Moving Abroad or Traveling With Kids? A Few Things To Look Out For

Traveling in Ecuador Is Different When Children Are Involved

A Machete in EcuadorWhen we moved to Ecuador, our daughter was 8 years old and, there were a few things that we had to get used to in terms of culture shock that we hadn’t anticipated.

Every good parent is more paranoid for the safety of their children than for themselves.  With that in mind I would like to share a list of some of the things we stay on the look out for here in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Keep in mind that in Canada we lived in a small town. So some of the things I mention may just be a normal part of city life, but I would not know that coming from a small town.

Crossing the Street

Here in Ecuador the driver has the right of way. The manner of driving here is more aggressive than what we were accustomed to. This can make a tricky mix. Drew will often step out onto a crosswalk to cross the street and we will have to grab her and pull her back. We normally just make it a habit to hold her hand before approaching the crosswalk or curb. We have noticed that some drivers make no attempt to slow down. We see people running red lights on a regular basis.

The Equatorial Sun


Being so close to the equator means that the sun is very strong. We burn much faster here than we have anywhere else we have traveled. Sun protection is very important up here in the Andes and so is a good hat.

The weather in Cuenca changes so much in the run of a day. Don’t be fooled by a cloudy sky in the morning, a couple of hours later the sun could be blazing down. Don’t make the same mistake we have, always have a hat if you are out walking, that way you’ll save yourself a painful sunburn and a few days of feeling ill. A good umbrella can double as sun protection as well, the small travel size ones fit easily into a purse or backpack.

Sidewalk Obstacles

It is not uncommon for the sidewalks to be missing a drainage grate. I have come close to stepping into a very deep drainage hole because I was looking at something interesting (architecture or those trees with the beautiful purple flowers…). I now make a habit of looking about 10 feet ahead of us before I take in the sights around me. I’m sure this has stopped us from stumbling many times.

We also see objects sticking out into the sidewalk space. Steel re-bar, wires, drop down metal shelves for holding garbage. When we first arrived Drew walked right into one of the drop down garbage holders, she was looking to the side talking to a friend and “smack” – she walked into it. We are always on the look out for those now.

Men With Machetes

This can come as a shock to adults as well. In Canada it was extremely uncommon to see someone walking around town with a large knife, I don’t think I ever saw it. Here it is not unusual to see someone walking down the street with a large machete.

A Machete in Ecuador

People use machetes here for a lot of common everyday things like cutting grass, chopping up coconuts and sugar cane, cutting down branches and bushes . . . So when you see someone walking toward you on the sidewalk carrying a machete they are probably just working. We have seen people in the center with them as well, mostly just cutting up the produce they are selling. It’s a much more common sight in the countryside to see people walking around with machetes.

Drinking Water

About 6 months after we moved here we got really sick, especially Bryan and Drew. They lost significant weight and had no energy, they looked pale and dull. We had some tests done and found out that we had amoebas.

Because of the problems we have had, we are concerned about the water. We only drink bottled water, we even brush our teeth with bottled water. We have ordered a water filtration system, because we want to be even more sure about our water quality.

The doctors here recommend that foreigners take parasite medication every six months. We follow that recommendation now, and we are much healthier because of it. We just completed another dose and when I was talking to an Ecuadorian friend about it, she told me that they all do the same thing because the water here is not so good. She was shocked to hear that we never had to take parasite medication in Canada. Please check with a doctor before starting any parasite medication: if it’s not taken properly it can make the situation worse.

If you have something that you have noticed that you feel would be helpful to parents traveling or moving abroad, please mention it by commenting on this post.

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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: Expats Everywhere, Our Perspective

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Brooke July 2, 2014, 1:35 am

    Hello Dena and Brian. My family is thinking of making the leap and heading down to Cuenca. However with two school aged children, and no real clear info on the school systems out there I was hoping to get an insiders view. How is the schools in Cuenca or is there a home-school or independent studies that you could recommend? We would like the kids to be home schooled. Do you know if it is possible for them to do an online home school course from the U.S.?
    Any info you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!
    Love your blog. It’s been a heaven sent!

    • Bryan Haines July 7, 2014, 6:49 am

      As we understand it, foreigners (non-citizens) can school their children as they wish. We know of expat families that home-school their kids (with their own program), enroll their kids in private schools online in the US, and also in public State schools in the US. Others send their kids to school here. Here are a couple of posts that might help: Schooling Your Expat Kids and What About Schooling?.

  • Jesse M July 25, 2013, 9:02 am

    Hi, So happy I found this site! My question is this,
    1) How is the job market for an average person looking to move there?
    2) Is there places to rent for a young family of five?

