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My Top 10 Favorite Things about Cuenca, Ecuador

Posted in: Cuenca Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

Peaceful River in CuencaIt’s no secret that I love Cuenca.

In this post, I share my 10 favorite things about Cuenca.

My Top 10 Favorite Things about Cuenca

  1. The mountains
  2. The rivers (4 flow through the city)
  3. The people
  4. The culture
  5. The architecture
  6. Sunshine
  7. Cost of living
  8. Parks
  9. Cafes
  10. Critters (lack of)

See below the gallery, for more on the top ten . . .

Mountain Views Near Cuenca The "Panama Hat" Cafe in Cuenca One of the 4 rivers in Cuenca Great playground near Cuenca Buildings in Cuenca Parks in Cuenca

Why I Love Cuenca, Ecuador

Here are my favorite things about Cuenca. What’s it like to live in Cuenca?

1) The Mountains in Cuenca

The mountainsmountains surround Cuenca.  They widen my sense of open spaces and adventure. Read about our hike in the Andes.

2) The Rivers in Cuenca

The riversfour rivers run through the city.  These rivers are like long parks winding their way all through the city, providing a lot green space.  It’s nice to pack a picnic and sit on their grassy banks enjoying some quiet time with friends and family.  There are also huge eucalyptus trees lining the river banks which add a unique freshness to the air.

3) The People in Cuenca

The peoplethe people are very friendly.  How often do you smile and say hi to the people you pass on the street and get a pleasant smile and greeting in return?  That happens all the time here.  Most of the people here are very respectful and patient.  Even though we don’t know much Spanish, people are more than willing to work with us and help us communicate what we need.

4) The Culture in Cuenca

The culturethe culture is diverse.  I really enjoy seeing the traditional types of dress and methods of cooking and selling goods.  At the same time I’m very happy that there are modern shopping malls here.  The malls and other modern facilities have helped me adapt to my new surrounding much more easily. The biggest mall in Cuenca is Mall del Rio.

5) The Architecture in Cuenca

The architecturethe colonial architecture really stands out.  The old colonial buildings are beautiful, with their intricate wooden details and charming iron balconies.  There are also very old adobe mud homes peppered throughout the city and countryside.  The red/orange clay tiled roofs add real warmth to the city as well.

6) Cuenca’s Climate

Sunshinethe climate here is spring like all year. Because of the altitude the weather changes a lot in the run of a day, cloudy and cool to clear and hot.  It’s generally pleasant here whatever the weather, but when it’s clear and sunny Cuenca feels like the most beautiful place on earth.  The rivers sparkle, the clay tile roofs gleam, the parks bustle, my skin is warm and I’m home.

7) Cuenca’s Cost of Living

Cost of livingthe cost of living is about half of what we paid in Canada.  This means working part time, and having more time for family. See what our Cuenca family budget is.

8) Cuenca’s Parks and Plazas

Parksthere are a lot of parks in Cuenca.  We are always just a short walk to a park, and they are always clean family friendly places.  Often the parks have equipment for the kids to play on, or lots of benches to sit and relax. One of the nicest parks here in Cuenca is Parque Calderon.

9) Cuenca’s Cafes

Cafestons of cafes are tucked away all over the city.  A cafe is a little escape for me, somewhere to relax and forget about everything else for a while.  A place to pretend time is standing still while I enjoy the moment with my family.

10) Cuenca’s Lack of Critters

Critters there are practically none.  I hate biting flying bugs, but they absolutely love me.  I always come out worse off than the rest of my family when we are around them.  I’ve found Cuenca to be a wonderful hiding place because there are practically no flying biting bugs.  I see the odd mosquito on a rare occasion and little black flies only when I’m hiking through the grasses on the countryside.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear some of your favourite things about where you live, please tell us about them by leaving a commenting on this post.

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Meet the Author

Since moving to Ecuador in 2009, Dena and Bryan have made their living as bloggers. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a content marketing company for Canadian travel brands. She is a contributor to Bryan Haines and is co-founder of Click Like This - a photo tutorial blog.

