Cuenca: Small-Town Living in the Big City

Last night, my partner, Stacey and I sat outside on our back terrace, sipping a glass of wine and admiring the stars as they popped out one by one. Basking in the cool night air, we listened to the low laughter of our Ecuadorian neighbors next door, teasing one of their sons about his new novia (girlfriend).

Since we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, about two-and-a-half years ago, ordinary evenings like this one have taken on a whole new ambience. Our lives seem to move at a different rhythm now—one that is simpler, less frenetic, and more enjoyable.

We moved here from Asheville, North Carolina, so we’re fond of mountain towns with a rich cultural tradition. Cuenca fits the bill nicely, sitting at the foothills of the southern Andes and sporting 500 years of cobblestones and cathedrals. It’s a city of half a million people that seems like a small town and is focused on preserving its historic past while supporting the growth of tourism and its own middle class.

We’re not retired yet, so it mattered to us that Cuenca was a professional city that encouraged new business. I work locally and online as an editor, writer, and marketing consultant. And my partner leads workshops on meditation and lifestyle coaching.

One of our favorite things to do in Cuenca is explore the city and take part in the many festivals and fairs that happen throughout the year. There are celebrations of art, food, history, music, and sports almost every weekend. We often joke with newcomers that, if they’re bored, it’s their own fault. And we’re spoiled with an eclectic mix of international cuisine with traditional Ecuadorian fare. It’s easy to find a simple pasta meal for $8 to $10 and a fine, multi-course dinner and drinks for less than $25.

We rent a large hacienda-style home with a private garden from an Ecuadorian family that lives on the same street. The El Vergel neighborhood is considered one of the best places to live in town with its excellent walkability and proximity to the historic district, river greenways, shopping, and hospitals. The house is perfect for entertaining large groups of people, and it doubles as workshop space when we need it.

We do most of our shopping at the regular organic markets or local mercado (market), where we can stock up on plenty of fruits and vegetables for the week for about $20. For $15 more, we can pick up some great meat and seafood, including corvina, a type of sea bass, and even hueso blanco (bones) for our four-year-old goldendoodle.

Another reason we chose Cuenca as our new home was that I have always loved learning other languages, and Cuenca has many excellent Spanish schools. Ecuador is considered one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish because the people speak clearly and cleanly, with minimal slang and moderate speed. I speak Spanish every day and, even if I’m not 100% sure what words to use, I just try my best. The Ecuadorian people are wonderfully forgiving and glad to help.

Every day we are inspired to step outside ourselves and experience new things. Without a doubt, Cuenca has made our lives richer, and we are grateful for it.

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