Tag Archive for: Cuenca Ecuador

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and get immediate access to The 5 Countries Report: A review of our top 5 picks for best places to live, work and retire in Latin America. Find out if one of these amazing countries can check off all your boxes and be the ideal place to live your Unconventional Life!

PLUS, you'll get several other free perks we think you'll enjoy!

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.

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


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Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and get immediate access to The 5 Countries Report: A review of our top 5 picks for best places to live, work and retire in Latin America. Find out if one of these amazing countries can check off all your boxes and be the ideal place to live your Unconventional Life!

PLUS, you'll get several other free perks we think you'll enjoy!

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.

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.


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


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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.


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


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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


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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

#2 Calle Larga
Sunrise Café
Quo Vadis

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

#3 de Noviembre
Inca Lounge
Café del Museo Remigio Crespo

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

#5 Roberto Crespo Toral
Hansel and Gretel
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


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Cuenca Ecuador Pros & Cons for Expats

Cuenca Ecuador has been near the top of the “best expat cities” list for over a decade and a lot of expats live in Cuenca because of its international renown.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a modern city with old world charm, affordable living, and a variety of amenities. However, like any place, it also has its drawbacks.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of living in Cuenca Ecuador to help you decide if it’s the right expat city for you.

Is Cuenca the Best Expat City in Ecuador?

Before we share the main drawbacks, and the reasons why we ended up leaving Cuenca, let’s take a look at all the wonderful things that Cuenca has to offer.

Cuenca Is a Modern, Developed City with Old World Charm

Cuenca has all the modern amenities of a developed city like hospitals, malls and car dealerships, but it still maintains an old world charm with its beautiful, Spanish colonial architecture.

The iconic blue domes of the New Cathedral can be seen from most vantage points in the city and make for amazing pictures to share with your friends and family.

Cuenca is so beautiful and picturesque that we often just walked around the city so I could take pictures!

Ecuador Is On the Dollar

Ecuador Is On the DollarKnowing the currency saves us a lot of time and money. We don’t have to constantly do conversions in our head or wonder if we’re getting gringoed (price gouged).

Being on the US Dollar (the exact same currency) was one of the main reasons we chose Ecuador.

Dollar bills aren’t very common, though. Instead, dollar coins and 50 cent coins (cinquenta centavo) are much more common.

Cuenca Has Reliable Internet

Our house in Cuenca had fiber to the curb with Puntonet. We’ve heard Etapa is also a good provider, but we don’t have any experience with them.

We had one short outage in more than 2 years living there. Compared to weekly outages and constantly slow service from Comcast in downtown Denver for $120/month, we were extremely happy with our Internet service there.

Cuenca Has Drinkable Water

Along with the dollar, being able to drink the tap water was another main reason we wanted to move to Cuenca. We hate using plastic water bottles so it was nice to avoid that in Cuenca.

Some people still choose to have water delivery and/or install reverse osmosis filtration systems, but the replacement filters are hard to find and very expensive. It’s just nice that we didn’t have to worry about it.

Cuenca Has an Airport

Cuenca Has an AirportOne of the amenities that makes Cuenca so appealing to expats is the airport located just a short cab ride from the heart of the city.

While the airport claims to be international, nearly all flights go to Quito with an occasional flight to Guayaquil. You’ll also need to walk downstairs upon exiting the plane since there are no gangways.

The airport itself is very nice with a small food court on the second level and a tasty coffee shop on the first level by the ticketing counter.

The flight to Quito only takes 45 minutes so it’s much easier than making the 8+ hour drive to Quito, or the 3+ hour drive to the Guayaquil international airport.

You Don’t Need a Car in Cuenca

You Don't Need a Car in CuencaCuenca’s new Tranvia will take you from the airport through El Centro and out to the Don Bosco neighborhood on the southwest side of town.

The expansive bus system will take you anywhere inside or outside Cuenca. Taxi rides are very affordable and most fares cost between $2 and $3 with a $1.50 minimum.

