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Why I Left: My Journey to Cuenca Ecuador Part 2

Join us today for Part 2 of Ed O’Connor’s article Why I Left The USA: My Journey To Cuenca Ecuador.  If you haven’t read Part 1 of why Ed decided retiring to Cuenca was the right choice you can do so here. Ed writes a monthly column for his hometown newspaper in Middletown, PA – The Press & Journal.

Retiring to Cuenca

Cuenca, is really an interesting and beautiful place. It is an old city that was founded in 1557. Four rivers traverse the city. There are many small neighborhood parks with well-manicured linear parks that border the rivers. There are also bicycle/walking paths with some parks having the heavy duty outdoor version of indoor exercise equipment that one would find in health clubs. One can bike/walk from one side of the city to the other side on the river paths.

Cuenca lies one degree from the equator hence one would assume that it would be very hot. Not so. The city is at an altitude of 8300 feet above sea level so the weather is wonderful. [pullquote]I equate the climate to late summer, early fall in Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that being in the southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed. [/pullquote] Summer temperatures (Fahrenheit) are in the 70’s during the day and 60‘s at night. In winter the temps run about ten degrees less. We have no heating or air conditioning in our apartment.

Because of the altitude the air is thinner which affects about 25 per cent of tourists and new residents in a negative way. The main symptoms are light headedness and tiring quickly, but one soon becomes acclimated to the altitude. Fortunately I never experienced the problem, but my wife, Olga, did for about the first 10 days. The altitude’s big plus is insects – there are very few. In Pennsylvania we had to bath in insect repellent when walking by the river unless we wanted to be a black fly and mosquito buffet. We walk by the rivers here and… no bugs.

Small Town Charm With Lots To Do

Having grown up in small town America I never liked cities and always felt uneasy in them. In fact on a visit to New York City I experienced my only panic attack and had to go to Central Park so I could breathe. So when deciding to live in a city of 550,000 I had serious trepidation. My fears of retiring to Cuenca  vanquished our first day here. The city has a small town feel and I feel totally comfortable walking the streets day or night.

Cuenca is the cultural capital of Ecuador and there is much to do and see. There is a plethora of museums, art galleries and historical sites to explore, making retiring to Cuenca a fun adventure. The largest museum, theatre and also Inca ruins are a ten minute walk from our apartment. There is the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, the youth symphony orchestra and the youth orchestra whose performances are free. Cuenca has four universities and we volunteer at one, The University of Cuenca, to aid students in speaking English. There are 52 cathedrals in the city, the oldest one was built in 1567. Most are magnificent architectural masterpieces.

planitarioA new state-of-the-art planetarium recently opened and was designed to look like the planet Saturn complete with rings. Holidays and parades abound. One of the longest parades in the world is the Christmas Parade, (Paseo del Nino Parade), on December 24. It starts at 9:00am and continues until 5:00pm. Approximately 50,000 people participate and about 200,000 view the parade.

Retiring to Cuenca Pro’s & Con’s

The Pro’s

The Cuencanas are very happy, friendly and laid back. Their attitude seems to be that they work to live, not live to work. The crime rate is very low. Unemployment is low. Thousands of Ecuadorians that left Ecuador to work in the United States for years are now returning to Ecuador – mainly to Cuenca.

There is much construction and renovation throughout the city. A new $230 million dollar light rail system is being built and is to be completed in 2017.

Our new city of residence is not perfect. Yes, there are problems we have encountered. There are things we do not like or find annoying. The biggest difficulty is definitely the language.

The national language is Spanish……period. When phoning it is not, “press one for English, two for Spanish, three for Polish, four for Swahili, five for Vietnamese, six for Icelandic, et cetera, et cetera.”

Olga and I have been studying Spanish and want to learn to converse in the native tongue. Spanish will be Olga’s fifth language! Learning Spanish is not easy for me. When we first arrived I knew two Spanish words “cerveza and “baño” – “beer” and “bathroom”.

