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Cuenca, Ecuador: It Feels Like Home

Like Jason, I too am back from my trip, but while he was tripping around the U.S., I was doing the same in Ecuador. When I departed on May 2, I had the mistaken notion that I could continue to post regularly, but time and travel restrictions prevented me from doing so.

The good news is that I have lots of excellent information and photos from Cuenca, the Yungilla Valley outside of Cuenca, and several coastal towns and cities, beginning in Salinas and ending in Canoa, a bit north of Bahia de Caraquez. So what I didn’t get to write in the last couple of weeks will provide good reading for the next few days.

Cuenca’s Cathedral on Parque Calderon

Cuenca is a beautiful little city (350,000) in central Ecuadorian Andes. At an elevation of about 8,300 ft., the climate tends to be a bit cool at times, especially when it is raining, but like Cotacachi when the sun is shining, it is glorious. If you like churches, this is the town for you, many more than 300 years old.

Being a college town, Cuenca is awash with enough cultural activities and museums to keep one going for many days.

But for me, the thrill of Cuenca is the old colonial city. Covering an area of about 42 square blocks, the beautiful colonial city is a polished gem of shopping, suburb restaurants, and funky little corner bars where folks gather to while away their time.

Cuenca Museum

There is something peaceful and gentle about this part of the city that invites one to linger. Somehow the cares of the day seem to melt away in the centuries old architecture. In architecture like this, my mind always seems to do a bit of a time trip, as the veil between past and present thins.

Food, of course, is one of my motivating factors, and in Cuenca, several restaurants filled the bill. But one stood out above others that I tried, and that is the Eucalyptus Cafe, housed in a restored colonial home.

I always find it fascinating to explore the interiors of what used to be homes. This was a stately home, but not majestic. But the size indicates that large families were the order of the day.

Owned by the Englishman Christopher Breen, the international menu has been refined from nearly a hundred dishes a few months ago to a still sizeable 35 or so.

Eucalyptus Restaurant, Cuenca

When I wrapped my lips around the Thai green curry with coconut milk, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I hadn’t tasted anything so good since Thailand on the Millennium. The first night I had a small bowl for around $5. The next night, I went back and had the large bowl for $6.50. It was incredible.

The rest of the wide-ranging menu had chicken mole, a Mexican dish with a spicy hot chocolate sauce, Cuban sandwiches, chicken Kiev, and Pad Thai, garlic shrimp, and a wondeful desert menu which included bananas foster and key lime pie.

Additional good news is that the highest cost menu item was the shrimp at $7.50. Most items were between $5.50 and $6.50, plus tax and service, with smaller portions available for nearly every dish.

The Eucalyptus has become somewhat of a gringo hangout, and on Thursday evenings, members of the local gringo community gather together for a social evening.

Watch for my next post which will include some hotel recommendations. Beautiful hotels in Cuenca range from expensive restored colonial mansions to less expensive but still enticing colonial buildings. There is something for every taste and budget.

Hotel Santa Lucia, Cuenca

Yes, I love this city, and could easily live there. In fact, Cuenca is where Linda and I were heading before we discovered Cotacachi.

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13 Comments

  1. Not a comment but i need to pass on the sale of a new condo in Balcon de Miraflores in Cunca,beautifull 3 bdrs / 2.5 bthrs.Not even 2 years old . $95,000 . Please see details on Asturias Inmobiliaria website

  2. Unfavorable changes in Ecuador. Part three. July 2012.
    People are becoming more aggressive. First, some non-Ecuadorians came to Ecuador in the last few years into the big cities. I will be politically correct and not name nationalities. They are not as gentle and friendly as Ecuadorians. Ecuadorians are not perfect, nobody is perfect, but some of the newcomers I find scary. Some of them are involved in crimes and prostitution as their means of survival. Some of them are arrogant and brought their rotten mental luggage to Ecuador.

    I just read on one of the forums that one norteamericano (in Quito) was looking for a lawyer to sue his landlord. Yankee, go home and sue whomever you want there!

  3. Unfavorable changes in Ecuador. Part one. July 2012.
    The cost of real estate has gone up.
    Condos in our apartment building in Quito were sold (in 2009-2010) two bedroom for $57K and three bedroom for $69K. Now, a three bedroom condos are listed for $85K.
    In January 2011, a three bedroom townhouse, where some acquaintances live, cost $95K. Now similar units in the same development are selling for $120.

    Around Parque Carolina, in January 2011, brand new two bedroom condos were selling for $110K -$120K, now they are selling for $135K -$150K.

