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Cuenca Ecuador: The Complete Guide to Living and Traveling in Cuenca


Cuenca Ecuador is a top destination for travelers & expats. Learn all about food, culture, attractions, travel, retirement and living in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca Ecuador: Complete Guide

Cuenca Ecuador is located in the Andes mountains at an elevation of 8500 feet. The city is famous for its architecture, climate and people.

Favorite dishes in Cuenca Ecuador include hornado and fritada (roasted and fried pork), cuy (guinea pig), chicken and mote (boiled corn kernels – served as mote pillo and mote sucio).

Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is popular among South American, North American and European tourists. There is a large North American population of expats (estimates range from 3-5000) within the city. The majority are retired couples. Tourists generally come from Argentina, United States, Canada, and Spain.

Tons of articles have been written about the colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador. About how it’s so cheap, and how it’s such a great retirement place, etc.

Here is what you need to know about this great city.

7 Things to Know About Cuenca Ecuador

  1. Full Name and founding: Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca. Founded in 1557, by the Viceroy of Peru, Mr. Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza.
  2. Location: Southern Ecuador, Azuay Province. Ecuador is located on the north-west part of South America. Borders Columbia to the north, Peru to the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
  3. From Guayaquil: South-east 155 miles (250 km). 3 1/2 – 5 hours by bus, just 30 minutes by plane.
  4. From Quito: South 274 miles (442 km). 9 hours by bus, less than 1 hour by plane.
  5. Elevation: 8400 ft (2560 meters)
  6. Population: 417,632 – (331,028 urban and 86,604 rural)
  7. Climate: known as “the land of eternal spring” Cuenca and surrounding areas experience very little climate change throughout the year. Expect warm to hot days (67°F – 82°F / 19°C – 28°C) and cool evenings (as low as 51°F / 10°C).

Getting to Cuenca Ecuador

  1. By Plane: There are two international airports – Quito (Airport code: UIO) and Guayaquil (Airport code: GYE). Both airports have daily flights to Cuenca. Expect airfares of roughly $45 – $55 from Guayaquil (on the coast) and $55 – $68 from Quito (in the Sierra). Choose from TAME Airlines, LAN or Aerogal. All flights to the Galapagos Islands go through Guayaquil Airport.
  2. By Bus: Cuenca is well connected to the rest of Ecuador by a network of buses. Buses leave from Quito every hour, 24 hours a day – the trip takes roughly 9 hours and costs between $9 and $12. Buses run roughly $1 to $1.50 per hour of travel time. From Guayaquil, buses are leaving every 30 min for Cuenca. The trip ranges from 3 1/2 – 5 hours, depending on if it goes through Cajas National Park or through Cañar – cost is roughly $7-9 each way.

Take a free tour of Cuenca in this 12 video post.

Fountain in Parque Calderon, Cuenca EcuadorMany people say that Cuenca looks a lot like a European city because of the Spanish colonial architecture. Many of the buildings in the center are beautifully decorated in colonial style with red-tiled roofs, and little flower filled wrought iron balconies.

Interested to know the best of Cuenca? Check out Bryan’s post on National Geographic. It really sums up all the highlights in just one post: I Heart My City: Bryan’s Cuenca (for National Geographic)

What to Expect in Cuenca

In this article, we’ve put together the best of Cuenca Ecuador. You’ll read about:

  1. cuenca-ecuadorCuenca for travelers
  2. Attractions near Cuenca
  3. General information
  4. Food in Cuenca
  5. Cuenca restaurants
  6. Expats in Cuenca
  7. Living in Cuenca

Read recent posts about Cuenca Ecuador.

Ready? Let’s get started!

View of Cuenca Ecuador from Turi Look-Off

1. Cuenca Ecuador for Travelers

Ecuador receives more than one million visitors each year. Cuenca (Ecuador’s third largest city) is a top destination for both travelers and expats.

Visitors to Cuenca will generally arrive either by bus or plane. We recommend booking your international flight direct through to Cuenca – saving you the hassles of making other arrangements once arriving in either Guayaquil or Quito international airports. Learn more about the Cuenca Airport.

Check out these top 10 attractions for tourists in Cuenca:

path along river in Cuenca Ecuador

The Tomebamba river, near Parque de la Madre.

