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Cuenca, Ecuador

Old World Colonial Charm in Cuenca, Ecuador

As you walk the old cobblestone streets, marvel at the historic Spanish architecture, and admire the grandeur of Cuenca’s colonial churches, you’ll know that you’re not in Kansas anymore. A lot of retirement destinations tout the fact that they’re just like the United States—that you can settle in to familiar surroundings—but you won’t hear that about Cuenca.

Cuenca In A Nutshell

  • It’s a beautiful colonial city in a fascinating and diverse country.
  • The cost of living is low, and the cost of properties is near rockbottom in Latin America.
  • The health care is high quality, honest, and inexpensive.
  • You can enjoy its fresh, spring-like climate 12 months of the year.
  • Cuenca’s large and growing expat community is one of Latin America’s most diverse and well-blended.

Cost Of Living In Cuenca

If you’re looking for the world’s best place to retire overseas on a budget—to live better for less—then Cuenca is almost impossible to beat. The cost of living is low, and the cost of properties is near rock-bottom in Latin America. It’s low in an absolute sense and an amazing value for the quality of life that you’ll find here. A couple can live well on around US$1000 per month.

Perhaps the biggest draw to Cuenca has been the cost of living; it’s low in an absolute sense and an amazing value for the quality of life that you can enjoy here.

The US$1 fixed-price lunch is still alive and well in Cuenca (although US$2.50 is more common), and the city is awash with fresh tropical fruits and vegetables on offer for pennies on the dollar. Fresh fish and shrimp arrive daily from the coast, and much of the local poultry is free-range.

A bus trip through the city is a quarter, taxis start at about US$1.50, and if you have a car, gas is only US$1.48 per gallon. You can rent a furnished apartment for US$400 per month, an unfurnished apartment from US$300 per month, or buy a small condo outright for less than US$40,000.

You won’t need to pay use heat or air conditioning in Cuenca, which can go a long way toward keeping your monthly costs low.

The city is very walkable, and has an excellent public transit system, as does all of Ecuador. You can live easily in Cuenca without a car, which saves even more on the monthly budget.

While the cost of living is quite low, it’s not as low as many would have you believe. Claims of “living like a king for US$650 a month” may have been true for Cuenca back in the late-90s, but they’re well outdated today. Those modest budgets serve in small towns like Cotacachi or Vilcabamba (where there’s not much to spend money on) but not in Cuenca, where you enjoy such a selection of city amenities.

The bottom line is that you’ll live for less in Cuenca than you will in most any attractive expat destination out there, but if cost of living is your primary concern, you should understand that elsewhere in Ecuador can be cheaper.

To enjoy all that Cuenca has to offer, I’d plan on spending US$1,500 per month per couple if you’re renting and US$1,000 per month if you own your property. You can certainly live for less; but at these levels you’ll be able to make the most of the lifestyle that Cuenca has to offer.

Here is a detailed budget for a couple retiring to Cuenca. Many of the costs are fixed. Rent, HOA fees, Internet, cable, phone, gas, electricity, and household help (if you opt for it) would be the same for a single retiree as they would for a couple. However, other important items could be less. Your monthly food, transportation, and entertainment costs could all be considerably reduced, maybe even cut in half, depending what and how you eat and how often you go out on the town.

Monthly Budget For A Couple Living In Cuenca, Ecuador

Note: Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar.

Owning your own apartment
ExpenseMonthly CostNotes
RentUS$0
HOA FeesUS$120Not required in houses or some older apartments
Property TaxesUS$17
TransportationUS$50For taxis and motos around town, plus gasoline for personal car use.
GasUS$6Used for hot water and cooking
ElectricityUS$30
TelephoneUS$60
Internet and cable tvUS$44.91Up to 10GB, 110 channels
Cell PhoneUS$28Basic monthly plan with unlimited minutes, calling, texting, and 5 GB of data.
Medical AppointmentUS$30A basic doctor/clinic appointment; per visit
Household helpUS$40Two four-hour visits per week; 5 per hour
GroceriesUS$300Basic items for a couple.
WaterUS$11
EntertainmentUS$172Orchestra, theater, and cultural activities are usually free
TotalUS$908.91
Owning your own house
ExpenseMonthly CostNotes
RentUS$0
HOA FeesUS$0
Property TaxesUS$25Based on a large house in town
TransportationUS$50
GasUS$6Used for hot water and cooking, subsidized
WaterUS$11
ElectricityUS$70Little heating or air conditioning needed.
TelephoneUS$1.99
Internet and Cable tvUS$44.91Up to 10GB, 110 channels.
Cell PhoneUS$28Basic monthly plan with unlimited minutes, calling, texting, and 5 GB of data.
Household helpUS$40Two four-hour visits per week; 5 per hour.
GroceriesUS$300Basic items for a couple
Medical AppointmentUS$30A basic doctor/clinic appointment; per visit
EntertainmentUS$172Orchestra, theater, and cultural activities are usually free
MaintenanceUS$100
TotalUS$878.90
Renting an apartment
ExpenseMonthly CostNotes
RentUS$300Unfurnished, two-bedroom, comfortable apartment of 75–80 square meters in the town center with a walled garden and gated entry.
HOA FeesUS$100Average: HOA is often required of renters
Property TaxesUS$0
TransportationUS$50For taxis and motos around town, plus gasoline for personal car use.
GasUS$6Used for hot water and cooking
ElectricityUS$70Little heating or air conditioning needed.
TelephoneUS$1.99for landline, includes 200 minutes (From ETAPA, July, 2018)
Internet and cable tvUS$44.91Up to 10 GB, 110 channels
Medical AppointmentUS$30A basic doctor/clinic appointment; per visit
Household helpUS$40Two four-hour visits per week; 5 per hour
GroceriesUS$300Basic items for a couple
EntertainmentUS$172Orchestra, theater, and cultural activities are usually free in Cuenca
TotalUS$1,114.90
Owning a Car
ExpenseMonthly CostNotes
Car registrationUS$12.50
InsuranceUS$54.17
MaintenanceUS$50
FuelUS$40Gas is $1.48 and Diesel is $1.03, subsidize
Car totalUS$156.67

Infrastructure In Cuenca

The health care is high quality and inexpensive. Don’t forget that underneath the Spanish-colonial charm, Cuenca is located in a poor, developing country. So the standards of maintenance for the roads, buildings, and sidewalks won’t always be what you’d want, and the inefficiency of administrative processes will drive you crazy sometimes.

A populist who is quite unpopular with the U.S. government, President Correa has brought dramatic improvements to Ecuador, mostly by redirecting funds away from politicians’ pockets and into Ecuador’s infrastructure, education, and health care systems.

Climate In Cuenca

You can enjoy its fresh, spring-like climate 12 months of the year. Cuenca has little seasonal weather variation but the most pleasant months of the year, overall, are November, December, and January.

Like many former Inca capitals, Cuenca is located in a central valley at a high altitude: 2,530 meters (around 8,200 feet). It enjoys year-round, spring-like weather, with little seasonal variation.

You can expect average highs around 71 degrees Fahrenheit and lows a bit over 50 all year, although the strong sunshine at that altitude makes it feel much warmer. I find the climate perfect for daytime comfort and nighttime sleeping, but, if you prefer hot weather, you may find it too cool.

Expats In Cuenca

Cuenca’s large and growing expat community is one of Latin America’s most diverse and well-blended. It’s a beautiful colonial city in a fascinating and diverse country.

Where is Cuenca Located?

More Resources From Ecuador