Cars are much more expensive in Ecuador than in countries like the United States. The interest rates on car loans are very high, so luckily the wide variety of inexpensive transportation options means you don’t need a car in Cuenca.

Very Few Bugs in Cuenca Ecuador

Tarantula in CuencaCuenca is over 8,000 feet in elevation so we didn’t see a lot of bugs there. We saw flies and fruit flies, and a few mosquitoes, but nothing like the lower elevations along the coast.

While spiders aren’t bugs, we did have some of those, including a tarantula that crawled in under our kitchen door. I shooed him out of the kitchen with a broom and he never came back.

Cuenca Has LOTS of English-Speaking Ecuadorians

Most Cuencanos who are under 30 years old speak English, and many older Ecuadorians who lived in the US or Europe when they were younger also speak English. That means it’s a really easy place to start your life abroad if you’re not yet fluent in Spanish.

With language apps widely available, speaking Spanish isn’t a requirement anywhere in Ecuador, but being able to communicate in English makes the transition to a new city and culture much smoother.

Cuenca Has LOTS of Spanish Schools & Teachers

If your goal is to learn Spanish, Cuenca is a great place to study the language. There are a variety of Spanish schools, teachers and language exchanges to help you learn and practice.

Cuenca Has a Large Expat Community

The UnconventionalsWhile many adventurous expats move to a foreign country to spend time with locals and experience a new culture, others move abroad mainly to live a more affordable, higher quality of life.

If this describes you, then you’ll appreciate having other like-minded, English-speaking people to talk to and to provide social support.

Cuenca has one of the largest expat communities in South America with thousands of immigrants from the US, Canada and Europe, making it an ideal place to start a new life abroad.

Low Crime Rate in Cuenca Ecuador

Police Officer in Cuenca EcuadorCuenca has a very low crime rate compared to other parts of Ecuador like Guayaquil.

However, following the pandemic, crime has increased throughout Ecuador so the government decided in April 2023 to legalize the civilian use of guns for self-defense.

Here are the requirements to legally buy and possess a gun in Ecuador:

  • Be 25 years old.
  • Pass a psychological test and get a certificate issued by the Ministry of Public Health.
  • Take a gun safety class and get a certificate of skill in the handling and use of the weapon issued by the Ministry of National Defense.
  • No criminal record.
  • No history of domestic violence.
  • Pass a drug test and obtain a certificate issued by the Ministry of Public Health.
  • Only firearms with a caliber of 9 millimeters or .38 caliber and smaller are allowed.
  • Assault weapons and automatic guns are illegal.

Compared to the United States, the gun laws are still very strict in Ecuador.

Pepper spray was also legalized (it was illegal and impossible to buy in Ecuador) and self-defense has been decriminalized. Before this change, if you harmed a criminal while defending yourself or your family, there was a very good chance that you would be arrested and convicted alongside the perp.

Most crime in Ecuador is petty theft, especially pickpockets. However, over the past few years, Cuenca has installed cameras in popular pickpocket spots, which has cut down on crime in those area.

There is also a strong police presence on the streets and walking trails around Cuenca, and they’re very friendly. We felt completely comfortable asking them for directions and they often help people cross the street safely.

Cuenca Has a Variety of Modern, Upscale Housing

Cuenca Has a Variety of Modern, Upscale HousingYour friends and family may think you’ll be living in a dirt-floor house with no indoor plumbing
when you move to Ecuador, but that couldn’t be further from the truth!

While building standards aren’t quite the same as in the US and other developed countries, Cuenca has a large selection of modern, upscale housing to choose from.

Whether you want a freestanding home, a row home or a high-rise condo, you’re sure to find something that will make you feel right at home for a fraction of the cost compared to similar housing in the US.

Small Businesses in Cuenca Ecuador

Ecuador has a form of regulated capitalism. It’s considered a social republic with a democratically elected government. That means big corporations don’t rule the country, which levels the playing field so small businesses can compete.

While there are some large stores here like Coral, Supermaxi, Kywi and Sukasa, they’re usually the same price as small vendors, and sometimes more expensive. For example, the small vendors at the mercados are much less expensive for fruits and veggies than Supermaxi.

