This Vibrant Expat Haven Has Given Us a New Lease of Life

My partner Stacey and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, about three-and-a-half years ago, searching for a simpler, less frenetic, and more enjoyable life after her recovery from cancer.

We needed to keep working—retirement wasn’t an option—and Cuenca offered a lot of opportunity. It’s a professional city of a half-million people with a good business infrastructure and a growing middle-class. On top of that, it maintains a charming, colonial-town feel; nestled in the foothills of the Andes and ornamented with 500 years of cobblestones and cathedrals.

I work online as an editor, writer and business coach, and Stacey is an online counselor and workshop leader. This online approach to work is a slightly different twist to how we were earning a living in the U.S. However, our work is more enjoyable now because we have an improved quality of life.

By “quality” I mean everything from a lower cost of living, including housing and food, to less stress, and more happy moments every day. We live close to one of the river greenways, so we’re constantly out walking with our Goldendoodle, Maisie. Stacey has lost over 40 pounds since we moved to Cuenca and shares her love of hospitality and good food by preparing healthy meals, using a tremendous array of local produce, for friends and houseguests.

When we take a break from work, we often head to the nearby thermal baths in Baños, a small town about 10 minutes outside of Cuenca. There are several baths with different levels of service and amenities, from do-it-yourself to attendant-in-waiting. We hop on the bus close to our house and for $5 each we can enjoy an all-day spa, soaking in a warm pool, taking mud baths, or sitting in a steam room filled with the aroma of eucalyptus.

And, if we were over 65, the cost would be only $2.50.

Another one of our favorite things to do is to go hiking in El Cajas National Park. The park is about 45 minutes from downtown Cuenca and can be reached easily by the local bus or a private taxi. Laguna Toreadora is the perfect spot to start a hiking adventure; there is a ranger station, a small restaurant, and museum at the main trailhead. There are other trails running close to the main lake and some wind through the high-altitude landscape, featuring alpine flowers and one-of-a-kind Polylepis trees with peeling bark.

Celebrations of art, food, history, music and sports also happen almost every weekend in Cuenca. Listen to classical music in the shadow of Inca ruins, savor fine dining in a Spanish-style hacienda, or cheer on the local fútbol (soccer) team in the stadium.

We often joke with newcomers that, if they’re bored, it’s their own fault. But the truth is that Cuenca ticks a lot of boxes for many people, and we are no exception. Every day we find something new to love and explore, and, if the city weren’t enough, the Ecuadorians make it even more welcoming with their warmth and graciousness.

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