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5 Things That Can Make You Crazy in Cuenca (And How to Stay Sane)

Moving to a new country, or even a new city, can require adaptation to the local way of doing things. Here are some things I learned after moving to Cuenca that can make your transition to this historic city a bit easier.

[color-box color=”green”]1. Taxi Fares

The first few times I used a taxi, the fare was over a $1.50. I just handed the driver the dollar amount displayed on the meter and went on my way. Then, one day, my fare was $0.98 cents.

I began to get a dollar out of my pocket and then watched the driver hit a button and the fare changed to a $1.39 (which, I later found out, is the official minimum daytime fare). I thought that was odd, but let it go and just reached for more change. I handed the driver $1.40 and started to exit the cab… when he said the fare was $1.50. Evidently, this is an unwritten rule.

In Cuenca, you will experience some variations in taxi fares. Here are some things to remember:

  1. Make your minimum fare $1.50 during the day and $2 at night. This is easy to round to for change and the taxi drivers have never complained to me.
  2. If you are charged an additional 50-cent service fee for calling a taxi, either by phone or Easy Taxi, pay it. At certain times of the day it can be very difficult to get a taxi and 50 cents is a small price to pay to get where you want to be in a timely manner.

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[color-box color=”gray”]2. Internet

Internet service varies by provider and location within Cuenca.

  1. There are three different types of internet options available in Cuenca: cable, phone-line, and fiber-optic. Where you live will determine which of these are available from the various internet providers. Do not take any one person’s advice as to which company to use. If you want the fastest possible speed and best service where you live, your own due diligence is required.

If you can ask neighbors which company they use, and what kind of service and speed they are getting, that can be very helpful. If you don’t have neighbors, ask around online.

  1. The speed you sign up for does not mean it will be the speed you consistently receive. Most providers state their service will be within 80% of what you are paying for, but it can be much lower at times. Asking current users what speed they’re getting can be helpful when selecting.
  2. Providers have different installation fees. Ask what these charges are and what the modem costs. Also make sure the rep gives you a copy of the contract with all charges and fees filled out before he leaves.
  3. Installation and hook-up can be a slow, painful process: the first visit from a rep is just for paperwork, and installation is scheduled after the paperwork is turned into the office.

If you have all the cables and lines in place, you may be connected by the end of that week. If, however, cables need to be installed, then you will likely be waiting another week before your internet is up and running.

To help you through this waiting period, have a favorite café where you can get connected online. If you’re changing providers, don’t cancel the old service before the new service is actually up and running. Promised installation dates cannot be depended upon.

    1. If you do not speak Spanish well, ask a Spanish-speaking friend (or pay a translator) to help you through this process. The internet providers usually do not have English speaking representatives to answer your questions. Clearly understanding what is happening throughout the process will decrease the amount of stress you experience.

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[color-box color=”green”]3. Timeliness and Service

Living here requires a lot of patience. Appointment times should be considered approximate meeting times or best guesses. There are exceptions, but from my experience, overall promptness is rare. Admittedly, this can be a difficult concept to embrace, but not doing so will only add a high degree of stress and disappointment to one’s experience in Ecuador.

    1. Plan ahead. Since service response time is so variable, do not wait until the last minute to get something done. If rent or utilities need to be paid at the bank, go a few days early. If the line at the bank is out the door, you have time to come back when it isn’t so long. If you need propane delivered, call before you’ve run out.
    2. Decide how long you are willing to wait. You can schedule a service call in the morning, and at 2 pm still be waiting for someone to arrive. If you have things to do, go do them. This helps maintain your sense of control over what you can do.
    3. Instead of finding fault, embrace this country’s lack of urgency and let it work to your advantage. Enjoy longer lunches with friends, go for leisurely walks along the rivers, and even take a mid-day nap. What really must be done today anyway?

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[color-box color=”gray”]4. Product Selection

Cuenca has many more products available than other places in Ecuador. Still, there are numerous items that cannot be found here, from spices, to kitchen tools, to electronics, to textiles.

    1. Be Flexible. Learn to cook differently by finding out what the locals are using for spices and flavorings. Enjoy using the basics here…a knife, a pan, a pot. See what you can make with just a chop or cut or boil— you will be impressed with what you can do.
    2. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to use the products that are available here. Don’t get stuck in only one way to do something. A glass lid can become a pie dish, just as a wooden stool can become an end table. Go with what you’ve got!

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[color-box color=”green”]5. Sidewalks

Walking on the sidewalks can be dangerous! There are numerous pieces of cut-metal posts that stick 2 to 4 inches from the sidewalks, holes in the concrete large enough for your foot, and random dips and slopes along otherwise-flat surfaces. I don’t know why this is, but it has been like this in every city I have visited in Ecuador.

    1. Look down while walking. You have to watch where you step; to not do so is to risk serious injury. Closed-toed shoes are probably advisable as well. Texting is definitely not recommended while walking.
    2. Take responsibility. Instead of getting angry and complaining, decide you have an opportunity to be responsible for your own well-being. It’s an empowering feeling to be in a foreign country and know you are responsible for yourself.