  1. Cuenca Video Tour: The best of Cuenca Ecuador in this 12-video city tour.
  2. My Top 10 Favorite Things about Cuenca, Ecuador
  3. The Flower Market: Prettiest Spot in Cuenca Ecuador (Video)
  4. Why I Love Cuenca’s Parque Calderon
  5. The Animals of Amaru Zoo (Video)
  6. Parque Paraiso (Paradise Park): Cuenca Ecuador’s Largest Park
  7. Parque de la Madre (New And Improved)
  8. Casa de la Mujer: Souvenirs
  9. Museo Banco Central
  10. The Amaru Zoo
  11. The Cuenca Orchidarium (Video)

Learn more about travel around Ecuador.

Cuenca Ecuador: Awards & Recognition

Cuenca has received many awards and distinctions. Cuenca has been recognized as:

  • #1 city to visit in Latin America (Stern Magazine, 2009)
  • #1 adventure destination (Outside Magazine, 2014)
  • #1 open air flower market in the world (National Geographic, 2014)
  • #1 city of the future (Foreign Direct Investment, 2013-2014)
  • #1 for retired americans (CNN Money,  2012)
  • top 10 City to Visit (Lonely Planet, 2010)
  • #1 place for retirees (International Living, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013)
  • Cultural Heritage site (UNESCO, 1999)
  • #21 destination for travelers in Latin America (Trip Advisor, 2012)

2. Attractions Near Cuenca

Ingapirca EcuadorOne of the great reasons to visit Cuenca is all of the nearby day trips. From 30-60 minutes away there are a dozen amazing places. Here are nine of our favorites.

  1. The Five Best Side Trips From Cuenca Ecuador
  2. Chordeleg – Makes a Great Day Trip From Cuenca
  3. Road Trip – Cuenca to Paute Bus Trip (Video)
  4. Santuario Hibiscus: A Country Villa in the Yunguilla Valley, Ecuador
  5. Cuenca Attraction: El Chorro de Giron
  6. Hiking in the Andes: Ecuador’s Cajas National Park (Video)
  7. Ingapirca: Ecuador’s Largest Incan Ruins
  8. Hacienda Uzhupud: A Cultural Ecuador Experience (Video)
  9. Gualaceo: Just Outside of Cuenca

Video of Cuenca Sidetrip: Paute

Watch on YouTube

Hiking Outside of Cuenca Ecuador

Watch on YouTube

3. General Information: Cuenca Ecuador

Although Cuenca lies just south of the Ecuador, it isn’t as hot as you might imagine. Due to the altitude, it can get cool at night. See what weather to expect in this Annual Weather Chart.

Park Cuenca EcuadorDo you have a question about Cuenca EcuadorHere are answers to some of the common questions about Cuenca:

  1. What Language in Cuenca?
  2. How to Drink The Tap Water in Cuenca
  3. What Vaccines Will I Need In Cuenca?
  4. What Are Cuenca’s Newspapers?
  5. Is it Cold in Cuenca Ecuador?
  6. Where Are the Dangerous Areas in Cuenca?
  7. How Should a Gringo Handle Cuenca Taxi Rates?

A few years ago, we were featured on House Hunters International.

4. Cuenca Ecuador Food

Since arriving in Ecuador five years ago, we’ve come to love the food here. Grilled beef, traditional Andean dishes and seafood are all readily available and surprisingly inexpensive. Full meals start at $2.00 and cost an average of $2.50 – $4.50 each.

  1. Encebollado EcuadorPork and Cuy: Street Food
  2. Yuca Bread
  3. Guaba Fruit: Ecuador’s Delicious Ice Cream Bean
  4. There’s a Guinea Pig On My Plate! Culture Shock for Dinner
  5. Churrasco
  6. Making Wood Oven Pizza
  7. Dragon Fruit
  8. Corvina Apanada (breaded fish)
  9. Encebollado (tuna soup)
  10. Higos con Queso (figs with cheese)
  11. Ecuador Chocolate
  12. Cubanito Coffee
  13. Ecuador Desserts

Learn more about the typical dishes in Ecuador in our huge guide: Travelers Guide to Ecuadorian Food.

Seafood in Cuenca

Watch on YouTube

Making Pizza in a Wood Oven

Watch on YouTube

5. Cuenca Ecuador: Restaurants

There are amazing restaurants and bakeries on every corner in Cuenca. The majority offer a mix of the traditional with both unique and international dishes. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. Raymipampa Cuenca EcuadorRaymipampa: Traditional Ecuador Food Near Parque Calderon
  2. Appettito Bakery / Cafe
  3. Seafood in Cuenca: El Sabor de las Costeñitas
  4. Tutto Freddos: Where to Eat in Cuenca for Pizza and Ice Cream
  5. Carrot Cake Ale and Buffalo Wings: The Andean Brew Pub (Video)
  6. PANESA Cafe Bakery
  7. Cafe Austria: Gringo Hangouts in Cuenca

Andean Brew Pub in Cuenca

6. Expats in Cuenca Ecuador

Over the past few years we’ve interviewed a few of the expats living here in Cuenca. These profiles help give a glimpse into the challenges and benefits of living in Cuenca. Learn about living abroad through the eyes of these expats.

