll get headaches (lightheadedness), fatigue, and even altitude sickness. Unfortunately, you’ll only know you have altitude sickness when you get there.

The best way to deal with the effects of high elevation is to acclimate yourself gradually. Start by spending a few days in locations with high elevation, then gradually increase your time there. You can also take a cup of Mate de Coca, which relieves altitude sickness symptoms  quickly.

More Crime in Cuenca

More Crime in Cuenca

This one’s a bummer because the tranquil, beautiful Cuenca was once one of the safest cities to live in. The crime rate was very low. And it’s still down according to this Crime Index, but it would be naive to think crime does not happen, especially after the pandemic.

Petty theft and pickpocketing made for the highest criminal activities. However, current figures from the police show there is an increase in criminal activities, and they link it to more drug trafficking activities in the area.

The police listed five unsafe areas, asking everyone to be vigilant. The crime hotspots are La Merced, Feria Libre, Mercado Nueve de Octubre, Cayambe, and the bus station.

Occasionally, a petty thief would grab your backpack. Sometimes they’d slash it open in a bus when you are not looking or mislead you to put it in the overhead bin as you travel, only to find your valuables missing.

Some will make you think you dropped something and run off with your bag when you face the other direction.

The thieves are primarily after the valuables and, in most cases, won’t harm you if you hand them over without a fight. Electronics are a target because they are more expensive in Ecuador.

It’s NOISY in Cuenca Ecuador

Noise is a significant problem in Cuenca, Ecuador. There are many buses, cars, and motorcycles on the road, and they can be loud. The delivery guys use dirt bikes which have annoyingly loud engines.

They’ll go by every ten to fifteen minutes if you live in a busy neighborhood. The noise from those delivery dirt bikes is so loud that it rattles the windows.

Some people like to take their Zumba dance class at 6: 30 in the morning, which will impact peace and tranquility if you want to sleep longer.

Also, Cuenca lies directly below the airport’s flight path.  Planes frequently land and take off over the city, which can be pretty noisy.

Folks in Ecuador also have giant speakers on stands in their houses and they blast loud music at night. Every once in a while, there is a party or karaoke, which can be quite annoying if you like peaceful evenings.

There is also the dog-barking and  roosters that go off all night from 3:00 am. A sound machine helps to drown out the noise while you’re sleeping.

 

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Pollution in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca sits in a giant intermountain basin of the Andes mountains at an elevation of 8517 feet. Although pollution is not as high as in some US states, it’s still a significant concern inside the city.

When there is no wind, exhaust fumes from buses, diesel trucks, delivery trucks, motorcycles, and odor from trash trucks pollute the air. There are also some old smog buses that go through the historical city. The government is slowly phasing them out with low-emission diesel ones.

Fortunately, the Tranvía has started taking some passengers, and air pollution is decreasing. Some residential areas do not experience as much air pollution.

Additionally, there could be ash from The Sangay volcano, which last erupted in 2021, and ash was everywhere.

The Panhandlers in Cuenca

There are panhandlers all over Cuenca, Ecuador, especially Venezuelan refugees. Often, they’ll run after Americans (Gringos) across the street asking for handouts, sometimes accompanied by ‘rent’ children to make them seem more in need. Ecuadorians, Americans, and Europeans also panhandle.

Crowding in Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is a walkable city with many tourist attractions, so lots of tourists come to visit it. There is a higher population in Ecuador now compared to 2020 due to tourism, which has picked up lately.

Heavy Traffic in Cuenca

With a high population, the traffic is also bad. It is especially terrible during rush hour. Currently, a cab ride that would normally take ten minutes can take 30 to 45 minutes.

It gets worse when it rains or when there is an event. You’ll need to plan ahead when it’s raining, or if the Ecuador football team is playing, as there will be no cab in town. Watch out for their world cup dates in November to be safe.

Cuenca Can Be Isolated

There are only three roads in and out of Cuenca. This means that getting supplies can be hard if protests or strikes occur.

If these roads are barricaded, any movement in and out of the city is practically impossible. Luckily, there is an airport where you can ship supplies, or leave.

Living in an Expat Bubble

Some foreigners want to recreate their American or Canadian lifestyle in Cuenca and thus live in an expat bubble, with no interaction with the locals.

However, living in an expat bubble is not ideal, as you’ll be missing out on some great experiences. Though it might be uncomfortable at first, try to learn the language and take part in Ecuadorian activities. You’ll discover that Ecuadorians are good-natured people and have an interesting culture.

