Since retiring at the end of 2015, my wife Paulette and I have made a study of retiring outside the USA. We are now experts in that subject, especially in Latin America. And one of the best places we lived was Cuenca. There are many reasons to retire in Cuenca Ecuador. But no place is perfect, and I will include pros and a few cons for your consideration and enjoyment. So get a beverage, strap in, and let’s take an imaginary trip to Cuenca.
Where is Cuenca, and How Do I Get There?
Since Cuenca is in Ecuador, I bet you have already figured out it’s somewhere close to the Equator. And if you move to the Pacific coast of South America, you will easily find Ecuador. Both of its neighbors, Colombia to the north and Peru to the south are much larger countries. Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city with a population of almost 600,000. It is known as the “Cultural Capital” of Ecuador.
Getting to Cuenca can take a full day, or longer, some of which will be spent hanging out in airports. Be sure all your meds, including motion-sickness meds, are in your possession! There are a few nonstop flights from US cities to Quito, but most will stop in either Panama City or Bogota. Most flights from Quito to Cuenca are in the late afternoon or evening. There are also a few nonstop flights to Guayaquil, the second-largest city in Ecuador. But travel from Guayaquil to Cuenca will be by van or bus. That ride will be a harrowing 4 hours through the mountains where you will reach an elevation of 13,500 feet, before arriving in Cuenca. The elevation there is a more modest (but still quite high) 8,500 feet. The Rocky Mountains are tame in comparison to the 20,000+ foot peaks of the Andes Mountains.
Top Concerns of Retired Americans
This is where Cuenca shines. The main concerns of North Americans looking to retire outside the USA are:
- Cost of Living
- Healthcare – Quality, and Cost
- Making New Friends
- Things to do
Top Reason #1 – Cost of Living
According to Numbeo.com, the Cost of living in Cuenca, Ecuador is 67% lower than in Los Angeles, almost 56% lower than Houston, Texas, and 75% lower than in New York City. And the figure used for Cuenca, around $1,900 per month, is well below the average Social Security for a couple. Our personal experience bears that out. When you can rent a furnished 3-bedroom apartment for $650, need no car, or air conditioning, it is very easy to live in Cuenca for what you receive in SS benefits. Groceries and especially produce cost very little compared to North America unless you want to purchase American items. Thankfully, many American items are available.
Additionally, as I discuss in the next section, residents can (or may be required to) join the national health insurance program. The cost of this program is far below what you pay in Medicare premiums, and many procedures and prescriptions are a small fraction of the cost in the US.
Top Reason #2 – Healthcare Quality and Cost
Paulette and I were only in Cuenca for 3 months, so we didn’t join the national health insurance program. But we had two personal experiences with healthcare in Cuenca. First, our traveling friend, Wanda Ruple, fell and broke her shoulder in 4 places. She was taken to the hospital, was seen by the surgeon and had surgery that night to repair the breaks. She stayed in Cuenca for another month where she began physical therapy. A month later she and her husband, Eric flew to Calgary, Alberta. She decided to have a specialist there check her surgery. That specialist concluded that the surgery performed in Cuenca was excellent.
While in Cuenca, Paulette experienced symptoms which she attributed to high blood pressure. She was taking readings several times a day with a portable measurement device that attached to her wrist. We both became concerned and scheduled an appointment with a Doctor. Even though the doctor was almost an hour late, he nevertheless gave us almost a full hour of his time, checking various possibilities and taking her blood pressure the old-fashioned (but time-tested) way. He even took mine for free. He recommended a small change to her cholesterol medication and advised her to quit taking her blood pressure with the wrist device. (LOL) The total charge was $40.
Top Reason #3 – Weather
You will never have to shovel snow in Cuenca! And, you will also never have to think about air conditioning. We did purchase a portable heater for our bedroom because the nights were a bit cool for us. But most apartments are not built with air conditioning or heat. With year-round temperatures normally staying between 55-75, you really don’t need either.
Top Reason #3 – Making New Friends
We had a built-in edge in that department. Our Airbnb host, Regina (Expat from Florida) had lived in Medellin for many years, and knew practically everyone. She spent that first month taking us to all the Expat hangouts and introducing us to many of her friends. She even introduced us to her friend Linda who was a fellow Texan. Linda invited us to her apartment to watch our Houston Astros win the World Series.
There were weekly and monthly Expat events, I found a local bridge group, and we even found an English-speaking Christian church. At the end of our month with Regina, we were very comfortable in Cuenca and found our own apartment. One of the things I found funny is that there is a part of Cuenca called “Gringolandia”. Guess who lives there.
Top Reason #4 – Safety
Is there crime in Cuenca? Obviously, yes. But there is also crime wherever you live. The question is how serious, and how does it compare to other places, including the USA. According to an article I recently read:
“Although Ecuador has the second-lowest rate of murder and violent crime in Latin America, and Cuenca has the lowest crime rate for major cities in Ecuador, ex-pats and tourists remain popular targets of “crimes of opportunity.”
What are crimes of opportunity?
- Walking by yourself late at night after having a few drinks,
- Leaving your backpack open or out of sight – Many tables have hooks underneath to hang purses or backpacks.
- Walking around with your nose buried in your phone. A person on a motorcycle could snatch it right out of your hands and keep going.
All of these can be avoided using a little common sense. All I can relate to you is that I walked everywhere in Cuenca. I walked mostly during the day, but several times I walked at night. I never felt in danger, or unsafe. And I’m sometimes oblivious when I walk, not paying attention.
Top Reason #5 – Things To Do
For most people, Cuenca is different than any place they have ever lived. The elevation of 8,500 feet makes for cool temperatures. Some people are affected by the elevation, so exercise care. The temperature is fairly constant all year – between 50-70° Fahrenheit (10-21° Celsius). The weather gives opportunities for all sorts of outdoor activities.
- Cuenca’s Soccer Stadium is huge. Soccer is the number one sport throughout South America, including Ecuador.
- Take the bus to Cajas National Park. At 13,500 feet it is exhilarating. Yet there are many easy hikes.
- Explore the many beautiful churches, especially the “New Cathedral” with its beautiful blue domes.
- There is a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus or Train to tour the city.
- Celebrations and parades, especially the beautiful Christmas parade in Cuenca. Christmas is an especially good time to visit.
- New Year’s Eve, many temporary shops are set up to sell “Effigy dolls”. This tradition in Cuenca is to buy or make a doll to look like someone with a bad reputation, write on it everything bad that happened to you this year and then burn it in effigy to clear out the bad and prepare for the next year which hopefully will be much better.
There are many reasons to retire in Cuenca, Ecuador. I hope you found some in this article. Visit soon and if you’re retired, stay for 3 months as we did and get to know this special place.
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