Why Cuenca, a City I Love, is a Top Retirement Destination

January 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm 3 comments

Have you ever traveled to a place and then wanted to go back? Somehow it spoke to you of comfort and you felt at home? Cuenca, Ecuador does this for me.  I have been there before. Loved in then, love it now.

Cuenca (Santa Ana de los Quatros Rios de Cuenca is the official name) is beautiful, clean, charming, and welcoming. It is also livable, presuming you have life or travel experience in other countries and are easily adaptable.

Over the past five years I’ve found Cuenca continuing to appear on polls and magazine lists as a top retirement destination worldwide.

It attracts more residents from around the world than any other Ecuadorian city.

Umm, what’s up?

Well for one, Cuenca is a UNESCO Heritage Trust Site full of splendid colonial buildings and cultural events.  Think happy visuals and pleasing experiences.

Catedral de la Immaculada Concepcion

Cuenca (which means “basin”) is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes with panoramas and vegetation that are fabulous eye candy – lavender flowering jacaranda trees swaying in the breeze, Tipu Tipuanas (aka the Pride of Bolivia) brimming with yellow flowers, pepper trees and weeping willows, roses of every variety and color – among the most perfect I’ve ever seen – including the gorgeous roses of France!

The Tomebamba and three other rivers pass through the city with grassy knolls on both sides for miles, inviting you to lounge and fall asleep to the sounds of the water. Bridges and walk ways are mostly of old stone, and there are lovely homes, both old and new to admire. The skies are clear and crisp, the clouds ever changing in their shape, and the colors, especially at sunset, are amazing.  For the most part, the air is uncommonly fresh if you come from a place like Los Angeles.

Along the Tomebamba River

Stately buildings along the Tomebamba

Approximately 200,000 people of mostly Spanish, African, mestizo, and indigenous descent live there. The elevation is 8,200 feet.

The pluses for retirees (and others):

Again, physical beauty, nature in abundance – this is also a bird lover’s paradise; and, there are thermal baths and waterfalls just outside the city

Bookstores and Libraries – meet new friends at Carolina’s Bookstore (American owned), or at book and DVD exchanges Thursday mornings at Windhorse Cafe

Cuencanos – the people of Cuenca are kind, helpful, friendly, and educated (it’s a university town)

Culture – art fairs, concerts, cathedrals, historic buildings, museums, theatre – often free and all year long

Made to order lunch at La Negrita

Made to order lunch at La Negrita

Ex-pat activities, clubs and meet-up groups

Fresh and often organic produce (see photo to right)

Housing – apartments, condos, and homes, often gated, and often built with green, eco-friendly materials, more affordable than in North America and Europe (average 2 + 2 unfurnished is $5-600/month); “Gringolandia” to the  northwest of town is a favored area

Gringolandia along the Tomebamba River


Insects and other creatures – rarely a mosquito and other pests at this altitude, but there might be a few ants as well as large moths almost 12” from wing to wing whom you can befriend.

A Cuencan Moth

Medical care – outstanding, state-of-the-art hospitals (three) with top notch equipment; three universities with medical schools; physicians and dentists who have also studied in the U.S. and Europe; small herb, vitamin, and indigenous medicine shops; a school of naturopathy which is scheduled to open in spring 2012; medical costs about 1/5 what they are in North America; affordable private medical insurance; and a government health plan if you are over 65 and living in the country on a pensioner’s visa. Cuenca is also considered a top medical tourism destination.

Restaurants – Austrian, Chinese, crepes and waffles, Ecuadorian, East Indian, International, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, vegetarian, and more; $2.50 to $20 depending on where you choose to eat

The charming owner of La Negrita

Safety – physical safety, it’s unlikely you will be assaulted, think 1950’s America; economic safety (the country is considered stable, at the moment)

Sports and Exercise – fly-fishing (there is an ex-pat fly fishing club), golf (one club), swimming pools, tennis courts, running and walking groups, Tai Chi classes, yoga classes, dancing classes, for your brain… language classes

U.S. dollar-based economy – for Americans this makes life easier

Value – economic (Americans can live here for $1000/month), mental (gentler life style than in North America), spiritual (maybe more time for yourself)