  1. Ecuador Expat Profile – Gary Sisk
  2. Ecuador Expat Profile – Franziska & Daniel Pedersen, La Unión
  3. Ecuador Expat Profile – Susan Schenck
  4. Ecuador Expat Profile – Maureen Douglas
  5. Behind the Scenes: House Hunters International in Cuenca Ecuador

Read more Ecuador expat profiles.

Living in Cuenca, Ecuador

Watch on YouTube

7. Life in Cuenca Ecuador

Here are a collection of our top posts about living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Since moving here in 2009, this is one of our favorite topics to write about.

While some of these topics will apply to travelers, they are written with long term expats in mind.

  1. eduardo-vega-turi-cuencaWhat’s it like to live in Cuenca Ecuador?
  2. Why We Chose Cuenca
  3. The Parishes (Parroquias) of Cuenca
  4. Reality Check: Housing in Cuenca
  5. Is Cuenca Safe for Expats?
  6. How to Travel in Ecuador Without a Car – Part 1: Using Taxis in Cuenca
  7. How to Travel in Ecuador Without a Car – Part 2: Using City Buses in Cuenca
  8. Dr. Jose Acosta: Our English Speaking Dentist

Learn more about living in Ecuador.

Cuenca Ecuador’s Parque Calderon

Watch on YouTube

While we love Cuenca, it (obviously) isn’t perfect. The climate, altitude and crime have affected many travelers and expats. We continue to write about specific concerns for visitors and how they can avoid the problems. Although there are some challenges we love living here.

Cuenca Ecuador

So there you have it. Our top 56 posts about Cuenca, Ecuador.

Keep reading: Guide to Ecuador’s 18 Largest Cities

Your Turn

What food, restaurant, and attraction would you add to the list? Please include it (along with any travel tips) in the comments below!

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Check out our guides:

31 comments… add one
  • William Z Morphis Oct 20, 2020, 7:04 pm

    Well, here we are a little over a year into our move from Mesa Arizona to Cuenca.
    The move was quite a bit of work closing out our life in the US and filing the necessary Ecuadorian paperwork to become permanent residents. The “Manana” syndrome is well established here so do not expect the relatively quick response to getting required paperwork completed or service requests answered that you have come to expect in the US. It is not a major problem, you just need to modify your expectations, be patient and things will get done.
    One major warning is the nightmare it can be dealing with customs (aduana) and the restrictive rules as to what can be shipped to Ecuador after your initial shipment of personal goods included in your primary move. Most everyday items like food and personal care items can be found in places like SuperMaxi or Coral but, it is those special things that can only be found in the US that can be a problem when dealing with customs.
    On a more positive note, the people here are the most friendly and helpful people I have ever met in my world travels and also having lived in another country besides Ecuador and the US. We have made several good friends who have gone out of their way to help us well beyond anything I have experienced in the US and without an expectation they would be compensated for their effort. It is obvious that they appreciate my effort to learn their language, communicate with them in my still limited Spanish and not expect them to speak English although many do speak English. It is definitely a more friendly welcoming culture than one finds elsewhere.
    If you come from a warm climate, as we did, the weather can be a bit challenging. Magazines like International Living portray the climate here as balmy however, regardless of the season highs can range between the low 60’s to low 70’s most days and evenings between the high 40’s to mid 50’s with a number of cloudy rainy days not being uncommon. I’m sure we will adapt over time but right now it can still be uncomfortably chilly most of the day.
    In conclusion, for us, the benefits far outweigh the problems and our only regret is that we did not make the move sooner.

  • Gwen Morphis Aug 21, 2019, 8:46 pm

    I have truly enjoyed reading your enlightening blogs. My husband and I will be moving to Cuenca at the end of September. We will be traveling with 2 spoiled cats. We would like any travel suggestions on getting to Cuenca with the pets: via Quito and Cuenca (we understand there would be a long layover in Quito) or via Guayaquil with land transportation to Cuenca. Thank you for any recommendations.

  • Diane S Jul 26, 2019, 2:04 pm

    Please can someone help me with finding any agencies that specialize in renting apartments.
    I will be moving to Cuenca in August and do not yet speak Spanish so I need all of the help I can get.
    Thank you very much,

  • Matt Adams Mar 22, 2019, 12:47 pm

    I would love to get your input about Cuenca once we get closer to getting there. I have been emailing Kathy (from Cuenca real estate) and she also offered to help. They focus on high-end apartments, and I don’t know if I can convince my mom to live in an apt, and I don’t think we need anything that high end, either. We think it would be fun to live in a place with an inner courtyard.

