Sma (mexico) Vs Cuenca (ecuador) Vlog 13 Thumb

San Miguel de Allende vs Cuenca – Vlog 13

In Vlog 13, I find myself in the picturesque mountain town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, drawing parallels between it and my beloved Cuenca, Ecuador. Both cities boast UNESCO World Heritage status, captivating historic centers with cobblestone streets, and a thriving expatriate community. However, as I explore these two cities, distinct differences emerge, offering unique insights into expat life.

Cost of Living: Affordability vs Luxury

While both cities allure expats with their charm, San Miguel de Allende veers towards luxury, catering to well-heeled tourists and expats with its boutique shops and upscale eateries. However, this exclusivity comes at a price, as San Miguel ranks among Mexico’s most expensive cities, with soaring property rents and dining costs.

In contrast, Cuenca offers a more affordable alternative, with favorable metrics for renting and buying real estate, food, and across most verticals. Despite inflation and the strength of the US dollar, Cuenca’s cost of living remains relatively stable, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious expats.

Authenticity vs. Exclusivity

San Miguel’s Old Town exudes a polished, tourist-centric ambiance, adorned with high-end establishments tailored to affluent visitors. While its rooftop dining and chic boutiques exude elegance, I would argue that this comes at the expense of authenticity, distancing the city from its local roots.

“Well, San Miguel’s got everything… a lot of the restaurants in Centro are very upscale these days and I think for me personally, I think the food’s made more for Instagram than for eating.” Ian Gough

In contrast, Cuenca’s El Centro maintains its vibrant, local character, with bustling markets and traditional eateries serving up authentic flavors. While expats are warmly welcomed, Cuenca’s historic center remains firmly anchored in its Ecuadorian identity, offering a more immersive cultural experience.

Walkability and Language

San Miguel’s narrow streets and limited parking challenge pedestrians, creating a vibrant yet congested urban environment. Moreover, the prevalence of English speakers reflects the city’s cosmopolitan nature, catering to expat tastes and preferences.

In Cuenca, wider streets enhance walkability, fostering a more pedestrian-friendly environment. While English proficiency isn’t as strong, Cuenca retains its Ecuadorian charm, with locals embracing cultural exchange and interaction.

“The streets of San Miguel are very narrow and parking is very difficult to come by. The sidewalks are basically single file only in San Miguel, and which does make walking around the Old Town just a little bit more effort than Cuenca.” Jason Scott


San Miguel’s climate offers a broader temperature range, with hotter summers and chilly winters, providing a stark contrast to Cuenca’s temperate climate and consistent year-round temperatures. While San Miguel’s sunny days and cool nights appeal to some, Cuenca’s mild weather and lack of extreme temperatures offer comfort and convenience.

“In the winter time, it’s very different here [San Miguel]… it’s always sunny here so during, you know, in the winter time it’s probably 20 degrees Celsius every day, but at night it gets I can get down to zero.” Ian Gough

Safety and Security

Both cities have good reputations for safety, with low crime rates and welcoming communities. San Miguel’s concerted efforts to ensure tourist safety reflect its reliance on expat and tourist revenue, while Cuenca remains tranquil amidst regional unrest.

“San Miguel obviously is a very safe city… a lot of people are scared to come to Mexico. There’s a lot of news and stuff about violence and kidnappings, and that doesn’t happen in San Miguel.” Ian Gough

Wrapping Up

The choice between San Miguel de Allende and Cuenca hinges on individual preferences and priorities. While San Miguel dazzles with its luxury and cosmopolitan flair, Cuenca offers affordability and cultural immersion. Ultimately, both cities beckon expats with their unique charms, so we suggest visiting them and finding out for yourself whether they will work for your lifestyle. 

Contact Ian for Photography Shoots in San Miguel 

Further reading:

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