What We Found in Colonial Cuenca, Ecuador

Before my wife, Cynthia, and I relocated to Cuenca, Ecuador from the U.S, we made an exploratory trip. Even though only a few years previously, we had never even heard of Cuenca, we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. The city more than lived up to its UNESCO World Heritage designation with carefully preserved colonial architecture throughout the historic district.

Plus while there we were thrilled to attend a free outdoor symphony concert. That’s right—free!

A year after that trip and following some more research, we made the move…after a lot of worrying about whether it was the right decision.

Sure, Cuenca seemed to check all the boxes on our retirement destination checklist: low cost of living …quality, affordable medical care (doctor visits are only $25 to $30)…great weather—not too hot or too cold—a close proximity to the States…and a pedestrian lifestyle. It felt like we were about to embark on a dream come true.

Still, uprooting our whole life based on Internet research and a short visit seemed like a big gamble. And how would this adventure play out after the “honeymoon period” wore off?

That was over four-and-a-half years ago, and I’m happy to report that in almost every way our life in Cuenca has exceeded what were pretty lofty expectations. The insight, intuition, or whatever it was that told us “This is the place!” turned out to be right on.

I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture. Of course, sometimes there were trying times in the early days adapting to a new culture and a different language, but that was no surprise. Deciding from the get-go to keep smiling and moving forward, several months later we had begun to relax and enjoy the daily rhythm we had established.

Even so, two things did surprise us. Until we had our boots on the ground there was no way to anticipate the warmth and generosity of the locals. Their willingness to help two greenhorns with Taco Bell-level Spanish eased our transition immeasurably.

The social aspect of meeting and interacting with so many other expats caught us completely off guard. Suddenly we found ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of parties, day trips, and dinners like we had never experienced before. After years of work, chores, and errands, focusing on simply having fun was delightful.

All those boxes on our checklist have continued to be checked, and the great news is Cuenca keeps getting better and better. New restaurants (with cuisine from all over the world) seem to open every week; the city is constantly improving our parks and other public areas; and a new light rail system is under construction making getting around even easier.

From the low cost of living to affordable health care…Cuenca, Ecuador is an ideal retirement haven.

Even the grocery store is getting in on the action. When we first moved here, we resigned ourselves to the fact that some of our favorite items just weren’t available here. But in recent years, fresh-made pasta, microgreens, Virginia baked ham, and many beloved other items have found their way onto the shelves.

There are now perhaps 3,000 or so expats living in Cuenca. That may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that the city is home to over half-a-million people. What our increased numbers means to you is the “pioneer days” are over and it’s easier than ever to relocate and integrate into the local scene.

Expats have brought with them their talents and interests, so you can quickly establish friendships with like-minded people. Do you enjoy playing bridge? Friends meet for games in each other’s homes weekly. Bowling? See you at the lanes in Mall del Rio. How about yoga or Crossfit? Knitting? Writing? Acting? Book clubs? Fishing? There are folks getting together to do all these and many more, all over this small and manageable city. And if you can’t find a group that shares your love for, say, astrology, feel free to start one yourself!

We couldn’t be happier with our decision to move to Cuenca. I invite you to book a trip and see if our lovely colonial city speaks to your heart as well.

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