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Cuenca is a wonderful city to live in and get to know. Coming prepared to deal with these issues will help your time and experience in Cuenca to be a fantastic one.

26 Responses

  1. To be that cheap over a taxi fare is insane, really worried about a dime ? I have heard all the excuses, no tipping in EC blah blah blah, cheap. I at least always round up, depending on the driver or the ride. Not sure of the target audience for this article, but anyone who has visited Cuenca knows this stuff, so not sure what it new here. If you are advising tourists and newbies not to tip that is sad.

    1. Thanks for your comments Bill. My point was to clue people in on how the meter isn’t necessarily the actual fare. When I arrived I thought that what I owed was what was showing on the meter. It created confusion for me when it wasn’t, so I was sharing what I learned. I didn’t address tipping because that’s always up to the individual. Appreciate you reading the article!

  2. I disagree with Mr. Fox’s comments. Expats will do better for themselves as well as other expats by leaving their home customs at home. Tipping and overpaying even a dime is not what Ecuadorians do. It’s not a matter of money or being cheap, its the principle. When you pay an Ecuadorian more than the fair price you’ll get a smile and maybe a good feeling from helping someone who has less. But what you don’t realize is that that smile is really not one of gratitude. He/she is smiling because they’re thinking there goes another gringo sucker. I can’t wait for the next one to show up. They don’t look at it as generosity. They look at it as someone being stupid. I can say this because I’ve lived with Ecuadorians for many years and they have finally drilled it into my head that there is no advantage to anyone when you overpay, even a dime. On the subject of taxis, Cuenca is one of the few cities in Ecuador where most taxis have a meter. Taxi fares elsewhere are more regulated than in the past, but it’s still a good idea to ask what the ride will cost ahead of time to avoid being overcharged at the end of the ride.

      1. Todd, also tipping taxi drivers is really not appropriate. The local people commonly do not have extra money and this can lead to expectations or even demands on the part of taxi drivers and others. Learn what the locals tip. Ask and tip appropriately in all situations. We are not here to change the culture but to embrace and appreciate it, after all.

    1. Well Lorenzo don’t be like that and give expats the wrong idea about ecuadorians, I retired 6 years ago and have lived here all that time, and I always give a little extra to the taxi drivers, and I always get a GRATEFUL smile and gratitude from them. You have to consider that taxi fares here are really cheap so taxi drivers don’t make as much money as they do in the states. They do not see us like an easy money maker, in all my six years here I’ve never had that type of experience anywhere. Change your attitude and be glad for all the wonderful things this country has to offer

    2. Sometimes I think I live in another Cuenca than so many other expats! I enjoy and appreciate Ecuadorians and have found them to be helpful, kind, and generous. I have never been insulted or cheated by any business, service person, taxi driver, medical person or government employee. Some Ecuadorians have become dear friends. Of course, I lived and worked in 13 states and 4 countries before arriving in Ecuador. I always enjoyed and appreciated everywhere I lived and worked and made life long friends. Life is good and so are people.

  3. We have lived in Cuenca for over 4 years, speak fluent Spanish, and ALWAYS give the taxi drivers a little extra…..and we always get a very grateful smile and GRACIAS, DIOS TE BENDIGA! …..they don’t make that much and they are grateful for the little extra….having lived in Mexico for 4 years and now here in Ecuador I know how to negotiate (my Cuencana neighbors ask me to negotiate for them) and I also know that I don’t want to be the ugly American cheapskate!! Americans can be such ridiculous nit pickers — the taxi drivers can be great sources of information and fun…..so, I disagree with Lorenzo Larson, MOST of the taxistas are very appreciative of tips from generous gringos — be generous … God is watching ….. Now the landlord/owner of a big apartment or house deserves strong negotiating and a strong lease written by YOUR attorney — but the ladies in the mercado work very had for so little — gardeners deserve a decent wage for their backbreaking work (and I always fix them coffee with breakfast or lunch)….Geez…we have so much, they have so little….be generous and you will be much happier…

    1. There are always the “bad apples” even with taxi drivers. Twice have entered taxis at Coral on Las Americas and had taxi drivers refuse to turn their meters on with excuses and then insisted on 50 cents more upon arriving at my destination than ones with meters charged previously. Sad but it happens. Have had locals tell me they cheat their own family members when possible….happens in countries where so many have seriously struggled for survival. Don’t take it personal, just understand what is behind a lot of this behavior.

  4. Mr. Lorenzo Larson is right on the money! The way he describes and explains is exactly the way tipping, over paying, giving a little extra is seen, you become a very interesting target for easy money making. I haven´t been able to get this message across to foreign friends, specially USA and Canadian citizens, I am really glad Mr. Larson has understood and is sharing this with fellow expats, maybe some will think about it and better yet, act on it. The fact is that the damage is done not only to your pockets, we can conclude that you are generous because you can afford it, however, the greatest damage is done to local Ecuadorians whose cost of living in Cuenca has high rocketed due to the large presence of expats and their atitude towards money, plus the services for us (locals) have gone downhill.