32 comments… add one
  • jay Nov 17, 2014, 12:13 pm

    after one year living in cuenca with my ecuatorian wife i can give my opinion about some topics :

    – Sunshine : of course it depends what you expect and how you need the sun but defenitely it is not a shiny town. it can be sunny in the morning but in the afternoon most of the time it is raining and it is cloudy . if you expect seasons forget about it and summer never exists here ( july till september is colder also )

    – the people and work : Yes the people are nice but closed also . friends of my wife that are not from cuenca but others towns in ecuador always said that it has been very difficult for them to be integrated here and it takes time . i agree and the best exemple is work i tried to find several jobs and without references it is difficult , during interviews many times i have been asked ´´ who you know in cuenca ´´

    one more think i am not american but when i read superiority complex i laugh a bit as i spend my time with a lot of ecuatorians and they always make jokes about the ´´ gringos ´´ and do not really accept them.

  • Faye Feb 5, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Please tell me what the steps are to moving to Ecuador. I mean actually moving there is certainly different than touring. I would be interested to hear your answer. I am also from Canada, living near Niagara Falls but really interested in Ecuador! I’m retired on a low pension. Interested in knowing the cost of living also. Thanks…… everything is so interesting and beautiful…and the weather ——– that would be a bonus….we were really hit with “winter” in Ontario this year…brrrrr bring on the warmth!

  • Pamela Jan 16, 2014, 6:21 pm

    Ecuador sounds very nice. Having worked in the tourist industry and with the general public I can imagine if you go with an attitude, you will get attitude in return. Working in the retail industry, I know all about American attitudes. Phew! people are obnoxious and Americans can be the worst. Is San Cristobal the city a person would fly in to? We’d like to fly down and check it out for ourselves. We’ve been looking at Costa Rica but something seems not quite right about Costa Rica (to me at least, can’t put my finger on it). Do you host couples coming down to check out the lay of the land so to speak?

  • Terry L. Hair Dec 8, 2013, 3:57 pm

    I just found a link to you today. I have signed up for your news letter. I have been catching up on several of your articles and just wanted to say how refreshing your honesty is. I have been researching retiring overseas for 3 years now. I retired in December of last year and am becoming more and more frustrated in the oblivion of the American Dream. Integrity has been replaced by deceit and honesty is no longer the standard. Our leaders are an embarrassment. There has to be a better place. Thanks for giving me hope.

  • Jo Anna K. Jun 22, 2013, 10:03 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    Can you tell me about car rentals at the airport? When we visit next summer, we would like to see Guayaquill (not sure of the spelling) and other surrounding towns/cities. Can’t do that without a car, right? Unless you have other suggestions. We’d like to visit the couple with the newly opened B&B located in the valley about 1 hour and 1/2 from Cuenca. Also, what area of Cuenca would you suggest for folks to find lodging? Thanks.

    • Bryan Haines Jun 25, 2013, 7:34 am

      There are car rentals at the airports. You can rent a taxi (with driver) for $8-10 /hr and a van for $90/day. Driving in Ecuador is likely a little different than you are used to. Some visitors rent cars but this would be a minority.

  • Dennis Fahey Jun 9, 2013, 11:49 am

    Lovely post and interesting discussion. We paid a visit to Cuenca two years ago and loved it. The things Dena listed are things that might also make our top ten list. Before we move anywhere, though, we plan to visit a place for six months or so to put it–and ourselves–to a fairer test.

  • MaryAnn Sep 29, 2012, 11:10 am

    Dear Dena & Bryan,
    I’ve been following your blog for quite awhile and you make Cuenca and Ecuador sound like paradise, with the exception of the electric shower heads! I recently moved to Mexico and I love it but I am open to new experiences. The reasons I deselected Ecuador: I was told I couldn’t bring my car or my flat screen TV or most of my other personal property. I have 2 dogs and won’t put them in the cargo hold of a plane. My question, has the government softened any of these rules??

    Thanks,
    MaryAnn

    • Bryan Haines Sep 29, 2012, 11:21 am

      From what I understand, you are allowed a shipment of personal belongings (including a car) when you get residency. I don’t know the specifics because we purchased everything here but it might be worth confirming with a lawyer. You can buy a great quality tv here – costs just a bit more than the US. I think it might be less to buy here than ship from there. I really don’t know about shipping pets. It is allowed but we bought our dog here after we arrived.

