The Low Cost of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador


IL correspondents sometimes share their monthly budgets to help readers get a feel for the ongoing costs of living abroad. Items such as rent, utilities, and food are self-explanatory, but what about that nebulous “entertainment” category? Expenditures can vary wildly from person to person depending on individual interests and taste.

I’d like to invite you along for a “double date” with my wife and me in Cuenca, Ecuador to give you an idea of how you might spend an evening and what it would cost…

It was time for Cynthia to get her hair done, so she suggested I meet her afterward for a drink at a “Gringo Night” gathering near the salon. The cut, color, and blow dry she used to pay $120 for in the U.S. came to $36… and she looked fantastic.

We walked a block up the street to Fabiano’s, a relatively new Italian spot with excellent food and very reasonable prices. There was already a big crowd there at 5.30 p.m., and, after greeting numerous friends, we settled into a table with another couple. Both the conversation and adult beverages flowed, appetizers were ordered, and we were having so much fun we decided to stay for dinner.

Three glasses of wine, two super-sized beers, an appetizer of six large garlic bread “knots” with marinara sauce, plus a shared Caesar salad and lasagna entrée later, our bill was $21 including tip. I calculated a similar dining experience even at a chain restaurant in the States would have set us back around $80.

It was opening night for the Cuenca symphony, and we spontaneously decided to attend. The event’s location was a church in a part of town we had never visited. We had a general idea of where it was so we set out walking and, sure enough, 20 minutes later we were inside and seated “center stage.”

We love the symphony but attendance had always been an extravagance because of the cost. Decent seats back home ran at least $50 apiece…and that was mid-range. (For the best seats, we would have paid $75 each.) Here in Cuenca performances are free, as are many museums and film festivals.

After an exhilarating concert we grabbed a $2 taxi ride and were home by 9.30 p.m.

First let’s do the math… $36 for the hair appointment, $21 for food and drink, plus a $2 taxi fare comes to $59. The same evening (this is theoretical, because what I’m about to share would have been cost-prohibitive) in our previous life would have run $120 at the salon, $80 at a similar restaurant, and at least $100 for the symphony. We’re already at $300, so forget about the taxi.

Now throw in the extras that didn’t cost a penny—a lovely evening with friends, an invigorating walk in the cool night air, the chance to explore a new neighborhood, and an enriching cultural experience. As the commercial says—priceless.

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