This article has been updated to reflect any new information since first published on 11/7/14
My burning question is just HOW unsafe is Cuenca as compare to, say, NYC in the 1970s or today’s Detroit or Chicago?
How unsafe is Cuenca? Firstly, it was not too long ago (2007 to early 2012) that Cuenca would have been considered unsafe for gringos and locals alike. Foreigners from all over the world have been targets to thieves for years in Cuenca, not just pickpocketing but armed robbery and assault.
There are two reasons for this. No proactive police patrolling and no information for expats on how to behave. You see, you can’t behave in South America like you do in the states. You have to pay attention to the differences.
Example: from 2007 (when foreigners started traveling to Cuenca) to early 2012 there were NO police, or very few police in Park Calderon, even at night and foreigners were getting robbed left and right. There were not many blogs about Cuenca back then and no one ever talked about “how not to be a target” of a crime.
That Was Then This is Now
We remember when we first arrived in 2011 there were drunken guys walking around in the quaint Calderon Park in El Centro and some of them got aggressive, pushing their fingers into your chest and begging for money. Today, the Cuenca tourist police keep drunks and hoodlums out of the parks, at least during the day.
Just three years ago foreigners were coming to Cuenca and behaving like they were still in the states, pulling out their cell phones, cameras, and other electronic gadgets in public! It is not advised to do that in public in Ecuador, not even today in 2014, if you can help it.
Crime is different in South America, and so you have to behave differently and adapt to the changes so you will not become a target to a crime. We say this over and over and it bears repeating. Because this is what we’re told over and over and over by the locals when we travel throughout Ecuador. So, it’s not coming from us, it is coming through us, from the locals. See?
In late 2012 they ramped up security (tourist police) in much of Cuenca and that helps a lot to keep the hoodlums and thieves away. PLUS, gringos now have the information about how to conduct themselves as a foreigner in a foreign land, and that helps to deter crime just as much as the added police, but only for those that heed the advice we’ve been writing about since 2011.
So there you have it, Cuenca is quite a bit safer today because of these two added features, more cops and wiser gringos. The crime rates have decreased exponentially. However, we still think it is best to walk in pairs and not be out after dark if you can help it. If you happen to be out after dark, take a taxi instead of the bus.
How Savvy Are the Gringos in 2014
about Petty Crime?
On a scale from one to ten we think that most travelers and expats to Cuenca are about an eight (many of the gringos that used to live in Cuenca went home so who knows how savvy the new gringos are) when it comes to crime awareness. They’ve read the information about crime and they’ve taken heed. However, there are still a few expats that do not take heed, such as the gringo woman who wore a purse to Feria Libre just recently (September 2014) and it got snatched from her. Well, of course it got snatched, that’s what happens when you wear a purse to an outdoor market in South America! These are the kinds of things we talk about in the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide.
Update OCTOBER 2019: We will NEVER talk out of both sides of our mouth to our viewers and readers, especially on important subject as personal safety. When people that live in Cuenca say one thing and then contradict that thing, they are basically what we call pumpers, so watch out for that. They are VERY good at sweeping anything negative under the rug. Remember, we have a son who speaks fluent Spanish, who is married to a local, lives like the locals, and gets his information from the locals. We talk with him on Skype constantly and we know what's going on in Cuenca, more so than the gringos who isolate themselves from the locals.
Crime has increased in Cuenca, burglaries and home invasions are on the rise. Thieves are getting into locked gated communities (not manned by guards) by climbing over the fences. This is happening in the Don Bosco *good neighborhood) of Cuenca. Both locals and gringos are the targets. Petty crime has also increased. It seems the police are too busy giving out traffic tickets and doing road blocks to spend their time policing the city.
Safety Tip: Remember, when we still lived in Cuenca, we told you that you need electric fence installed around the perimeter of your home, and this safety measure still very much stands. Do not rent detached homes without this feature, having an inside dog will also deter prowlers and thieves. We say "inside dog" because we know personally of two outside dogs that were poisoned so as not to wake their mommy and daddy up sleeping inside.
LESS Gringo TARGETS on the streets
means LESS Gringo CRIME!
We rarely see gringos behaving in ways that says “come rob me”, but we used to. They used to wear shiny, expensive jewelry and carry around nice leather purses and huge, expensive cameras around their neck; they’d pull out their money clip in the Mercado with hundreds of dollars in it and then wonder why they got pick-pocketed or robbed five minutes later. That kind of behavior is not advisable here! Or anywhere in Ecuador, for that matter.
Today we do not see that too much. Instead we see the gringos blending in and being careful about “how they present themselves” and “how they do things”, that’s why there is less crime towards them! However, even though petty crime is down it certainly does not mean that we’ll never get robbed, but just knowing how we should present ourselves and staying vigilant certainly does lower the chances a great deal!
Update October 2019 - The above probably still does not stand true. Around 2017 many of the people that moved to Cuenca left and went back home and now new people have arrived, not reading any REAL safety tips and that makes people more vulnerable to crime because they do not know how to behave in a foreign country. Please read our crime and safety articles on this website if you plane on moving to a Latin American country.
We are not pumpers, therefore we're not going to be sweeping anything under the rug and making it sound like everything is peachy!
Cuenca Crime Compared to 1970’s
NYC or Today’s Detroit
The crime in those big cities is totally different kind of crime that gringos will experience than in Cuenca Ecuador. Those cities are huge while Cuenca barely has 450,000 population. However for the question poser we’ll amuse you a bit.
Crime here is mostly personal theft to folks walking around unaware of what’s going on; and to folks who look like they cannot run after the thief who just snatched their cell phone. Violent crimes against foreigners are few and far between in Cuenca, although it does still happen occasionally. There is more to it than that however, and we go into more detail in the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide.
Crime in NYC and Detroit is very violent and usually drug related shootings, robberies, stabbings and murder. Need we say more?
One thing that folks should learn not to do is compare apples to oranges, especially when it involves an important issue such as crime. If you must compare, compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Two apples might be comparing crime in Cuenca, Ecuador to Manta, Ecuador. If we had a choice to either be on the back roads of Cuenca or the back roads of Manta, we’d choose Cuenca, hands down. Manta has a long way to go before it is as safe as Cuenca, even though Cuenca is larger than Manta.
Cuenca is the safest big, little city in all of Ecuador! So we hope this helps to provide a little bit more insight to crime in Cuenca Ecuador. Some really good safety tips for living in Latin America can be found in these articles below, which still stand true for anyone who cares about their personal safety while traveling and or living abroad. Take care everyone! Would you like to do what we’ve been doing for years? http://t iny.cc/dyzddz
To enjoy a few giggles about our life in Cuenca, see the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide, the ultimate guide for saving money and getting acquainted with your new life in Ecuador.
As always, enjoy the blog and your comments and questions are important to us.