Transportation – for the moment prices are reasonable – between $1 and $3 in town for a taxi; around 50 cents on the bus (25 cents if you are over 65); you may not need a car; there’s a gorgeous, easy to get to airport

Cuenca's beautiful airport

Weather – for anyone coming from a very hot, humid place, or a place where it snows, Cuenca might be considered heaven with its comfortable “springtime” weather

The challenges:

Clothing, Furniture, Electrical items, and Toiletries – ouch!!  No Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Steinmart… rare to find quality clothing (bring your own); not the best quality furniture but it will do and there are exceptions, just search; bring your own lap top (all computer equipment and appliances cost more than they do in North America); no organic cosmetics or hair color found recently but maybe someone will start an organic business soon?!

Ecuadorian buses – usually with standing room only; even though there are places designated for the disabled and the elderly I have not witnessed men and young people getting up for women or the elderly

Ecuadorian driving habits – if you are hit crossing a road on foot it will be your fault, be careful!!

Ecuadorians who party, party late into the night with loud music that can be heard for blocks. This can be any night of the week. Unless you are a night person and wish to hear fabulous cumbia melodies vibrating in your head, you might choose the “Gringolandia” area for living if you prefer to retire early and wish an atmosphere of peace and quiet.

Gasoline emissions – even though petrol costs a little over $1 a gallon, it is unrefined, and, there are no emission standards like those in North America; cars and diesel buses emit noxious odors, especially in the downtown area; you might consider protecting yourself with a face mask when on main city streets

Hard for the physically impaired, unless you have a driver, as it is not a wheel-chair accessible city – roads are not flat and smooth, the city is on different levels, and there are a lot of stairs (escalinatas) to climb or descend

Movie theaters – just two, but better than none.  One plays films in English.  You may end up downloading, exchanging, or bringing DVD’s

Petty theft – you must watch if anyone is following you, not carry valuables, and not wear expensive jewelry

Weather – I have heard that some Americans have contracted pneumonia and had to be hospitalized so it is advised that you research the climate and assess whether or not it is compatible with your health needs; also related, please note that some people are sensitive to Cuenca’s bouncing weather patterns from 70 in the afternoon to 40 at night.  June, July, and August are known for heavy rain every day.

Please keep in mind that Ecuador is still a developing country, and that no place on the planet is perfect any longer. Despite some of the sacrifices mentioned, I remain an ardent Cuenca fan. I’d love to live in a quiet apartment with a view to the Tomebamba!!

For more information I highly recommend Cuenca resident Connie Pombo’s book Living and Retiring in Ecuador, full of very useful tips, and available on amazon.com.

I also like Sofia Hoffmann’s www.captivatingcuenca.com  site (she’s a Cuencan married to an American), the www.ecuadorexplorer.com website which offers practical information for Cuenca and the rest of the country, ditto for Charles Barrett’s www.expatexchange.com, noteworthy for its visa information, and, www.retire-in-ecuador.com.  For whimsy and fabulous photographs click on Deke and Shirley’s www.accessecuador.com.

See www.cuencahighlife.com for an idea of what is happening at the moment in Cuenca.  I wish I had known about the Gringo Tree newsletter list before my recent trip.  You can subscribe on the web site.

There’s a Cotacachi, Ecuador based blogger, Gary A. Scott, a business man who focuses primarily on real estate; he seems to provide worthy insights at www.ecuadorliving.com.  There are several other ex-pat blogs to discover and learn from; I have yet to discover them but plan to.

If you are curious about discovering Cuenca, I trust this blog has helped a little.  If you are curious about Cotacachi, there is a December entry further down on this site.

Blessings,  Guendalina

Entry filed under: Travel blog. Tags: , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. P&E  |  January 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Great blog! We have been here for 4 months and love it! But we consider the movies a plus since you can get first-run DVDs for $1.50.

    • 2. bigpondlittlegirl  |  January 3, 2012 at 11:08 pm

      Thank you for commenting, this is how I shall learn!!! So eager to return to go to the movies!! Smiling to learn you love Cuenca too. Blessings, Guendalina

  • 3. FO James  |  January 21, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Excellent Blog! Thanks!


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