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BEST PLACE to RETIRE: After Comparing Cities Abroad Is Cuenca Ecuador Still Out on TOP?

We like to let people know “what it’s (really) like” to live abroad. Intentionally omitting facts to make something sound a certain way could result in misleading someone.  

In the old days, if you were hyping benefits to the 'fluffy' level, it was considered 'puffery', i.e. exaggerated or false. Glamorizing a city is no different; all this does is throw people off when they go to visit a place because they start out with too high of expectations.  

We talk and write about such things as the parasites, machismo behavior and misinformation about Cuenca and everything in between. Our picture is real! It’s real because we observed it and experienced it ourselves and we have no vested interests keeping us from blogging about it. 

We have no agenda whatsoever, except…to let people know the real nitty-gritty of life abroad.  

Why We Debunk (New) Best Place to Retire in Favor of Cuenca Ecuador 

Its comical how we think that going to another country is going to not have anything negative about it because it’s the (new) best place to retire in,“paradise”.  Let’s take a detailed look at why we debunk the new best places to retire in favor of Cuenca Ecuador.  

We’ve done our share of traveling, having traveled to different parts of Mexico many times, British Virgin Islands a couple of times, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and now Panama.  

1. Crime

When we went to Panama for five weeks we thought we were going to a country that had little crime. Why? Because you never hear about it!  Crime in Panama’s expat communities is considerably played down, almost like it doesn’t exist…it is a phenomenon how people sweep such important issues under the rug.  It’s getting really dirty under that rug and we’re sweeping it out!

Cuenca Ecuador is probably the safest city of its size in all of Latin America. Sure there’s thievery but nothing like Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia...and now just lately we're hearing that the border city of Peru is crime ridden too.  Cuenca (not other areas in Ecuador) has minimal violent crime against foreigners at this time and that is a plus for retirees who need to be able to walk the streets and sleep with peace of mind.  

In Panama, Mexico, Colombia, DR, and Costa Rica crime rates have gotten out of hand, especially against foreigners. And many of the new best places to live on the ten best places list are crime ridden as well.  Lower crime is why foreigners choose Cuenca Ecuador over Boquete, Panama.

2. Renting

Sure Cuenca’s rents have risen substantially but so have rents in all of the other Latin American cities too.  What we’ve noticed about rents in general in places talked about over the internet or heavily visited by tourists is that they always gravitate to the same level or resistance. See if this is not so.   

We’ve done some research and written about it before.  The level of price resistance for rental pricing frequently seems to be very consistent. You will hear the same figures over and over, and how could that be?  After all, these are totally different places in different countries. 

3. Garbage Collections

Disorganization is common and usually visible in the garbage collection. This is where Cuenca Ecuador shines, they do a very good job of keeping the streets free of loose garbage.  This cannot be said unfortunately of other areas in Ecuador and other Central and South American countries. 
 This is a common theme in Panama City Panama
Garbage pick-up in Cuenca and Quito is excellent! Not only is it excellent but there is no garbage on the streets anywhere, and if a piece of garbage is on the streets, the locals in the orange and green jumpsuits come to the rescue and clean it. Cuenca is the cleanest city (from garbage on the streets) we’ve ever been in, in Latin America!  Cuenca has garbage pick-up even during holidays!! 

4. Sewage issues 

Panama has a sewage problem along the Balboa boardwalk. During certain hours in the morning (best time to walk) when the tide is out, it reeks of waste. We had to avoid walking on the boardwalk during those two hours when the tide is out because the stench was so unbearable. This is where the $2000 dollar a month ocean view apartments are located. Still, it doesn’t add up. 

Sewage runs into the ocean and its causing a big mess, a big stench, and it’s certainly not what you paid for. Don’t think this kind of things is contained only to Panama. Latin American countries frequently have the same third world sewage issues. 


Cuenca Ecuador is no exception.  When I first landed, and was walking around downtown, it quickly became apparent that there was a lack of public restrooms.  At first I thought it was just because I was new and didn’t know where they are located.  Later I realized that it’s a combination of factors that puts me at a disadvantage. One is, that I’m walking, and therefore it takes longer to get to a restroom in the first place. 

Walking and having to go is not like driving and having to go. In hotter countries such as Panama, its even more challenging since drinking water is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. 

Elevation also makes one thirstier and needing lots of water and so it's good that at least the city of Cuenca has a few public restrooms. Many Latin countries do not even have that.

6. Highways and Streets 

Some places have pretty good highways but a lot of the interior roads need a lot of work, and many areas have unpaved streets,causing mud holes and dusty roads all of the time.  Of course, you always see pictures of sunsets in the pretty postcard pictures, not muddy and dusty streets. How to decipher the international travel press/promoters to your advantage when retiring abroad!

7. Internet Connectivity & Service

Although internet connectivity is improving, it is not the always on reliable and dependable internet we’re used to back home. Especially when we travel, the internet is spotty at best, if you can get it.

Infrastructure in Latin American Countries

You shouldn't have to pay $2000 per month for 800 square feet just to get good internet.  Many if not most of the hostels or small hotels have terrible internet in their rooms in all the areas we’ve traveled to.  When you look at the prices of these longtime expat destinations and how touristy they get, the value is just not there.

8. Health Care and Medical/Dental 

Two different people have told us just in one week what good service they received from one of the hospitals in Cuenca Ecuador. We’re sure that healthcare is good in bigger cities in other Latin American countries too but it’s still less expensive in Cuenca Ecuador, and especially when you stay away from the recommended doctors that speak English.  

9. Public Transportation  

Panama City has good transportation with the metro buses and the subways but once you leave the big city, it is terrible! If you want to travel to Azuero Peninsula and you don’t have a car, good luck! The minivans that service this area and others further south leave a lot to be desired as a transportation service.Many times there was no room in these vans and if you over 5’ 6” tall you will be uncomfortable to put it mildly.  

The country of Ecuador has great transportation, no matter what city or town you want to travel to because they use regular buses that service regular size people. Some countries have good reliable transportation, and others not so much.  If you’re just a tourist its something you put up with because you know its temporary.  But if you’re thinking of residing permanently, make sure you understand what you’re getting into, and if you will be able to withstand it. 

10. Grocery Stores   

In Panama everything in the grocery stores is imported from the U.S and it’s very expensive. Fruits and vegetables are out of this world expensive in Panama, no matter where at you are in Panama. There are a few tropical fruits that grow in Panama like the mango, papaya, coconut, and pineapple that are still very reasonable, but everything else is imported.  

In Ecuador you can buy all fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices and Cuenca has several organic produce markets where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables inexpensively. 

To sum this up, we think Ecuador is much more likable and livable than many other Central and South American areas for all the reasons we discuss in this article.  Of course there are other considerations, and some of them quite severe such as lack of air quality here in Cuenca Ecuador.  

We have no agenda whatsoever, except…to let people know the real nitty-gritty of life abroad.  Cuenca for us, at least so far from what we have seen, read about and heard from other people, is still the best place to live in Latin America.  Maybe that’s correct, maybe its not.  But running to some other ‘best retirement place in the world’ or ‘paradise’ that’s the current fad, we thought we’d mention some of the things you should consider. Thanks for reading.  

If you liked this article, we think you might like these ones too.

We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!


  1. I believe air quality to be an essential not an inconvienence

  2. Well done! We should thank my second cousin for keeping the country in good shape for the rest of us to enjoy.


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