Where Are the Dangerous Areas in Cuenca, Ecuador?

Posted in: Cuenca Ecuador, Living in Ecuador

Well, I guess I should start off and explain that we haven’t had many problems here in Cuenca. But it would be naive to think that crime isn’t a problem here. It is a problem in every city. Being smart about where you are and at what time of day is important in almost every part of the world.

Update (June 8, 2014): We were robbed the same day this post published. We published a post discussing it today.

Earlier today El Tiempo (one of Cuenca’s two daily papers) published a map of the trouble areas in Cuenca. They identified five areas of micro trafficking of drugs. Read the full Spanish post.

Dangerous Areas In Cuenca

Here are the five worst areas, as identified by the National Police:

  • La Merced (just down from Luis Cordero on Calle Larga) La Merced is identified as selling the highest volume of narcotics in Cuenca.
  • Bus Station (Terminal Terrestre) located out by the airport
  • Cayambe (north of Avenida de las Americas, known in the papers as “la zona de tolerancia”)
  • Market Nueve de Octubre (mercado Nueve de Octubre)
  • Feria Libre (Cuencas largest open market, located on Avenida de las Americas)

Recently, there have been a number of murders in Cayambe. The chief of police here in Cuenca, Germán Cevallos, has identified those deaths as revenge murders between two groups trying to take control of the drug market.

Would I want to live in any of these areas? No, I don’t think so – because we know that its dangerous at night.

Five Dangerous Areas in Cuenca

dangerous-areas-cuenca-ecuador

Image courtesy of El Tiempo newspaper in Cuenca

What Drugs are Being Sold in Cuenca?

The article identifies cocaine derivatives and marijuana as the most common drugs being sold. Lenin Bolaños, Azuay Police Commander (comandante de Policía del Azuay), noted that eradication, as discussed by some politicians, is not very reasonable. But through joint police, government and community efforts this problem can be controlled.

So, Is Cuenca Ecuador Dangerous?

So all of this begs the question: Is Cuenca Safe for Expats? Well, I guess that depends.

  1. Time of day is important. We’ve been in all of these places during the day, except Cayambe, and never had any trouble. La Merced is beautiful in the daytime and actually a bit of a hangout for many expats. Nighttime is a different story.
  2. Are you planning on selling drugs? If this is on your list of possible income sources in Cuenca then you might find yourself at risk. Okay, probably not likely. But lifestyle does play a significant role in safety. A person could become a victim in the safest city in the world just as easily as someone else could have no problems at all in one of the most dangerous ones. Safety depends so much on what you are doing in those places.
  3. The answer really depends on what you are used to. Your comfort level can affect your perception of safety. If you aren’t used to hearing about drug dealers killing each other, then you might not want to live in Cuenca. Although it is uncommon, it does happen. This isn’t like in parts of Mexico or the US where this is everyday stuff. These crimes make front page news here – that alone should tell you that is is rare.
Safety is one of the largest factors that must be taken into account when planning a move abroad. What do you think? Does this news affect your view of Cuenca?
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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

39 comments… add one
  • Troy a Terry Jul 7, 2016, 3:08 pm

    We really appreciate all of the information on the site, and look forward to participating soon. We seriously considering moving to Ecuador soon.

  • Jon Jun 15, 2016, 11:40 pm

    Cuenca is just another of the many over-hyped locations, constantly pedaled like a drug by InternationalLiving.com.

  • Doug Mar 28, 2016, 12:59 pm

    I am thinking of moving to Cuenca. When I read about the properties for sale or let they include electric fences and barred gates. Why if crime is not a problem. Thank you.

    • Michael May 26, 2016, 6:01 pm

      Wherever I’ve lived in my life, we’ve locked our front door. In the overwhelming majority of those places, it’s unlikely that it was necessary as I doubt anyone tried to open our door. Electric fences and bars say “it’s hard to rob this place”. Thieves (crime isn’t a problem, but there are thieves in any city) are likely to look to rob another place. As an expat, you will certainly be more of a target (every North American is filthy rich, right?), so those types of precautions are a good idea. In our 4 plus years in Ecuador, we have been robbed once as a man cut open my wife’s canvas bag and took her wallet as he pushed through the crowds of people during the Independence Day parade. While she had an idea he was trying to do something and made a loud fuss, we didn’t realize anything was stolen until later. My kids also had toilet paper taken from a backpack in a crowded municipal bus. It’s a good idea to be smart (you’re a foreigner in a decent-sized city after all), but I haven’t seen any need to “worry” about crime.