It can be challenging sometimes to find the things you’re looking for, and a single item may require several trips to different areas of town, but we like supporting small businesses and don’t mind the extra walking.

Cuenca Flower Markets in Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Flower MarketsYou can buy beautiful and inexpensive flowers throughout Ecuador, but there’s nothing quite like Cuenca’s world-famous Flower Market.

It was included in National Geographic’s list of Top 10 Outdoor Flower Markets for good reason. It’s incredibly stunning and we enjoyed walking down there on the weekends to buy fresh flowers.

Cuenca Has LOTS of Fun & Entertaining Things To Do

If you’re an activity-oriented person, Cuenca will NOT disappoint! There are tons of things to do in Cuenca!

You’ll find lots of museums to visit, like the Inca ruins at Pumapungo and the Museum of Modern Art in San Sebas. Cuenca has great walking tours, river walks, restaurants, social gatherings, music events, and more.

Plus, a short 20 minute cab ride will deliver you to the hot springs in Baños Azuay southwest of Cuenca for a relaxing day of soaking in the therapeutic waters and pampering in the spas.

There are LOTS of Amazing Day Trips Around Cuenca

There are LOTS of Amazing Day Trips Around CuencaCuenca is centrally located near several of Ecuador’s incredible natural and historical sites like El Cajas National Park with its herds of photogenic llamas.

You might also enjoy the waterfalls of Girón, the handmade guitar makers in San Bartolomé, the filigree jewelry in Chordeleg, the orchid farm in Gualaceo, the indigenous market in Cañar, the church built into the side of a mountain in Biblión, or the Inca & Cañari ruins in Ingapirca.

And if you’re really brave, you’ll love mountain climbing at Cojitambo in Azogues! All of these attractions and more can be enjoyed on day trips from Cuenca!

Affordable, High-Quality Medical Care & English-Speaking Doctors

Healthcare was one of the main driving factors for our move from the US to Ecuador. We simply couldn’t afford health insurance or healthcare following my spine surgeries back in the States.

Affordable, High-Quality Medical Care & English-Speaking DoctorsAnother spine surgery back in the US would bankrupt us, and I’m not willing to do that to myself, and especially not to Amelia, at our age.

Medical and dental tourism in Cuenca is rapidly growing in popularity due to the availability of high-quality care at a very affordable price.

Many medical practitioners speak fluent English and most trained in the US, Europe, Argentina or Chile so they’re well-educated and knowledgeable about the current science and procedures.

Most private hospitals and newer public hospitals also have the same modern equipment that you would see anywhere in the US.

If you have chronic health conditions or you’re just getting older, you may appreciate having Cuenca’s high-quality medical care at your fingertips.

Cuenca Has a Large Variety of Delicious Restaurants & Cuisines

Cuenca Has a Large Variety of Delicious Restaurants & CuisinesDining out at restaurants in Cuenca is not only delicious, but varied and affordable.

You can find most cuisines, such as Indian, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, American, Gourmet, Vegetarian, Vegan, and plenty of Ecuadorian.

In addition to serving food that tastes amazing, you’ll also often find yourself taking pictures of the artistic creations put down in front of you because aesthetics are just as important as flavor to many chefs in Cuenca.

You can buy an Ecuadorian lunch, called El Almuerzo, for $1.50 to $3 while most popular expat dinners will cost around $7 to $10 per person.

Coffee & Chocolate in Cuenca Ecuador

Coffee and chocolate are two of Ecuador’s primary exports. Due to its tropical climate near the equator, Ecuador is ideal for growing both of the beans used to make these food products. They also don’t need to be hyper processed and shipped around the world, so we get extra fresh versions of both and you can taste the difference. Yum!

Cuenca Has Great Coffee Shops

Cuenca Has Great Coffee ShopsEcuador grows some of the best coffee in the world, and now they’re FINALLY opening coffee shops to serve it.

Gourmet coffee shops are growing in popularity, especially in Cuenca. Goza Espresso Bar is Ecuador’s version of Starbucks and they have several locations in Cuenca with both indoor and outdoor seating.

