The Best Expat Communities in Cuenca

There’s good news for people interested in investing in real estate in Cuenca, Ecuador, as the market comes out of a three-year slump. The anticipated growth of this unique UNESCO Heritage site is down to what Cuenca already has: beautiful mountain views, four scenic rivers that encircle the town, the historic El Centro (downtown) with its abundance of 16th and 17th century Spanish-colonial and French-republican architecture, and the Parisian inspired Parque de Calderon town square which is flanked by the awe-inspiring New Cathedral and its three picturesque baby-blue mosaic domes.

Recent developments are drawing more people to this quaint Spanish colonial city including: the new Tranvia de Cuenca, the renovation of the San Francisco market, where the indigenous sell textiles, alpaca sweaters, and embroidered goods, and the repeal of its capital gains tax.

I’ve learned from living in Cuenca that picking the right neighborhood is one of the most important decisions in determining how much you will enjoy life in the city. Here’s a few for consideration.

El Centro (Old Town)

El Centro (Old Town)
The Parque Calderon contains a memorial to the hero Abdon Calderon, fountains, a gazebo, lush gardens, palms, and park benches.

This part of town is not called “the center” for nothing—it is the geographical center of this 550-year-old city, as well as the center of economic and cultural activity in its 570,000-resident metropolitan area. Home to the scenic New Cathedral, Parque de Calderon, the flower market, and the San Francisco market, downtown has plenty of historic churches and Spanish colonial architecture which gives El Centro a very cosmopolitan feel.

In addition to a plethora of dining options, El Centro is basically a giant shopping center of sorts, with its brick-paved streets lined with stores offering everything from groceries to hardware, and high fashions to custom-made furniture. The upside of living in El Centro is that you are within walking distance of just about anything you need or want.

Type of housing and pricing: Urban living will run anywhere from $70,000 to $200,000 and up for a condo or house. You’re unlikely to find a home with a significant lawn, unless it is on the edge of downtown. Most condos are over businesses with balconies that open to the busy streets below.

Ambiance: El Centro is great for expats who revel in urban living and like access to local restaurants, bars, concerts, and social events and don’t mind the bus fumes, or the fiestas, and parades that periodically fill the streets. Pocket parks are abundant and the Tomebamba river walk is nearby.

Favorite haunts: Goza Outdoor Café is a great place to have a cup of coffee and people watch. Fabiano’s Pizza has the best pizza in town and caters to expats. Raymipampa Restaurant, which features Ecuadorian cuisine, has stunning views of Parque de Calderon. Don’t forget to get ice cream at Tutto Freddo located on the town square and eat in the park.

Remigio Crespo (West of Solano) and El Vergel (East of Solano)

Remigio Crespo (West of Solano) and El Vergel (East of Solano)
Remigio Crespo is a neighborhood that provides variety and convenience, filled with chic restaurants with outdoor seating and upscale shops.

Cuenca is a modern city surrounded by four rivers and the Andes Mountains, so just about any property you look at will come with a view, but these neighborhoods are more upscale with plenty of access to the river walks. Located across the Tomebamba River, which separates Old Town (El Centro) from New City (Avenida Solano), it is just a 20-minute walk from downtown. Av. Remigio Crespo is lined with outdoor cafes, modern condos, and middle to upper class homes on tree-lined streets.

At the south end of the neighborhood is the Yanuncay River with its linear walking trail and beyond that is a section of town called Primero de Mayo with yet more high rises within walking distance of town. The east side of Solano contains Supermaxi Vergel, McDonalds, Milleium Mall, and Parque de Madre, a large park where many families gather for picnics on the weekend.
Type of housing and pricing: This tree-lined middle to upper class neighborhood has condos, single family homes, and townhouses which run from $100,000 to $250,000 and up.

Ambiance: Expats who don’t mind walking 20 to 30 minutes (or taking a short taxi or bus ride) into El Centro while still enjoying a quieter more suburban feel, have pets or like to exercise in the parks and river walks will like the convenience of this neighborhood.

Favorite haunts: Black Angus is known to serve the best steaks and hamburgers in town. Plenty of outdoor cafes abound with my favorite being Little Bull café, run by Cherie Rose, who brings her Southern California favorites to the table.

Don Bosco and Mall del Rio

Don Bosco and Mall del Rio
Inside the new Supermaxi -Don Bosco.

Going farther south from New City is a rapidly developing area popular for its proximity to the brand new Supermaxi-Don Bosco and for the spectacular Mall del Rio, filled with North American name brands and a generous food court with favorites like McDonalds and KFC. You can easily catch buses or taxis into town or walk to nearby parks.

Type of housing and pricing: A little more middle class with some gated communities, housing ranges from $75,000 to $200,000. Because it’s farther out from town, it is more of a traditional Ecuadorian neighborhood as Don Bosco Avenue is lined with roasting guinea pigs and families doing Zumba at Iberia Parque.

Ambiance: Expats who don’t mind catching a bus or taxi into the center of town live here. Because this area (like most of Ecuador) mixes businesses in residential areas, you need to carefully monitor if a motorcycle repair shop or a dance club isn’t tucked behind that fence, near the home you may be considering.

Ordonez Lasso (Gringolandia)

Ordonez Lasso (Gringolandia)
Modern condos are scattered among lovely old homes along the shady banks of the tree-lined Tomebamba River.

Ordonez Lasso is a popular expat enclave nicknamed “Gringolandia,” where there are droves of high-rise condos overlooking the Tomebamba River, with miles of river walk trails along a very traditional-looking American neighborhood. The popularity of this area blossomed because of the nearby Supermaxi Las Americas, the ease of getting into town with lots of buses and taxis and soon, the Tranvia will easily transport these suburbanites into El Centro in minutes.

Gringolandia is growing fast, with at least four condo high rises under construction offering pre-construction pricing.

Type of housing and pricing: This area is known for high rise condos, where you buy at preconstruction prices for a condo with a spectacular view, high-end appliances, and hardwood floors for around $115,000 to $175,000 complete with concierges and guards.

Ambiance: Expats who like a North American feel without the noise of downtown and where high-rise condos are plentiful congregate here. You can see lots of expats walking down the street—it’s peaceful, somewhat pricey, and beautiful.

Favorite haunts: The Vegetable Bar offers great food, and fun activities like the popular Trivia Night on Tuesdays. Other restaurants within easy reach include Common Grounds, a popular sports bar, or the Oro Vista Hotel which has a small café and bakery, as well as formal dining room.

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