Cuenca, Ecuador, Cost of Living, Things to Do Guide

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I wrote this Cuenca, Ecuador, Cost of Living, Things to Do Guide, to save you time and money.  This Cuenca, Ecuador Cost of Living, Things to Do Guide includes:

Cuenca Top Things to Do
Cuenca Accommodations
Cuenca Restaurants
Cuenca Nightlife
Cuenca Livability
Cuenca Cost of Living
Cuenca Final Thoughts

Cuenca, Ecuador: Cost of Living,

Things to Do Guide

This is Dan from Vagabond Buddha.

I am traveling around the world. I am presently in Ecuador, South America. Some people call my lifestyle–digital nomad–because I live all over the world (nomad) and I make a living on my laptop (digital). I left the USA in 2007. I have visited 64 countries total in my life so far. I used to record my travels in a personal blog which is still online. Now, I share my adventures here on Vagabond Buddha.

This post uses affiliate links to make money. If you buy something at one of the affiliate links, you pay nothing extra, but I make a small commission. If you would like to learn how to (1) make money online, or (2) how to live internationally for less $$ than you spend at home, click here and get a free copy of my Ebook.

Before arriving in Ecuador, we spent 6 weeks in Colombia: Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, and Santa Marta, Colombia. The lovely Qiang Hui (#qianghui) of Hoboventures.com is exploring the world with me. We crossed the border from Colombia to Ecuador about 6 weeks ago. Here are posts from other places we have been in Ecuador, including Otavalo, Quito, and Banos. We are leaving breadcrumbs as we travel so you can follow our path if you like.  Please subscribe so you can follow where we go next.

We are presently in Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca is 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level and is not too far south of the equator. The Cuenca old town area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because it has been so well preserved since the Spanish colonial times. Cuenca has a population of over one half million people. Humans have been living in this area since 8000 years BC. The Incas showed up in this region in about 1000 AD. The Spanish showed up about 500 years later in 1557.

Grab a tour on GetYourGuide or Viator for one or more of our following recommendations of things to do in Cuenca.  I hope this Cuenca, Ecuador, Cost of Living, Things to Do Guide, saves you time and money.

Cuenca Top Things to Do!

Old Town: First, you must walk the old town area of Cuenca. If you like to wander around aimlessly without a map, the old town part of Cuenca is approximately located in the 10 block square area around Parque Calderon. In general, the old town ends when the cobblestone streets end. If you want a more formal path to walk, start at Iglesia San Blas and walk to San Sebastián. Just click the link to Iglesia San Blas, and then click “get directions.” Make sure to buy a local SIM card ($5 USD) and load it with 2 GB of Internet data ($15 USD) so you aren’t paying international roaming rates when you start clicking links to all of my suggestions. As you walk this path, you will pass by Parque Calderon. While there, make sure to stop and enjoy the three main attractions: (1) Catedral Antigua de Cuenca, (2) The Statue in the Middle of Parque Calderon, and (3) the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The statue in the middle of Parque Calderon celebrates an 18-year-old Cuenca hometown boy named Calderon, who remained in the line of Spanish gunfire after being wounded multiple times. His fellow revolutionary soldiers were inspired by his continued courage. It is said that he continued to hold up the revolutionary flag while he knew he was bleeding to death from his wounds.

Parque Calderon: You can see Calderon, the wounded boy revolutionary soldier, honored at the top of the statue, in the middle of the park, holding the revolutionary flag. The large pine trees surrounding Calderon were planted by the president of Ecuador, Luis Cordero, about 120 years ago. The park is a nice place to sit and people watch. As previously stated, you should also visit Catedral Antigua de Cuenca on the east side of the park. Catedral Antigua de Cuenca is one of two Catholic cathedrals on the park. Catedral Antigua de Cuenca is the older of the two Catholic churches dating back to 1557 but now functions as a religious museum. At the time of Spanish rule, indigenous people were not allowed in the church because the Catholic Church believed indigenous people had no soul. Next, you need to visit the other Catholic Church on the park, Immaculate Conception.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception: The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is also known as the New Cathedral of Cuenca. The new cathedral was designed by a German born architect (Juan Bautista Stiehle) who arrived in Cuenca in 1873. The church was started in 1885 and took 100 years to build. The towers were never completed when it was discovered that Stiehle had made a calculation error. The foundation would not be able to support the towers designed in the plans. When the church was completed, almost the entire town of 10,000 people could fit inside. To continue your walk, exit the doors on the left side of the cathedral as you face the altar. Turn right after you exit, walk 20 meters, and look to your left for a flower market, Plaza de las Flores.

