A Canadian Family Traveling & Living Abroad (in Ecuador)

Is Cuenca Safe for Expats?

This is a guest post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007. 

Crime and Personal Safety: Is Cuenca safe for expats?

A gentleman who is contemplating moving to Ecuador with his family was surprised to learn that many houses here have burglar bars over the windows and doors.  Such security measures raise the question:  Is Cuenca safe for expats?

crime in cuencaCuenca is known as the most “tranquilo” or peaceful city in Ecuador.

However, the locals, while loudly touting the peacefulness of Cuenca, will quickly tell you that things are not like they used to be.  Crime does exist in Cuenca and it seems to be steadily increasing.  The same can be said for practically any growing metropolitan area, no matter where you live. When contemplating a move or visit to Ecuador, one must realistically consider the issue of personal safety, especially if you have children like we do.  One could be lulled by the beauty and apparent tranquility of Cuenca and forget the importance of being vigilant regarding personal safety.

The U.S. Department of State has a web site that offers travel tips to U.S. citizens who travel abroad. The web site (http://travel.state.gov) has extensive information regarding crime and safety issues for U.S. citizens in Ecuador.  When I visited this web site I was shocked by the opening line of the section that deals with crime in Ecuador. It says something to the effect that crime against U.S. citizens is a major problem in Ecuador and that the country has a high crime rate. The web site goes on to detail some of the recent crimes committed against foreign visitors in Ecuador and gives advice on how to avoid being a victim. It specifically mentions certain areas of Guayaquil and Quito that one would be wise to avoid.  The general information on the U.S. Dept. of State website regarding crime and safety in Ecuador is very sobering and one would be wise to heed the advice given while traveling in the country, especially when visiting Guayaquil and Quito. Interestingly, the above mentioned web site does not mention any of areas of Cuenca that expats or travelers should avoid.  Does this mean that Cuenca is a crime free zone?

What can be said regarding crime in Cuenca? There is a criminal element operating in Cuenca and it is wise to be careful and to take certain precautions.  Having said that, I can tell you that in almost 4 years of living in Cuenca we have never been assaulted or robbed.  We have never felt unsafe in our neighborhood nor have we witnessed any violent crimes.

We have, however, had a couple of attempted petty thefts which we were able to thwart.  For example, an innocent looking middle aged woman once attempted to open my daughter’s purse while we were in a crowded open air market.

Lesson learned: Be vigilant and keep an eye on your personal possessions, especially when visiting crowded places.  Criminals are not always the stereotypical masked bandit.

On another occasion, a thief attempted to rob us of our propane gas tanks that were stored behind our house.  Apparently the thief was a construction worker who had been spying on our house from a new home construction next door. He noticed that the gringos had 4 gas tanks (a $200.00 value) unguarded on the back porch.  He returned at night with a ladder and entered our back porch with the intention of robbing us of our gas tanks.  My wife was at home during the attempted burglary and when she heard the noise of gas tanks being moved, she opened the door to see what was up and the thief ran off.

Lesson learned: chain up gas tanks and don’t leave anything of value visible to potential thieves.  Also, we have tried to avoid living next door to new construction or vacant lots where thieves can easily access the back yard.

dog-pepper-sprayA few months ago my daughter and a group of female friends were walking along a street around 10:30 a.m when a drunken man approached them and became aggressive. The drunk started cursing them, in English, and came very close to my daughter.  My daughter was scared and sensing that the drunk was about to grab her, she reached into her purse and pulled out some homemade pepper spray and let him have it in the face. The drunk apparently was not expecting such a reaction from an innocent looking teenage girl and after receiving his pepper spray treatment, he shut up his cursing and retreated to his house to nurse his burning eyes.  The man lives along a street that we sometimes frequent and the next time he saw my daughter, he nicely said “hello” and kept walking. Apparently he now knows better to mess with the “gringa” armed with pepper spray. I advised my daughter that in the future it would be better to run away from drunks instead of spraying them in the face with pepper spray. But in this case the preemptive use of pepper spray worked out okay and the rude drunk got what he deserved for his obscene language and conduct.

Lesson learned: We have decided that it is not a bad idea to carry some non lethal form of personal protection, such as pepper spray.  You never know when it will come in handy. We make our own pepper spray from vinegar and concentrated pepper sauce.  Just mix the two together and put the spicy mix in a small travel sized spray bottle and you have a cheap, potent and effective personal protection device. It also works wonders on aggressive dogs as well as drunks. Since my son has been bitten twice by dogs, we now make sure that at least one member of the family is armed with our home made pepper spray brew just in case we encounter aggressive stray dogs.

Other than the few incidents mentioned above, we have not had any problems with crime or personal safety in the particular area of Cuenca we live in.  That does not mean that one should be passive regarding crime in Cuenca.

Watch for my 7 Ways Not to Get Robbed article tomorrow – and learn some of the things we do, to avoid problems.