      Bryan

      • MaryAnn Dec 8, 2012, 11:10 am

        Bryan,
        Not to be silly but my TV was a Christmas gift from my sons so it is more than just a TV. That and I was told when I came across the border into MX that it is against the law for me to sell it here. As for my car, I am a very independent woman who enjoys road trips off the beaten path with my dogs.

        I love Mexico but it is very dirty with mixed neighborhoods with crumbling houses next to really nice ones, unless you live in a gated community. I didn’t move to a foreign country to live in a ghetto of gringos… That being said, Ecuador looks clean and fresh and no bugs makes it more appealing. I want to see if Cuenca or Cotacachi or Salinas is the right venue for me. I like cities for the amenities, but I’d like a house with some land for the dogs. Is that possible in the Cuenca area???

  • John Toth Feb 11, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Stop these exaggerations and fooling people.
    Like:
    6.Sunshine
    Last year I have spent here 5 months. There was 2, yes two!! sunny days. You should suggest people to take plenty of vitamin D instead.
    Also in the old city you should mention the need of gas mask and the need of a pair of Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones ($300+ only)and if care about your loved one a good life insurance in case you get run over.by a car or bus.
    And the architecture, I do appreciate it especially the iron works, but if you want to see splendid architecture of the 15 and 16 century you have to go to all the way to Venice, Italy.
    (But before you go you must do a preparation study of each building on the grand canal and of many off grand canal buildings and churches to appreciate them truly.)

    And these apartments in Cuenca are pretty cold, and there is no heating.

    • Bryan Haines Feb 11, 2012, 7:24 pm

      Hi John,

      We are sharing our perspective and our experiences. No exaggeration. You must have high expectations for a sunny day. Today was sunny – I’m pink faced because of it. But it also poured around 4pm. Sunny day? I think so. Some see the glass half empty … after all, it did rain.

      I agree that some of the places can get pretty cold at night – and even into the day. Some expats have purchased propane heaters. The apartments/condos in the towers are warmer, but cost more.

      Sorry you couldn’t make it work.

      Bryan

  • Michael Oct 12, 2011, 3:26 pm

    Dena, apparently you haven’t been in Cuenca the last 3 months – especially the last month. Sunshine was limited to minutes a day – with mostly cloud cover and a bit of rain every day. It doesn’t mean I don’t love it there – but we must provide accurate information for people wanting to visit or live there. As I walk the streets I am not greeted with smiles. The people avoid eye contact with each other much less gringos. I’m not saying they’re unfriendly, but people shouldn’t expect much interaction on the streets much less by service people in the restaurants and stores.

    • Bryan Haines Oct 12, 2011, 9:57 pm

      Hi Michael – sorry you haven’t seen the sun. Its important to remember that 3 months don’t define a place. Seasons come and go. The sun will come out tomorrow….

      You are correct that everyone on the street doesn’t greet everyone else. It would be bizarre to imagine that. But what we have seen is that we have a much higher level of interaction with Ecuadorians then we ever have “back home”. In the city center, people are working and going from one meeting to the next, so they obviously don’t have the time to chat it up. But its interesting the amount of times that strangers approach us and want to talk to us. Earlier today while at the Post Office – just two blocks off the main parque – a sweet Ecuadorian lady approached my wife and daughter while I was getting the mail. She took a real interest in our daughter and was thrilled to be speaking with them, in Spanish. This evening while going through the checkout at Coral, a young mother spoke to my wife and wanted to know about us – who we are and where we are from. While she teased our daughter and chatted with my wife she had a huge smile. My wife is the super sweet kind of person that just attracts others. We are frequently approached by strangers in stores, by the river, in parks, and on the street who just want to talk. How is your Spanish? Not speaking the local language can really affect the experience. With a little effort you can learn some basics and really see the other side of Cuenca and its people.

      Something else we’ve learned is that Ecuadorians are used to Gringos with a superiority complex. Whether its intentional or not, many portray this attitude. But when they are treated with respect and spoken to in Spanish – the barriers just disappear.

