Cuenca Ecuador — How The American Dream Moved South
“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
Sure, 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:
- 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.
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
We’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
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
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.