Pros and Cons of Living in Cuenca

Johan Klok | Last update:

Cuenca is Ecuador's most popular expat destination but it's not for everyone. In this article, you can read the pros and cons of living in Cuenca. Knowing these pros and cons will enable you to make a better-informed decision about whether Cuenca may suit you or not.

Pros of living in Cuenca

Pro: Cuenca’s charming historic city center

Cuenca has a charming historic city center that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although there are many beautiful buildings in the city center, most of these buildings are not from the colonial era. Most of them were built in the 19th and 20th centuries after Ecuador became independent.

Pro: No need to have a car in Cuenca

Having a car is convenient, but many people can live perfectly well without a car in most parts of Cuenca. Most districts of Cuenca have their own shopping center, grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. These venues are often within walking distance. If you don’t have a car but something is not available in your part of the city, you can easily take a bus or tram. Taxis are abundant, safe, and cheap.

Pro: Cuenca’s modern tram

Cuenca’s has a 10-kilometer-long tramway on which modern, comfortable French trams ride on a 5-minute or 10-minute interval. If you buy a tram pass, one ride will cost you 35 cents (or 17 cents if you are a student or a senior).

Pro: There are tons of activities to do

In Cuenca, it’s easy to keep yourself busy with tons of activities: volunteering, playing in a theater, swimming, playing tennis, bike riding along the rivers, participating in a book club, hiking in the nearby mountains, attending art classes, and many more activities. And as a bonus: all these activities make it easy to make new friends.

Pro: International restaurants

Cuenca has a good variety of international restaurants. Some of these restaurants are owned by expats. Traditional food is also available of course.

Pro: Rivers and parks

Four rivers run through Cuenca. The two largest rivers, the Tomebamba River and the Yanuncay River, have parks along their borders. The rivers are perfect for making bike rides and long walks. A downside is that these parks are not always safe. See our Cuenca area guide for more detailed information on staying safe while enjoying the rivers.

In the last couple of years, Cuenca has created several so-called mega parks. The location of the old prison was converted into Parque La Libertad. This park has a modern outlook point with views over the city center.

Cons of living in Cuenca

Con: Cold evenings

In Cuenca, there are no warm summer evenings to spend on terraces or in gardens. When it starts to get dark in Cuenca (between 6 pm and 6:30 pm), it also starts to get cold. Around 7 pm it's usually between 12 and 14°C (54 and 57°F). As an illustration, you find in the images below the actual temperatures in several Ecuadorian, Colombian and Mexican cities at 7 pm on July 20, 2022 (this article’s first day of publication).

evening temperature in Cuenca (Ecuador) in Celsius
evening temperature in Cuenca (Ecuador) in Fahrenheit

Con: Parts of the city are not clean

In general, Cuenca is a cleaner city than most other Ecuadorian cities and the municipality does its best to keep the city clean, but in for example the city center, not all people behave well resulting in dirty streets. Especially public urinating make the streets in parts of the city dirty but it seems to be accepted by a large part of the population. Urinating stray dogs make the situation even worse.

Con: The city is not very accessible for people with walking difficulties

Cuenca has severe issues with its accessibility for people with walking difficulties and people in wheelchairs. Poorly maintained footpaths and high curbs are visible everywhere. Although it’s cheap to use Cuenca’s extensive bus network, the buses are not well-accessible. Besides that, many bus drivers drive like crazy. To avoid buses you may choose to live near the tramway. The tramway was designed and built with people with walking difficulties and people in wheelchairs in mind. Modern buildings like shopping malls usually have good facilities for people in wheelchairs as well.

Con: Dirty exhaust gases

In general, the air in Cuenca is pretty clean, but dirty exhaust gases create unhealthy environments in places with a lot of truck and bus traffic. The situation is improving but not very fast. Make sure you don’t choose a home or accommodation near busy bus lines, especially in the city center.

Con: Cuenca still uses gas cylinders

Because Cuenca has no gas pipeline network, most people need to buy gas per gas cylinder. This is inconvenient but the price for a cylinder of gas is low ($3) because of a subsidy. The real problem is that gas is often not available during national strikes. During the national strike in June 2022, some expats had no gas for three weeks. As a result, they could not cook and had no hot water for about three weeks.

Tip: Many modern condominium buildings have central gas systems. If you don’t want to worry about gas cylinders you may choose a home in such a building.