      • doug May 27, 2016, 1:52 pm

        Thank you for the information, it is very helpful to get a feel of a place from ex-pats who have experience of living there. As you say there are dangerous places everywhere and from what you write there doesn’t appear to be a big problem in Cuenca so we will fly down and have a holiday there.

        Regards Doug.

        • Michael Jun 10, 2016, 1:28 am

          I’ve heard a lot more Cuenca “horror stories” via rumor, grapevine, etc. than I’ve encountered or known people to have encountered, but I can only speak for my experiences.

          I’ve been to all of the listed places besides Cayambe many times and actually just spent a week’s mini “vacation” and stayed in a hostal in La Merced. Other than the night club music keeping me awake on Friday night, we saw no problems. Of course, I wasn’t out late at night prowling the streets although it wasn’t like “avoid the darkness at all costs” as we got back to the hostal at 8 or 9 on several occasions.

          There are no guarantees in life (besides death and taxes), but be “smart” and you are unlikely to experience problems. I wish you well on your trip.

  • Vadim Aug 3, 2015, 4:08 pm

    Great posts,
    I’m planning to visit Cuenca in a few month, found this helpful
    Vadim

  • Jojo Perez Mar 15, 2014, 1:36 pm

    Thank YOU so much for every post of Cuenca, Ecuador!

  • dan pamenter Jul 31, 2013, 7:12 pm

    Hi Bryan, I am hoping you can help me. I am trying to locate the mailing address for the National Police Headquarters in Cuenca. I have some documents I need to mail from the US but I can not locate the address. Please email me direct to swissaerial@yahoo.com if you can help. THANKS !

  • Mitri Janho Oct 2, 2012, 6:48 pm

    My comment is not directed at those already living in Cuenca (because they already know that) but at those contemplating doing that. I have been living in Cuenca now for 5 months and I have never felt threatened. Montreal, where I come from, is a bubbly city that hardly sleeps and I have walked at night, very safely, at all hours and almost everywhere…almost everywhere ! There were always those particular places that I avoided (even in the day time). If you are considering living in Cuenca and safety is a concern, don’t let it be. Cuenca is a beautiful city with beautiful people. Come on over !

  • Steve Sorkin Aug 8, 2012, 7:43 pm

    Thanks much for this information. We too will be moving to the Cuenca area by the end of the year and this will certainly help us navigate a place to live.

    Steve and Teresa

  • Jim Jul 23, 2012, 10:37 am

    It’s interesting to hear the perspectives of those commenting. After living in a few different area’s of Cuenca in the last year I can say with full confidence that the “dangerous” area’s of Cuenca do not define Cuenca. Cuenca is a nice place to live for many. The dangerous area’s are relative to the risks that one takes. If you avoid those area’s, Cuenca is a nice safe city to live in. We have never felt unsafe, except with when driving with the odd taxi driver who drives too fast.

  • Stewart Jul 22, 2012, 7:58 pm

    Hello Ellan,

    I agree with the part of your comment that you cannot let
    Fear dictate your life basically. Take precautions as this is
    Part of Risk Management as any contractor can tell you,
    But this does not eliminate the risk . . . But it does
    Minimize it. As an answer to your question, do Not
    Eliminate Cuenca nor New York from possible
    Places to live. Only be aware where and when places
    Are most dangerous and avoid visiting at those times.
    Best regards,
    Stewart

  • Ellen Jul 22, 2012, 7:02 pm

    I live in NYC and thank goodness I have never been the victim of a crime. I credit this with being a bit cautious, perhaps a bit overly cautious at times. I feel okay about this because there are some very dangerous parts of NYC. There’s also crime committed in not so dangerous parts of NYC and I believe most places in the world. We can’t escape the fact that there are people who do horrible things to others. Is that a reason to write off a beautiful city like NYC or Cuenca or for that matter some places now considered extremely dangerous? I think not. It’s all about weighing what’s important to you about where you live and then being as cautious as you can possibly be without locking yourself up indoors 24/7.

  • steve Jun 28, 2012, 5:20 am

    Hey Stewart…Thx very much for the detailed reply , it was much as i had heard but wanted to hear from someone inside Ecuador.

    cheers steve

  • steve Jun 24, 2012, 5:31 am

    Is my question A:too hard ,B:too controversial C:too unread.

