Becoming Cuenca

Cuenca’s Lifestyle

Apr 16, 2024

One of the biggest concerns of people considering Cuenca as their future home is lifestyle.  This includes the goods and services they use, their choice of leisure activities, their tastes in art (such as film and music), and quality of life.

For the most part, people who are seriously considering Cuenca want a healthy lifestyle. They want to leave behind their current life situations for a variety of reasons.

This is a cry I hear all of the time in Cuenca from people who left the United States. I am not exaggerating.

It seems that mass gun shootings are always in the U.S. news. Here are some of the worst this year:


April 14, 2024, Nashville, TN, 0 Killed, 6 Injured

April 14, 2024, New Orleans, LA, 1 Killed, 11 Injured

April 14, 2024, Dallas, TX, 1 Killed, 8 Injured

April 13, 2024, Wynne, AR, 1 Killed, 9 Injured

April 13, 2024, Chicago, IL, 1 Killed, 10 Injured

April 7, 2024, San Antonio, TX, 0 Killed, 6 Injured

April 6, 2024, Miami, FL, 1 Killed, 7 Injured

March 31, 2024, Chicago, IL, 1 Killed, 4 Injured

March 30, 2024, Indianapolis, IN, 0 Killed, 7 Injured (7 Children)

March 17, 2024, Washington, DC, 2 Killed, 5 Injured

March 16, 2024, Indianapolis, IN, 1 Killed, 5 Injured

March 10, 2024, Jonesboro, AR, 2 Killed, 5 Injured

March 6, 2024, Philadelphia, PA, 0 Killed, 8 Injured (8 Children)

March 3, 2024, King City, CA, 4 Killed, 7 Injured

March 3, 2024, West Point, MS, 1 Killed, 12 Injured

February 19, 2024, Indianapolis, IN: 1 Killed, 5 Injured

February 14, 2024, Kansas City, MO: 1 Killed, 22 Injured (9 Children)

February 11, 2024, Chicago, IL: 0 Killed, 7 Injured

January 17, 2024, Kansas City, MO: 0 Killed, 6 Injured

January 4, 2024, Baton Rouge, LA: 1 Killed, 5 Injured

January 4, 2024, Perry, IA: 2 Killed, 5 Injured


And those are just the worst ones in the last 106 days, with the latest five happening in a 48-hour period.

Our lifestyle in Cuenca is free of the 43,069 gun deaths and 656 mass shootings in the United States in 2023. We are thrilled to be away from a country that averages 1.2 guns per person. Many of us left because we were in a country where even the horrors of Sandy Hook and Uvalde, Texas wasn’t enough to change a thing.

An opinion piece in the Kansas City Star by Vahe Gregorian about the mass gun shootings at the Super Bowl victory parade said, “The day and even this golden time in Kansas City was shattered in an all-too-familiar American tale that finally, almost inevitably, descended on us: the never-ending cycle of shots fired by lunatics and mass casualties and terrified throngs scrambling for safety and the chilling sound of endless sirens.”

The Kansas City Star added, “It’s utter madness that this somehow keeps being treated merely as the cost of living in America.”

For us, the cost to our peace of mind and wellbeing is extremely important. We do not want to fear living our homes to become a victim of the United States’ unique form of domestic terrorism. The cost of remaining in the U.S. is simply too high.

Please note this is not an anti-gun blog post.

I am just trying to state the facts and to present how expats feel about being far away from the world’s outlier in firearm possession and gun-related deaths. Our lifestyle is better in a society that doesn’t worship guns.

All is not rosy in Ecuador. I have stated that in my recent blog posts about the drug gangs running rampant in the coastal areas of Ecuador. For the most part, Cuenca has been spared from it.

Ecuador was once considered an “island of peace” in Latin America. Last year was the most violent in the country’s history.

There were 7,872 murders, which is 43.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. To put that horrible number into perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2021, it was 7.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants for the United States.