      • Michael Oct 13, 2011, 3:30 am

        Bryan,

        I always talk to the people in Cuenca in Spanish, even if they talk to me in English. I appreciate the couple of examples of Cuenca people engaging you and your family. We’ve experienced the same. But those are small percentage interactions and do not create the definition of a “very friendly” people. All our gringo friends have stories about curt customer service – again one or two exceptions doesn’t change the overall experience.

        As I said, the people are not unfriendly and they are very patient and respectful – but you have to understand how gringos read a general statement and base their expectations on that statement.

        It’s our job to give them accurate and honest experiences so they can make an informed decision about Ecuador and Cuenca. When Dina lists “sunshine” on her 10 list, people create their own expectations of sunshine. One friend came to Cuenca with his golf clubs because of the advertised “sunshine” and left in disgust after several months due to the weather. The statement, “moderate spring-like weather” or similar would have helped him to be better informed about what to expect.

        We should not be trying to sell people on Cuenca – we should be giving them information to they can make a decision on how it fits into their life and if they should visit and live here.

        Obviously this also deals with personal experiences and perceptions. You have a daughter and that completely changes the interactions you have vesus and childless couple. You need to understand that difference when you talk about your interactions. You come from a different hometown with different interactions and weather. If you come from the northwest US, you have a different view of Cuenca weather than I do coming from Florida.

        We came to visit for 3 months, loved it and will return for 6 months next year – so we’re a fan. But I want to make sure people don’t come and have bad experiences because of a travelogue 10 list.

        • Bryan Haines Oct 13, 2011, 8:04 am

          Hi Michael,

          I’m sorry that you feel that the Ecuadorian people are not very friendly. I’m sure that there are hundreds of expats who agree with you. But there are also hundreds that will disagree with that assessment. I think the line is easily drawn between these two groups. The first group spend most of their time with other expats, complaining about a grumpy waitress (this doesn’t happen in the States, does it?) they had 3 months ago. The other group have friends that are Ecuadorian and spend a significant amount of social time with just Ecuadorians. When an expat takes time to get to know the local people, it would be impossible to feel that they, as a group, are not very friendly. To think that a comment made in a blog means to say every single Ecuadorian is “friendly” would bizarre and unbalanced.

          Its important to recognize that what we write is based on our experience, not that of others. Its obvious that our family will have different experiences than others, but we can’t write about the experiences that someone else will have. Our blog is not a marketing tool of Ecuadorian Tourism. It is our experience of moving to Ecuador. We aren’t “selling people on Cuenca” – we aren’t selling real estate, legal services or tourism products. We speak candidly about what it is like, and what it was like to arrive more than two years ago.

          I would hope that a reference to sunshine in a blog post wouldn’t be all it takes to cause someone to get on a plane with their clubs. Of course, some people are like that. It wasn’t a rare occurrence in Nova Scotia (Canada) to have Americans get off the ferry in Yarmouth with skis on the roof of their car – in July – looking to go skiing. Its true that there is good skiing in NS, but not in the middle of a 30 degree Celsius summer.

          We’ve covered weather a number of times. From these posts, you can see that we are presenting a balanced picture of weather in Cuenca. For example:

          Cuenca’s “Spring-Like” Climate – What it Really Means
          What is a “Spring-Like” Climate?

          As you take the time to read the rest of our site, you’ll see that we speak about both sides of expat life and life in Cuenca. Sure we’ve had people try to rip us off. But we’ve also had people run out of the store to give us our $0.10 in change that we forgot on the counter. One final thought, with more than 200 posts, I would hope that people would read more than a simple top 10 list. We aren’t planning for people. We are just sharing our experience.

          Thanks for commenting. All the best on your return.

  • M May 22, 2011, 5:54 pm

    Can I ask, how is smoking in public places, like the cafes?

    • Michael Oct 12, 2011, 3:30 pm

      Restaurants do not allow smoking inside. Some bars do have smoking. Compared to where I come from (Florida) smoking is MUCH LESS in Cuenca. Compared to where I’m vacationing now (Madrid) – smoking is incredibly less in Cuenca. You’ll see most of the smoking with the kids in bars at night – like along Calle Larga.

