10 Years of Blog Archive

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Get the Most Out of Your Cuenca Ecuador Discovery Trip Update 2016

Update 2016: It was four years ago when we first posted this article and we have a few new updates to add today to make your visit easier and less expensive. This article is written for people who are mostly just visiting/vacationing in (Cuenca) Ecuador. 

Let's Save Money

1. Get an Apartment: If you are only staying between 1 and 3 months (and even 6 months) we suggest to snag yourself an apartment before you get here, if at all possible. Most folks don't look at the Vacation/Temporary/Rentals on OLX Ecuador.  Check it out here! 

Once you arrive on the website, make sure you check the appropriate boxes on the left hand side for: how many bedrooms you want and check the furnished box. Today on May 15, 2016 there are 70 one bedroom furnished rentals on OLX just in Cuenca.   We think many of these listings are by owner rather than real estate companies and that means BETTER PRICES and MORE NEGOTIATION ROOM!

Most of the online rental portals (Mercadolibre.com) will also have a temporary/vacation rental section and is where people who are coming to Ecuador for six months or less should be able to find a rental easier and less expensively. We do this when we travel because it assures we will have a lower cost place to stay while we visit an area and there is never any pressure to hurry up and find a rental

2. Ask about monthly price: Some of the prices on OLX, as you will see are per night, however, if you see something you like, call them and ask what their monthly (if they have monthly) rental price would be.    

We would venture to say that 8 out of 10 travelers that come to Cuenca do so for a discovery trip to see if they are going to like living here permanently for their future retirement years. This is always a good idea, but it is also a good idea to not live only as a tourist when you come to visit. Go local! 

Update 2016 - What do we mean, "go local"?  Well, you can come to Cuenca on a vacation and not really know what you are getting into until you
1. ride the bus
2. take a taxi
3. negotiate and buy produce from one of the many Mercados
4. go out to eat in a typical almuerzo restaurant and try some of the other Ecuadorian cuisine
5. enjoy one of the many Ecuadorian festivals
6. eat while walking (lol)
7. get to know some of the the local folks on a personal level
8. go shopping in one of the local grocery stores
9. and so much more...

Get to know the Ecuador culture and way of life on your visit. After all, if you are thinking of uprooting your life and moving here, don't you want to know what it is really like? 

Our “Discover Cuenca Blog has a lot of good information in it for first time visitors to Cuenca but reading about going local in Cuenca is not the same as doing it. Just get out and do it! It's a lot of fun going local because you will experience so much more on your visit. 
Tourist Don’t Mind Spending Money on Food and Hotel Costs
Being a tourist we tend to stay in nicer, more expensive hotels, and we tend to patronize the International cuisine restaurants a lot, and mingle with the expat community more. We spend money because we’re on vacation! There is nothing wrong with doing those things; after all, you’re a tourist, right? 

We're not saying, don't do the tourist stuff, by all means, please do, but get to know Cuenca Ecuador and some of the local folks and culture on a more intimate level, that way you will have pushed out any expectations of how your new life is going to be and you will be more prepared to make the move or maybe not make the move...who knows. 
We know that you will not experience “the real Cuenca” being a tourist. You will not see what you would see if you lived here. We think your discovery trip should involve the local beat as well as the tourist beat. Staying two weeks and even two months in Cuenca as a tourist will not really tell you anything if you live like a tourist.
We went to Mexico for vacations on three different occasions. All three times we stayed in nice luxury resorts on the beach, and ate in the touristy restaurants around other vacationers in the resort. We shopped in the touristy gringo craft shops and Mercados; we ate in the expensive restaurants geared for the foreigners. We were typical tourists.
It was like “Wow, Mexico is nice, maybe we should move here”. But on our third trip to Mexico we rented a jeep and drove off the beaten path to a city called Colima. We were in culture shock! Seriously. It was like “Ohhhh, this is the “real Mexico”. “This is what Mexico looks like behind the facade of luxury hotels and International restaurants.”  Big, BIG difference.
Salinas Ecuador was much the same way. Beautiful high rise condos, expensive restaurants and shops right on the beach, but you walk a few streets back and there’s nothing there. The variance is quite extreme.
Cuenca is a little bit different in that there is really not a lot of “in your face poverty” like there was off the beaten track in Mexico. In Mexico back then all you had to do was walk out the gate of the resort and there was poverty and fallen down shacks. It’s not like that in Cuenca.
There is a tourist Cuenca and there is a local Cuenca. When you veer away from the tourist spots in Cuenca, which is really not veering away at all, but patronizing the Ecuadorian run restaurants and shops, you will find groceries are less expensive and eating out is less expensive.   