My vocabulary has expanded a bit since then…


The Con’s

Getting our permanent visas was a difficult process. It took us six months. The immigration office kept changing the rules and requirements. What was correct yesterday was not correct today. It was an extremely frustrating experience that required much patience. Apparently bureaucrats are the same everywhere – a pain just south of my back. I understand the visa process is easier now…

Car alarms are the bane of tranquility. Most cars have them – and the alarms all sound the same. There could be a 2016 Ferrari or a 1985 Yugo and one would not know from which the sound was emanating. How someone can sit in his car while listening to an ear piercing alarm as if it was elevator music beats me.

Car horns! When the traffic light turns green the drivers lay on their horns. How a driver ten cars back blowing his car horn is going to affect the driver at the light is a mystery to me.

Car turn signals are another story – they are rarely used. The wiring on cars here should be reversed. The turn signals should activate when the horn is used and vice versa.

Traffic lights and stop signs seem to be a suggestion – pedestrians beware!

There are many street dogs and one must be alert when walking not to step in doggie exhaust.

Graffiti! Now I understand why few Ecuadorians have checking accounts – it is difficult to sign a check with a spray can.

Despite these annoyances I would still rather live here than the USA.

Stay tuned this Sunday for the final instalment of  Ed O Connor’s journey to retiring in Cuenca Ecuador. If you are thinking about retiring to Cuenca what are you looking forward to most? Let us know in the comments below.

12 Responses

  1. I have been researching Cuenca for two (2) years. I don’t know why but I just want to live there. My one drawback is I am a single, 74-year old, in excellent health, but just want so to get out of the USA. I worked in Atlanta as a legal assistant for 45 years. My husband passed away 17 years ago and we loved traveling. I miss him still but have never lost my love of travel. I plan a trip to Cuenca in 2017 for at least 2 weeks just to get a feel (for myself) as to whether it is good for me. I have looked at numerous locations including France and Portugal but keep coming back to Cuenca. I plan on taking a course in conversational Spanish before I come. If I find this is the place for me, I will begin the process of getting a residential visa, return home to pack up what I want to bring with me, ship and return to find housing and wait on the arrival of my goods. I love walking and hiking and question whether it would be safe if I live near a river but wanted to walk to El Centro — would that be a safe walk? I wanted to live in old town but have been discouraged by reading reports of smog and dirty conditions. If possible give me your take on this or direct me to a balanced view of Cuenca. I appreciate your help. Thank you for any assistance you can provide.

    1. This sounds just like the experience we had while living in Quito from 2010 – 2014. I am the same age, well, 68, almost 69. Same weather, no insects, great walks, twenty-five cents for 2 seniors to take the Trole or bus anywhere in town. We were able to get our permanent VISAs (still have our Cedulas with expiration date of 2020) in record time. We lived in Inaquito, in the center of Quito, a ten-minute walk around El Parque de Carolina to Que Centro and El Jardin Malls for coffee. We had a beautiful 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment facing Pichincha volcano. Truly, we had an ideal setup. We loved Ecuador and Quito. People all around us were very responsive, respectful (age?) and very nice to us, from the executives in the offices in our building to every Indigenous person we met. But, we returned to the U.S. for health concerns and diagnoses. How ironic – our main physician here is from Venezuela and we love her! I’ve also been accepted for publication and have eight (8) novels under contract. What does this tell us? We had our time in Educador, left best friends, but now this is our time (again) in the U.S. We really miss Ecuador, but that was that season and now this is another. There is a time for everything .If anyone is hesitating about moving to Ecuador – DON’T. It is a wonderful place. Mary Jane Bryan

    2. Hi Ann,
      My wife and I made an exploratory trip to Cuenca two years ago. We loved it and will definitely return when we retire in the near future. We rented an apartment at the Apartamentos Otorongo for the two weeks that we were there. The Otorongo is right on the Tombebamba river and is a short walk to el Centro. We had a very good experience there and would happily return. It sounds like this may be the exact sort of location that you are looking for. If you google it…you can find more information.
      Good luck!

