Step into the vibrant, colorful world of Cuenca, Ecuador – a UNESCO heritage city brimming with stunning scenery, rich culture, and endless opportunities for expat living. With its enchanting streets, delicious cuisine, and warm, welcoming community, it’s no wonder that thousands of expats have made Cuenca their home. From the thrill of immersing yourself in the local customs and traditions, to the peace of mind that comes with a relatively safe and affordable lifestyle, Cuenca has plenty to offer. And with a thriving expat community, comprising of around 8,000-10,000 people out of a total population of 540,000, you don’t need to look far to build new connections.
Whether you’re fresh off the boat, or a seasoned veteran expat, we think you’ll get something out of this guide. We’ve tried to include many of Cuenca’s social groups and activities, but you’re also welcome to let us know of any we’ve missed and we’ll try to include these too!
Okay, let’s get social!
An easy way to settle into the local community is to seek out social opportunities which will lead to new friendships. Start by looking online for group activities or search for others with similar interest. Start your search with YapaTree’s Cuenca Online Events Calendar. This is updated every Wednesday with new activities and an email packed with these events is sent every Thursday (subscribe here). Facebook Groups can also a good place to find local Cuenca events. Some Facebook groups to consider include:
- Restaurants, Food & Events in Cuenca
- Cuenca Live Music and Arts
- Cuenca Yapas & Friends (our group)
- Expats Without Agendas
There are also groups in the city which gather for a purpose. These include women’s, veterans’ and coworking groups. If you have a favorite hobby or pastime, computer game, reading, sewing, writing, theater, music – you’ll likelyl find others that share your interests. You need not be alone. Find these groups by word of mouth or by searching online.
Azuay Community Theater offers both the opportunity to see a play as well as to participate in one. Their goal is to enrich, educate, and entertain English and Spanish-speaking audiences aimed at expats old and young, digital nomads, and all local residents. You don’t have to be an experienced actor to participate in the theater, on stage or back stage. the Theater offers educational classes that may help get you started or you can also volunteer.
Cuenca Writers Collective
If your interest lies with the written word, you may consider joining Cuenca Writers Collective. You will have the chance there to read one of your writings, if you wish, and receive constructive advice to help you grow as a writer. If you would prefer to listen to the written word, the Collective has you covered with a monthly Spoken Word presentation by its members and others. Email [email protected] for more info.
Cuenca Coworking Club
Perhaps you want to write a memoir or tell your story about migrating to Ecuador, but you don’t have the conditions at home to do this? You’re in luck, as Cuenca offers five co-working spaces where you can work and socialize with other writers and digital nomads. Joining the Cuenca Coworking Club will not only introduce you to others like yourself, but it will give you a working tour each week of local cafes and other spaces the club uses as their “offices”. WhatsApp +447542286196 to get access.
Spanish Reading Club
Perhaps you would just like to read a book and talk about it. Meet friends and strangers at any of the English-language bookstores in Cuenca. If you have some moderate to advanced facility with Spanish, check out the Spanish Reading Group at Carolina Bookstore.
When it comes to sports and games, you can be as active as you want. Your choices are myriad. In the many parks in Cuenca, you can find organized and pick-up teams for soccer, tennis, volleyball, and various forms of meditation and other conscious activities such as Qi Gong. The larger parks also have stationary workout equipment. There are also opportunities for swimming.
A low-impact option to have some fun and socialize with other expats and local Ecuadorians is at Frisbee Fridays. Every Friday at noon, head over to Parque de la Madre across Av. Federico Malo from the Camara de Comercio for some casual frisbee throwing. Bert and Maureen McKinney started this fun activity as a way to get fresh air and exercise, but it quickly turned into a place to connect with others and interact with Cuencanos. There are no rules, just come ready for some good-natured fun. You can even bring a picnic and enjoy the beautiful weather while you play. Join the Frisbee Friday community on Facebook to see photos of past events and stay updated on future ones: https://www.facebook.com/groups/458077595839258/
Not quite ready to hit up the local Cuarenta card games? Then perhaps start off with the Cuenca Bridge Club, where players of all skill levels come together to enjoy the timeless game of bridge. They cater for seasoned pros, those just looking to learn and everyone in between. The club meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 PM to 4 PM. You can come alone or bring a partner, the club provides a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. The cost is only $2 per meeting, and the club is conveniently located at Reginaldo Arizaga 2-56 y Ricardo Darquea Grande, just around the corner from the new Ital Deli. For more information or to join, contact Richard Keye at +593 98 387 9653.