  • Rachel Wong Feb 4, 2011, 10:00 am

    Hi Dena,
    My extended Peruvian family are planning a reunion in Cuenca in August 2011. There will be 9 adults and 6 children ranging in ages from 12 months to 14 years. (pretty much split into 4 groups). Some are on a very tight budget, others less so. One of the adults is off to Cuenca in a week to stake out the joint. Do you have any tips on general ideas for accommodation? Where to look for a large house for a week, for example.

  • Deborah Dills Feb 1, 2011, 8:24 pm

    Dena,

    We are from Fort Worth Texas and planning to move permanately to Cuenca around Sept 2011. We will be travelling with my husband Kent, myself, and my 2 sons, Aaron and Brian, plus 2 dogs. We are looking forward to talking to you (via Skype) and meeting you and Brian in person. We are looking to rent a 2 to 3 bedroom home that has a fairly good sized yard fenced for our dogs. if you hear of anything, let us know.
    Best Debbie

    • @jasonskidd Feb 2, 2011, 9:28 am

      Deborah,

      Our family is also from Fort Worth (Burleson) and is researching a potential move to Ecuador later this year. We would love to hear any tips or advice you can share as you plan your move. You can reach us via email at jskidd at gmail dot com.
      Jason

      • Pamela Pettyjohn Jan 16, 2014, 4:23 pm

        I am also a former Burlesonite and my daughter and her family still live there. I am living in New York now but researching retiring overseas and Ecuador has come up on the radar a few times. Can retirees purchase property? We don’t want to live in the city (I’m a country girl, I lived out between Burleson and Cleburne and after living in New York, I don’t care if I never see another city again LOL)

    • Ross Feb 4, 2011, 1:04 pm

      Debbie,

      I'd love to learn more about your research Debbie because I'm investigating living in Cuenca with my family during the hot Texas summers. You can reach me at midlifehacks at gmail dot com. Thanks.

      Ross

    • Gary Huddleston May 25, 2011, 8:55 am

      Wow, We Texans must be leaving in droves for Cuenca and Ecuador in general. I have seen the responses here and I, currently residing in Frisco, was a long time Ft. Worth resident and will be hanging out a lot in the cafes in the older section of Cuenca. I arrive in late June. Most of the time I am a hermit, but will get out to observe the world around me.
      I look forward to making the move and meeting the people.

  • Lisa E @chickybus Jan 9, 2011, 9:53 am

    I lived in Ecuador once (in Tumbaco and Quito) and found the same was true about the weather there. It was just perfect (except for some crazy rain here and there during the rainy season). One of my favorite things there was always having an amazing view of Pichincha, the nearby volcano.

    • Bryan Haines Jan 10, 2011, 7:05 am

      No volcanoes here in Cuenca – but the mountains are fantastic. We plan to visit Pichincha province in a couple of months to see the volcanoes.

      And we can never really tell what the weather will be. . . our Cuencano friends say when its sunny and hot in the morning, its going to pour in the afternoon – and 90% of the time they are correct. Not a bad success rate!

    • Michael Oct 12, 2011, 3:33 pm

      I agree with Bryan. One must dress in layers and be prepared for rain or clouds or sun. “Normally” the rain doesn’t last long. When I return next year I’m bringing a folding umbrella – would be easier to carry around in the pack than a thin raincoat.

  • Silvana Nov 14, 2010, 8:25 pm

    Nice article… Cuenca is a beautiful city, as a Cuencana, I love the tipical food specially in San Joaquin, its delicious. El Campo Restaurant offers a really good Menú, you should try..
    I can see that you and your family love my city..

    • Dena Haines Dec 6, 2010, 1:58 pm

      Hi Silvana,

      Yes we really do love Cuenca.

      One the my favorite things that didn't make the list is the awesome bakeries all over the city. I love that I'll just be walking down a street, and all of a sudden "wow, what's that amazing smell!?" and I just know that there has to be a bakery somewhere close. Sure enough, as we keep walking, there it is – yummmmm, what a smell!

      We'll have to try El Campo Restaurant sometime, thanks.

  • David Akins Nov 12, 2010, 9:15 pm

    Can't wait to check Cuenca out for myself. I leave for Cuenca in two days.

    David

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