Cuenca, Ecuador is a city of just under half a million people located in the Ecuadorian Andes. And it has attracted a lot of early retirees and people looking for a less expensive cost-of-living. But it is really that cheap? And what else should you think about before coming here?
Let's look at prices across 7 different categories.
Category #1: Groceries. There are lots of places to buy food in Cuenca, from the more expensive supermarkets to the less expensive mercados. From the grocery store, we bought a papaya for 78 cents (1.21 per kilogram), a package of hamburger buns for $1.10, some veggie burgers for $3.86, a package of frozen veggies for $2.17, some waffle mix for $2.20, and an avocado for 34 cents.
Category #2: Rent. We rented a very modern, cozy AirBnB just a short distance from the center of town for $1200 for the month. It has a comfortable living space, a well-equipped kitchen with this fancy fridge, a separate bedroom, and 1 and a half bathrooms. And because it's an AirBnB, we're paying way more than we would if we signed a one year lease. We've seen similar furnished apartments for rent, with prices advertised in the $500 per month range. I'm pretty sure you can't rent a closet for that price where we're from in Vancouver.
Category #3: Health Care. We're hoping to not have to find out about the health care system first hand during our visit here, but we chatted with others who have had excellent medical care at a super low cost. For example, we understand from those living here that a trip to the dentist for a regular cleaning is in the $30 range.
Category #4: Personal Care. Regular hair cuts here range from $5-$10 - yes, that's women's cuts too. Basic manicures and pedicures are also typically under $10. I went to a higher-end salon for a cut and full-head balayage for my long hair and the entire bill came to $85. I couldn't even get a cut for that at a similar category salon back in Vancouver.
Category #5: Restaurants. Let me preface this category by saying that the food in Cuenca is excellent. There is lots of Ecuadorian food, and a wide variety of other cuisines to choose from too. Last night, Chris and I went out for dinner and had appetizers, entrees, desserts, and some beverages, and our entire bill came to just under $40. And then we took a 10 minute cab ride back to our apartment for just $2.
Category #6: Entertainment. There are so many things to do around here from karaoke nights and live music nights to sporting events and checking out the historic sites. Some of it costs a bit of money, but many things are free. We took a 15 minute, $2 cab ride to the Mirdor de Turi or Turi Lookout and didn't pay anything to take in the views.
Cuenca, Ecuador definitely offers a much lower cost of living than many North American cities. And it's set in the beautiful Andes mountains and has a lower crime rate than many other parts of Ecuador and South America. But if you're thinking that you should move here and take advantage of the cheaper prices, you should also be ready to embrace a new culture and way of life. And not everything will be easy. Power may go out more often than you think, roads may get cut off due to mudslides or protests, neighbours may allow their dogs to bark loudly through the night, and things will just be different from what you're used to. But if you're willing to handle these types of things, Cuenca can be a great place to be.
We're loving our time here, have met lots of wonderful and friendly people, and are enjoying this less expensive city, especially after our month in the pricy Galapagos Islands. We can definitely see why it's a popular place for early retirement and long-term travelers like us.
Here are some things to know before deciding:
We weren't sure either, but we decided to risk it. We negotated a taxi at the Quito Airport to take us to the Equator line at both Middle of the World City and the Intinan museum then take us back to the airport. Traffic and weather conditions were on our side and we made it to the Equator line with enough time to visit both sites before returning back to the airport with plenty of time for our next flight.
The Intinan museum has lots of fun science demonstrations, like an upright sundial that only works on the equator. We also got to witness the Coriolis effect first hand: First we stood on the equator and saw the water going straight down the drain with no swirl. Next we moved south of the equator and saw the water drain counter-clockwise. And lastly we moved north and saw the water draining clockwise. But is the Coriolis effect really that powerful, or maybe it was just an illusion put on by our talented guide?
We did look this up: The Coriolis effect can technically cause water to drain in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemispheres because of the spin of the earth and gravity. But really there are many stronger forces that ultimately impact the direction water drains. Our guide did put on a good show though!
I'm so happy that we were able to able to stand on the equator and still catch our flight. We won't ever regret not going or wonder if we could have made it.