Make new friends and sharpen your pool skills by joining Cuenca’s Pool League. Founded by a group of amigos, this league has grown in popularity and membership, providing a fun and social environment for players of all skill levels. Meet fellow players at pick-up pool sessions at Cuenca’s Sharks Pool Club, conveniently located near Common Grounds Sports Bar & Grill, and led by Brian Brown. Monthly dues are reasonable and help to fund the league. Learn more about the league at https://www.cuencapool.com/.
Experience the thrill of competition and camaraderie by joining the Cuenca Trivia Group. This long-standing group meets at Common Grounds restaurant on Tuesday nights and is a great way to meet new friends while flexing your brainpower. Teams with unique names like Wannabees, Mysterians, Social Hour, Knee Fights and Leftovers compete for glory and bragging rights. Stay up-to-date with weekly reports and details by checking their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/cuencatriva/
Experience the beauty of Cuenca’s countryside and make new friends with one of Cuenca’s Horse Riding Tours or Schools. One tour which can be great to meet some likeminded equine enthusiasts is Horsetrekking Ecuador. Led by Kimberly Curls, this group takes 3-hour horseback rides through the picturesque rural areas surrounding the city, offering the opportunity to immerse yourself in the breathtaking Andean mountain landscape. From pickup and drop-off in the city to a delicious lunch included, all for just $45 per person. Visit www.horsetrekkingecuador.com for more information and to book your ride.
Or join the team at Bellavista Equestrian Center in Tarqui, led by Sebastia’n Donoso for a group ride and make new friends with fellow horse lovers. Horseback riding is an excellent way to explore the mountains and enjoy the beautiful weather, and the horse people you’ll meet are some of the best people out there. Visit www.centroecuestrebellavista.com for more information and to book a tour or even enroll in ongoing classes.
Perhaps the easiest way to make a few quick expat friends is to simply eat where other expats at. Many individuals and groups gather in expat hangouts for meals and socialization. Especially popular amongst expats are Sunrise Café, Café Nucallacta, Cafe San Sebas, Matthews Bagels, Goza restaurants (2 locations), Common Grounds, Sabatino’s, La Guarida and Kolo Restaurant. Other popular nightlife spots are Jazz Society Café, Paris Bar and Lounge, Café La Joyapa, and Restaurant Indigo.
Museums and Art Galleries
Don’t overlook museums and art galleries, especially exhibit openings where you can mingle with other art lovers. Cuenca has 36 museums at last count including Museo Pumapungo and the Musuem of Modern Art. A happening place in El Centro is IdiomART, a home for various art presentations, exhibits, classes, music, storytelling, readings, and anything that falls into the arts category. Whilst at idiomART, feel free to stick your head in the YapaTree office and say hello.
Unleash the rhythm within and join a Cuenca Drum Circle. Whether you’re an expat or a local, these drum circles can be a fun and exciting way to socialize and unwind. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Drum) sessions are held in various locations around the city, from parks to indoor venues organized by idiomART. With a focus on community-building and connection, the Cuenca Drum Circles are a great option for anyone looking for a fun and off-beat way to connect with others. Check out the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CuencaDrumming for more information and upcoming events.
Or perhaps you’re looking to discover a sense of community by joining a religious organization. Whether you’re Catholic, Christian, or Jewish, Cuenca has options available for expats seeking fellowship and like-minded individuals. Some starting points include:
- Expats Catholic Community of Cuenca (English) https://www.facebook.com/CuencaEnglishMass,
- International Christian Community (English) https://internationalchristiancommunity.org/
- Cuenca Christian Church (Bilingual) www.facebook.com/CuencaEcuadorChristianChurch/
While there is no synagogue in Cuenca, Jewish individuals can still come together for holidays and community-building through small groups. Learn more about these options on this Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1499332543643976/.