An article by

Dena is a writer, artist, expat and mom. She enjoys being cozied away in one of her favorite cafes, sipping coffee and spending time with her family. She writes about life abroad (Gringos Abroad) and doing business abroad (Blogger Abroad). Connect with Dena on LinkedIn. Work with Dena & Bryan

More about: Cuenca Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Charlie Bates April 15, 2014, 9:27 pm

    Here’s a question about safety of another kind – dengue fever. We’ve read quite a bit about it – how to avoid being bitten and the like – but the disease is endemic in many parts of the country and we wonder how you handle being in a place where a serious illness is only one mosquito bite away. Plus, one in our party has Hepatitis C and while I haven’t seen anything specific on whether there is an increased health risk if the two diseases collide, I’m guessing someone with a compromised liver shouldn’t put themselves in a position of contracting a disease that can do liver damage. Researchers are working on a vaccine but that may be years away.

    Reply
    • Bryan Haines April 16, 2014, 6:14 am

      This is a concern on the coast but it never occurs in the Andes. Which is one of the reasons we chose the Andes…

      Reply
  • Tom & Margaret February 27, 2014, 8:49 pm

    Is this web site still active?

    Reply
  • kim February 11, 2013, 7:55 pm

    It would be great to go to Cuenca and put my son in private school while I research in the summer. In addition to this, I would love to do some spanish immersion. Let me know what it is like with kids in terms of safety, schools, etc.

    Reply
  • George Wrigley December 20, 2012, 3:33 pm

    My wife and I want to move to Cuenca in 2014. We will both be retired. I am a musician and still want to play, but have no particular interest in doing it for money, as money will not be a problem. Any information about the city would be helpful.

    Reply
  • Victor Jimenez December 20, 2012, 11:50 am

    Hello,

    My name is Victor, I had lived in New York about 30 years, and like 10 months ago I came to Guayaquil, it has been difficult for me to find a job or friends that can speak english, I dont know if Cuenca or Quito may have people that speaks english and perhaps get a job there, right here in Guayaquil is getting difficult for me, plus the weather out here is terrible, is so hot. Can someone gives me a tip of what should I do or where to go?

    Thanks.

    Reply
  • John December 9, 2012, 7:53 pm

    I am an African American, who is interested in retiring in Ecuador. I have come across some articles which covered the racial problems between black and non-black Ecuadorians. Does anyone have any first hand experience or knowledge of this? Thank you

    Reply
  • Dave Shean November 4, 2012, 4:07 am

    I am interested in moving my wife and myself to Cuenca and would like to correspond with an expat with some experience of the area. I am 69 and my wife is 65. I have retired from the construction field and my wife is a Nurse Practictioner.
    Thanks for your time

    Reply
  • Dave Shean November 4, 2012, 4:07 am

    I am interested in moving my wife and myself to Cuenca and would like to correspond with an expat with some experience of the area. I am 69 and my wife is 65. I have retired from the construction field and my wife is a Nurse Practictioner.
    Thanks for your time

    Reply
  • suzanne September 12, 2012, 7:40 pm

    We are looking for a chat room with Americans who have moved to Ecuador, not realtors or that crap, real pepole, real info, real nice chat, no improper discussions, ect…We are considering a vacation there to check it out, We desire only decent people to communicate with. 58 & 61, NO KIDS>>>THANK GOD….we are looking for our time, not a playground for children atmosphere. Thanks so much. S & J

    Reply
    • jeannie February 23, 2013, 9:22 am

      hi,i to want to move to equador am w/female no kids,47-wannting quiet,peacful life with nature,cept i want to buy old cheap house in countryside)( there-so as to have $ to live on,and i like old houses anyway..if you would i would like to hear about live there too if you get there,i probably wont….i always wannted to go to a far away place,plus i dont like it here anymore-s.c-usa-thanks for any info if you get any(jeannieofsc@aol.com)

      Reply
  • Sonny Jose June 17, 2012, 4:26 pm

    Let’s put it this way, Brian. I asked a young Cuenca professional at the Claro office in Mall del Rio. He spoke good English so no room for miscommunication. I asked him in a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the safest) how he would rate Guayaquil versus Cuenca, with Cuenca being 10. He said Guayaquil is like 4. Goodness gracious! How about Quito? He said about 5-6. But I have been to both Guayaquil & Cuenca and have not been mugged. I even hiked up to Mt Pichincha (in Quito) for 2 hrs and back, and fortunately was not robbed (as warned in travel guides).

    But he said Cuenca is not as safe today as 5 years ago. So, I asked him if 5 years ago was a safe 10, how does Cuenca rate now? He said only about 6-7 today. So, you could draw your conclusions from the above.

    Reply
  • Jim Cohoon October 9, 2011, 8:58 pm

    I refuse to live in Cuenca in fear, But, I am also aware of my surroundings and pretty much everyone around me. We had one incident perfectly executed(I was tired that day). Some Ecuadorians are completely unscrupulous. A lady with a baby and a young child blocked my way on the sidewalk separating me from my oldest daughter. I maintained my polite Canadian attitude and waited for them to get out of my way without complaint. When I finally caught up to my daughter, I found that a girl had attempted to get into her backpack. Just beware of crowds and crowded sidewalks. It’s not a big deal. I feel safer here than I did in Canada.

