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Cuenca Ecuador — How The American Dream Moved South

By in Ecuador, Lifestyle on April 3, 2013

Cuenca Ecuador

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” – Adam Truslow, coiner of “The American Dream”

So what does Cuenca, Ecuador have to do with The American Dream?

Short Answer: everything really associated with quality of life is more abundantly available in the very best cities of Latin America — with Cuenca, Ecuador a crown jewel among them — than in metro and suburban USA. 

Cuenca, Latin America & The “Joy of Life Ratio”

Basically, it comes down to the Joy of Life Ratio.

You figure out the ratio by determining how many minutes out of every waking-hour in a typical day are spent:

  • Doing what you love (or at least deeply enjoy) — amid beautiful and pleasant surroundings — in frustration-free and friendly environments — enhanced by beautiful weather

Versus how many minutes are spent

  • Doing stuff you hate (or don’t want to do) — amidst clangorous, urban ugliness and/or soul-sucking suburban blandness — in an over-busy and time-crunched and grouchy atmosphere — made worse by inclimate weather

cuenca ecuador colonial townSure, the US has plenty of opportunity to pursue your passion, more than its share of beautiful cityscapes, and no small amount of lovely weather… But — and this is a giant BUT — the communities with the best mix of those things are now priced out of reach for for most Americans.

And even staying afloat in a simply “nice” city can start to take up all of your time and energy in order to pay the bills and have enough left over for a few evenings out, leaving many Americans to wonder if there isn’t a better option out there somewhere.

Many of them are now finding that better option in the best cities of Latin America, with Cuenca, Ecuador chief among them. That’s where they find much higher Joy of Life Ratios at prices the average American can thrive in.

Of course, which Latin American city and country offers YOU the best Joy of Life Ratio depends on:

  • what your passions are (if your passions are sailing, surfing and scuba diving, Cuenca won’t be for you),
  • what you, particularly, find the most beautiful and pleasant, and
  • what your priorities are, in terms of amenities, city life vs. country life, and so on.

Cuenca Ecuador is the city of choice for those people who’d dream of living smack in the middle of Paris, Barcelona, or Sienna (or even Manhattan or San Francisco, for that matter) within walking distance of historical, beautiful architecture, culture, and food — at a price that’s affordable for someone needing more living space than a studio apartment.

In fact when Ecuadorians live overseas, whether in the US or Europe, they typically return to Cuenca. Regardless of where they grew up in Ecuador, when they come back, they tend to settle in the city of Cuenca. And this is for a mix of reasons, which I’ll call…

The Big Three Pros of Cuenca, Ecuador:

1. Cuenca’s Old World Character and Ideal Climate

When more and more American cities and suburbs look like they were designed at corporate, Cuenca looks like something out of Europe with its gorgeous architecture, historic buildings, scenic public squares and parks, and tons of authentic character.

Just look at these pictures!

And for nature lovers, Cuenca sits at the cross-roads, so to speak of four major rivers and is surrounded by mountains, as it lies on the Ande’s mountain range. Most state parks are less beautiful than the cities average walking trail.  

And outdoor beauty is important because the weather will make you want to be outside — with year round temperatures averaging in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, getting just cool enough in the evenings for a light sweater or jacket.

And all this in a city of only 500,000 people — about 100,000 people smaller than Portland, Oregon.  


See a nice video of Cuenca – as narrated by Zorro. Yeah, that Zorro.

2. Cuenca As a Welcoming, American-Friendly, Metropolitan City

As mentioned earlier, many Ecuadorians who have spent some time working, studying or living in the US, settle back in Cuenca when they come back to Ecuador. 

That means the people in Cuenca like and are welcoming of Americans and happy to help make them part of the community. Many are fluent in English and the city has plenty of English-language bookstores, store owners, and people willing to accommodate non-Spanish speaking travelers and expats.  

Overall Cuenca has a very metropolitan feel, alive with talents, dollars, and taste for life that these well-traveled and well-educated Ecuadorians and expats bring to it. Think of Cuenca as a combination of:

Cuenca Ecuador Bridge

  • Hip arts community — free symphonies, a mecca for painters and sculptors, and artisans
  • College town — no less than 8 universities, and
  • Tom-Sawyer-esque hometown — very family oriented with excellent schools, community involvement, safe environment.

Now think of all that rolled into a place that’s very reasonable and affordable to live.