Conclusion

No place is perfect. Although Cuenca, Ecuador, is an ideal place to live in, it has its dark side. Parts of the city hav heavy traffic, overcrowding, pollution, panhandlers, and it can be loud.

Some people find the elevation or the weather (or both) too much to handle and relocate to a town in a lower elevation.  Plus the crime in certain areas is concerning and should be a factor when you’re researching neighborhoods.

Watch This Video About The Dark Side of Cuenca Ecuador

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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48 Hours In Cuenca Ecuador: FUN Itinerary to Experience the Gem of Ecuador

We were so excited to be able to return to one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world, Cuenca Ecuador. There’s so much to do, and we were able to pack a lot into 2 days.

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Cuenca for a few days and want to make the most of your time, here’s a fun itinerary to experience the breadth of the city in just 48 hours!

Day One

Birding in Parque Paraíso

Birding in Parque Paraíso

Thousands of bird enthusiasts flock to Ecuador every year to experience the unique and thriving bird population. With over 1650 species of birds (including 132 types of hummingbirds) we have the highest density of birds in the world!

Our guide Carlos was so knowledgeable, and with his help, we were able to spot over 20 different species of bird in just 2 hours. Even if you aren’t usually interested in bird watching, seeing so many hummingbirds and waterfowl in one place was an invigorating experience that you won’t want to miss!

Tipping Your Hat at El Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla

This museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cuenca, and it’s clear why. Not only were we able to learn all about the history of the Panama hat, but we were able to get our own custom hats to take on the rest of our adventures!

Tipping Your Hat at El Museo del Sombrero de Paja Toquilla

Although the straw hats are named for Panama, they were worn by the indigenous people of Ecuador for hundreds of years before making their way north in the early 1800s. Popular during the California gold rush, Panama hats gained international fame when President Theodore Roosevelt wore one on his visit to the construction site of the Panama Canal.

While the history and behind-the-scenes tour is fascinating, one of the most memorable parts of this museum is the store. There’s a plethora of unique, handmade Panama hats for you to explore, and what’s more, they’re all completely customizable.

If you want a hat resized, fitted with a new band, or made completely from scratch, they’re able to provide whatever alterations you desire. It’s a bit like the Willy Wonka factory of hats!

While you wait for your hat to be made perfect, you can enjoy the café upstairs, complete with one of the most incredible views in the city.

Visit Diverse Markets like Casa Yangoe

If you know us, you know how much we love organic produce. That’s why we couldn’t miss the new market right near the hat museum. Casa Yangoe featured fresh fruits and vegetables, sourdough bread, handmade indigenous clothing, and of course Ecuadorian chocolate.

Explore Culinary Delights at Restaurants like La Maria Cocina Libre

La Maria Cocina Libre

We consider Cuenca to be the culinary capital of Ecuador, so if you’re only visiting for a short time, tasting the local food is a must. LaMaria was an excellent choice for us because it was born as a tribute to the women who worked to protect Ecuadorian culinary traditions.

The menu featured a variety of gourmet traditional dishes including veggie ceviche, avocado, corn tacos, and more.

Experience the Wild Side at Prohibido Centro Cultural

Prohibido Centro Cultural

With so many museums to choose from in Cuenca, it’s fun to get a bit off the beaten path and explore something more macabre. Prohibido Centro Cultural is an extreme art gallery that showcases the dark side of the city’s artistic imagination.

Eduardo Moscoso was constantly at odds with the more conservative town leadership of Cuenca before founding this museum. It feels a little like a haunted house, with depictions of demons, skulls, and destruction. The museum is small but packs quite the punch.

Cleanse Your Artistic Pallet At La Lira

If darker art isn’t your thing, right next door is a more traditional art gallery. La Lira features different artists every couple of months, so it always has something new to see. They also host poetry and book readings along with live music performances.

Walk Along History in the El Vado Neighborhood

This might just be the most significant point of interest in Cuenca because without it the city might not exist at all. El Vado was the first neighborhood created by the Spanish in 1557. The original residents had to wade across the Tomebamba river to enter the city, leading to the name El Vado, which translates to “the ford.”

The area also features a beautiful Palo Encebado sculpture depicting a traditional game involving climbing a pole to get prizes. This is a great way to see the vibrant culture year-round.

Day Two

Be Transported to the Incan Empire at Pumapungo

Incan Empire at Pumapungo

This free museum holds stunning artifacts from the ancient Inca Empire. Clay pots, ancient tools, art, and even shrunken heads abound!