    Reply
  • Anthony April 10, 2011, 2:46 pm

    haha your daughter kicks arse! Don't mess!

    Reply
  • Doug March 29, 2011, 1:39 pm

    elmonica,
    Thanks for your comment. I read the comment on the blog link you copied and I can see how it would make one think twice before moving here. I would, however, take into consideration the experiences of other expats before coming to the concluison that Cuenca is an unsafe place. I think that the center is where most of such crimes take place and I´d venture to say that they occur mainly after dark. Like any city, Cuenca has its safe and not so safe areas. Most gringos tend to look for apartments in or near the old certer of Cuenca, but I personally think that the out lying areas are safer. For example, Calle Larga is an area where a lot of expats like to live and hang out, but that area is also know as one of the more dangerous places in Cuenca, especially after dark. I think that it is unfair to rank all of Cuenca as a crime infested place. It is a matter of using common sense and knowing which areas to avoid. I feel much safer living here than I did living in Macon,Georgia. I´m not saying that there is no crime here, just that in our experience it is not nearly as bad as what we experienced in the States.

    Reply
    • elmonica March 30, 2011, 11:06 am

      Hi Doug. Thanks for the follow-up. I appreciate what you are saying. I actually spent a number of months in Antigua Guatemala which is a popular tourist destination and was always hearing about robberies and attacks. I came away unscathed, and I use to walk alone sometimes at night which was rather dumb. And my guess is that without seeing actual statistics, Ecuador, or at least Cuenca, is safer than Antigua. Anyway, I am pondering visiting Cuenca and even staying long term at some point. This blog seems like an excellent source of information, so i appreciate all the info posted.

      Reply
    • Carol May 15, 2013, 9:54 pm

      Hi Doug, my husband is from Macon. He graduated from Willingham in 1966. We have lived in the suburbs of Memphis since 1983. We are looking for retirement in a location that will give us the quality of retirement we have worked so hard for but lost to 911. Would really like to correspond with you personally to determine if this is the place for us. We are thinking of a visit in the next couple of months. My husband’s name is Jerry Langford He is a podiatrist. Please contact us. We look forward to hearing from you. Thanking you in advance

      Reply
  • Doug March 29, 2011, 12:38 pm

    Enjoyed your article Doug, I traveled in Latin America for a year visiting 6 countries and was in Cuenca studying Spanish for 4 months. I have a Law Enforcement background and pretty good at being aware of my surroundings. I heard stories from my Spanish teacher of Ecuadorian's and Westerner's being robbed by weapons or drugged. I must admit I was a victim of a crime there back in 2003, as I left school noon time walking down a street that was empty when a male in his 30's walked pass me on a side walk and stated in Spanish there was something on my back, and he kept walking rounded a corner and was gone. I had 2 shirts on and had my daypack which contained books, camera, and glasses. I stopped and looked back and noticed what appeared to be lotion or white paint dripping off me. I had passed under a balcony and thought maybe kids dumped something on me from above. A 15 seconds past and woman in her 40 well dressed walked up behind me and pointed out again there was something on my back. She said in Spanish she would help me clean it off. She was clever not to say take of your daypack and instead said talk off your shirt. Not feeling a threat since nobody was around and I was in an area not far from the main square I removed my daypack, looked around a even put it between my legs of the side walk. She pulled a tissue out and started wiping my shirts off, and got me to turn my back for a few seconds long enough for the guy to come back from around the corner and grab it (which I didn't see). When I realized it was gone I put the two of them together and ran a block looking for him, which I never found so I went looking for her, and she too was gone.

    I carried pepper spray and other items for protection, but they got the best of my. I even carried a throw down wallet with a bunch of ones in case I got robbed at knife or gun point. I later learned there are several variations of this so called mustard distraction rip off throughout Latin America. I feel most of the crimes are property crimes, which with enough common sense and knowledge can be prevented.

    I did also have a english teacher friend who was robbed by approx. 12 people in Quito near there historic tourist area at approx. 9 PM where they rushed him and without using any weapons just mugged him by putting there hands into each and every pocket, down his pants looking for a money belt, and even removed his shoes and socks. I heard there is more of a police presence there now.

    I am not trying to scare anyone, and I plan on returning and retiring there in the future. This can happen anywhere, I am just sharing my story.

    If pepper spray is not able to be purchased there I would consider Wasp Spray and having it handy in your house. It shoots a narrow stream 20-30 ft and can be deadly shooting someone in the eyes. I have used pepper spray many times which usually doesn't shoot about 10-12 ft, and usually the spray gets on myself or fellow officer's due to the stream which tends spray a little wide at times.

    Reply
  • elmonica March 29, 2011, 9:16 am

    A timely post I would say in light of the fact I read the following post yesterday which was making wonder whether it was safe:
    http://writerontheroam.blogspot.com/2011/03/crime

    Reply

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We are a Canadian family of 3 living in Ecuador since 2009. We blog about life and travel in Ecuador. If this is your first visit, start here. Interested to work with us? Read more about Bryan & Dena

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