“Cuenca’s much different from what people think,” says Stefani Owen, “They think you’re in the Amazon jungle in a little hut. It’s actually a modern city with a lot to offer.”
Stefani, 64, and her husband Bob, 77, moved to Cuenca five-and-a-half years ago. Originally from Napa Valley in California, they have been married for 37 years after meeting “on the job” at Agnew State Hospital in San José, where both worked as nurses in psychiatric care.
Bob was the one who introduced Stefani to the ideal of travel. She had never flown on a plane before meeting him, while he had already lived in Japan for two years as a member of the Air Force. The pair started traveling together and ended up spending a lot of time in Mexico. They considered moving to Mexico after retirement because they enjoyed the culture and the people. But they wanted a different experience, so they started checking other Latin American countries.
Stefani began researching online and found Cuenca. It ticked all their boxes—a country with a stable government, an economy that was conducive to retirement, a good healthcare system, an attractive and diverse environment, and friendly people.
The couple also appreciated the lower overall cost of living, especially with basic food and rent. They have moved three times since coming to Cuenca, always renting. They currently rent a 1,450-square-foot home on the north side of the city for $400 a month, and their rent has stayed the same for almost five years.
The couple love the freedom that renting gives them. “If we want to travel or move somewhere else, all we have are furnishings to sell and that’s it,” Stefani says. “We don’t have to worry about getting rid of anything large like a house. We don’t have a car for the same reason.”
The couple does travel back to the U.S. about once a year—they have children and grandchildren—and some of their family have come to visit them in Ecuador. Recently, they made the decision not to travel back to the U.S. as often, maybe going once every two years instead, because they enjoy their lives in Cuenca and the opportunities they have.
They recently returned from a trip to Chile and Argentina and are looking forward to future trips to Colombia or Peru. “Cuenca is a great home base for travel,” Stefani says. “Since food and rent prices are good, travel is much more affordable, especially with a senior citizen’s discount that cuts our airfare in half.”
And what do they like most about Cuenca?
“The environment is much less stressful and the pace is slower,” Bob says, “there’s plenty of stuff to do and people will help you if your Spanish isn’t perfect. And, for me, the weather’s great—where else can you live where it’s no hotter than the 70s F and not much lower than 50 F all year round?”
“My relationships are more intimate here,” Stefani says, “the local people are lovely. There are about 5,000 expats in Cuenca which gives it a small-town feel, so you have the opportunity to develop closer and deeper relationships with the people you choose.”
The best advice that Stefani and Bob have for anyone considering a move to Cuenca is to visit and try the city on for size.
“Keep an open mind if you come,” Stefani says, “you can’t expect it to be like home because it’s not. But if you’re willing to explore and take in new experiences, you might just love it.”