Café Ñucallacta and Yaw Ecuadorian Café are also tasty coffee shops with good atmospheres and outdoor seating.

If you’re a Starbucks addict, you might be disappointed to learn that it hasn’t made its way to Ecuador, yet. However, you’re sure to enjoy the rich flavors and varied menus at Cuenca’s numerous coffee shops.

No GMO’s in Ecuador

No GMO's in EcuadorGMO (actually, Genetically Engineered) crops are banned in Ecuador, despite heavy pressure from the US to allow them. In fact, GMO’s are specifically prohibited in Ecuador’s constitution!

They are allowed to import GMO products like soy sauce and textured vegetable protein (TVP), but they must be clearly labeled.

We would hate to see the same thing happen here in Ecuador, that is happening in India and other developing countries that made the mistake of allowing GMO crops.

Panaderías (Bakeries) in Cuenca Ecuador

Panaderías / Bakeries in CuencaCuenca has a lot of bakeries and bread shops selling everything from simple water bread to delicious sourdough.

Tosta is one of our FAVORITE panaderías in Cuenca. All of their bread has a sourdough base and most of it is whole grain.

It’s Easy to Eat 100% Plant-Based in Cuenca

It's Easy to Be Vegan in CuencaThe mercados are like candy stores for vegans and plant-based eaters! The produce is top quality and delicious, while being extremely affordable.

Cuenca also hosts several vegan and vegetarian restaurants, with most other restaurants having a vegan or vegetarian section on the menu.

Our favorite vegan/vegetarian restaurants are Fratello Vegan, Café Libre, Zatua Miski and Funky Sauce.

Our favorite non-vegan restaurants with vegan options are Paradise Indian Restaurant, Namaste India, Origami Japanese Kitchen and Noe Sushi Bar.

As 100% plant-based eaters, we love the affordable, high quality, non-GMO, delicious fruits and veggies that we get at the mercados in Ecuador. We spend about $20/week on produce here, but back in the states, it was closer to $200/week for lower quality fruits and veggies.

Cuenca Has Several Speciality & Organic Shops

Holistic living is very popular among Ecuadorians, who appreciate the value of non-pharmaceutical options for healthcare needs.

You’ll find plenty of speciality and organic shops in Cuenca selling everything from fair trade chocolate to gluten free flour to CBD oil to cruelty free shampoo.

Cuenca Has Numerous Visa Agents

Cuenca Has Numerous Visa AgentsIf you plan to stay in Ecuador past your 90 tourist visa, you’ll likely need to enlist the help of a qualified visa agent.

While it is possible to get a visa on your own without help, the process has become much more complicated over the years and very nuanced.

The rules and regulations are not clearly defined, so you may get different answers from different government representatives and the success of your application often comes down to the relationships your visa agent has cultivated.

Since Cuenca has one of the largest expat populations in Ecuador, there are also a lot of visa agents to help you navigate the confusing process of getting a temporary resident visa.

For more information about Ecuador visas, check out our article: Ecuador Temporary Resident Visas.

Walkability of Cuenca Ecuador

We don’t have a car and we don’t plan to get one because we walk everywhere.

Cuenca is very walkable and we typically logged at least 10,000 steps per day. When we needed to go a little further, or it was raining, cabs rides were less than $3 to get most places in El Centro from where we lived in El Vergel.

Walkability is certainly one of the Top 10 Things We LOVE About Cuenca Ecuador!

Cuenca Has Excellent Pet Care

Cuenca Has Excellent Pet CareIf you’re planning to take your fur babies with you when you move abroad, Cuenca has a number of English-speaking veterinarians and pet care providers.

You’ll find pet supply stores in most neighborhoods and malls, and you can even take your dog to daycare for a playdate.

Your dog will also enjoy long walks along the linear river parks and in Parque Paraíso. And there are plenty of opportunities to adopt dogs and cats from several different animal rescues in Cuenca.

Check out our recent article, Ecuador Pet Care, Pet Sitting & Pet Food for more on this topic.

