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.


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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Hola todos! Welcome to my author bio page! Let's see. Where to begin... I grew up in the country on a lake outside a small Kansas farm town. As soon as I could, I got the hell outta there! Since then, I've lived and/or worked in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Denver, San Francisco, and Ecuador. I started and sold a dotcom, wrote a book about it, started a YouTube channel, and now I write a lot. Amelia and I have embraced the Unconventional Life and we want to help you do it, too!

4 replies
  1. Peter Eichhorst
    Peter Eichhorst says:

    I first discovered you two while researching moving to S. A. You should probably be in the Guiness Book of Records for the nicest couple in the world. I have been living in Cuenca for over a month now and am working on my Retirement Visa. I lived in Bucaramanga, Colombia for 6 months prior to moving here and found some cosistencies and some contrasts. For one, traffic is much worse in Bucaramanga and much more agressive, due mostly to the massive amounts of motorcycles. Cuenca food is, in my experience, 10 times better. The Historic District in Cuenca is fantastic for too many reasons to mention, but I’ll try to sum it up by saying, I doubt there is a place on earth like Cuenca Centro where you can truly find anything you could possibly need in this lifetime somewhere within walking distance. It has become a lifestyle for me. Just discovering all of the Churches is a past time for me. Cuenca is definitely one of the best kept secrets in South America. People here are awesome in many ways.


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