I let the cat out the bag on this one.
Don’t get me wrong.
I like Cuenca. It’s a nice place that’s attracting a lot of expats.
But…the world’s top retirement destination?
Are you outta your freakin’ mind?
It’s not even the top destination for retirees in Ecuador.
It was obviously chosen by people who’ve visited maybe a couple spots in Ecuador and who are interested in primarily selling seminars.
Let’s examine Cuenca further:
Climate: Forget eternal spring, I’d call Cuenca weather more like “eternal late fall”. It’s chilly, especially at night with lows in the mid 40s F, yet its just warm enough so that most dwellings don’t have heat, making many places indoors downright …cold! And it rains a lot too, and it’s more humid than the high elevation (8400 ft above sea level) would predict.
Cost of living/ Real estate: Yes, food is cheap like all over Ecuador with multi-course lunches starting around $2, taxi rides start at $1-3, bus rides $.25, 2 bedroom condo rentals start around $250/month, BUT due to several factors real estate in Cuenca is notably more expensive than most other places in Ecuador.
Food: Whenever “guinea pig” is a local staple, you know you’re in trouble. Hands down the variety of seafood and even the BBQ meats on the coast of Ecuador beat the local eats in Cuenca… any day of the week!
Local people: The local “Cuencanos” are friendly to foreigners, no doubt about it, but with so many foreigners around, most locals are de-sensitized and are really quite neutral to the sight of a foreigner. Being a foreigner alone won’t win you any brownie points like it does in other areas of Ecuador and the world where foreigners are a rare sight. But at least foreigners aren’t frowned upon. Ecuadorians as a whole are friendly, laid back people.
Old town/ Spanish colonial architecture: The Cuenca old town is OK, but it can’t compete when compared to the old towns I’ve seen in Cartagena (CO), Guanajuanto (MX), Colonia (Uruguay), Santo Domingo (DR), or even Quito.
Health care: Its a bit more pricey than the healthcare service in nearby Loja, and the variety of services offered is better in Guayaquil or Quito.
For singles: For single guys, its hard to beat Guayaquil, it just is, trust me on that one. For single women (and gay men), I’ve heard Manta, Guayaquil and Machala have some of the countries best looking and most enjoyable men.
Crime: While notably more safe than the other two big cities in Ecuador (Quito and Guayaquil), it’s still not quite as safe as the smaller towns in Ecuador if this is really important to you. Remember Ecuador outlaws guns so gun violence is a rare sight anywhere.
Cultural events/nightlife: For cultural events like classic music concerts and plays, Loja beats Cuenca. But if I got the chance, I’d trade both for Le Reve Vegas show tickets. For pure raucous nightlife, Quito and Guayaquil beat Cuenca once again any day of the week.
Expat community: If you’d like to be around a lot of other expats, Cuenca has built the largest expat community in Ecuador (rumored to be between 3-5,000 permanent residents) but there are also significant expat communities in Salinas, Manta, Cotacachi and Quito. But none are yet to the levels of hot spots in Mexico like in San Miguel.
Business opportunity: For businesses focused on selling products or services to expats it’s hard to beat Cuenca due to the large flow currently coming to the area on a daily basis, heck, I might even put a business there soon, but overall, coastal Ecuadorians are known to be more “free-spenders” than their highland counterparts and boy does the coast still need about, well… everything.
Overall: Unless you’re looking for a larger, established expat scene, Cuenca can easily be beat in all the categories listed above by other spots in Ecuador.
In fact, in my next letter I’ll share one unknown, alternative destination in Ecuador that has most of the benefits Cuenca has but with a true warmer-yet-not-too-warm eternal-spring like climate. To get it sign up for my list below, you can unsubscribe at any time: