Cuenca Ecuador: What Your Research Won’t Tell You

Much has been written in International Living by me and others about the tangible benefits of living in Cuenca, Ecuador—the low cost of living, temperate climate, lovely colonial architecture, excellent medical care, cultural amenities, and modern conveniences.

So perhaps you already know that on a budget of around $2,000 per month, my wife Cynthia and I live in a beautiful two-story penthouse apartment with expansive views of the city. Or that we may spontaneously decide to take an inexpensive taxi ride to enjoy a free symphony performance, then stroll home in the cool evening air.

Maybe you’ve read how I can call any of our doctors on their personal cell phones to make a $30 appointment to see them today—no waiting around. Or that it’s easier to have a healthier lifestyle here, with fresh, inexpensive produce readily available at markets throughout the city and good, filling lunches abounding from as little as $3.

They’re all wonderful aspects of living in Cuenca, for sure. Yet there are some other intangible, but equally compelling, aspects of life in this beautiful city that your research won’t turn up—things that reveal themselves slowly as you adjust to a new culture and settle into your adventure abroad.

If you’re leaving behind a hectic lifestyle filled with the constant pressure of appointments and deadlines…one where you’re always in a hurry to finish what’s in front of you so you can hurriedly move on to the “next thing”…the pace of life here will surprise you.

Admittedly, when you arrive things are still stressful…for a short time at least. After all, you’re in a new city in a foreign country where the locals speak a different language. You need to learn your way around…apply for a visa…form relationships. But after clearing those initial hurdles, it begins to feel like a heavy weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You can breathe again—you can finally relax. You can’t remember when (or if) you have ever experienced such peace.

Cuenca’s manageable size certainly contributes to this stress-free lifestyle. Although it is a city with over half a million residents, everything our daily life requires is within a 15-minute stroll from our home—doctors, groceries, restaurants, coffee shops, cinemas, parks—you name it. And we can visit friends on the other side of the city by taxi in the same amount of time for a $2.50 fare.

Having this kind of freedom encourages you to get back to what’s really important. In my previous life I never gave myself permission for much of a social life because I had neither the time nor the energy. But in Cuenca, I have made so many wonderful friendships in the last six years that I feel like I have a “second family” here. I’m blessed to associate these days with folks with whom I share common interests and that I truly care about.

A lot of folks nearing retirement age understandably worry about what the future holds. I must admit when we left the U.S. our own financial picture was rather dismal. Both of our high-paying jobs had been eliminated and our retirement nest egg was shrinking by the day. We decided to find someplace abroad with a lower cost of living but not a lower standard of living. And for us that place was Cuenca, Ecuador.

Today concerns about money are greatly diminished. Our apartment is often decorated with fresh flowers. We have gym and yoga studio memberships and eat out often. We even have a weekly housekeeper. Who knew this level of financial freedom could be enjoyed on our Social Security incomes?

But the biggest surprise of living in Cuenca has been the discovery of the basic goodness of our Ecuadorian neighbors. Our hosts are kind, humble, and generous. Smiling taxi drivers help unload groceries from their trunk. The lady at the dry cleaners’ waves every time I walk past. Merchants patiently listen and try to understand as you mangle the language.

So yes, the tangible benefits of living here are great…but it’s the intangible ones that really make the difference. Stress is no longer a part of your vocabulary. You have time to do what you want to do…when you want to do it. Deep relationships are an integral part of your life instead of an afterthought. And you find yourself immersed in a culture that readily supports your new, easier lifestyle.

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