My 10 least favorite things about Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca bus system, negatives on Cuenca
Cuenca bus system, negatives on Cuenca

Buses are convenient, except when they’re spewing toxic fumes in your face.

Cuenca is a beautiful city. I love the weather, the history, and the tranquility, but if you are looking for a place to retire to, you want to hear the negatives too…

  1. Air pollution. Every time a bus goes by it spews black-colored smoke into your face, and there are a lot of buses in Cuenca!
  2. Difficult to buy things you’re used to. I have yet to find chia seeds, coriander seeds, and I almost cried when I saw coconut milk for the first time at the supermarket (albeit for $5/can). If you want to order something online from, say hello to $10/lb shipping surcharges and several weeks wait-time with forwarding services like Club Correos. You may not notice this as a tourist eating out a lot of the time, but as a resident living in Cuenca, it is a pain!
  3. Dating in Cuenca as a woman: 75% of the men are shorter than me, and I’m only 5’7″. If you’re not catholic/christian (I’m agnostic buddhist), you’re out of luck. A lot of men are married and with 3 kids by age 25, so if you’re single and 29 years old you’re already day-old bread. The remaining singles typically live with their parents “mamitis”, and “gringeros” looking for the “amor de su visa” (i.e. a rich gringa to marry to get their US visa) are not uncommon.
  4. It rains! It’s not super-cold rain, but it rains often enough, and it’s enough to make me want to stay at home and do absolutely nothing but watch a book or read a movie.
  5. Cultural flakiness. OK, maybe I need to adjust my attitude, because they say only Americans and Germans are superpunctual, but when an Ecuadorean says to meet at 6pm, it might mean to meet at 7pm, or it might be that they will text you at 6:10 saying they can’t make it at all. Same goes for business, a handshake means nothing, don’t believe it until it’s in writing, signed, or it’s actually happened.
  6. Probability of death by car accident. I’ve been in a buseta (private van) that was actually passing another car while that same car was passing a truck (i.e. 3 lanes of cars all going the same way, side by side). I’ve also almost been run over when walking around the city because no one obeys the pedestrian right of way.
  7. Obligatory rest days. They say Cuenca is a great place to retire with a lot of “tranquilidad.” What that actually means is that if you like to go out, expect to be very very bored Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. A good 75% of the restaurants and bars are closed (more like 90% on Sundays). Most businesses are also closed on Sundays. I usually either go to Banos (thermal pools), stay at home and read a book, or practice/teach salsa. And if you need something (anything) at 3am in the morning, fuggedabout it!!!
  8. Alcohol as form of entertainment. People drink, a lot! Beer is cheap. I have nothing against a glass of wine or two a couple nights a week, but when getting drunk is people’s primary source of entertainment, it’s kind of lame.
  9. Fix it now…or 2 months from now. The reputable “maestros” (construction specialists, plumbers, carpinters, electricians) are all in short supply. What that means…..when a pipe in your bathroom is leaking (occasionally getting water all over the floor (as does mine), your landlord will tell you that she is waiting for them to be available, maybe Saturday, maybe next Saturday….
  10. Don’t mind me, I’m just listening to my music. Some seem to have no sense of common courtesy in public. I.e. the youngster who plays loud heavy metal music without headphones on the bus, the men who make shhhhhhing noises at women in the streets for no apparent reason, the cuencano version of a catcall, or who simply say “chinita”, as if I didn’t know I was part Chinese. Or the youngsters during Carnaval who think it’s hilarious to throw water bombs at everyone, and dump buckets of water on the pedestrians on the street (not just for a day, but for 2 weeks!….A real Carnaval is when there’s music and dance). Learn from the Brazilians dudes!
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7 Responses to "My 10 least favorite things about Cuenca, Ecuador"
  1. What about smoking? Living in California, and a bit of a “sheltered life” since none of my friends smokes, smelling cigarette smoke happens to me once in a blue moon. I don’t know how I’d handle lots of it everywhere.

    • RoamingLisa says:

      Haha, yeah I lived in California for 29 years, so I’m in the same boat you are with regards to smoke tolerance. Not a problem. I’ve only been to one bar – La Mesa – where there were people smoking in the hallway in the entrance with no ventilation (yuck!), but they were also serving alcohol on a weeknight past midnight (another violation). I was there when the police bust in, made everyone go home, and since then, no smoking and they stop serving alcohol at 11:30. People do smoke on the terraces (i.e. the balcony of Inca Bar, the outdoor patio at Coffee tree). And I have a couple friends who shall remain anonymous who smoke weed like chimneys (something you’re probably also used to if you’re from California!)

  2. Carol Moyle says:

    You need to remember you are in a foreign country …that means THEIR culture .. NOT American … if you want an American lifestyle, you need to stay in America. There is not a pedestrian-right-of-way in Ecuador, vehicles have the right away, and several other American concepts do not apply here. You come to Ecuador, or any foreign country, because you are looking for adventure and a new way of living life.
    Buena Suerte!! (Good Luck!!)

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