For around $150,000 to $200,000 USD you can get a home within an easy walk of the  city’s historic district, or Centro and be able to enjoy the city in a way that’s simply impossible with a US City when you’re forced into a suburb some 30 to 60 minutes away from the hart of downtown.  Think of it like living near downtown Austin, or the Garden District of New Orleans, or near the Santa Monica pier — except at a price you can effort and without most of the hassles that come with living in a major metropolitan area.

Simply put, life is simpler and more enjoyable when you can walk everywhere you need to go and the walk is as beautiful and pleasant as one enjoys when strolling through historic Cuenca.

Click to learn more about real estate, cost of living, healthcare, & residency in Cuenca

Along with the beauty and cultural offerings comes all the other amenities you’d expect to find in any first rate city: an active night life, first-rate restaurants, shopping malls (if you want them), luxury boutiques, readily available high-speed internet access, and ease of travel, with an airport offering easy travel.

3. Low Cost of Living Coupled w/ Excellent Schools, Food, and Health Care

Cuenca ChurchWe’ve already mentioned housing costs in Cuenca — they are affordably low, with luxury, furnished rentals running around $650 a month. 

Factor in utilities, condo fees, cable, and everything else and you’re looking in the neighborhood of $900 a month — again for a furnished, luxury apartment in a desirable location.  
And the same goes for most anything else — eating out at a first-rate restaurant for two runs about $30.  Buying groceries with plenty of grass-fed beaf, fresh seafood and veggies will run you about $250 a month — or about $60 a trip to the market.  

And if you’d rather go to a supermarket than a farmers market — don’t ask me why you would but… as the Ecuador’s agricultural and tourism industries, Cuenca has plenty of supermarkets and malls.

Along with the lower cost of living comes the higher quality of life for families and retirees.  Not only does Cuenca have an abundance of Universities, including University courses in spanish for expats, but the local schools are excellent and the community places a very high value on education in general.

Many people who move to Cuenca retire there, but if you’re moving your family there, you can rest assured that your kids will receive a first-class education without worry of payment for private schools.

And this low-cost for premium living extends right through to inexpensive, high quality health care, available at 18 hospitals and medical centers in the city, many of which are home to a large number of English-speaking doctors — something extremely important to both retirees and families!

Cuenca, Ecuador’s Short List of Negatives

Cuenca Ecuador

So why might you decide NOT to move to Cuenca?  

Well, the negatives are  tightly related to many of the positives.  In other words, many looking to move to Latin America like Cuenca because it’s both English language-friendly, already popular with and home to a growing community of expats, and has established industries around welcoming US expats into the community.  

And all of that is great… unless you’d rather NOT join a crowd of expats, or would rather move to a city BEFORE it becomes “the next big thing,” or if you’ve already mastered Spanish and don’t care about English-language friendliness.

Also, if you’re idea of paradise includes beaches and water sports rather than mountain living, Cuenca, Ecuador isn’t your town. Ecuador has coastal towns, but Cuenca isn’t one of them.  

Finally, if you’re primary consideration is how far your dollar will stretch, Cuenca may be less expensive than North America, but it’s certainly not the cheapest place to live in Latin America, and you can be sure that the steady stream of expats are only going to drive housing and rental prices up.  

Comparing Cuenca, Ecuador to Your Other Latin American Options

Cuenca Ecuador Street

If you ARE looking for a more tropical or Caribbean flavor to your retirement location, take a closer look at coastal Panama and Belize. 

If you like Cuenca, but want something a bit pre-trend, consider looking into Medellin, Columbia and Mendoza, Argentina.

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40 thoughts on “Cuenca Ecuador — How The American Dream Moved South

  1. Val C Spence
    1

    I’ve been following the movement of retirees to Cuenca and i’m interested to learn what are the basic requirements for a resident visa.
    Thanks

    • 2

      For resident visa : Few requirement related to proof of income (over $800), to get police record and paper work done basically. It is easy you can do it yourself.

  2. 3

    On a first visit for a 63 yr old man, how long can he stay? Possible to cross boarder and come back in? Visa facts? Temporary one room apt. near El Centro costs how much?

    Once went to RPhilippines to find out my Cashier Checks could not be deposited or used in banks! Shocker! Now worried. Hope you can answer this. Thanks
    Mike

    • 4

      Mike, thanks for asking! When visiting Ecuador, you are allowed 90 days within the country without fee or penalty. If you would like to stay longer the easiest solution is a tourist visa, which will allow you six months in Ecuador. It is best to do it the legal way to avoid any problems later at your departure or border crossings. Check out our article on Ecuador Facts for more information: http://vivatropical.com/ecuador/ecuador-facts/

    • 5

      I had been there twice. Love it ! There are affordable nice small hotels in El Centro ( this is downtown ). Weekly basis possible starting from $ 150 and up. Most of the hotels include good ecuadorian breakfast ! . Affordable furnished apt.or studios for $ 350 and up. Plenty of options, right there on the spot !. Locals are very helpful . They’ll help you find a place. Good luck!

