Cuenca, Ecuador: A Low-Cost University Town Buzzing With Activity

Expats have flocked to Cuenca, Ecuador in recent years for its great weather, low cost of living, and excellent health care. But most people aren’t aware until they arrive here that my hometown boasts five universities. And because Cuencanos speak what is recognized as the purest Spanish outside of Spain, we also have many Spanish language schools attracting study abroad students from all over the world.

Great university towns are known as cultural hubs and artistic centers with a fun, vibrant atmosphere, and Cuenca is no exception. No, you won’t find wild tailgating parties happening during the fall—they play that “other kind” of football here.

If partying is your thing, however, you have plenty of other options. Especially on Thursday and Friday nights, the sidewalks and clubs along Calle Larga are filled with young people all dressed up and ready to boogey.

Plenty of Cultural Activities for Retirees

I’m a bit past the age of regularly shaking my tail feathers, so I’m happy to report that Cuenca offers many other less aggressive entertainment options. The Banco Central Museum is a sprawling complex built alongside an important Incan archeological complex. You can spend hours learning the history of the local culture, then wander through the terraced ruins and gardens. Throughout the city there are 12 other museums focusing on everything from modern art to the famous Panama hats.

Cuenca is known as the artisanal center for all of Ecuador, and the streets are brimming with shops featuring all types of art and handicrafts—leather goods, jewelry, embroidery, sculptures, and paintings of the highest quality at super-reasonable prices. Be sure to visit the galleries of Eduardo Vega, one of the most famous ceramicists in Latin America. His main location on a hillside high above Cuenca boasts a magnificent view of the entire city.

Music options abound. Cuenca has a symphony orchestra that regularly performs at different venues including some historical churches. And the performances are free! Concerts and festivals take place regularly throughout the year, and you hear live music coming from clubs and restaurants almost any evening (often U.S. tunes that you recognize and can even sing along with).

Where to Eat

The food scene in Cuenca is growing so rapidly that it is becoming impossible to even keep up with all the new dining spots opening. Thanks to the growing expat population plus the many Cuencanos who are returning home after living and working abroad, a demand for high quality international cuisine is increasing. Check out Salvia, a relatively new “modern European kitchen” that has rocketed to the top spot in town on TripAdvisor.

Editor’s note: Edd Staton, IL’s Cuenca Correspondent gives a tour below of a local restaurant in Cuenca.)

 

The Cost of Living in Cuenca

The downside of living in university towns with all these wonderful amenities is that they are often expensive. Great news—everything I’ve described can be enjoyed on a reasonable monthly budget!

Here is a sample budget for a couple living very comfortably in Cuenca. Keep in mind these expenses are approximate, and I’ve tried to err on the high side.

cuenca cost of living

But you don’t have to spend that much. The truth is, you could rent a modest apartment for as little as $350, spend $50 on utilities if you don’t watch TV and are willing to use WiFi, clean your own place, eat out for $10 or $15 a couple (or cook all your own food), and you could slash your budget to closer to $1,000 a month. And some folks seem quite happy doing exactly that.

Note that this budget is for a couple renting a house or apartment. If you own your home and don’t pay rent, your costs will be less. Ditto if you are single. Also keep in mind you’ll have incidental costs throughout the year that aren’t included here—such as health insurance, travel, and so on.

Cuenca is a university town that packs a lot of appeal—temperate climate, outstanding health care, and cultural amenities out the wazoo—for a modest monthly budget that allows you to enjoy it all!

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