The Cost of Living in Cuenca Ecuador

We lived a comfortable, upper-middle-class, gentle-minimalist lifestyle in Cuenca for less than 1/3 of our cost of living back in Denver, CO. The savings allowed us to pay off $60K of debt in three years of living in Ecuador!

Check out our video, Cost of Living in Cuenca Ecuador + Rental House Tour, for more info on our cost of living while we lived there.

The Weather in Cuenca Ecuador

The Weather in Cuenca EcuadorEight months out of the year, the weather in Cuenca is absolutely beautiful. It’s sunny and 70’s (21°C) most of the day with an occasional brief rain shower. It seems to rain more during the night than during the day for those 8 months.

The other 4 months are called the wet season, so it rains a lot more from February through May.

Check this article for more: Weather In Ecuador & Best Time to Visit.

Cuenca Is Tranquilo

Living in Cuenca felt like we were on island time!

Friends and family come first in Ecuador. Most people aren’t in a big hurry. And they work to live, they don’t live to work.

It’s a breath of fresh air compared to our former frantic lifestyle back in the States.

Natural Beauty & Diversity in Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca, and the entire country of Ecuador, is home to some of the most beautiful places on this planet.

From deserts to rainforests, and from beaches to mountains, this country has it all.

It’s hard to describe or even show the level of beauty in pictures or videos. You really have to see it for yourself!

The Blue Crew, Now the Green Team

The Blue Crew in CuencaCuenca is one of the cleanest cities we’ve ever seen, and that’s almost entirely due to the blue crew: Cuenca’s street cleaners.

Last time we visited Cuenca, we noticed they are now wearing green uniforms so I guess we should call them the Green Team now.

They work from before sunup to after sundown, 7 days per week to keep the city spotless and we couldn’t be more thankful for them.

Friendly People in Cuenca Ecuador

Everyone is so welcoming and friendly, which makes this number one on our Cuenca Ecuador Pros and Cons list.

Friendly People in CuencaThe Ecuadorians are very proud of their beautiful country and they’re happy to share it with us gringos.

We also have friends from Venezuela, Chile, Germany, Austria, England, Russia, Ukraine and Italy. This is a melting pot and almost everyone seems very happy to be here and commingle.

The friendly man in this picture stopped us on the street to talk to us. He was so proud of his country and told us, “Mi país es su país.” That means my country is your country. We LOVE the people here! They are so nice!

Now let’s move on to the things we don’t like so much…

Major Drawbacks of Living In Cuenca Ecuador

While Cuenca is quite possibly the best expat city in Ecuador, if not the world, it does have a few major drawbacks that may impact your decision to move there.

Altitude Sickness in Cuenca Ecuador

Altitude Sickness in CuencaCuenca sits at 8,400 feet (2.560 meters), which is well over a mile and a half above sea level. That means the air is very thin and the sun is very hot.

After an initial adjustment period of a few days to a week, most people have no long-term effects from the elevation, but others aren’t as fortunate.

Common symptoms of altitude sickness (more aptly named elevation sickness) are dizziness, shortness of breath, skin flushing, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, headaches, forgetfulness, difficulty walking, drowsiness, and/or sleeplessness.

If you have spent time in high-elevation cities without these symptoms, you will likely be just fine in Cuenca.

However, if you’ve never spent time at a high elevation before, you won’t know if it affects you until you get there. If your body doesn’t adjust after a week, you may want to search for a lower-elevation city.

Lack of Punctuality

Time is a fluid, non-binding construct here in Ecuador and throughout Latin America. Their culture just doesn’t think of time the same way as we Americans and Northern Europeans do.

Most things rarely start on time or end on time. It has required us to learn patience and lower our expectations, which aren’t bad things for us rigid gringos.

Sidewalk Hazards in Cuenca Ecuador

Sidewalk Hazards in CuencaThe sidewalks throughout Ecuador are hazardous! There’s no better way to put it.

From gaping holes to cut-off post stumps to trash racks to slippery terracotta tiles on a steep decline, you’re literally taking your life into your own hands simply by walking on the sidewalk.

