A few weeks ago, in my post 10 things I learned in Ecuador, I promised to explain why I wouldn’t retire in Cuenca. So here is the lowdown.

According to International Living magazine, Cuenca is the #1 retirement destination in the world. Quite a claim for a medium-sized Ecuadorian town in the mountains, about 500 kilometres (as the crow flies) south of the capital, Quito. Last winter I decided to check it out for myself by actually settling down in Cuenca for a whole month and pretending to live there.

I rented a furnished one-bedroom apartment in the colonial centre for $350, including utilities and WiFi. I unpacked my bags, and became a temporary resident, joining thousands of other expats, mostly from North America, who moved here hoping to stretch their retirement dollar in this “eternal spring” climate.

Nobody can argue that Ecuador isn’t cheap. It is. Cuenca, with 330,000 inhabitants, is large enough to offer all the necessary services, yet not so big that you spend hours commuting or getting stuck in traffic jams. A single person can easily live here for less than $1000 a month, including private Spanish lessons (from $7/hour) and eating out at least once a day. In fact, it is hard to justify cooking for oneself when filling almuerzos (set lunches) can be had for $2 to $5 and dinner with a glass of wine starts at around $10.

Cuenca’s setting is pleasant, with pretty river Tomebamba separating the old colonial centre from the modern part of town. The grassy banks of the river, lined by trees, make a quiet spot to picnic, or read a book, while listening to the water flowing over the boulders. The colonial old town is centered around Parque Calderon, with its massive blue-domed cathedral. The clean streets are filled with restaurants, bars and cafes catering to locals and foreigners alike (although the more expensive ones are mostly filled with foreigners).

The temperature is indeed spring-like, with highs around 22C, and nightly lows around 10C, but the equatorial sun packs a punch. And it rains. A lot. Almost every day (usually in the late afternoon and early evening). I am told that February is considered “winter” in the Ecuadorian Sierra, which is equivalent to the rainy season. I am not sure how dry it actually gets in “summer”, but December to March is when I would most want to be here, to avoid the Canadian winter.

In the end, I decided that travelling here can be good for a few days or weeks, but I wouldn’t  want to live here full time. In addition to the rainy weather, Cuenca’s negatives for me can be classified into two main categories: infrastructure and people.


My first pet peeve about Cuenca concerns the diesel spewing public buses. Many of the streets are plied every minute or so by big noisy polluting blue buses. I heard a rumour that the city was planning to eliminate the buses from the colonial centre, but who knows when/if this will happen.

Plumbing in this city (and the country as a whole) is also rather pathetic, with showers that change temperature and pressure randomly, and narrow toilet pipes that don’t let you flush toilet paper. After moving into my apartment, I also discovered that buildings standards left to be desired. My ceiling had holes, and the walls were paper-thin. There was no heating, and draughty windows, so it could get pretty chilly at night. Internet was slow and I didn’t have enough bandwidth to use Skype efficiently (with both voice and video). It could have been just this particular building, I don’t know.


I had a couple of people-related issues. First off, Latinos in general like noise, and Cuencaños are no exception. This ranges from loud music, to loud church bells, to firecrackers, to cars honking constantly. I suspect these issues might be downplayed outside of downtown, but who knows?

Secondly, as a single woman, I didn’t find the local men very attractive, and the vast majority were shorter than me (I’m 1.68 metre). I met one young guy who quickly showed off his true colours, or rather, his interest in my wallet! As for the expats, they were too old and mostly paired off already. Or perhaps I’m just too young to retire. 🙂

The local population, despite being friendly, has an old-fashion mentality when it comes to relationships. Machismo is still very much alive in Ecuador, and most women’s submissive attitude contributes to the problem. I didn’t feel like I would fit in on a long-term basis.

In summary, I found Cuenca a very pleasant city to visit, but not my ideal place to retire. I’ll keep looking.

This February, I plan to rent an apartment for a month in Chiang Rai. This town, in northern Thailand, is also home to a community of foreign retirees. I’ll let you know what I find out.

What are your criteria for a retirement destination? What are the deal breakers?
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