This violence is a recent thing for Ecuador. In 2020, the murder rate was 7.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. Most of those murders were in Guayaquil and the coastal areas. And the vast majority were not random as it involved the drug gangs fighting over territory.

Since January 9th, under the excellent leadership of President Daniel Noboa, Ecuador has greatly reduced the crimes (including gun murders) committed by the drug cartels.

On February 15th, the country’s presidency said more than 8,000 people had been arrested since January 9th, including 241 on charges of terrorism. According to the Wall Street Journal, because of this very aggressive action by Noboa, homicides have fallen 70 percent.

And now…

For the more positive and pleasant aspects of the lifestyle in Cuenca.

One thing I would say everyone enjoys is eating out. For expats, eating out is about having fun.  Eating out is not just about food; it is the experience and the company.

Proof of how much expats love food is Facebook. You will see hundreds of Facebook photos of expats sitting at tables at restaurants in Cuenca. Usually, there are two couples in the photo. Many times, it is a group. They are always smiling at their favorite restaurant or at their newest restaurant discovery.

There are expats who love their favorite restaurants so much that they will have numerous Facebook posts about it. They are deeply passionate about their eating and drinking establishments.

And many of these same expats do little cooking at home. Their meals are all over town. It is their new lifestyle that they thoroughly enjoy.

But it was not always that way. When I visited Cuenca for the first time in 2011, your choices of restaurants were limited. Finding a meal that was above average was difficult. Frankly, getting a good meal was not an easy thing to have; Cuenca was a gastronomique desert.

In 2021, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, TripAdvisor had just over 500 listings for restaurants in Cuenca. Three years later, TripAdvisor listed 619 restaurants.

Basic math says that is about a 20 percent increase. There are more than 619 restaurants in Cuenca as TripAdvisor is driven by peer reviews, which means the huge majority are from tourists. Many neighborhood restaurants are not listed.

Some of the very good additions to Cuenca in the last two years include:


Cooking With Rey (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:

El Club Del Queso (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:

Fleurette (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:

Nómadas Bistró (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:

Primitivo Pizzeria y Paninoteca (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:

Télicioso Tea Room (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:

tPasta (Please see my CuencaHighLife article at:


Pablo Picasso said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

In Cuenca, we are constantly bathed in the arts. A city with a university is usually a big cultural arts center for the region. When there are four universities in a city, it becomes an arts capital.

That is what Cuenca is as it has been called by native Ecuadorians and expats: “The Arts Capital of Ecuador.” Others have said Cuenca is a rising arts capital in all of Latin America.

Pope John Paul II said, “The purpose of art is nothing less than the upliftment of the human spirit.”

All genres of music are represented in Cuenca. Live classical music can be heard numerous times a year. Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuenca is funded by the national government, but it performs as a local symphony for the residents.

Founded in 1972, many of the symphony’s concerts are performed at their home at Teatro Pumapungo. With 700 seats it is big enough for a wide variety of events and small enough to still feel intimate.

A good portion of the performances are in a lovely setting at the Old Cathedral of Cuenca. It has performed at other large churches, including Iglesia de Santo Domingo and Iglesia La Merced.

The symphony is beloved by expats as they find the music to be world class. I have a friend who never misses a performance. There are members of the symphony who know her first name. Adding to everyone’s love of the symphony is the concerts are free.

Cuenca is rich with local bands playing at several locations in the city. One of the biggest venues for live music is Common Grounds Sports Bar & Grill. It is a huge expats hangout, but there can be a large Ecuadorian presence in the audience.

Other live venues are La Guarida and Bistro Yaku. Both of these are popular restaurants in the city.

LaGuarida is a great place to have an intimate musical experience. It has hosted musicians like Ali Medina, a very talented Ecuadorian musician who brings a vibrant blend of Andean music with a repertoire of diverse genres.

The Loja native has garnered numerous international awards and is celebrated as a musical ambassador of Ecuador. His most notable recognition was being recognized as the best folklore performer at a competition in Italy.

