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Cuenca, Ecuador | Overseas Haven Report

As a favored destination for English-speaking expatriates, Cuenca is strictly a 21st-century phenomenon.

The infrastructure is good and getting better, the weather and colonial culture are excellent and it is relatively easy to get to, especially from the United States.

The city is the perfect size for a lot of people—large enough to have big city amenities and cultural activities but small enough to have a comfortable, homey feel.

The cultural attractions includes Cuenca’s Cañari and Inca heritage, its well-preserved Spanish historic district (second only in South America to nearby Quito’s size), and its reputation as a center for the arts.

It features dozens of museums and art galleries and hosts an international film festival and an art bienal.

Another major draw for expats is Cuenca’s low cost of living, allowing North Americans to live comfortably on Social Security and pension checks.

Other incentives include: an efficient public transportation system, the best drinking water in Latin America, and good health and dental care.

Ample opportunities for outdoor activities abound, including biking, fishing and hiking.

And Cuenca is a great place to get around on foot.

$ 9.95

Cuenca’s “coming out party” came in late 2009, when it was named the world’s #1 retirement destination.  It was the first time a single city had been bestowed the honor, as opposed to the country.

Within months of the first accolade, dozens more followed.  Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and ABC news all offered glowing reviews on Cuenca as an international hot spot.

Although it had received favorable notice in travel publications for years and was known to foreign students as a good place to study Spanish, the city didn’t make a big impression on North Americans considering relocating overseas until the turn of the century.

Cuenca also holds the distinction of being one of the first live-overseas destinations to be promoted primarily on the internet.  When popular expat locations in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama came to the public’s attention in the 1980s and 1990s, they were first promoted in newsletters, newspapers, and magazines.

Most longtime Cuenca expats agree that the city has changed for the better—dramatically in more respects—since the first rush of expats arrived 10 years ago.

Although the colonial charm and warmth of the locals remain unchanged, its infrastructure has undergone impressive upgrades and entertainment and dining options are burgeoning.

The single most visible change is the city’s European-style tram system, a great new form of public transport.

Cuenca now has a broad range of civic and social clubs, special interest groups, and volunteer organizations sponsoring a wide variety of events and activities… theater troupes, fishing clubs, bicyclists, creative writers, U.S. and Canadian veterans, Buddhist meditation, photographers, hikers, quilters, artists, and investors…

Volunteer organizations support a variety of worthy causes, including spay-neuter programs for street dogs, providing shelter and training for abused women, and a school for disable children…

Cuenca’s expat community should continue to grow and prosper along with the rest of the city.

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