    We don’t have special college degrees or anything just an average family sick of the USA politics and dictatorship. Thanks for your help!

    • Bryan Haines July 25, 2013, 9:44 am

      Some expats work here but most work online. We work online. There is a high emphasis put on education here – so unless you capitalized on your English skills I think it would be challenging to get work.

      There are lots of options for house rentals. You can rent a nice house for $250-$400 per month.

  • Dale Holcomb February 27, 2013, 4:33 pm

    How long is the growing season,I like to have a large garden,what can you plant?Also how much does water cost.Do you have your own well? Thank you,Dale from California.

    • Bryan Haines February 27, 2013, 5:01 pm

      Food grows year round in Cuenca. Water is cheap. I don’t know anyone with a well. Those who live far enough out of the city must have them but I’ve never seen one. There are streams everywhere – the land isn’t usually very dry.

    • Jim February 27, 2013, 6:05 pm

      Hi Dale, I hope you don’t mind my 2 cents. Bryan covered your question, but I still smiled when I read your question about the growing season. I was told once you can drop a seed on the ground here and it’ll grow. That seems to be mostly true. We live in the country and have started growing tomatoes and peppers with potatoes soon to follow. You can start any veggie any time of the year and have a continuous cycle of fresh veggies. The growing season is year round. We have a small tomato garden that sprouted on it’s own near our compost pile. Our landlord has planted orange, lime, papaya, mangos,watermelon and bananas. Most of the population in the south of Ecuador run mini canals which are fed typically by the rivers if you are not on a water system. I have seen deep well pumps for sale so I am somewhat confident you can likely find a well driller if you do want your own well.

  • Laura June 21, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Hi Dena. I know your very busy and you try to answer everyones questions. I posted a question a while back regarding kids. I wanted to know wether or not your 11 year old is able to freely play or hang outside alone or with her freinds? Or does she need to have constant supervision? I mean here the kids ride their bikes alone, when in a group they go to the park, skateboard, run over to the pharmacy to buy candy….is it like this there in Cuenca? And yes….i voted for you too! I love this site. It has really helped us out a lot!! We are moving there within the next few months hopefully!! But I have concerns about the kids. Any info or help would be GREAT!

  • Kathy June 21, 2012, 9:15 am

    Bryan and Dena,

    Thank you for all the information you provide, it has been invaluable for us. My husband and I moved to Cuenca 3 weeks ago. Yeaaa! I was wondering if you could provide some references for doctors regarding the parasites and amoebas infections and preventive measures? I’m looking forward to your blog on the water filtration system

    I voted for your web site too. It’s my favorite. Thanks so much.


  • Sher Kariz April 27, 2012, 1:52 am

    I subscribe to a few sites about Ecuador, but find yours the most homey and useful.I’ve traveled to Ecuador for the past 20 years and I truly love it. I had my son climbing in the Andes before he was two. He is now 17 yrs.old.Ecuador has been one of the easiest countries to travel in with a small child.I bought one of those cheap, light weight umbroller strollers before I left Canada.Perfect for in the airports,easy to fold and take on buses and trains and worked well on all those miles of cobblestone!He enjoyed the food immensely right from the start.Ecuadorians love children and back then they didn’t see many gringo toddlers.People would give him little keepsakes everywhere we went and treated him so well. They all get very excited to see him every time we return. My baby’s now 6’4″ tall and they really get a kick out of him!

    • Dena Haines April 27, 2012, 9:25 pm

      Hi Sher,

      I know what you mean, Ecuadorians love children! They make such a fuss over our daughter. She is often given keepsakes as well, and we live here! It has been much easier getting to know people and make new friends because of how interested everyone is in our daughter, they are always so happy to see her. And I love how they light up when she speaks to them in Spanish! We are very happy that we moved here while she was still little, when we arrived she was 8, she is 11 now and the time is just flying!

      Thank you for your comment.

      • laura April 30, 2012, 9:05 am

        I too found this information on children very helpful. We are moving to Ecuador soon, and I have three young children and one much older. I have been to Ecuador myself and loved it. Cuenca will be our new home. My question….your 11 year old daughter, do you let her walk around alone like one would here in Canada? With friends, maybe to the mall or to see a movie? Or are you always with her? Can she go to the park or ride her bike without much worry? Here our children are used to riding around the area with their friends, skatboarding, walking to mall or movies with a group…and though we know they always have to be careful and watchful, they are able to go out alone at a reasonable hour. Is this how it is in Cuenca? Interesting to read your comment on how much liberty your daughter has there. Thanks again for ALL the info. Your site has certainly been the MOST helpful. And YES…we voted for you!!!