Many of these local bands are expats of all ages. One group says they are “a loose group of musicians playing Blues and Americana music.” Another group says they are “a soul, blues, jazz, and funk band.” They add, “We are a seven-piece band and will surely get your feet moving’ and your hands clapping.”

There is a trio of musicians that all play the ukulele. They say, “We play our eclectic mix of music with our favorite ukes, 12 string guitar, mandolin and harmonious voices!”

Just the other day, Joanna and I got to hear Cuenca’s newest band, Lizamett, a heavy metal band.

“Our band experiments with progressions of neoclassical and symphonic,” Mario “Musek” Morocho, the band’s keyboardist, told Joanna and me. “Our sound is combined with lyrics that deal with stories, tales and fables that lead you to consider the fantasy or reality of your existence and your passage through this wonderful journey called life.”

The band is still in its infancy as it was formed in August 2022, but it is now getting recognition in the country and airtime in Cuenca. In February, León Gómez, in Quito did a podcast with Lizamett. In November, they were featured on “Sabados De Metal” podcast on Spotify. And the group’s excellent music is on Super 94.9 and Radio Visión.

You will find Ecuador to be more like Europe than the United States and Canada. Big Box stores are not to be found all over Cuenca.

Basically, any large store will be found at the city’s malls. Coral Hipermercados is a good example.  Expats just call it Coral, and they compare it to Walmart.  There are a lot of similarities with these two stores as what they sell covers a wide array of products, including food.

The Ecuadorian Walmart has large stores that are located at three shopping centers in Cuenca: Mall Del Rio, Monay Shopping Center, and Centro Comercial El Batán. Their fourth large store, Coral Centro, is located on the southwest side of the city. They have smaller stores throughout Cuenca, including a tienda size one in El Centro.

Since this is the 21st century and because electronics is a big part of our lives, having a store that handles our needs is important. La Victoria is by far the biggest store in Cuenca for electronics.

It is fair to say it is like a smaller version of Best Buy as La Victoria sells computer equipment, televisions, video cameras, musical instruments, and some major appliances.

The selection of electronics is less than what you can find at a Best Buy, but this is Ecuador. Unlike the United States, stores in this country do not have dozens of choices for each product.

There are major import taxes on electronics, so you can expect higher prices on anything not made here. Right now, Ecuador does not have a trade agreement with the U.S.

Specialty stores are the king in Cuenca. With a lack of big box stores, no place will have it all for you.

Want men’s clothing? Go to a shop that only sells clothing for men. Want leather goods? You go to a store that specializes in only leather. Need a hat? Cuenca is famous for them. The odds are you will end up at a store that only sells hats.

How about some art supplies for your hobbies? Gogo Distribuciones is a decent size art store in El Centro. The locals seem to frequent this store more than expats.

My wife gets most of her art supplies at a small art store in El Centro. Aki Arte is so small that there is just enough room for five or six people to stand in it. Because it is owned and operated by one woman, it closes for a couple of hours in the middle of the day.

This only skims the surface of the lifestyle you can have in Cuenca. Retirees finally have the freedom to choose how to spend their time, and Cuenca is a great place to find your calling.

There are a variety of ways to enjoy a high-quality of life without pinching pennies. Hopefully, you will have that opportunity in Cuenca.

I leave you for now with two quotes from famous people:


“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” ~Walt Disney

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” ~Steve Jobs


Good luck on your move to Cuenca, my friend.

A lot more information on life in Cuenca can be found in my book, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life.” Some say it is the most thorough book out there concerning moving to and living in this beautiful city.

You may want to sign up to be notified when I post new information and photos. By doing this, you will get the latest as soon as it goes online.

And please! Have several reliable sources of information before making any decision about moving to Cuenca. I consider myself a trusted source, but you definitely need more than me for your big resettlement.

Salud, mi amigo.


Una Nueva Vida – A New Life

- by Stephen Vargha

There are over 80 professional-quality photos shot by me to give you a clear ‘picture’ about life in this historic mountain city.