  • Dennis Graham Nov 23, 2018, 4:00 am

    Bryan: Had an understanding that after May 1, 2018, anyone traveling to/entering Ecuador (up to 90 days/ U.S. passport) must show proof of having health insurance. Do you know if this remains a current requirement? Thanks. Graham.

  • Agness of Fit Travelling Mar 27, 2017, 12:58 pm

    What an amazing guide for Cuenca, Bryan! This is a top destination!

    • Bryan Haines Mar 27, 2017, 1:44 pm

      Thanks so much.

      • Mark Kosene May 30, 2018, 6:06 pm

        I’m looking at various places overseas to consider retiring. You have me extremely interested in Ecuador . Where does one start? Cuenca intrigued me but do fied the beach .
        I’m single socializing is part of what I’m looking for and meeting women.
        I don’t speak Spanish a word here and there. Limited budget of say $1,500 per month all in (rent included) want to visit the markets.and enjoy the locals. 1-3 months to see if I like it. No car.
        Your suggestions is encouraged and appreciated .
        Thank you

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  • Peggy Butler Jun 25, 2016, 1:10 am

    Hello Bryan, I’ve only recently begun to think of possibly living in Cuenca three months out of the year to see how I’d enjoy living in South America. I would not want to do this for five more years, since right now I have very young great-grandchildren I am blessed to care for once or twice a week pretty regularly. I would want to wait until the two youngest are in school, the reason for the five more years. I am not wealthy but have a decent SS and pension, so I could afford around $500 a month for a furnished apartment, preferably in the historic district or near enough to ride a bike to it. My question – I have many, but am getting answers from different sites and yours seems to be more informative – is that by the time I’d want to do this, I’ll be 85 years old, and of course, it’s all contingent upon my health staying good, both physically and mentally (no signs of dementia) and my mobility remaining good. It would be foolish if I were not well and attempted to live alone in a strange country. I’ve read Cuenca is a safe city for expats, but is it for single expats? I’m a retired RN, have been writing novels since retirement at 66, and lived in Key West for several years after retiring, so most of my friends are other authors and artists. I read last night that Cuenca is a haven for people like us, so that is another draw for me. As well as being safe for a single older woman, would a two-bedroom furnished apartment in the historic district be reasonable for me to rent? Since I would be keeping my apartment here in South Florida to live in when I return each year if I like living there, I wouldn’t want to pay more than $500, if possible. And I would want a decent apartment in good repair, preferably with private outdoor space, such as an enclosed patio, large front porch or terrace, where I could have plenty of plants – can’t live without plants and flowers near. Also, are PCs fairly inexpensive down there? I wouldn’t want to take my PC with me, and I don’t enjoy using laptops for my writing, so I would need to buy one there. And is cell phone service reliable, as that would be my way of keeping in touch with my family. And is it reasonable? What about Skype? I’ve been thinking of switching from ATT to Consumer Cellular. Does it get service down there? I’m not LGBT, but I enjoy attending services at MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) everywhere I am, and I know they’re in Ecuador, but are they in Cuenca, also? I know that is a lot of questions, but I want to find out as much reliable information as possible. I don’t speak Spanish but have plenty of time to learn the language. Do they speak the Castilian Spanish or another kind of Spanish? I’ve worked cruise ships to the tip of South America but have never actually visited the continent, so I certainly plan to visit a few times before I make the final decision to move there. Thank you very much for answering as much as you possibly can! I really appreciate it!

  • Michelle C Apr 7, 2016, 6:00 pm

    Really appreciate all the useful information here. I often found myself referring to your site while planning a six-week stay in Cuenca with my husband – it was a fantastic choice for us (active, early 30’s, do freelance work online as we travel). We recently compiled a list of food and restaurant recommendations for Cuenca which might be helpful to your other readers:

  • Dennis Westmeier Mar 24, 2016, 2:32 pm

    I am considering taking up residence in Cuenca, Ecuador about the beginning of 2017. Can you direct me to resources for apartments/houses for rent, resources for retired persons, and any other information which would help me plan for the move. I currently live in Chattanooga, TN.

    • Tom Wilbanks Apr 22, 2016, 1:09 pm

      I am also thinking of moving to Cuenca in early 2017. I am eager to know if the earthquake changed the economy at this time or might it change living conditions very much in the future? I am planning a trip to ‘check it out’ in July or August this year before making my final decision.