  • A&M April 26, 2012, 4:05 pm

    I do not have kids, but completely understand all of the things listed, since my husband and I were in Cuenca for 2 1/2 months. We love your insights, and found them very helpful, both in our preparation for arriving in Ecuador, as well as daily life in Cuenca. Please keep blogging. :-)

  • Glen Phibbs April 26, 2012, 3:27 pm

    I’ve been very happy to find your website/blogs.Thanks for all of your insights. My wife and I are very much retired but work full-time helping to look after our 32 grandchildren. She complains some but feels fulfilled even at 75 taking care of family. As you see, our situation will be only like yours if the g’kids come to visit,then all of this information really makes sense, in spades !
    I have proposed that we leave for an extended vacation to Ecuador,but there are many bridges to cross first. Thanks for your wonderful assistance in painting us a great picture. Looking for a quiet retreat in the mountains might suit us better. Glen & Charlene Phibbs, Oklahomans, USA

  • Collin April 26, 2012, 3:12 pm

    I lived in Cuenca for a 6 months and I only drank tap water and never took anti-parasitic medicine. I was on such a tight budget that I could not afford to do either of those things. Also, I generally try to avoid bottled water because of the strain it puts on the environment. Here in the States, I have not bought bottled water in more than 10 years.

    That being said, I did not have a son or daughter getting sick on me while living abroad. I know parents will do everything within their means to protect their kin. I wonder, though, as permanent residents in Cuenca, should you not eventually make the switch to the tap?

    And were you positive the parasites derived from tap water? Or was it just an extra precaution to take?

    My main concern is that this blog has a lot of influence, and I’d hate to learn that most expats were drinking bottled water in Cuenca.

    • Bryan Haines April 26, 2012, 3:39 pm

      Hey Colin – great to hear from you.

      I agree that bottled water isn’t ideal, but neither is tap water. All the expats I know drink bottled water, as do many of our Ecuadorian friends. I don’t know that I’ll ever trust the water system enough to drink it out of the tap. We used to drink tap water in Canada, but it was on our own well and we had a filtration system setup to remove the little bugs and other contaminants. We are much more careful than in our pre-child life, as you mentioned there is such a need to take care of their health.

      Just a few weeks ago we switched to a water filtration system that allows us to drink tap water, after it has been run through an 8 stage filter. We’ll be covering this in coming weeks.

      Thanks Colin!


      • Jim April 26, 2012, 4:07 pm

        I wonder if it needs to be clarified that reference to bottled water can mean the use of reusable plastic 5 gallon jugs.

        • Bryan Haines April 26, 2012, 4:13 pm

          Hey Jim – good point. We use those bottles – the large poly-carbonate 5 gallon bottles that are refilled. Not as bad on the environment as disposable ones, but I’ve heard the argument that the transportation of the refillable bottles is horrible for the environment. I guess it would have an impact.

      • RG April 27, 2012, 3:31 pm

        Bryan, is it advisable to bring a USA made water filtration system (reverse osmosis) or just buy it there. I plan to bring one but what’s bothering me is the availability of replacement filters.

        I voted on your travel blog but could not cheat by voting multiple times.


        • Bryan Haines April 27, 2012, 4:10 pm

          Hello RG – we ordered ours online and shipped it here. I don’t know what is available here. They are bulky so it would take up a lot of luggage space.

          Thanks for your vote – really appreciate it.


      • Collin April 28, 2012, 3:05 am

        Hey Bryan,

        Hope my post didn’t come off as pretentious. Sounds like you are quite environmentally conscious and you are doing what is best both for your family and the earth :) Congrats on getting the nod for best expat blog. I shot you guys a vote.

        • Bryan Haines April 28, 2012, 6:25 am

          Hey Collin – no worries. Different points of view are always welcome. Its what has helped our site grow. I appreciate your comment and hope you’ll continue to comment.

          Thanks for the vote – its exciting to see the response…

          All the best!


  • Jim April 25, 2012, 9:14 pm

    Nice writing Dena. You covered those topics very nicely. I like your points about drinking water and crossing the streets.

  • Gloria Riemer April 25, 2012, 6:12 pm


    Thanks for sharing all the things we should be aware of. We’ll be visiting Cuenca in the middle of May for the first time and are happy to learn all we can before we get there. We hope to learn lots more while we’re there and come to live in Cuenca at the end of this year.


    • Dena Haines April 26, 2012, 11:05 am

      Hi Gloria,

      I’m sure you will learn a lot more when you visit. All the best with your plans!

      Thanks for your comment.


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We are a Canadian family living in Ecuador (South America) since 2009. We cover expat hacks, language learning, earning abroad, and product reviews. Read about the best gear, places to live, and cost of living. Interested to work with us? Read more about Bryan & Dena

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