It requires your constant, diligent attention!

Although we occasionally saw people in wheelchairs, the city is not very handicap accessible. That’s something to consider before moving there if you’re physically challenged.

Cool, Cloudy Weather in Cuenca Ecuador

While Cuenca is beautiful 8 months out of the year, the other 4 months are dreary and damp.

Cool, Cloudy Weather in Cuenca EcuadorCuenca sits just to the west of the Amazon jungle so all the moisture that evaporates on the eastern side of Ecuador is condensed into clouds when it hits the high Andes mountain range. Combine that with the high elevation in Cuenca and it’s a recipe for lots of cool, cloudy days.

During the cold/dry season from June through November, you’ll rarely see the sun for more than a few minutes at a time, and often not for days or weeks at a time. During the warmer/wet season from December through May, you’ll ironically get more sun between the rains, but it’s still very cloudy most of the time.

Cuenca is called the land of eternal spring, which elicits images of sunny days and green grass and blooming flowers, but it’s also cool and cloudy during spring, which is a more accurate interpretation of the term.

During the cold months, temperatures can dip below 40°F (4.5°C) at night and rarely go above 70°F (21°C) during the day. Central heating is very rare in Ecuador, so you might need space heaters and warm blankets to stay warm.

During the warm months, daytime temperatures are typically near 80°F (26.5°C) and rarely reach 90°F (32°C). If you’re a fair weather fan, the constant Seattle-like cool, cloudy weather in Cuenca may not be your cup of…coffee.

Too Easy to Speak English (If You Want to Learn Spanish)

While the large number of English-speaking Ecuadorians in Cuenca makes the transition to a new country and culture easier, it can also make it difficult to learn Spanish.

It’s simply too easy to speak English in Cuenca, so you may not feel enough pressure to learn the native language, and many expats don’t.

If your goal is to become fluent in Spanish, you might prefer one of the other popular expat destinations in Ecuador where English is not as common.

Check out our article, Best Cities to Live in Ecuador for Expats to see where other expats choose to live.

The Drivers in Cuenca Ecuador

The Drivers in EcuadorMost of the time, Ecuadorians are the happiest, most tranquilo people you’ll ever meet. But put them behind the wheel of a car and they turn into Freddy Krueger.

You literally take your life into your own hands every time you cross a street. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here, not even at crosswalks or with green walk signs.

You have to be a very defensive walker!

The Noise in Cuenca Ecuador

As I was writing this sentence, the neighbors car alarm went off just outside our gate. The woman was sitting in the car while the alarm is going off… She finally disarmed it after at least 30 seconds of horn honking and sirens.

The Ecuadorians and Latin Americans in general don’t seem to have the same issues with noise as we do. We’ve actually seen them standing in front of their car having a conversation while the alarm was blasting!

House alarms are also a constant. Loud buses, gas trucks, church bells, fireworks, parties, roosters, barking dogs…you name it, can be heard at all hours of the day and night.

We’ve gotten used to most of it, but the car alarms still grate on our nerves. Everyone has one, but no one pays any attention to them.

Blue Puffer Buses in Cuenca Ecuador

These have mostly been phased out and replaced with low-emission diesel red-and-white buses so they aren’t a big issue anymore.

However, they still exist and the worst part is getting stuck on a narrow street when one of them drives by. It’s impossible to breathe!

Homeless and Underfed Dogs in Ecuador

Homeless and Underfed Dogs in EcuadorWe take this for granted in the US because we have so few stray dogs or unleashed dogs on the streets, but here it’s a totally different environment.

People (mainly macho men) refuse to get their dogs neutered so they procreate like crazy and it’s nearly impossible to keep their population controlled.

Ecuadorians also have a cultural preference for small dogs under 10 pounds, especially under 5 pounds like our little Alicia. That means they love their puppies, but once the puppy grows up, it’s common to kick them out to the street or dump them somewhere else.

The dog rescues like Los Amigos de Manolo are full of big dogs that no one wants; the little ones get adopted almost immediately.