Plaza de las Flores: Plaza de las Flores looks just like a beautiful little plaza in a small French, Spanish, or Italian village. There are people of all ages sitting around on benches arguing politics and religion, people riding by on bicycles, and flowers for sale. Yet the flowers are $2-3 USD per dozen instead of $12-30 per dozen. On this plaza also sits a smaller Catholic church called Santuario Mariano. As you face the church, on your left, in a corner, you will see a door that says Convento De La Asuncion. Go Inside …

Convento De La Asuncion: This convent was established in the sixteen hundreds. It was considered an honor for a wealthy family of Cuenca to have there oldest daughter enter the convent at around age 14. Their daughter had to wear a veil over her face for the rest of their lives. They were never allowed to leave the convent. Their family could visit her once a year, but they were not allowed to take off their veil or be seen by anyone. The convent only accepted Nuns from families that could afford to pay to have their daughters there. Over time, the convent needed to develop other sources of income. So the nuns started making and selling wine to the public in the late 1700s. If you go inside, you can watch people as they come in and buy wine from nuns that can’t be seen. They place their money on a spinning cabinet, and wine is returned to them without ever seeing the Nuns.

Continue your walk to San Sebastián, as described above for your old town walk. Then walk to Cruz Del Vado, and take in the view over the river to new Cuenca. Finally, stop in and enjoy some adult art (not for children) and symbolism at Prohibido Centro Cultural Cafe, before checking out one of the largest markets in old town Cuenca, Mercado 10 de Agosto.

Mercado 10 de Agosto: The two largest local food markets we found were here: Mercado 10 de Agosto, or Mercado 9 de Octubre. They both have fruits and vegetables on the first few levels and local restaurants and juice bars on the top levels. People sell local arts and crafts on every street corner and shop, but the largest concentration of crafts we found was here: Mercado de Artesanias Rotary. This completes your walking tour. Here is a video I created following my above walking tour.  Do the following river walk, another day.

Rio Tomebamba River Walk: Start at Inca Bar and Lounge, and if you are facing the river, walk to your left as long as you feel safe. There will be two sets of stone stairs to your left in the first few hundred meters. They both go back upstairs to old town. If it is daylight out and people are around, keep walking until you find the first walkable street on your left. Whether stairs or first street on your left, make your way next to Goza Espresso Bar–sit and people watch in this lovely cafe.

People of Cuenca: Watching the people of Ecuador, going about their daily routines, was one of my favorite things to do in throughout Ecuador. We were in Cuenca for about 3 weeks. In many places in the world, you have to worry about being charged more for everything than the locals. For this reasons, I am often tempted to only shop in markets where prices are clearly marked, so I don’t have to negotiate. But here in Ecuador, I rarely saw anyone taking advantage of tourists. In fact, the food was often freshers and the prices were lower at the local markets than they were at the fancy Expat grocery stores. Not only was it more fun to watch the Ecuadorian life in action, but it was fresher and cheaper.

Graffiti: The street art in Ecuador is beautiful and diverse. In some parts of the world street art is not very respected. But in Ecuador, the street art seems as much respected by the public as it is by the artists. Meaning, when you see beautiful street art like the one above in Ecuador, it remains up without being “tagged” (painted over) by other street artists. Plus, it stays up for years without the property owner painting over it. Everyone respects beauty here. In some cases, the owner of the painted building even pays an artist to complete a job. Just take a walk around Cuenca and you are sure to find 3 beautiful works of art for every half mile you walk.

Piedra de Agua: Cuenca is in one of the most active volcanic regions of the world, the Andes. For this reason, underground water is often heated to sweltering temperatures and forced to the surface from high temperatures and pressure from below. You can catch a taxi to Piedra de Agua for $5 USD. It is in a nearby suburb called Banos which is west of Cuenca. It takes about 20 minutes to get there from old town. Normally, the entry into Piedra de Aqua is $35 per person for a two hour routine of steam baths, natural jacuzzi baths, mud skin treatments, and underground hot springs, like in the picture. But if you go early, from 6 am to 8 am, the price is 2 people for the price of one. We arrived at about 7 am on a Sunday and still got the same rate even though we were technically late.

El Cajas National Park: Ready for some serious nature? Pack a nice picnic in your backpack, layer up for various weather possibilities (including rain), and head over to El Cajas National Park. You can catch the bus to El Cajas (40 minutes) for $2 USD (each way) per person. You catch the bus just a few blocks from the largest market in Cuenca, called Feria Libre. A taxi to Feria Libre from the old town is about $2 USD. Go a little early if you want to explore the market before boarding your bus. From the market, walk over and grab the bus to El Cajas at Cooperativa de Transporte Occidental. There are three buses heading there, 6:30 am, 8:45 am, and 11:00 am. The entry to the park is free but register upon arrival. If you get lost hiking, they can find you. You can hike for as long as you like, or have a picnic at the lake that is visible upon arrival. If you decide to explore further, just stay on the trails to preserve your life and the fauna. Be back at the entry no later than 4 pm, and start waving down buses heading back to Cuenca.