  2. I also understand and agree with Ed’s reasons for departing the US. We code Boquete and love it . But when we traveled to Ecuador and particularly Cuenca, I was in love. I told my husband if we had not already built a house in Boquete, I would want to be in Cuenca! Such a
    Vibrant beautiful city. But I may feel the same next year when we spend some time in Peru! At least we can always return for a nice visit.

  3. Ann I was in Cuenca for the month of January. I went there thinking if I found the city was half a good as all the articles and pictures indicated I was moving there. I will be moving in six months or less!! The city and country side is beautiful and the people both gringos
    and Ecuadorians are very nice. I look forward to renewing relationships with both groups. I truly miss the new friends I made.
    My suggestion would be to go there with both your heart and your eyes open and remember no place on Earth is perfect. I also suggest
    to learn as much Spanish as possible. It will make make the experience far more rewarding. Tom

  4. Interesting article, and most of the “cons” gel with our own views. That said, we’ll also be moving to Ec. in 2017 (albeit on the coast – the wife has always dreamt of living near the sea). Ed, I may look you up when we get over there…would love to look around Cuenca (and that Xmas eve parade sounds like fun!) One question, are there many opportunities for people to write over there (whether for this publication or any other?) I’ll have plenty of time on my hands, and would love to do a bit of writing.

      1. No worries, Ed. Email address is biased99 – AT – hotmail dot com.

        Oh, and Marilyn, I feel for you. Australian Governments, too, are doing their very best to ensure that people here will never be able to retire either. We’re a bit of a way behind the U.S, but given the state of house prices here, and continual Government changing of the rules as regards Aged Pension (S/S) and Superannuation, we’ll be where you guys are sooner than we’d like.

  5. Here’s an early welcome to Ecuador. There is a lot of information that you need to know, and way too much to cover here. If you already have a Facebook account, that’s good, because that’s one of the primary ways that Expats keep in touch and network here. If you’re resisting the Facebook, give up the fight and join the masses–it really is the fastest means of sharing information of critical interest to the Expat community. Some of local Facebook groups are magnets for negative and contentious people. The better groups don’t allow that sort of behavior, and those who break the rules are sent packing. Here are four groups that I think might meet most or all of your initial fact-finding needs. In the interest of full disclosure, one of them is my personal business page, which you may or may not find of interest.


  6. I have also been researching Cuenca for 2-3 years. My drawback has been not knowing someone there because I am also single and 71 years old. My husband passed away 14 yrs ago. I work 7 days a week and teach yoga 3 evenings after work. I am tried of working just to pay bills, this is not living. The USA has made it so people can never retire. Kay Saied

  7. Ladies, Do not worry about being an older single lady in Cuenca. There are a lot of us and we live happy, contented, busy lives! I turn 75 this month and retired to Cuenca more than five years ago. I sing in the Cuenca International Chorale (50 SATB voices, half are Cuencanos, the rest from half-a-dozen countries). We sing in Spanish, English, Latin, French, German, Italian, Swahili and Quechua. Our weekly two-hour rehearsals are a highlight of my week! I am also active in the Azuay Community Theatre (ACT) which I founded in 2014. I teach Spanish to other expats because I believe that, if you want to live here, you should learn the language. I live in a two bedroom, two full baths (with tubs) fully-furnished apartment in a location that allows me to walk to almost every thing I do and costs me just $450 plus a $70 monthly building fee. I tell people that if you are bored in Cuenca, you must be a boring person because the problem is not a lack of things to enjoy, but the challenge of choosing between multiple choices any given day or night! I love helping people get to know Cuenca and Ecuador and recommend an initial visit of two weeks or so. My email is [email protected].

  8. Sounds like the place I would like to retire, I wonder if there are any tennis courts in Cuenca……or private clubs that have tennis courts.

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