Cuenca – Ecuador – Information

Share This Page:

Why not read our Retirement Reviews.


PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Ecuador is US$s.

I stayed a total of 4 nights in Olon in a Double Room (single occupancy) at the La Espanola which was about 150 metres from the beach. I paid US$11.25 / night. I booked through AirBnb.

My room was a good size and came with in-room WiFi, clothes rack, and a Hot Water Ensuite (you need hot water at this time of year!).

Olon is a small, quiet beach town. I good place to relax.

But after coming down the coast through Canoa, Puerto Lopez, Ayampe, Montanita, and (now) Olon I was getting bored with these ‘average’ Ecuadorian beaches … and, a lack of sunshine … so, I decided to head inland to the southern Ecuadorian Highlands … starting with Cuenca …


I walked 100 metres up to the main road to the Olon Bus Terminal.

I bought my 6:30am ticket to Guayaquil (US$6) the previous day. The bus was ‘middle aged’ yet comfortable. It was not full.

We left at 6:45am and headed down the coast. We arrived at the grand Guayaquil Terminal Terrestre 3.5 hours later at 10am.


The Terminal is near the airport: it is new and massive. It is, basically, a Shopping Mall surrounded by a bus terminal. It is easy to get lost.

There are different kiosks servicing different routes. They are located on the ground floor. Each kiosk may service several bus companies for those routes. I found my ‘Cuenca’ kiosk and bought my ticket for the next bus (US$8 plus $0.25c ‘terminal fee’). The next bus left at 10:30am. The kiosk made no attempt to help me find my bus … they just pointed in a general direction.

Finding your bus can be confusing so look at your ticket … it tells you all that you need to know. The buses leave from 3 different levels. Your ticket will have an ‘SP’ number on it which tells you which level to go to. Mine had SP3 so I went up the escalators to level 3. Your ticket also tells you the ‘Bay’ number. Mine was Bay 87. As with airports, follow the signs that lead you to the right Bay. Pass through Security to the correct set of ‘Bays’. Find your Bay and wait for your bus.


My bus left on time at 10:30am.

The scenery was beautiful.

And the roads wound their way through the valleys.

We arrived at the Cuenca Bus Terminal 4 hours later at 2:30pm.


Cuenca is a well known ‘expat Retirement’ location and, as a result, it is well documented on the internet … so, I will not try and repeat the obvious.

It is widely regarded as the most ‘European’ city in Ecuador due to its 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture. The city of Cuenca is located in the highlands of Ecuador at about 2,560 metres (8,400 feet) above sea level.

According to studies and archeological discoveries, the origins of the first inhabitants go back to the year 8000 BC. The Spanish settlement of Cuenca was founded on April 12, 1557.

It has an urban population of approximately 400,000 rising to 700,000 inhabitants in the larger metropolitan area. The centre of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The dominant features of the city’s geography are also the source of its name in Spanish: Cuenca means a ‘basin’ made by a confluence of rivers.


The main attraction is the Historical Centre.

Which, as always, has its central park.

Accompanying Cathedral.

And, accompanying administrative buildings.

These central points are surrounded by your typical ‘Colonial’ streets.

And some luxurious old buildings.

An History Lover’s dream!


You have choices galore.

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in mid September 2018:

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):


I have stopped providing Agoda listings. They more often than not (now) just refer you back to BOOKING.COM listings … and Agoda doesn’t allow you to filter for rooms with a Private Bathroom (which wastes me a lot of time).

PLEASE NOTE: usually displays prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may need to add up to 12% to the displayed price to get the final price.


If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental. I have stopped listing Tripadvisor Vacation Rentals. Alas, TripAdvisor rarely have anything within GRANDPAcker price range.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s


PLEASE NOTE: AirBnB usually displays prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). ALSO, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%). ALSO, watch out for any ‘Cleaning Fee’ as some places charge more than 1 day’s rent!

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.


You should easily be able to find something decent within GRANDPAcking price range.


The highest density of good bars, happy hours, and cheap eateries is down near the river.

Find accommodation in the green-boxed area to get the best out of these as well as easy access to the attractions of the Historical Centre.

Keep north of the Tombebamba river. The south is more commercial / industrial and not so ‘atmospheric’.


Have a look yourself:


I booked myself into the Posada Gran Colombia … it was on the north-eastern ‘edge’ of the Historical Centre. I was in the wrong location.

I booked 5 nights in a Double Room (single occupancy) at a discounted rate of just under US$16 / night including Breakfast.

My room was on the 3rd floor and it was an above average size.

It had some furniture … including a clothes rack. It, also, had excellent Cable TV with heaps of English speaking channels.

It had an average sized ensuite.

And a very good hot water shower (at this time of year, hot water is almost a necessity).

It had a nice view out over a small side street.

The Free WiFi was very good (most of the time) and the Breakfast (although simple) was great for the price that I paid (coffee / tea, fruit juice, 2 scrambles eggs, and toast filled with cheese).

They were even kind enough to refill my coffee for free if I asked them.


Your accommodation should provide free WiFi. But, in this price range, don’t expect it to be good. I was lucky. You will, also, find free WiFi in the ‘better’ restobars around town.


I had my Claro SIMcard and Postpaid Package that I bought at Quito Airport.

For more details, read my post on Canoa.


Cuenca’s inter-provincial bus station, called the ‘Terminal Terrestre’, is located on Avenida España in the northeastern corner of the city … a twenty-minute walk or a brief taxi ride from the Historic Centre.

Using local buses around town can be confusing … so, many people just catch a taxi.

You can walk everywhere around the Historical Centre.


There are restaurants everywhere.


The Punjab Rasoi is said to be one of the cheapest Indians in town.