    I have asked before and been ignored before , anyone can answer doesn’t have to be Brian

    • Bryan Haines Jun 25, 2012, 8:45 pm

      Hey Steve, I didn’t respond because I just don’t know. I was hoping another reader would have the answer. Sorry that I can’t help with your question.

      Bryan

      • Diane Jan 28, 2013, 8:58 pm

        My husband and i have been interested in Cuanca. The blogs that i’ve read were last posted in June 2012. As the new year arrives is there a good, safe and cheap place to buy or rent a home there. Im thinking your a resident of Cuanca and being a journalist maybe you could direct me in the right direction.
        Thanks. Diane.

        • Bryan Haines Jan 28, 2013, 9:10 pm

          Hi Dianne, we don’t get involved in real estate – and the sectors of the city are very diverse. We’ve lived in just two areas so I can’t really direct you to a specific area. Within the next two weeks, are a going to publish a post about how to find real estate – using local agents. Keep an eye out for it…

    • Stewart Jun 26, 2012, 10:29 pm

      Ok Steve, here´s my 2 cents. FYI I just moved here last August, but my view is that Ecuador is not as free as it seems. A lot depends on who you know. Yes there´s a new law no. 108 where possession apparently has been decriminalized which was passed in 2011. Wikipedia lists Ecuador as one of these more liberal countries.

      My view is more conservative like what the U.S. Embassy offers in their Ïnformation for American Citizens Arrested and Imprisoned in Ecuador¨file which states, Possession of marijuana and hard drugs for personal use is permitted under the new Law 108. According to the law, those who illegally use narcotics are considered sick and should be subjected to detoxification and rehabilitation treatment during a period to be determined as to the exact amount that is considered for personal use. Therefore the jury will follow advise of a physician from the National Directorate of Health, who likely will base his/her opinion on international norms that have determined 5 grams of hard drugs and 20 grams of marijuana to be sufficient for personal use.
      Note that ¨trafficking¨is any commercial transaction, possession or shipment, for whatever reason, of hallucinogenic medicines or drugs. A narcotics transaction does not have to involve an exchange of money in order to be defined as trafficking. Depending on the judicial interpretation regarding the case, simple possession of narcotics may be penalized as severely as trafficking.

      Here´s the link: http://photos.state.gov/libraries/quito/153436/ACS/imprisioned-pamphlet.pdf. Good Luck.

  • Johis Jun 23, 2012, 10:42 pm

    Hi Bryan

    I agree with this information, I lived in Cuenca, it is a special and beautiful city for me. I know that there are dangerous areas in Cuenca, but is all depends on yourself, if you know that any areas are dangerous you should be careful

    The Zona de la Tolerancia has always been very dangerous.
    It´s not a commercial area, perhaps for “other things” but for me, it is the most dangerous part of Cuenca. There are drugs, gangs and other bad things. I never go there.

    Don´t be afraid, It´s a gorgeous place, you will love this city. The people are generous, lovely and cool.

    I miss Cuenca :O)

  • Stewart Perez Jun 22, 2012, 4:59 am

    ¨Safety depends so much on what you are doing in those places.¨

    Hello Bryan, I definitely have to agree with this statement. You definitely present the situation with a level head. Being an Expat living now in Cumbaya and working in Quito my advise is

    Don´t make yourself a target!

    A few months ago I saw a businessman walking thru Quito in the day talking on his cell phone in one hand and in the other holding up his laptop (probably looking for a wireless signal).
    To any Ecuadorian this automatically signals ¨Tourist, come and rob me.¨
    If I have my laptop with me I definitely don´t show it while walking the streets. Same with a cell phone.

    Best regards.

  • Michael Henry Jun 19, 2012, 10:34 pm

    I know that recently the La Merced as has been identified as a dangerous place. I have lived off and on for the last 35 years a block from the plaza. Really I do not find it any more danagerous than other parts of the historic center. I have never been robbed or assulted. What does take place now at night are drug sales as Calle Larga has become the new party street with lots of young people. The other areas you have identifed have always been dangerous and I would never go there at night.

    • Bryan Haines Jun 19, 2012, 10:51 pm

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your input on this topic. Just to clarify, this article about safety isn’t my opinion. It is from a report from the Police Department as published in the local paper. And in recent months, the paper has published many reports of murders in and around the plaza La Merced. I’m glad to hear that you haven’t had problems there. It is often a lifestyle question as much as a location one, isn’t it?