  4. Gary, can I answer? I wrote three posts (for my blog) about that.
    below is part two
    p.s. I describe what I see in Quito, Ecuador.
    Unfavorable changes in Ecuador. Part two. July 2012.
    Bureaucracy has changed its flavors:
    Before, in general, it was older, more experienced, and much more efficient. May be corrupt, but bureaucracy is always corrupt, in any country – one way or another, by definition.

    Now, they are younger and they are shuffled around a lot, changing people at key positions often. Now, they mostly don’t know what they are doing or do nothing at all. It seems this way because what took two – three months before – it is taking year and more now.

    The scariest part of these changes – they tend to lose your documents in their endless re-organizations, and sometimes more than once. Every time they lose them, they demand that you go and get them again for their convenience.

    Bureaucracy charges are more now. The government fees that used to be less than a dollar or a few dollars, now cost tens and sometimes hundreds of dollars. Not just for the foreigners trying to obtain their visas, but for the locals as well. It is much more expensive now to get married, or to obtain any kind of docs required for law abiding citizens.
    They made everything to obtain visas, personal documents – “tramite personal”.

    Before you could hire a lawyer or “tramitadora” and they would go submit your paperwork, stand in endless, scary, no personal space lines for you. Now you have to suffer personally, even if you don’t mind paying money to experienced people who do it very efficiently. It was their lively hood and everyone was happy. Not anymore. Now everyone is miserable.

  5. Hi Gary,
    I’ve been reading about retiring abroad for a while and Ecuador has always sounded very inviting.
    We’ve all seen many changes in the US way of life over the years. Has Ecuador changed much in the past few years (specifically Cuenca)?

    Craig

  6. My wife and I will probably be coming to Cuenca in May to a look prior to the possible move to Ecuador. Any pointers on where to stay while we are there, where we might do a preliminary look a housing, etc?

    • Jerry,
      Gary and I love Hotel Santa Lucia, a fabulous old private colonial decked out to the hilt. Get online and find something you like or talk to expats living in Cuenca. There are several good real estate agents there who’ll be glad to show you property, among them–Kathy Gonzales–www.cuencarealestate.com

    • Hi Jerry,

      I suggest you check out http://www.captivatingcuenca.com. This is run by our good friends Jeff Johnson and his wife Lulie. They have a great page listing Cuenca hotels with personal reviews.

  7. i was reading many good things about Ecuador…food,climate,prices & it’s people & was excited to travel there for 10-14 days. **i read on a few blogs about how serious the crime is there especially for a American or europeon looking person

    Being a target!! How to really know what is accurate & what is exaggerated?? I’m talking more about violent crime,not the pick-pockets. *por favor,tell me more!

    thanks

    • Crime is a little bit like lightning. You never know where it is going to hit, but you can predict that there are locations that are more susceptible to it than others. There are also precautions you can take when you know you are in a susceptible location. I think in most areas of the world, as the economy declines, crime increases. But I know of very few expats who have been subject to violent crime, although I am sure it happens.

      My advise is to read as much as you can about Ecuador, come here as many people do and check it out. Talk to people. And don’t flaunt your wealth, don’t do stupid things that make you a target, and you will be just fine, recognizing that no matter what you do, you can never be completely safe. Just ask the people in the Southwest who were just ravaged by tornadoes, the Japanese who were hit by the earthquake, or the people of the Mississippi river valley who are now in the midst of a 1000 year flood.

    • Crime seems to be on the rise in many different parts of the world. And I suspect it will continue to escalate as more and more people lose their homes and jobs and as prices for goods and services also rise.

      As anywhere, my best advice is to stay alert, protect your belongings, don’t place yourself in dangerous locations or situations and don’t travel around the country decked out in your finest. Prudence and good common sense will go far in keeping you safe.

      If you want to know what is really going on in Ecuador, I suggest a good long visit and in-depth question and answer sessions with those who live here. You’ll find the answers and the perspectives varied and informative. Then you can decide if Ecuador is safe enough for you.

  8. Leo Krohmer says:

    I am now retired in the U.S. The cost of living is very high here, and I want my SS to go as far as possible. I have looked at many different countries on the Web and Ecuador stands out. Could you please send me all info about Ecuador. Thanks. Leo

    • HI Leo,

      I am continually amazed by how often we get these kinds of questions–“please send me all the info you have about Ecuador.” This after a website with more than 200 pages about Ecuador, and a blog with I don’t know how many posts, all about Ecuador. Please study what you have already found. After you read our website and blog, and then you still have questions, we will be happy to answer your questions.

      Thanks

      Gary