Update 2016 - This is still the trend today,. Everything (panaderias, pharmacies, eateries, tools and hardware, food shopping, everything is less expensive when you walk away from the well trodden tourist sidewalks of Cuenca.

Update 2016- We had to take a popular bakery (panaderia) out of the DIY Cuenca guide because it was a half a block from Park Calderon and too many tourists visited this bakery every day and they still do to this day. All the pastries and cakes and coffee and water (yes they started charging for water form their tap) went up in astronomical prices in just a couple of years...so we took them out of the guide and walked about 7 blocks away and found another really great bakery with normal prices and added them to the guide book to take the place of the over-rated bakery. 
As far as rents go there is a tourist rent and a local rent. Unfortunately anything furnished caters to the tourist but you can still find better priced furnished if you keep looking. If you rent for longer than six months and get a year lease your rent will be less than the three to six month rental. 
The tourist Cuenca is managed and run by other expats and Ecuadorians who are catering to the vacationing tourists. Rents, food, shopping and tours will be at tourist prices. You can spend thousands of dollars during your stay in Cuenca by being toured around, eating, shopping and touring in the tourist hot spots.
Or…you can read the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide and go local and spend a fraction of the cost by utilizing the resources we have outlined in the guide book.
If you’re anything like us and want to live on a retirement budget, once you move here, you’ll see that living as a tourist in Cuenca is not the way to do it. We encourage our readers to go local and save their hard-earned money!
There is absolutely nothing to fear about going local, even if you do not speak Spanish. You can get by using a Spanish pocket dictionary and sign language—as foreigners the local population is very forgiving if you do not know Spanish, yet.
To see the real Cuenca, you’ll want to stray off the beaten path to some of the Ecuadorian grocery stores we list in the guide and do any run of the mill activities that a permanent resident would be doing.  You’ll need to know a little Spanish for this. 

Update 2016 - Funny the Mercados, especially Feria Libre is becoming more and more expensive for the foreigner and subsequently we don't even go there anymore. In fact when you buy produce "in season" in the regular grocery stores we pay the same or sometimes less than at the local Mercados. Of course, we hope and think they are only price gouging the gringo and not the local because it would be very disconcerting to find out that locals are also paying gringo rates at the Mercados!! 
You can spend $5 to $8 now more like $6 to $10 eating out FOR LUNCH in an international restaurant frequently managed and owed by expats. But will you want to do that every day? Instead, you might want to download our free restaurant guide which lists 10 good Ecuadorian restaurants (LUNCH) between $2 AND $3!   

Update 2016 - Our restaurant guide is still available to download on our website here, however prices in most of the establishments have gone up in price, so expect to pay more than what is listed in the guide. We do list a couple of expat restaurants that have reasonable prices and good food in the updated version found here.
We encourage you to come to Cuenca and see it for what it is, and step out beyond the usual tourist traps. Just three, no make that seven years ago, Cuenca was unheard of. There were few tourists being gouged, and there were fewer gringos even living in Cuenca.
Today, if you are not careful you will be taken advantage of, but with the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide in your hands, you’ll be able to spot when someone is trying to gouge you and you will be encouraged to just smile and walk away, feeling good about your decision. There’s always a better deal down the road. 

Until we write again, you might also like to read these posts about the real Cuenca Ecuador.
We're an expat family of five living frugal, healthy and happy in Cuenca Ecuador.  We vlog/blog about what it's like to live abroad and be frugal. Come along and enjoy the adventure with us!


  1. Hi Frank & Angie!
    I'm getting ready to leave after a month in Quito, Cuenca, and Vilcabamba, and I couldn't agree with you more. Everyday I saw just how right on your blog is. For example, I would go broke if I shopped at Supermaxi every day. Seeing the $7 jar of JIF peanut butter and the $5 jar of Marinara sauce at SuperMaxi was very educational. It also does pay to know some Spanish. I was always charged $2 for taxis while other gringos complained about paying $3 and even $4 for the same routes. Finally, I can't imagine how anyone could move here sight unseen. Especially without experience in a Latin American culture. IMO an exploratory trip is critical.

  2. Thanks for your input S&T. Thanks for commenting. Smiles....


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