A Mutton Masala ($10) with a beer ($2.50) costs $12.50.



If you want to keep food prices down to a minimum, the Almuerzos are almost a must. An Almuerzo is a set lunchtime meal that can (often) still be had as late as 6pm in the afternoon.

There aren’t many around town but they can be found. The cafe opposite my Gran Colombia hotel charged $2. A more typical price is $3.


There are several places around town where you can pick up a Burger, Hot Dog, or Salchipapa (sausage and fries) for $1. Some include a free drink. A couple are located on Benigno Malo.

A Cheese Papusa with a coffee in a back street cafe costs $1.20.


Tripadvisor lists several ‘Cheap Eats’ … most of which are around Calle Larga. I tried a typical one from the list: The Prancing Pony. A Nachos (one of the cheaper items on the menu) was $5.50.


Another good place to eat is in one of the 3 nearby Mercados. The Mercados always have some cheap eateries.

Mercado de 10 Agosto is famous for its Roast Pork.

A Roast Pork Meal costs $4.


Expect to pay an average of US$3 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee. Breakfast usually includes a free fruit juice.

Expect to pay an average of US$3 for a cheap ‘Almuerzo’ Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$6.50 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


A typical price for a large 600ml Pilsener in a normal bar is $2 (e.g. La Barraca Cafe). Up this to $2.50 in the tourist bars (e.g. El Chiplote) and $3 in the most popular tourist bars (e.g. The Inca Bar & Lounge).

Most of the Happy Hours are found down Calle Larga on the Riverfront. Most end at 6-7pm. A couple end later. You also find a smattering of Happy Hours around the town centre.

A typical Happy Hour offers a large beer for $2 and 2-for-1 Cocktails in the $5-7 price range.

Next door to the Inca Bar is the Bamboo Bar. They have a terrace with a view out over the river. A large beer is well priced at $2.30.


There is plenty of shopping available. Mainly in the middle to low price range. You won’t find many up-market stores.

There are 3 indoor markets around the Historical Centre but all 3 focus on meat, fruit, and vegetables.

Head towards the Terminal Terrestre if you want to do some cheap shopping for other items such as clothing.


There are plenty of banks and ATMs. Again, I found that Banco Pichincha had the highest withdrawal limit. I was able to take out US$500 in a single transaction (most other banks limit you to US$300).

There is no Bureau De Change.


There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Latin America. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room. Lock up your valuables within your hotel room (single lock hotel room doors are notoriously easy to break into without a key).

There were no mosquitos around.

Don’t drink the tap water.


Cuenca has a subtropical highland climate. Like the rest of the Ecuadorian Andes, Cuenca enjoys a mild climate year-round. Days are generally warm and nights are cool … so, sweaters or jackets are usually desired.

There are two seasons: rainy and dry. The dry season, with some variations, falls between June and December. The rainy season (which is characterized by bright sunny mornings and afternoon showers) falls between January and May.


Visit the attractions of the Historical Centre.


Sit in one of the terrace bars on the riverfront and have drink at sunset. On some weekends they set up with some free music and entertainment.


On a nice day, why not take a long walk around the Parque El Paraio? Allow 3 hours (more if you want to laze around in the park). Start at any of the steps on Calle Larga.

Follow the river east.

Pass the Ruined Bridge.

Pass the Pumapungo Ruins (or pop in for a look).

The Parque starts at the next roundabout.

You can continue on Ave Pumapungo to follow the Rio Tombebamba.

And double back on Ave. Vienticuatro de Mayo to follow Rio Yanuncay.

But you won’t find an entrance to the centre of the park. The park entrance is at the western end near the roundabout.


From Cuenca, I head further south to Saraguro. I will tell you more about that in my next post.


GRANDPAckers CAN afford to LIVE here to GRANDPAcking standard.

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.



My costs are broken down into:

  • Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
  • Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun

I lived to GRANDPAcking standard.

I spent 4 nights at about US$16 / night in a Double Room (single occupancy) with Hot Water Ensuite. 

The Hostal wifi was good and reliable and strong enough to stream videos.

I averaged US$0 / day on Breakfasts. Breakfast was included in my hotel rate.

I averaged under US$0.25c / day on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore. This was usually for fruit juices or coffees.

I averaged about US$8.50 / day on Dinners. This was a mix between Western and Ecuadorian Dinners.

I spent nothing on Drinking water. It was free at my hotel.

My COE worked out to be about US$20 / day.


In / Out Costs: It cost me US$14.25 to get from my Olon Hostel to my Cuenca Hostel.

Living Costs: I averaged about US$5 / day on drinks. I spent $8.85 on some personal items.

My total COL was about US$28 / day.


Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).


Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$22.50 / night excluding Breakfast. Anywhere will do. Once here, ask around. You should be able to get this down to US$15 for something decent long term. Excluding Breakfast.

Transport: You can walk everywhere around town. I include a weekly public transport return day trip for 2 people to somewhere close by ($1.50 return per person).

Communications & Fees: I include a Claro Tourist SIMcard: 1 Month Data, 4GB Data, Unlimited Texts, 110 Local Talk Minutes, 23 Intl America Talk Minutes. US$27.

Food & Beverages: Your budget is US$27.50 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.

Your COE is US$43 / day.


This leaves you just enough to LIVE on.


THE GRANDPAcking ACID TESTCan a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES.

And, there plenty of expats that have already decided to do so.


If you like Historical City living, have a look at Cuenca. However, you will find that most expats don’t live in the city centre … a large concentration of expats live in ‘Gringo Alley’ 3 kms west of town centre around Ave Ordonez Lasso.


Why not FOLLOW US to stay up to date with our Postings and Retirement Reviews.

Share This Page: