"Why Cuenca?”

“Do you need to be fluent in Spanish?”

“Is it affordable?”

“What’s the weather like?”

These were questions I asked my husband more than a year ago when he first suggested we try out expat living in Cuenca, Ecuador. 

Now that we’re here, these are the same questions we hear from friends and family who are curious about Cuenca.

The blue domes of the New Cathedral in Cuenca. ©Ellen Barone.

The blue domes of the New Cathedral in Cuenca. ©Ellen Barone.


Why Cuenca? Originally, because…

• It kept showing up in our research as an attractive, friendly and affordable place to live or retire.

• Its narrow cobblestone streets, red tile roofs, whitewashed churches and flower-filled plazas sounded alluring.

• As Ecuador’s third-largest city, it boasts a sophisticated urban lifestyle, inviting café culture and a vibrant university community.

Beyond that, however, we knew very little about what life in Cuenca would really be like.

So, in preparation we started digging, surfing the Internet, reading the forums and asking around. 

A friend sent us the e-mail address of an acquaintance living in Cuenca. She, in turn, recommended two essential Cuenca resources:

1) LIVE OR RETIRE OVERSEAS: CUENCA ECUADOR - A one hour DVD featuring the real life stories of Cuenca expats. 

2) THE GRINGO TREE - A free email newsletter for Cuenca’s expat community published by CuencaHighLife.com, featuring everything from cooking classes and meet ups to rentals and job opportunities.

Both have turned out to be invaluable.

The DVD provided exactly the nuts-and-bolts of living or retiring in Cuenca we were looking for. Told through a series of interviews with a diverse selection of Cuenca expats, we learned what they love about living here (the friendly and relaxed lifestyle) and what challenges we might encounter (learning Spanish), what things cost (Food and transportation - cheap. Electronics and imported clothing - expensive.) and where to meet people (in the city park and cafés).

In addition, we got a better feel for what the weather (average daily temperature is 58 degrees Fahrenheit), safety (some petty theft, very little violent crime) and health care (inexpensive and excellent) was really like.

Bottom line, it made us want to come and learn more.

Now that we’re in Cuenca we’re using the video less as a city overview and more as an insider guide, writing down and following up on the recommendations and details on where to eat, shop, and connect. 

And thanks to the Gringo Tree newsletter, we found the fully furnished, all-inclusive luxury 3-bedroom condo we’re now renting.

By subscribing months before our arrival, the newsletter’s brief daily updates gave us a good feel for what rentals were going for, who to turn to with questions and how to get involved in both the local and expat community. 

Now that we’re settled in, the Gringo Tree is our number-one resource for staying on top of upcoming events, discovering new restaurants and finding out about money-saving deals on travel within Ecuador. 

With more than a month under our belts, here’s what we know…

“Why Cuenca?”

Because it’s everything we hoped for and more. Clean, friendly, easy to navigate, gorgeous.

“Do you need to be fluent in Spanish?”

Need to be? No. Want to be. Yes. Especially, for any hope of quality friendships with Cuencaños. Fortunately Cuenca boasts a number of inexpensive language schools. 

“Is it affordable?”

Yes. Very much so. We’re paying premium dollar (US $750/mo) for the convenience of a short-term, fully furnished 3-bedroom, 3-bath luxury condominium, including all utilities, building fees, Internet and soaring views of red tile roofs and the surrounding mountains. But it’s possible to live comfortably long-term for much less (US$300 - $500). To find the deals, subscribe to the Gringo Tree, ask around once you get here, and hit the streets looking for se arrienda (for rent/lease) signs on buildings. To give you some comparison, we paid US$650/mo in Ajijic, Mexico, for an all-inclusive 2-bedroom, 2-bath town house. 

 “What’s the weather like?” 

We arrived at the beginning of the invierno (Rainy Season; March, April, May), which means we can count on intermintent sunshine, rain and clouds most days. But coming off three months of hot tropical temps in Granada, Nicaragua, we’re enjoying the cool, mountain climate (Cuenca sits at about 8,200-feet in altitude).  

Do we want to live here permanently? Stay tuned.

dividing line.png


Cuenca is the capital of the Azuay Province with a population of approximately 500,000 (350,000 within city limits). It is located in the highlands of Ecuador approximately eight driving hours south of Quito and three hours east of Guayaquil. The center of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site because of its many historical buildings. Learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuenca,_Ecuador


Produced by film maker and world traveler, Michael Karsh, Live or Retire Overseas is a video series highlighting the world’s best places to live or retire. The Cuenca DVD is the first in an expanding series. Future videos in the series include Granada, Nicaragua, Chang Mai, Thailand, and Penang, Malaysia. To learn more, visit www.liveorretireoverseas.com


Cuenca High Life is a website for expats in Cuenca, Ecuador. It’s filled with informative articles, local listings and links. To sign up for their e-newsletter, The Gringo Tree, visit www.cuencahighlife.com.


Ecuador Travel

Galapagos Islands Cruises

Living and Retiring in Cuenca: 101 Questions Answered

Living in Ecuador: An Insider’s Guide to the Good Life 

Go-Go Gringo: Where Gringos and Ecuadorians Connect

Ecuador Real Estate Insider

Relocation Services of Ecuador


Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".