We spent the day in Cuenca, which is a very pretty city, as so many people in Quito told us. There is a trout-filled river that runs through the city, and lots of churches and houses that go back to colonial times.
Along the river, green mowed lawns line the banks, no trash just the river and people sunning themselves. In the distance, striking green mountains are visible, many dotted with houses. But it takes getting into the city to see the beauty that’s here. The airport has only a handful of daily flights, and one runway.
It wasn’t until we had started to navigate the narrow streets of the historic city did the beauty become apparent. The colors and the architecture are well preserved. More than 4000 retirees and expats have made Cuenca their home, and plans call for up to 4500 more in the year ahead. Most of these are from the US and Canada but some are from Spain and other countries in Europe. They come for the spring like
climate, and houses that cost between $70 and 500,000. You can get a lot of house for not that much here in Cuenca.
Rents are around $350-800 per month, which for many people is pretty tempting. Unlike in many other parts of South America there are no restrictions on foreigners buying property–yet. The city has a population of about 435,000. The city is pretty indeed, but marred by an absurd number of large city buses which ply the narrow streets and every wide turn they make sweeps over the sidewalks.
Belching diesel smoke, most of them are full, there are a lot of residents here who ride and pay the 25 cent bus fares. Plans call for a system of trollies powered by electricity, since the big push is on to build and harness hydro electric power in Ecuador. The exhaust fumes have damaged many of the buildings that earned a UNESCO World Heritage site designation here in 1992.
That’s the only downside to this city–traffic jams are everywhere, and there are fumes coming out at you no matter where you go. I predict that in five years or so they will block off pedestrian areas in parts of the historic center. It’s a natural evolution. Cuenca isnt’ a tourist-only driven town, however popular it might be. The big industries are huge gold, silver and other mines that employ thousands of local residents. Workers have to stay during the week at the mines which are five hours away. There are also big tire plants run by General and Continental tire where many here work.