  3. Daniel Patrick
    6

    Just got back from Cuenca yesterday. My brother owns 170 acres there and a 5000 sq. ft. house
    he had built in 2010 in the mountains about 40 minutes from the historic district.
    It overlooks the hillsides with waterfalls and steams, beyond beautiful.
    its worth mentioning the drive to Cuenca from the airport in Guayaquil is about 3+ hours up the
    mountains with elevations that reach 13,600 feet at the summit.
    Prepare for thin air !!!!…..And wild Llamas that come out. (We have deer, they have Llamas).
    Once there, you will be at an elevation of about 8200 feet. (My wife and had to get adjusted)
    All in all, you will find Cuenca one of the most beautiful places on earth.
    There is a Catholic church there in town (took over 100 years to build) that you MUST SEE.
    Enjoy !!!

    • 7

      Daniel – Thanks for your comments. We agree, Cuenca is an amazing place!

    • 8

      Daniel, loved reading that. You are SO right about having to get adjusted. I live at sea level in the USA, and while visiting a girlfriend who lived in Guayaquil, we decided to drive to Cuenca to visit her friend for a weekend. Wow!! We kept going up and up and up and up in the Andes. We got out at Tres Cruces to take a picture and I couldn’t make it up half the steps before I almost fainted. Had no idea were at almost 14,000 feet elevation. And then the entire weekend in Cuenca I was adjusting. But it is a BEAUTIFUL city and one that I plan on visiting again. This time I’ll fly to Cuenca instead of that drive from GQ haha.

  4. 9

    Hi I am a 32 year old indian female with two small girls ( 1 nd a half years and 6 years old ) . My maternal uncle stays in ecodour . I want to know that if I plan to take permanent residensy in ecodour , is education good for the kids over there ?

  5. 10

    In my opinion your article is very accurate except for one thing….the weather. I have lived in Cuenca for 6 months and we have had 3 days when the sun was out all day and a scattered cloud. 99% of the time it has cloud cover. Not partly cloudy or mostly cloudy but completely cloudy. It can rain at any minute for 5 minutes or all day. And because of the cloud cover it is cooler than what you may read….and I am not an elderly citizen who is always cold. So if you like grey days with little sun, you will love what Cuenca has to offer.

    • 11

      Mark, Thanks for you for your comment! Your first hand account of Cuenca’s weather helps our readers have a fuller understanding of life in Ecuador and its sunny, cloudy and rainy days!

  6. Prof. F. Westmark
    12

    I am a college professor who recently moved to Cuenca to teach at the university. I have been here almost two months and I would like to tell everyone that an-expat needs to be careful about apartment rentals. I rented a nice one bedroom apartment in the center from a realtor.
    The apartment was a hell hole. In the forty five days I stayed in the apartment, ten days we had no water. The realtor told not to worry, they would reimburse me for the hotel room. Guess what? In the end, they said they never told me that. The manager wouldn’t return calls. It was terrible. Not only did I not have water, I had little beasties, bedbugs. Please be careful.

  7. 14

    Great article. It’s one of the more honest ones I have seen with regard to current prices for rentals. International living exaggerates terribly. The other negatives I’d mention are bus fumes/pollution, crazy drivers not stopping for pedestrians, difficulty getting anything done, and well… There is a lot if arts and culture quantity wise but not necessarily quality.

  8. 15

    I appreciate reading your honest report about the weather, especially since we like the outdoors, and plan to arrive in Cuenca in about twelve days. I guess the little beasties/bedbugs are just travelling all over, but thanks so very much for the heads up. We will have to watch out in the apartment that we have arranged to rent. I really appreciate all of your honest comments

  9. 16

    Living out of country in another foreign country for three years taught me to appreciate what I had in the USA. Have not regretted moving back! The grass isn’t always greener. . .

  10. 17

    Hi everyone, for who are interested in living in Cuenca, I’m renting an apartment there, at “La cuadra 1″ building; 3 rooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 parking lots and a storage room. My email is ferca86@hotmail.com

  11. 18

    Hi, there’s lots of information about retirement in Equador / Cuenca, but nothing about a move for people prior to retirement. We’re married, both 51 out of New York. Is it possible to relocate and obtain a resident visa if you’re in your early 50s. The plan would be to live off our savings until we qualify for 401k withdrawals & then SS. Would $250k be sufficient to support us for 10 years in Cuenca?

