Update 2016- Good day! We first published this article 4 years ago and here's a couple of updates you might want to know about.
Update 2016 - Is there really safer and better neighborhoods than others in Cuenca Ecuador? Cuenca isn't really like that; there are only a few areas you may not want to live near in all of Cuenca; this would be by the terminal terrestre and near any of the Mercados. However, walking in these neighborhoods you will see homes that are just as nice as the ones behind the tall walls anywhere else in Cuenca Ecuador.
There is really no such thing as "safer neighborhoods" in Cuenca. They are all about the same as far as personal safety go. And so called "good neighborhoods" have crime here and gringo gulches all over Ecuador have prowler and home invasion problems. So living in a gringo neighborhood will not be safer, in fact it might be less safe.
However, having said all that, you still do not want to live by brothel, gangs and drug dealers and in seedy neighborhoods no matter where you live in the world.
There's poorer sections of Cuenca to be sure. Our experience has been that crime is a mirror: its a reflection of how we behave in our new surroundings. We liken it to how nature responds. That is, it seeks to blend into its surroundings so as to not stand out to predators.
And this is why we think staying safe from petty theft and keeping your home safe from robbery is really about you and how you decide to behave in a developing country. If you behave rich, you'll be more of a target than the low profile gringo.
How do you go about choosing your neighborhood when you move to a foreign country, especially when you do not know that much about the new city you are moving into? Many people when they first move to Cuenca, and are temporarily staying in a hostel or hotel, ask the expats where the good neighborhoods are and the response is always the same, "why in the gringo neighborhoods, of course".
Update 2016 - the only reason why gringoland might be safer is because it is high rise apartment buildings with 24/7 manned security...and that is the only reason. Anytime you have armed guards manning the premises, it's going to be safer.
Did you know that one of the local brothels is located just a few blocks up the hill behind Las Americas Supermaxi? We know because we ask the local people about bad areas in Cuenca and a local real estate agent told us.
Here's the Interactive Crime Map from 2012 up to 2016 in Cuenca Ecuador. It will show you where the murders are happening and where the crime is mostly located in the city. Click on a pin to see the details about a crime.
Source: El Tiempo
Actually the best areas in Cuenca are not anywhere near the gringoland condo buildings. Some of the best neighborhoods are not where gringos live; they are middle and upper class Ecuadorian neighborhoods scattered throughout the city. But most people want to steer you to areas where there are more gringos living and these happen to be the more expensive rental areas where you will be gringo gouged for your rental while living in 'what one expat called',"sterile environment", referring to the high rises on Ordonez Lasso.
Update 2016 - Still true...some things just never change.
Remember, where all the gringos like to flock, prices will be much higher and historically more petty theft and home invasions as in Panama...and that is the reality of it.
According to the interactive crime map the murder victims mostly have Latin American names, telling us they are not targeting foreigners but are most likely drug/domestic related crimes. Still, it's good to know what's happening in the city you live in, foreigner or not.
UPDATE November 2014 - Just a few days after we posted this article in Sept. 2012, there was news reporting that they were going to remove the brothel and expunge the gangs from the area described above to a different area of Cuenca; some of the gangs have been removed but the brothel is still there.
We know of several really nice Ecuadorian neighborhoods, with beautiful homes in Cuenca that are not near gringoland. In fact, they are clear over on the other side of town, on the east side! Don't be fooled or mislead by what people say on forums and blogs because most of the time it is based on conjecture and bias. This is how people become misinformed and then later regret something they did based on that conjecture.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2014: the condos on Ordonez Lasso are no more gringo gulches than any other neighborhoods in Cuenca. Gringos live all over the city now, but mostly on the west end. It's good that gringos don't live exclusively in gringo gulches; its safer for them. So far, as of date we do not know of any neighborhoods (subdivisions that house just gringos, like in Mexico.
Update 2016 - Cuenca now has a couple of apartment complexes that house more gringos than Ecuadorians now and that's because the prices are going too high for the local market.
Update 2015: It's not the neighborhood which keeps us safe, its how we behave and what we do that keeps us safe! This is so true and we cannot reiterate enough how important it is to study how crime is in Latin America before moving here; that way you will be much more prepared on how to behave and how to react.
We have written about crime in Latin America extensively to help foreigners understand why they must have tall fences, barred windows and electric wire around the perimeters of their homes. See articles at the bottom of this post for details.
Well in any case, some gringos will never blend in no matter how hard they try. That plus advancing age in others, would be a sensible reason to need to live in a Gringoland type building with elevators and security and around other people that speak English. The challenge with this scenario however being that when large numbers of this class all arrive in the same area it can cause a distortion in appearances and prices.
We live in a Ecuadorian neighborhood (there are a few gringos now too) and it is quiet and safe, never had any issues and we are glad we live here! Update 2015: Recently we've had prowlers in the neighborhood and our house! This happened because our home became more vulnerable after landlord built a shed right next to our house. The thieves simply climbed the shed, got onto our roof and lowered themselves into our back porch area where things have been taken.
Update 2016 - It's important to note that living in a house (not apartment with security) without electric fencing and whole house alarm is not a good idea in Cuenca or anywhere in Ecuador. We seriously advise foreigners to make sure their home is protected no matter what neighborhood they decide to live in.
Until we write again, check out these educational articles about what crime is like in Latin America and what you can do about it.
We're an expat family of five sharing our real life experiences of what life is like in Latin America! If you haven't already subscribed to our daily blog posts, please subscribe because we would love to have you on board!