Gualaceo: If you are in Cuenca for more than 4 or 5 days, you will start wondering what a nearby village feels like. Grab a taxi for $2 USD to Terminal Terrestre de Cuenca (bus terminal) and take a 40-minute bus ride to Gualaceo for $1 USD. Walk around this tiny community for a few hours. There are some great photo opportunities on the walk from the Gualaceo Plaza and the following market. As you walk (12 minutes) to the largest market (Santiago de Gualaceo Market) take photos of the buildings along the walk, and when you arrive at the market, check out the local food, clothes, and lifestyle. When you feel cultured enough, grab a taxi from the market to the Ecuagenera for $2 USD and see one of the largest exports from Ecuador, Orchids.

Ecuagenera: I didn’t count, but there must be 100 different species of orchids here. Once you are completely deflowered, grab a taxi ($2 USD) back to the main bus station in Gualaceo and catch a bus back to Cuenca for $1 USD.

Grab a tour on GetYourGuide or Viator for one or more of the above recommendations of things to do in Cuenca.

Best Price on Flights to Cuenca!!

I only go to one website now when I need to book a cheap flight anywhere in the world. For the last 3 years, I have consistently found the that the cheapest flights are found by Skyscanner. Why is that? Because … Skyscanner searches all the other websites and returns a link to the lowest priced flight. You can just click and buy your flight with confidence. Then start arranging your other travel plans, accommodations and things to do.

Best Cuenca Accommodations

Cuenca is a fairly compact city. I recommend staying close in, or better yet, right in the old town area. Here are some recommendations that vary based on your needs.

The Colonial (Old Town) Experience:

  1. Old Town Colonial Experience: This high-end luxury colonial hotel is just one block off of the Grand Plaza ($160/night, unless on special)
  2. Comfortable and Clean This is in a great location. Not quite as over-the-top luxurious as the previous one, but really nice! ($53/night, unless on special).

Studio Apartment:

  1. Studio Apartment: If you want to be close in and have basic kitchen services to make minor meals and coffee? ($50/night).

Hostel (Dorm or Private Room)

  1. Classy Hostel: This is an upscale feeling hostel. There is a great restaurant downstairs full of beautiful intelligent people from all over the world. It doesn’t feel at all like one of those “I am so drunk” hostels. ($8/night dorm, or $28/private rooms)

Spacious 3 Bedroom, 2.5 Bath Furnished Apartment, with fully equipped kitchen:

  1. Apartment Where We Stayed: You want to have some space around you. You want a living room, a dining room, 2 patios, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, clothes washer/dryer, 1 locked parking space, 8 (walkable) blocks from Parque Calderon. This is a digital nomad heaven (great Internet connection). ($27/night). (If you are new to Airbnb, use this code www.airbnb.com/c/dbell50 for a discount).

Price Check: Once you have selected where you want to stay, then use HotelsCombined to find the agency offering the lowest booking price for that property. Just insert the property name and dates and it will return the name of the agency offering the lowest nightly rate for that property.

Best Cuenca Restaurants

EL NUEVO Paraiso: Qiang Hui and I agree that our best meal in Cuenca was here at this restaurant. We shared a vegetarian lasagna ($2.50) and another vegetarian rice dish ($2.50). They were both packed full of delicious savory side dishes like french fries, fresh avocado, and salad. They also have freshly squeezed fruit juices for $1 USD.

Street Food: I am vegetarian but Qiang Hui eats everything. She really loved the meat on a stick that she found on a food cart that was usually parked within 20 meters of this place. They had chorizo sausage, chicken, and pork on a stick with a few vegetables. They also have several sauces she piled on top. $1.50 USD per stick. She stopped by almost every time we walked by at night after exploring the city.

Raymipampa Restaurant: This place is right across from Parque Calderon. I had a nice bowl of Locro de Papa ($4 USD) soup here. This soup is a creamy potato soup with cheese and avocado on top. It is a favorite dish for vegetarians in Ecuador. Qiang Hui had a rice and shrimp dish that was big enough for two full meals ($9 USD). The prices were high here but we both loved our food.

Quinua Vegetarian Restaurant: If you are vegetarian but still want to try meatless versions of regional Ecuadorian meals, this is a great choice.

