From time to time you hear about how newcomers to Cuenca Ecuador want to know how would be the best way to acclimatize to the food and water when they first move here. Here’s our simple answer.
This is not Mexico. Regardless what you may be hearing elsewhere there is no acclimatizing to the food or water in Cuenca Ecuador from a cleanliness standpoint.
Update 2017: As much as we would love to say this is still actually ok, we cannot. Unfortunately over the past couple of years we have come to learn that the water may be OK to drink in Cuenca but they turn it off so often from doing work on the lightrail that the chances of it being dirty when you drink from it is very high.
Were now say be careful and best to drink bottled water. Somehow and somewhere we became infested with a parasite called E. histolytica in Cuenca Ecuador and this particular parasite is VERY difficult to get rid of. So please do your due diligence while visiting or living in any developing country abroad because you're not in your backyard anymore.
We either picked up the amoeba parasite from the produce at the Mercados, eating out in a restaurant or got it from brushing our teeth after the water had been shut off.
We used to say...
The water straight from the tap is excellent; better than many cities in the U.S. The only thing you need to watch out for is drinking the water right after they have worked on the pipes, which happens more frequently since the city is doing work for the light rail. You’ll know this because the city has turned the water off for a few hours. In such cases, simply run the water for 15 minutes or so and it should be fine.
If you want, for added protection, if the water has been shut off in your area, boil it for ten minutes first before drinking. But the tap water normally is not going to give you any issues whatsoever.
In addition, Cuenca Ecuador is a large city and boasts several modern shopping centers where bottled water is easily and cheaply procured for those times when the city may have turned the water off.
When people get on forums and say they got diarrhea from drinking the tap water in Cuenca, it’s very unlikely it was from the tap water; in fact, getting Montezuma’s revenge from the tap water in Cuenca Ecuador is not any more prevalent than getting diarrhea from any tap water in Panama City, Panama, which we just visited and drank every day of the week without issues although it was heavy on the chlorine.
Diarrhea when traveling to and being in Cuenca Ecuador is from not washing your hands before touching food, which travelers sometimes tend to be a bit lax because public restrooms are no where around when you want to eat something, or from eating in a unclean restaurant; perhaps a fly landed on your dinner, or the restaurant is dirty, or the help did not wash their hands when they made your sandwich.
Eating out is always a risk no matter where you are in the world, even in the u.s.a. and many foreigners and foreign retirees depend heavily on restaurants for their daily meals. Even in a normally clean eating establishment it may be impossible to avoid that pesky fly that landed on your food while you, the cook or the server was inattentive even for just a split second.
Update 2017: Flies carry the insidious E. histolytica amoeba on their hairy legs and can land on your food or cup rim and you can get the parasite that way too. TP is not flushed down the toilets in many developing countries and well, you know where flies land.
Frank used to work in high touristy restaurants in north Italy years ago and always found them to be the dirtiest, least hygienic places to eat, why? Because tourists are getting back on a plane next week, and a new batch of tourists is coming to replace them. Our number one rule for eating out is, eat where there’s lots of locals. If all you see is a bunch of foreign tourists, well…you’re increasing your risk.
We realize this may be difficult to adhere to 100% of the time when traveling so, to avoid getting sick from this there are specific things you can do, and we go into more detail in the ‘better health, better life’ book which does cover the foreign aspect of keeping and staying in good health when traveling.
There is also nothing special you need to do to the raw vegetables or fruits before eating them either. Do what you would do if you lived in Washington or North Carolina. Do you use bleach to wash your vegetables with in those areas? The solutions they sell by the fruits and vegetables are gimmicks and not needed in Cuenca Ecuador. Greens, lettuce, cabbage, everything is just as safe to eat here raw (after washing them with water) as if you were eating in Seattle or Denver.
Update 2017: We wish we could say that all of the above is true but ever since we became infected with a very bad parasite in Ecuador we can no longer agree to our own statement above. PLEASE wash all of your produce that you peel in detergent and then soak in alcohol or vinegar or colodial silver for 15 minutes before peeling and eating raw. As far as any other produce, if you can't peel it, boil it, bake it, fry it, don't eat it.
How one chooses to handle their food and personal hygiene is of course a personal decision and if one wants to use those items they certainly can. We’re letting you know our ‘take’ on the matter and our experience.
We used to say...
We do wash all fruit rinds and peels well with water before touching and peeling, just as a precaution. We’re a family of five and have never gotten sick in Cuenca from drinking the water or eating food bought at the Mercados or grocery stores, or eating out in restaurants, and we’ve lived here over four years.
We now say... (update 2017) sanitize all of the produce you get from the Mercado before using. And be careful when eating out. We have gotten food poisoning many times (3 times) and so have other expats visiting and living in Cuenca.
Have a great time in Cuenca!
We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy in Cuenca Ecuador! Enjoy the Discover Cuenca Ecuador blog!