  12. 19

    International Living Mag states the medical system is very good and affordable in Cuenca, how true is that statement? As I have learned reading the above posts, a lot of days have complete overcast making it “spring like”. Is there anyother city in EC that might be a bit lower in elevation yet not hot and humid?

  13. 20

    I am a 65 year old female who just returned from a trip to Ecuador. I met a few expats already living in Cuenca, came home to start my research and plan a move. The one thing I am having trouble with in my research is locating health insurance. I was told of a company from the US who insures seniors for a very reasonable rate, sends you to Miami for an annual visit paying for the flight and hotel. This is all I can find out about this coverage. Has anyone heard of this before and if so would you please share the name?

    • 21

      Patricia, I hope you don’t mind me asking OR anyone on our forum. My hubby & I are going to Cuenca in March. Hoping to also see Vilacabama. We are also looking to move and have traveled to Other S. America areas. We would really love to see some quiet areas to live outside the city, but close enough to head to the city. Could someone advise where those areas might be. We are not ready to talk to a real estate agent. Thanks! :)

  14. 22

    Hello, does anyone have information on Canadian expats in Cuenca?

  15. 23

    I am Canadian and took retirement in Cuenca 6 yrs. ago. I lived and worked in Montreal for all my life and discovered this lovely place bay a recommendation of a friend. It is easy to get the documentation to permanently live here. The medical insurance covers both my wife and I for under $140 a month for both of us. The cost of living is excellent and we are renting a large single bedroom unit overlooking the beautiful mountains for only $365 a month. Food is cheap and restaurants are very ,very affordable. I know some here that are single from Toronto Canada and can live on less than $800 per month from their retirement income that is deposited on their ATM’s. There is a lot of nightly activities, festivals and excitement at times. Parrots land on my balcony every morning and got used to me feeding them. The people are very nice and gentle, the weather is excellent all year round, no mosquitos, We are living like royalty and cannot find a way to spend more than $1400 a month for us both including rent.

    • 24

      Hello Art,
      My wife (of 33 years) and myself are Canadian Nationals from Toronto that have lived and worked on Grand Cayman since 2006. We have a 1300 sq. ft.beachfront condo that sleeps 8 that we would exchange for similar accommodations near Cuenca for a visit. Is there a blog to communicate with other Canadians living in Cuenca? Regards, Ken

  16. 25

    My husband and I are looking into Cuenca but would need 100% reliable internet to conduct our business and keep customers happy. How reliable is internet there and can you use an iPhone like in the states if internet goes down? Thank you!

  17. Derek Washington
    26

    If you want to be reminded every few minutes as to why you left the United States in the first place then yes, by all means you should come to Cuenca. You will see ‘them’ walking around the streets here; clueless, ignorant, dressed like slobs and illiterate in Spanish. ‘They’ are seemingly everywhere; driving up prices and making fools out of themselves to the detriment of the relatively few Americans who actually make an attempt at speaking Spanish, adapting and integrating with the Cuencanos. ‘They’ usually have no real Ecuadoran friends; just acquaintances or a 10 word working relationship with their maid.

    Most of ‘them’ are here only because they were not financially successful enough to afford to live comfortably in the United States or in other Latin American countries.

    So, if you want to see the losers and dregs of American society then yes, Cuenca is definitely the right place for you. You can’t miss ‘them’ because ‘they’ stand out like inflamed hemorrhoids; congregating en masse in American friendly locations such as the Coffee Tree, Cafe Eucalyptus, Restaurante Don Colon etc. where they complain about everything, compare everything to “back home” and talk about their equally shallow children and how they saved 25 cents somewhere on a cup of coffee but didn’t have to leave a tip.

    However, if you want to get away from the American idiots who are escaping the very dysfunctional society that they themselves created then put Cuenca on your Avoid-At-All-Costs list.

  18. 27

    This is the best article I have read about living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Most other blogs or internet information written by expats or x-whatever seem to be factually wrong.

  19. 29

    My partner and I are in the final stages of a month long trip to Ecuador, with the intention of finding real estate and establishing a second home. I’m a registered nurse, and not ready to completely retire. Any advice about how I can work or at least contribute to the community with my skills.