Spanish Classes & Intercambios
Many other social opportunities exist if you are at least somewhat fluent in Spanish. Spanish language resources abound in Cuenca from group to private instruction. One popular option is Yanapuma Spanish School in El Centro where you can choose your own hours and days. They offer private as well as group classes, the latter allowing you to meet other expats who are also seeking to improve their Spanish. CCC Spanish is another option that provides both individual and group lessons as well as organizing immersive stays with local families to really fast-track your Spanish.
Or, if you want to combine learning Spanish whilst enjoying Cuenca’s clean mountain air, consider joining Spanish Outdoor. Fredy Ordoñez leads frequent hikes as part of his language training. He has a loyal following and it can be a great way to get to know other expats. Contact via FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/spanishoutdoorcuenca/.
Another excellent opportunity to learn Spanish is to attend one of the intercambio gatherings which meet around the city on different days, times, and at various locations. These are language exchange groups where you can improve your Spanish by speaking with native Spanish-speaking persons who are there to improve their English language abilities. The format and target audiences can be quite different depending on the event, so it may pay to visit several before you settle on your regular intercambio meetup.
For expats seeking support in their recovery journey, Cuenca offers an active, supportive community through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. Held in English daily at noon, as well as regular meetings for Al-Anon and Overeaters Anonymous, these groups provide a safe and supportive space for members of 12 step programs and those interested in joining. Not only do members find the support they need, but also form friendships with others on a similar journey. The availability of English-language meetings can be a draw for expats considering a move to Cuenca. Meetings are held at 7-68 Presidente Borrero between Mariscal Sucre and Presidente Cordova. For more information and updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/AA-Cuenca-104295705583962.
Cuenca’s Tech & Tacos group meets every month with a focus on a particular theme. The format is generally 3-4 speakers, with food and networking opportunities mixed in. Previous themes include Blockchain, Fintech & Innovation. They generally attract a good mix of expats and locals with the presentations in either language (but never both – not enough time). The hosts speak English and Spanish. Each event has a small fee which includes food. Just be sure to keep an eye on the WhatsApp group as the events tend to sell out within 24 hours.
For more information and joining instructions, Whatsapp +44 7542 286196.
Tours Outside of Cuenca
Cuenca is known for its many celebrations and parades which bring together locals and expats. Some organizations sponsor specific activities, such as a social gathering, showcasing a cultural event, or a tour outside the city. Foundation Hogar Esperanza, a social agency which aims to provide a better quality of life for those affected by catastrophic diseases, sponsors a monthly trip to an historical or cultural site, or a pleasure outing.
IdiomART also runs regular “Road Trips” to various towns and locations relatively close to Cuenca. These trips generally focus on learning about different cultures and unique aspects of these communities.
Weekend markets are a great way to support small business owners and discover new local products and services. There are various organizers of these ferias and they tend to rotate each weekend in an effort to ensure there are no clashes.
The feria held on the 1st Saturday of the month is generally held at Sabatino’s. This market features a wide variety of vendors, from local artisans and craftspeople to expat-owned businesses. The Common Grounds market, held on the second Saturday of each month, is another interesting option for those looking to explore new products and meet local business owners. There is also the Sisa market, held on the fourth Saturday of each month. Whether you’re looking for handmade crafts, unique clothing, or delicious food, these markets can be a great way to meet interesting vendors & other shoppers.
You probably did not come to Cuenca to take up sitting in a rocking chair or consuming as much TV as possible. Chances are, you want to stay active while pursuing a retired life full of adventures of all kinds. Cuenca is a beautiful city with an overwhelming number of these adventures. Take it slowly and seek out groups of other expats and nomads for socializing, experiencing a new culture, and everything else the city has to offer.
Have we missed your favorite social activity? Feel free to let us know in the comments below or in our Facebook Group.
In this section, Tours Outside of Cuenca, you missed La Yunta. Sole has been running daytrips for years only stopping during the pandemic, but has started up again. Her tours are fantastic.
I forgot to add that La Yunta restaurant and gift shop is a wonderful place to meet others. Sole often offers entertainment along with dinner, but the restaurant is open all day.
Sole’s sister runs a little store in the back with my products Gringos are always searching for.