  5. Todd,
    As a three year pensionado, I feel your comments are right on. After 3 years you have go-to people, and go-to shops. Relationships take time to develop, involving trial and error. Ahh! After 3 years, your remarks make me appreciate how far my wife and I have come.

  6. Good Day All,
    This is all too funny. It’s like Dorothy realizing “it’s not Kansas anymore”
    The world has so many bigger problems so please just chill out!
    Have a great day 😉

  7. Some of these comments just prove that being fluent in the Spanish language, or living in Ecuador for 6 years does not guarantee an understanding of the Ecuadorian culture. I would suggest reading Ms. Buendia’s comment, a true Ecuadorian, and try to comprehend what she’s saying. Implementing your foreign ideas into a foreign land often causes more damage than good. If you really want to do some good with your money here in Ecuador, give to a reputable Ecuadorian charity, or the little old lady standing on the street corner with her hand out.

  8. Watch our for the communist dictator that has taken over my beloved country. It’s no longer a safe place to stay. Just make sure you have an exit strategy and leave if you can. I had to leave. I don’t think I’ll ever be free to return home as freedom is lacking. Latest thing is he wants to appropriate properties after he’s closed all the private colleges and newspapers he had the mayor of Quito incarcerated for saying something that didn’t agree with the establishment.
    Oh and by the way. Paying extra might help the one person that one time but will end up making prices go up and ecuadorians can’t afford that. Taxi drivers don’t make a lot but make more than many ecuadorians who make minimum wage and won’t be able to afford the extra dime. I’ve already seen prices skyrocket in Cuenca thanks to people paying a little extra. Tipping, however should be at 18% minimum. As the service fee does not go to the server.

  9. Victoria I will be in Cuenca late April and if you’re available, I’d like to meet you one day. Would you mind emailing me at mwoods1052 at gmail dot com ? I’m interested in what you’re saying and would like to understand the culture better. Thanks, Mary

  10. There are no “unwritten rules” regarding taxi fares. Upcharging you a dime (albeit a small amount) was crooked behavior on the part of the driver. I always round up myself when paying for a taxi, but I most certainly wouldn’t have given this guy an extra dime because he said so. Just so everyone knows, minimum fare goes up after dark. Oh, and if you DID use Easy Taxi, there is a surcharge for that. Maybe that’s what the extra dime was all about. But simply calling them on the phone to pick you up should never cost you more.

    There are more than three internet options here. And regardless of what you just read, sometimes the installers are right-on-the-money in terms of the agreed upon installation time. Do *not* go shopping or get your nails painted simply because they’re running a little late. Internet installation times vary considerably, depending on the location and difficulty of the install. For this reason, they can run either late or early. In either case, you want to be there when they arrive, or you’ll just end up waiting another week. A few of the providers have either awful or iffy service, but you shouldn’t have to tolerate that. In Ecuador, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you don’t speak Spanish, have someone who does call them and bug them until they agree to show up at a specific time. Again, if someone else is squeaking louder, *you* need to out-squeak them. That’s just the way most things work here.

    As for paying utilities early, don’t even try. The bills are ready after a certain day each month, and you literally cannot pay early, even if you want to. At least not for water. Not for IESS, either.

    The thing that bugs me about Ecuador is that the local expat info sources will allow just about anyone to write an article, and it would appear that they’re seldomly fact-checked. Or they’re sensationalized with info designed to titilate or cause fear/anxiety in the readers. Or they push misinformation. Instead of believing everything you read, talk to several people who’ve been here a while and get their impressions. Even then, trust your own gut and formulate your own opinions.

  11. Mary, you may get on fine with Victoria, but don’t listen to all her nonsense about the “dictator” and his plans to essentially dismantle the entire country. Pure nonsense.

  12. I agree with all your observations even though I find them minor but the one thing that does frustrate me (the only thing) is the mail. You notice I don’t say system as there doesn’t seem to be one? Mail in Ecuador seems to go by way of the Bermuda Triangle. I love Cuenca and no place is perfect so I live with this inconvenience and enjoy my stay in Cuenca.

  13. My wife and I will be moving to Cuenca around the middle of next year so, we are always looking for information to make the transition easier. We have visited Cuenca to get a feet on the ground experience of the place and made a couple of valuable local contacts that should help us make the right decisions when we arrive. Before retiring, I live and worked in Iran for almost 3 years so I am familiar with the type of frustrations one can experience living outside the US. Your 5 points of frustration are good things to consider.

    I found the whining in numerous posts about taxi fares and 10 cent tips to be petty. In the US you are lucky to get away with $25 – $30 for a taxi ride. And, what nonsense about ruining the local economy by tipping a dime. I’m sure that extra dime will put the taxi driver in a higher tax bracket and definitely bankrupt me. Also, the post complaining about the “communist dictator” could have been written by a Republican in the US. Anytime the wealthy don’t get wealthier every year, it must be communists or socialists have taken over.

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