Vagabond Buddha’s Kitchen: I am an amazing cook and our apartment had a fully equipped kitchen. So I have been cooking most meals at home here in Cuenca. Also, Qiang Hui has been missing her favorite Malaysian dishes lately, so she has started to cook. There are great fruits and vegetables in the markets, so we have really been enjoying preparing meals at home. For some European spices and cheeses, we have had to go to Expat grocery stores.

Local Dishes: If you love to try local dishes prepared by locals, the best place to go is the top floors of the two markets I mentioned above. I post them again here for your convenience: Mercado 10 de Agosto, Mercado 9 de Octubre. There you will find all of the Ecuadorian favorite meals for $2 to $4 USD per person.

Best Cuenca Nightlife

Start your evening at La Cigale. You can have dinner here or just come for after dinner drinks. It is a good pre-party place. It has some great people watching and decently priced finger food. At around 10 or 11 PM, go for a walk around the area and listen for music that suits your fancy. When you hear something interesting, go inside and see if the atmosphere pleases you also. If so, start dancing. From La Cigale, walk this path starting around 11 pm. As you walk, let your ears and eyes decide which places to investigate further. These are not suggested places to visit. This is a walking path to make sure you walk by the interesting places in the nightlife area: La Cigale, Delifruta, Santorino, Discoteca Nidia, and Dubai. If you are more into a classic jazz scene, then go straight from La Cigale to Jazz Society Café.

Cuenca Livability Factors

Walkability: Cuenca old town is very walkable.

Internet: The Internet is workable here. I didn’t have trouble. It worked all day.  The AT&T Internet Speed Test from our Airbnb apartment wireless router was 7.99 Mbps download and 4.4 Mbps upload.

Food: The food costs in the local markets are about 30% cheaper than in the USA. The Expat grocery stores have about the same prices as the USA.

Weather: Cuenca has been our favorite weather so far in Ecuador in the Andes. The weather in Cuenca ranges from cool to warm. Daily highs (70F/XC) and daily lows (48F/YC) are about the same all year round. Cuenca gets 3 to 4 inches of rain per month for March, April, May, and October. The other month get about 1 inch.

Visa free: US Citizens can visit Ecuador for 90-days without a visa  That hassle of leaving the country every 30 days to get a new stamp like in Thailand is reduced to every three months.  Qiang Hui (of Malaysia) also got the90-day stamp in her passport.  They stamped us both for 90 days without questions.  No proof of onward flight, no proof or how long we intended to stay, and no proof of booked accomodations.

Cuenca Cost of Living

Below is the estimated cost of living one month in Cuenca as a temporary visitor. Some of the estimates could be reduced as a long-term visitor, or full-time Expat. For example, we saw 1 bedroom furnished apartments for $450.00 per month in Old Town Cuenca. Cooking at home could save money also. These living costs are for outside meals.

Oddly, furnished apartments are cheaper in Cuenca than hotels. That is why the below medium costs of living is higher than the high costs of living. Normally people renting furnished apartments have to pay more than hotel room rentals.

Monthly Cost of Living, Cuenca, Ecuador ($USD)

Expense

Cost

Low

Medium

High

Airbnb (1 Bedroom Apt)

$30.00

0

14

30

Moderate Hotel

$50.00

0

12

0

Backpacker Hostel

$8.00

30

3

0

High End Restaurant

$10.00

1

4

8

Neighborhood Restaurant

$3.00

30

44

48

Food Cart

$1.50

30

12

4

Subway/Train/Metro

$0.00

20

26

8

Bus

$0.00

20

10

0

Taxi/Uber

$2.00

6

10

20

Total

Per Month

$397.00

$1,254.00

$1,170.00

Total

Per Day

$13.23

$41.80

$39.00

For more information about how the above “Cost of Living Monthly Multiplier” works, please visit the bottom of this page at Vagabond Buddha. It does not include alcohol, excursions, or extras, and it is for one person.

Final Thoughts on Cuenca

Cuenca has been our favorite place so far in Ecuador. The old town area is small enough to walk everywhere and we have never had that feeling of danger, even when we walk around at night. The is also a very active Expat community here if you are looking for a place to retire and want to hang out with Expats. There are amazing hiking trails and even camping opportunities in La Cajas national park if you are a nature lover. You are also only about 3 hours by bus from the beach here if you that is important to you. We are spending so little money here, and enjoying everything about this place so much, I don’t want to leave. We have spent 3 weeks here. Normally I am ready to explore a new place by 3 weeks. But I want to stay longer here. But it is time to go to Galapagos Islands … so stay tuned.

The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?

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Has this Cuenca, Ecuador, Cost of Living, Things to Do Guide, been valuable for you?  Please let me know if there are more details you would like to know. Thank you for taking the time to read!

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