July 28, 2014

Which City Is Best for Your Ecuador Retirement, Cuenca or Quito? 6 Key Features to Consider BEFORE Moving

For those folks who have not yet had a chance to visit Ecuador, here's some features about both cities you might find interesting and help you to decide which city would fit your needs best. This is just a few considerations to think about before uprooting your life and moving abroad. Let’s take a look. 

1. Ambiance – Feel for a place
2. Healthcare – Hospitals and doctors
3. Real Estate – rentals and buyers market
4. Weather – Climate
5. People – Culture and community
6. Crime – Safety and Protection
7. Cost of Living -
 

Which city is better for you, Cuenca or Quito? It is a decision that no one else can actually answer for you. We feel it is always best to visit a new city first and to get your own impression. No one else can feel these things for you, or give you that “do I want to move here “vibe” for either city. But we can help you out a bit by sharing our own experiences and observations of both cities.
 

We also believe that three months checking out a new city is not enough time to truly get a good impression. Why?  Because you are still in the honeymoon stage and as a tourist you will see and view your surroundings, culture, people much differently than if you live here. For instance, tourists don't mind if they get gringoed but foreign residents do mind. And that's just one thing.
 

1. Ambiance – Environment – Atmosphere
Ambiance is so important that it has to be included as a key factor. Have you ever just walked into a house and thought, “Yes, I could live in this home”; or, “No, I don’t like the vibes in this home and I could never live in it”? And same with a neighborhood? If you have then you know what I mean. Let’s begin.
 

Cuenca – Cuenca is cozy and homey in the downtown area.  Certain restaurants and cafés in El Centro would be considered quaint and charming. The architecture is beautiful, old worldish, and amazing.  Nevertheless, El Centro has lots of traffic, noise and pollution. Rumor has it the city is trying to do away with some of these issues.
 

The downtown area is just a small part of the city. You also have the somewhat newer areas that do not give off the feel of being quaint or charming but rather more up to-date, however, most of Cuenca is Ecuadorian-Spanish retro 70’s style construction, even if it is newly built.
 

Cuenca is not that big or very spread out, therefore you will run into familiar faces wherever you go in Cuenca. Going shopping, eating out, walking the river paths, you’ll often run into the same expats and this makes Cuenca seem really small.
 

Cuenca is surrounded by picturesque Andes Mountains, and boasts four rivers that run through the city, which makes Cuenca even more charming, especially with the back drop of colonial architecture overlooking the river. It is very pretty and quaint.
 

TIP: If you like the small-town feel, slower-paced lifestyle, charm, familiarity, retro 70’s style, with some colonial, and seeing more gringos, then you may like Cuenca.
 

Quito – Quito’s old town section is also quaint and charming, which by the way is three times larger than Cuenca’s old section, so there is a lot more of it to go around.  Many of the structures in old town have not been restored, so what you see is what you get, and it is still amazingly impressive to look at.
 

The city is improving old town considerably by increasing the security and working on making it more tourist friendly.  On our last visit, just a few months ago, the downtown area had police strategically placed all over old town.

Old town Quito has a lot more touristy type quaint and cozy cafes and eateries than it used to. Several major roads in old town are designated traffic free and used only for walking, shopping, and enjoying your meals smog and traffic noise free.  But Quito still has its share of traffic, noise and car exhaust.
 

Quito is four times bigger than Cuenca; it also has more gringo expats but you would never know it.
 

Quito is diverse and boasts four unique sections of the city that are different from one another and they each send out a different feel and experience.  As an example, some parts of La Mariscal are also very charming, especially some of the cafes and other eateries and bakeries. North Quito is new, somewhat modern, contemporary, international, and full of shopping, restaurants, and flair. Old town is charming, cozy and quaint.
 

TIP: If you like diversity, variety, cosmopolitan, trendy, sophisticated, retro 70’s style with some colonial all rolled into one city, and seeing foreigners from all over the world, not just from North America then you’ll like Quito.
 

Quito is also surrounded by the Andes Mountains, which are a bit more striking than Cuenca’s Andes Mountains, as they are bigger and taller.  Quito does have a river but it is on the outskirts of the city.
 

2. Health Care
Quito and Cuenca have the same level of health care and doctors. Quito has several nice, modern hospitals and clinics; however, with the influx of foreigners to Cuenca medical procedures might cost more in Cuenca. We’ve noticed a rise in cost of  medical procedures in Cuenca just from talking with expats, in the three years we have been here.
 