    • Jakob Aug 31, 2012, 9:17 pm

      From experience in other cities your chance of being targeted also depends on the type of crime that is the problem in a given location. I have been to places in Latin America where the problem was gang warfare for example. If you stayed out of gang business you could literally walk through a gun fight and be more of a nuisance than a target.
      If the problem was pick-pocketing you were more likely to be a target. Always know what the problem at hand is in an area.

      Cell phones are fine to wield on the street, everybody has one. What you should not take out in public are smartphones. iPhones are still rare and cost $1200 to buy here. A friend of mine had his stolen twice in Guayaquil, right in front of his house coming out. The guys obviously knew he had one and waited in front of his house for him. I told him that appending “Sent from my iPhone” to each Facebook post was not a smart idea.

  • Al Griffith Jun 19, 2012, 1:53 pm

    Thanks for the great information. I hope to move to Cuenca and this helps. I will save a lot of time and money by not looking here. It is a sad commentary on the U.S. that you could not post the same information about a city in the U.S. as it might not be ” politically correct. I’m looking forward to the freedoms found in Ecuador that have been lost in the states.

  • gordon quick Jun 18, 2012, 9:37 am

    Great info. The Map and applied infferent is what we needed. Would love to see a Large detailed Map with a letter or number assigned to different areas for a reference. Is this available maybe ??? I wish to commend you’al on a great venture and is very timely I think……..See Ya..G

  • Joe LeBlanc Jun 17, 2012, 10:04 pm

    Thanks for this info on not so safe places in Cuenca. Much appreciated.

    Cheers

  • Steve Jun 17, 2012, 6:24 pm

    Just a quick question .I have heard conflicting views on the standing of cannabis in Ecuador.
    Some sites/ppl have stated that cannabis is not illegal as such , it is treated as a health problem while others claim that Ecuador has some of the most draconian cannabis laws in the world.
    Can anyone give me a definitive answer please?

    cheers steve

    • Bryan Haines Jun 25, 2012, 8:44 pm

      Hi Steve, sorry – I can’t help with your question. I haven’t heard anything about legal use of cannabis in Ecuador. Maybe a reader will be able to help…

  • John Jun 17, 2012, 4:01 pm

    Nice to have the foreknowledge,much better than finding it out the hard way

  • george Jun 17, 2012, 3:14 pm

    Thanks Bryan!

    We just finished a tour of much of Ecuador and decided that we would like to own a home in Cuenca. It is good to know the areas to stay away from. Thanks again for the timely info.

  • Lorie Diane Jun 17, 2012, 2:07 pm

    Hola, you had an interview with a man who is now living in cuenca. He is American and from long beach, California. I am interested in e-mailing him, would you be kind enough to inform me as to how I can do this, much appreciated. Thanks much! Lorie in Melbourne, Florida

    • Bryan Haines Jun 17, 2012, 4:20 pm

      Hi Lorie, I’m not exactly sure who he is. If you find the post, you can comment on the post. Most expats subscribe to the specific profile to get comment updates.

      Bryan

      • Lorie Diane Jun 23, 2012, 10:33 am

        Hi Bryan,
        All is well, we are now sharing e-mails, stumbled across his blog.
        LOVE your blog as well!!! Keep up the informative work, you’re a true blessing.
        Take care!!!

  • Wolf Jun 17, 2012, 1:45 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    thank you for letting us know where the trouble spots are, and when to avoid them.
    Perhaps you can tell us now where the save, the good and secure areas are in Cuenca.

    I always love the good side of things, and as you said, bad news you will find in every city around the world. I still think Cuenca is a pretty save city.

    One day, we were walking around the market close to the Centro, when a police car stopped on the side, and the officer crossed the street, walking directly towards me. He stretched out his hand for a handshake, and ask me where I am from, and how I like his city ………… a pretty nice gesture, don’t you think so?

    Have a good one,
    Wolf

  • Susan Klopfer Jun 17, 2012, 1:39 pm

    Thanks! This information is helpful, particularly as we look forward to moving to Cuenca. Retirement planning isn’t just about the money…

  • Jim Jun 17, 2012, 11:19 am

    Well, that answers that question. We were looking for rentals one day several months ago and we were stopped 3 times by concerned Ecuadorians who told us we should not be in that area. “It was not safe.” According to the map above it was the Cayambe area. Nice post, very much needed. Thanks

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