While the inside of the museum is, of course, a joy, our favorite thing to do is walk around the grounds. They feature ruins from the 1400s, and if you’re lucky you might spot some llamas on the hills.

Let Your Cares Wash Away At Piedra de Agua

Just 15 minutes from El Centro is THE best spa in South and Central America. Piedra de Agua won the title just this year after opening in 2008. Enjoy thermal pools, mud baths, and delicious food and refreshments surrounded by breathtaking nature.

The hot water used at this spa comes from a spring that’s 4000 meters deep. They have food to cater to any dietary restrictions, so long as you call ahead and let them know.

We were able to enjoy the cave experience in a romantic underground area just for us. With various spa treatments and Champagne flowing, it was a one-of-a-kind experience that we will not soon forget.

Beyond the 48

There’s truly so much to do in Cuenca, this guide only scratched the surface. From the New Cathedral to San Francisco Plaza, there’s always more beauty and culture to take in. And of course, you can’t miss the world-famous Cuenca flower market.

We recommend budgeting a full week to take in all this amazing city has to offer.

Conclusion

While two days may not feel like a lot of time to experience the culture and beauty of one of Ecuador’s oldest cities, if you know what you’re looking for you’re sure to experience something unique and exciting.

From breathtaking views to shrunken heads to underground spas, there’s an adventure around every corner. We know once your time is done, you’ll be jumping at the chance to spend another 48 hours in Cuenca!

Watch Our Video About Our 48 Hours In Cuenca Ecuador

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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Experience the Charm and Beauty of Cuenca Ecuador

When we stand in the heart of Cuenca, Ecuador, we can’t help but feel completely in awe of such a beautiful city.

The vibrant culture, breathtaking landscapes, and endless opportunities for adventure are truly special.

New Cathedral Cuenca EcuadorNestled in the Andes mountains, Cuenca is a place where the past and present come together, creating a unique and old world atmosphere.

Everywhere we look, we’re struck by the colorful colonial architecture that lines the streets. The red tile roofs, ornate balconies, and intricate carvings are like a window into another time, inviting us to explore and discover all that this city has to offer.

And beyond the bustling markets and lively streets of El Centro, the surrounding neighborhoods have their own charm and character.

Whether we’re hiking through the lush forests of Lower Cajas, taking in the stunning views, or simply immersing ourselves in the local culture, Cuenca is a place that inspires and invigorates us.

It’s a place that captures the heart and soul of South America, and we’re so thankful for the time we’ve spent there.

Watch Our Video About Things To Do In Cuenca Ecuador

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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Popular Expat Restaurants in Cuenca Ecuador

We’re often asked for a review of popular expat restaurants in Cuenca Ecuador where expats like to eat.

During our two and a half years of living in Cuenca, and our recent visits, we had the opportunity to eat at a lot of restaurants. While we can’t possibly cover all of them in one video, we did share our experiences with over 3 dozen!

Here are the links to all the restaurants we mentioned:

#1 Parque Calderon
Negroni
Madame
Yaw

#2 Calle Larga
LaMaría
Sunrise Café
Kolo
Origami
Goza 
Quo Vadis

Other El Centro
Fabiano’s
Za Za 360 Lounge in the ITZA Hotel
Thai Connection
Tiesto’s Café

#3 de Noviembre
PizzoTr3s
Inca Lounge
Bumba
Café del Museo Remigio Crespo

#4 Parque de la Madre
Paradise Indian
Sinfonía Café 
Nandala
Golden Prague
El Rey del Burrito

#5 Roberto Crespo Toral
Goza
Serafina
Hansel and Gretel
Roll.Dot
Yua Restaurante

#6 Rafael Torres Beltrán
LaCraft Beer Garden
Télicioso Tea Room
Pacari Cuenca
Pizzeria La Napoletana
Café Libre

#7 Remigio Crespo Toral
Noe Sushi
Zatua Miski

#8 Batan/Otorongo
Fratello Vegan
Sabatino’s Garden

#9 San Sebas
El Oasis
San Sebas Café
Common Grounds

Watch Our Video About Popular Expat Restaurants in Cuenca Ecuador

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING WE GET A COMMISSION IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A PURCHASE THROUGH OUR LINKS. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU AND SOMETIMES YOU'LL EVEN GET A DISCOUNT BY USING OUR LINK. PLEASE READ OUR DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

 

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