3. Real Estate Market
Cuenca – It is becoming more difficult to find nice 3 and 4 bedroom homes for rent in Cuenca.  Homeowners are consistently raising their rental prices to the foreigners. Well, it was to be expected.  However, having said that, it is still possible to find them and they are out there but Quito has more locally priced rentals just because it is a bigger city.


According to users/renters who have actually rented in Quito and Cuenca in 2014, rent prices in Quito are 32.28% lower than in Cuenca!  RESOURCE: Numbeo.com
 

Quito - It is still possible to easily find 3 and 4 bedrooms homes for rent in Quito and in the country for $250 to $400.   And, you will find after doing the research the Quito housing market is 20% lower than in Cuenca.
 

4. Weather - Climate
Both Quito and Cuenca have similar weather.  It is the Andes Mountains after all. One is in the North and one is in the South. We think the sun shines more in Quito but that is our opinion, not a fact. The elevation is a tad bit higher in Quito, so there may be more adjusting to do for some people.
 

5. People – Culture - Community
We noticed a slightly faster pace in Quito as we spent a lot of time in old town and in the northern part of Quito. There is definitely some amount of hustle and bustle going on, but Quito still has a laid back and easy-going feel to it.


With that said, the people of Quito are just as friendly and helpful as they are in Cuenca. Anyone who says differently must have had one of those bad experiences with the locals. It does happen as people are just people, after all. In Quito they are ever so happy to negotiate with you so everybody is happy in the end.
 

Sundays are family day, and the parks, restaurants, shopping stores, and activities get crowded just like in Cuenca!
 

6. Crime – Security – Safety – Protection
Quito - Quito is a much bigger city so it would be futile to compare crime rates to Cuenca, so we’re not going to do that. Quito has its share of crime but 90% percent of the crime is preventable. P-R-E-V-E-N-T-A-B-L-E!
 

It is all about NOT MAKING OURSELVES an Available TARGET TO THE THIEVES.
 

La Mariscal area is known for petty thievery because a lot of the tourists behave oblivious to their surroundings. Where there are easy targets, there will also be the thieves. Newcomers, especially the younger foreigners arrive with a nonchalant attitude that it won’t happen to them. Yes, there’s crime in Quito as anywhere else in Ecuador, but if you’re one step ahead of it, crime may not visit with you.

Quito’s old town used to be much worse on crime but in the last few years the security has been ramped up and crime is less widespread, however, that does not mean to behave as described above. On the contrary, it is best to never have too much money on your person, or carry anything that you do not want stolen with you. Keep a low profile and stay aware; that means do not get intoxicated.
 

BTW, it is highly recommended to NEVER hail a cab off the street in Quito. Always call a radio cab company. Call the taxi company directly.  They’re plainly located right on the main road.
 

Read our do’s and do nots on safety in Ecuador here.
Cuenca – Cuenca has fair amounts of petty theft crime and snatch and grabs, even during the daylight hours. It is better to not walk around with a purse and only have invaluable items in your backpack.
 

There have been home invasions of gringos in Cuenca when they left their house unoccupied. There are few armed robberies of foreigners in Cuenca. Taxis are safe and walking on the sidewalks during the day is pretty safe in Cuenca as long as you do not behave or look targetable.
 

Cost of Living in a Nutshell: 
 

Rent Prices in Quito are 32.28% lower than in Cuenca
Restaurant Prices in Quito are 10.29% higher than in Cuenca
Groceries Prices in Quito are 6.54% lower than in Cuenca

To see a more detailed report of the cost of living between the two cities by people who actually live in Quito and Cuenca, click here:

Numbeo is actually a great website and very accurate as it is up-to-date by expats that actually live or visiting in these cities. 

NOTE: See at the bottom of the statistics on the Numbeo page it says 49 foreigners in Cuenca rated the cost of living and 59 foreigners in Quito rated the cost of living. 

Main thing: While Quito and Cuenca have a lot in common they are still mildly different as Quito is much larger with several areas the expat can choose from for daily living. Each area has its own shopping, restaurants, parks, etc.  We could easily say that Cuenca would be considered Quito’s little sister.


To learn more details of the cities of Cuenca or Quito then check out the Landing guides. With these city guides in your hands you’ll not only SAVE money but you will be less overwhelmed and truly enjoy your stay! We help our readers to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

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