  20. 30

    I live in Houston, Texas. I am retired and planning to move to Cuenca Ecuador in the very near future. I was in the military back in the 60″s and was stationed in Spain for 3 years. I vacationed throughout almost every country in Europe while I was stationed in Spain. I’ve been to several states in the US over the last 45 years and I can honestly say that I don’t think there is any state or country in the world for that matter that is insect or bug free, except the north and South poles and maybe other countries that are frozen over year round.
    I have read a lot of good things about Cuenca, Ecuador and I think I would like to move there soon, but of course I plan to go visit first and see for myself. I have also read a few negative things about Cuenca like apartments with no water at times and bedbugs and air pollution and rude locals. It sounds like New York, Los Angeles or most large cities in the U.S. Even Houston. I read what some expats are saying on the internet about Cuenca and I don’t know what to believe. I guess that is why I must go visit for myself and form my own opinion.
    I would like to also say that some expats mention that they lived or are living in an apartment and some are paying $380 a month and others are paying up to $1,000 per month. Is it the $380 per month apartments or do the $1,000 per month apartments that have the bedbugs? Or both ? I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for and even here in the U.S. you are going to find bed bugs when you check into a cheap motel. Will somebody please elaborate?
    Since I am retired, I only want to get away for a while, like for 5 years or so and see something and someplace different and exciting and fun. Then I would like to return to the U.S. for the remaining of my golden years. My main goal is to enjoy my retirement. I’m not just looking for a way to save money, I want to enjoy life so I don’t mind paying for a good, clean and comfortable place to live and if I can save money in the process, so much the better.

  21. 31

    Are there any other cities that are affordable without expats? I could speak Spanish and I would rather live with the natives.

  22. Ruth Alvarado
    33

    Hey American Citizens,I’m Ecuatorian from Cuenca,if you do not went or live there you do not what are talking about.Cuenca is a little part of the heaven in Ecuador.
    Some guy are talking about bugs and mosquitos,talking to bad about Cuenca tray to talk with someone from Cuenca or americans who live there.
    Listen I live in Chicago,here or in many cities of the U S have infection of the bed bags,mosquitos,y garbage for every were,in the alleys rats like cats those things you don’t have in Cuenca. My advice is go there enjoy .

  23. 34

    Hello VIVA TEAM.. my name is Danny jimenez and Im from Ecuador but I live in the USA at this moment. I’ll probably be moving back to my beautiful country pretty soon. And my idea is to go to Cuenca to find a job as an interpreter. But I need someone to guide me. I’m bilingual 100%. thank you.

  24. 35

    Are there any nursing services focused directly on visiting retirees living in Cuenca? How do retirees manage their health care?
    I am actually ecuadorian, but I went to school in St. Louis Missouri and I have a couple of old friend´s parents that are planning in moving to cuenca; however they are worried about the health care issue. They really need to know if there are nursing services focused on retired people in Cuenca.

    Thank you for your time.

    Kind regards,

  25. art southwick
    36

    I have just recently returned from the Philippines and am looking to relocate in equador however I cannot due altitude of 8200 ft is there somewhere lower that I should be looking to. I like the way my money might work for me in this country. Ideally I am more of a beach guy and love the sun..grew up in las vegas nv..so sun is what I am used too..any suggestions for this country for me to look at…art

  26. Amraah Carole White
    37

    Dear Friends, I am 75 this year and I am seeking to move directly to Ecuador sometime soon. I am searching for a property in a special location for a permaculture plantation and a healing temple. I know that many people are directly related to their ‘lifestyle” their favorite brand of chips and beer, their style of apartment or house, their car, their shopping habits: personally I am hoping for a much simpler, indigenous life on a farm, growing useful crops and finding very good ways to help all people to better health. I am seeking Ecuadorean friends and invite anyone who reads my post to email me.Let us somehow make a contribution instead of waiting and hoping that everything will be as we think we need it to be for our lives to work. Somehow it just makes sense to give something of myself, my savvy in the market, my skills ( nearly 7 decades as a seamstress for one) my artistic aesthetic and a 40 year training in Oriental health philosophies. I seek to give my skills and receive friendship and mutual trust to build a better life. If you like what you read of me here, please get in touch: LotusWFive@gmail.com. I love you all, Peace and Blessings, Amraah

    • sharon solieri
      38

      Amrah, Hello. My name is Sharon Solieri. I have been a licensed Clinical Social Worker for thirty years. I am 61. I too am seeking a better life sharing my skills and making friends with the people of Ecuador. I seek a more authentic life with kind people. Gardening is one of my passions. I look forward to hearing from you. Peace and love, Sharon

  27. sharon solieri
    39

    I am a 61 year old active, educated woman living on $1500 monthly. Is Cuenca a good place for a single woman? I speak Spanish and hope to become fluent.

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