    • Erika Alvear M Oct 7, 2016, 2:21 pm

      visit this page find great deals on rental:

  • Susan Dixon Sep 23, 2015, 11:04 pm

    My husband and I are seriously considering a move to Ecuador, Quenca, in particular, but have never been to South America before. We are considering a tour specifically for people inn our position called Ecuador Crash Course Tour. Since you already live in Ecuador, would you please give us some advice or opinions on this? The link to the tour is urse.html. I want to know if this is a good tour; if it’s legit and on the up and up; is it worth the money; and will we learn a lot from it. If we don’t go this route, I’m not sure what other option to take since we don’t speak Spanish (but are willing to learn) and don’t know anyone there. Thanks in advance fro any help you can offer.

  • Escuela de Música en Cuenca Aug 6, 2015, 8:27 pm

    We are about to open a new Music School in Cuenca and we are interested to promote our school in your website.
    Please contact us.
    Escuela de Musica Constantino Mendoza Moreira

  • Ian Allum Jul 27, 2015, 11:09 am

    Retiring soon. Want to learn more about Ecuador. Especially Cuenca. Home financing if available etc. I currently live in Atlanta, GA

  • Louis-Marie Ste-Croix Jan 18, 2015, 6:30 pm

    Thank you Brian,

    We visited Ecuador in October 2013, landed in Quito, leased a small Chevy, visited Otavalo, Cotacachi, Mitad del mundo, Mindo, Atacames, Manta, visited Hola Ecuador, Salinas, Guayaquil
    We liked our experience, we also been in Merida Yucatan and Ajijic Jalisco?
    We have not taken our final decision yet. Ecuador has it’s + and -. Mexico has also it’s + and – . We enjoyed Ecuador and Mexico very much, if you have anything to help my decision, do not hesitate

    Thank you


  • Karen Hicks Jan 18, 2015, 11:48 am

    A couple definite restaurant recommendations – Popocuchu, best soups and sandwiches in town, bar none; Anubis for the best steak in town; San Sebas the best breakfast in town.
    From a couple other Canucks living in Cuenca (2 1/2 years)

  • Mike Bluett Jan 18, 2015, 11:15 am

    “#1 city of the future (Foreign Direct Investment, 2013-2014)”.

    Where did you get this information from? I could not find any reference to this on the Internet. I am interested in reading more as to why.

  • Eric Lutz Nov 13, 2014, 9:34 am

    Bryan i really enjoy your blog and videos, however I would enjoy some up to date videos. As I know that Drew is a big girl now . I would enjoy some of her now .
    As for Cuenca , That big city scares me out of my wits. I am not interested in cities at all. Not even Halifax . However if I were a young man I may feel different. However I can`t remember any time of even liking cities. I mover off to Toronto in1958 . Worked for one summer, that was enough for me. Fall came and I made my way back to Nova Scotia to stay, That I did. not sorry. I am just a plain old country boy through and through. Have fun you young people. As for the cost of living in NS That has not affected us too much. we learn to roll with the punches. Our desire was not to become rich. Love from all Eric.

    • Bryan Haines Nov 13, 2014, 11:17 am

      Great to hear from you Eric! We intentionally keep a low profile for Drew on the site. Really is an issue of privacy. You can check with my parents for some current photos of her. 🙂

      Cuenca is actually a similar size to Halifax. Fairly small to cities like Toronto or Guayaquil – each with populations into the millions.

  • david benwell Jul 18, 2014, 4:57 pm

    Need info on aquiring a pensioners visa want to get started on as soon as I can,want to move to cuenca

  • Jerry Anderson Jun 25, 2014, 5:07 pm

    I have read several of your interesting articles during your earlier days in Cuenca, but somehow lost track of you. My wife and I have a friend who lives part time in Cuenca, and we are also considering this. We look forward to receiving your articles and hope to review some of the past ones we may have missed. We will be in Cuenca August 1- 11 this year and are hoping to meet some ex-pats to learn more.

    • Bryan Haines Jun 25, 2014, 6:50 pm

      Thanks Jerry – all the best on your plans!

    • Kevin Donnelly May 4, 2019, 11:44 am

      I spent a month in Cuenca about six years ago and loved it. Now the first week of July, I plan to spend three months or more there and want to rent a small unit, just for myself, within a few blocks f the Historic Center. I Was told the best way to find a nice small furnished rental for a good price was to stay at reasonable priced hotel for a few days near the Center and, walking and talking around, find it I’m my own. Your thoughts please.

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