Most of the dogs in Cuenca look healthy, but just outside Cuenca in the surrounding areas, as well as in Quito and on the coast, the dogs look very malnourished. We were told that there’s a common ailment here that causes the dogs to be very skinny. It requires expensive antibiotics to cure, which most people can’t afford.

Lack of Organization and Communication

In Ecuador, signs are rarely used and people can rarely be found who know anything about what’s going on.

Combined with the lack of punctuality, we’re commonly left wandering around lost, and often going home without finding the venue for the events we’re looking for.

Cuenca replaced the water lines in our neighborhood so the water was off quite often in our house. Unfortunately, they didn’t communicate the outage schedule so we had no idea when it was going to be off and were unable to make plans for it.

The lack of organization and communication can be very exasperating!

The Drive Through Cajas to Get to Guayaquil

The Drive Through Cajas to Get to GuayaquilIf you fly into Guayaquil on your way to Cuenca, or if you visit the coast from Cuenca, you’ll need to drive through El Cajas National Park.

On your first trip, you’ll be awestruck by the natural beauty. You might even appreciate some new angles and scenery on your second trip. But by the third time driving on the winding mountain two-lane highway and down through the cloud forest with zero visibility heading toward Guayaquil and the coastal region, you’ll be firmly over the 3+ hour commute.

You can fly from Cuenca to Guayaquil, but the flights usually go through Quito so it will take much longer than driving. Plus, flying costs 10 times more than a buseta with Operazuatur, and 20 times more than an interprovincial bus.

There simply is no easy way to get from Cuenca to Guayaquil or the southern Ecuadorian coast without driving through the nausea-inducing Cajas.

This isn’t a deal breaker for most expats, but it is an inconvenience that does get tiresome.

Public Urination in Ecuador

Yes. That’s a thing in Cuenca. And a common one. We rarely went anywhere without seeing someone peeing behind a telephone pole or tree.

We even saw women squatting in plain sight of passersby!

For us overly hygienic Americans, it’s a bit gross and uncomfortable to make eye contact with someone who is peeing in public!

Is Cuenca Ecuador the BEST Expat City?

All things considered, if you don’t have issues with the elevation or the cool, cloudy weather, Cuenca is still the best expat city in Ecuador, especially for new expats.

Cuenca’s modern conveniences, housing, healthcare and services make it an extremely easy place to land and get your feet wet if you’ve never lived abroad before.

After living in Cuenca for over 2 years, we decided to move to the coast, primarily because of my worsening altitude sickness and Amelia’s lack of appreciation for the dreary weather. If Cuenca was 4,000 feet (1.200 meters) lower in elevation and a bit warmer and sunnier, we may have never left.

We have no regrets about living there and we still feel like it is the best expat city in Ecuador, and maybe all of South America.

Watch Our Video About Why Expats LOVE Cuenca Ecuador


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Cost of Food in Cuenca Ecuador

This video shows a typical travel day for us. We usually eat breakfast and dinner at our Airbnb, and we eat lunch out at a restaurant. You can find traditional Ecuadorian lunch called “almuerzos” for $1.50 to $4.

When we’re at home, we only eat out once or twice per week (sometimes not at all) so our average food bill runs about $7 to $9 per day per person.

If you eat meat, that will increase your food bill because it’s not subsidized by the government so it’s more expensive here than in countries like the US.

We buy most of our produce at the mercado, which saves us a lot of money. Groceries at Supermaxi and other major grocery stores are more expensive so we try to only buy packaged items there.

We stayed in this Airbnbd during our stay: AirBnB by Parque de la Madre

Watch Our Video About Cost of Food in Cuenca Ecuador


Get Our Weekly Newsletter from JP (and Amelia)

5 Countries Report Cover
Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and get immediate access to The 5 Countries Report: A review of our top 5 picks for best places to live, work and retire in Latin America. Find out if one of these amazing countries can check off all your boxes and be the ideal place to live your Unconventional Life!

PLUS, you'll get several other free perks we think you'll enjoy!