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The True Cost of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador

The cost of living in Cuenca, or Ecuador in general, is often cited as one of the core reasons why expats move here. 

It was a consideration for Michelle and me too. In particular, the cost of schools in Cuenca is approx half of that in Quito. So, we decided to move from Quito to Cuenca when the youngest was entering school partly to help cut down on living costs. We both work remotely, so the lower wages in Cuenca were not an issue for us. 

I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with our costs of living to give you an idea of total living costs in Cuenca, Ecuador.

These costs are itemized into our monthly budget below:

Category Item Cost (Monthly)
Home Rent $800
Home Internet (25Mb Up/Down) $30
Home Water $10
Home Electricity $20
Home Security $22
Home Home phone $6
Home Gas $3
Home Maid (4 x monthly) $80
Home Gardener (1 x monthly) $30
Home Mobile Phone (x2) $20
Food Fruit & Vegetables (Mercados) $85
Food Groceries (SuperMaxi) $220
Health Heatlh Insurance $170
Car Gasoline (Small Car) $30
Car Car Maintanence $100
Kids School Fees (2 kids) $500
Kids Horse riding (2 kids) $100
Discretionary Cafes & Restaurants $150
Discretionary Yoga (2 adults) $60
Discretionary Clothes $100
Discretionary Streaming (Netflix & Spotify) $15
Total Monthly $2,552

We live a simple, middle-class life in Ecuador. We are fortunate to always have enough food on our table, a small car, rent a large house and have some help from a maid and gardener.

You can find some reports of expats living on less than $1,000 per month and this is certainly possible if you live a simple, frugal lifestyle away from the major cities of Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.

You can also get a good basic feel for cost of living in Cuenca from sites like Numbeo where you can compare your current city with Cuenca (or other Ecuadorian cities). I like the granularity of Numbeo as it allows you to pry directly into the cost of basics like milk, bread and beer. Given Ecuador also uses the USD, if you’re comparing costs from the US, then it’s a very straight forward exercise.

 

Cuenca Home Costs

These form the most substantial component of our budget. We also have a considerable amount of discretionary spending here, so you can certainly cut down on a few of these things to cut costs.

 

Rent – $800/month


We rent a large house on the outskirts of Cuenca in the Challuabumba neighborhood. It’s a 15 min drive to Cuenca on the Autopista (main highway). We chose here because it’s a little warmer than Cuenca itself, close to our school of choice, and we can get a much bigger house (and yard) than we could get in Cuenca. We like the privacy available to us and there are enough local shops, including a supermarket, that we really don’t need to visit Cuenca if we don’t want to.

The biggest downside of living 15 mins away from Cuenca is that we found it necessary to purchase a car (and get an Ecuadorian driver’s licence). There are buses and taxis, but we found them too time-consuming and limiting. We also like to explore close by towns, villages and mountains on the weekends which is easier with a car.

Our house is a 2 level, 4 bedroom house with a large rear yard and good sized front yard. The previous tenant was an expat that clearly poured a lot of love into the garden, attracting many hummingbirds. We were the first to see the house as it was coming onto the rental market and we immediately said, “yes, we’ll take it!”

Our current landlords are amazing – which has really made a big difference to the overall enjoyment of the space. Everything gets fixed, even some improvements made. Our previous landlord was an absolute nightmare who never fixed anything, so we’re super grateful to have wonderful landords now.

A similar house in Cuenca itself would rent for $1K+, so we’re happy with the price we’re paying for the location.

You can find 4 bedroom homes for less than $800 per month, but you probably won’t get your entire wish list. A properly maintained and welcoming garden was important to us, so we were willing to pay a bit extra for this.

Some expats do purchase homes instead of renting. If you’re on the fence, check out our article on renting vs buying in Ecuador.

 

Internet – $31/month


You’ll likely have different internet options depending on where you live in Cuenca. Our experience is the speed you can get will largely depend on the port availability at the distribution hub. Ie There may not be any more fibre optic ports available at the closest hub, so you’ll need to choose a different plan, provider, wait until a port becomes available, or beg your internet technician to find an available port.

We pay $30.90 each month for a 25MB down/up plan from Etapa. Etapa is basically the default option as they are government-controlled and are also responsible for the infrastructure.

We’re happy with the speeds that we receive at our current house. We normally get very close to the speeds we pay for (25MB Down/Up). See the speed test below:

ETAPA Cuenca Internet Speeds

Our main issue is ensuring the entire house receives coverage via strategically placed repeaters.

Other popular options in Cuenca include Puntonet (Celerity – fibre optic) and Netlife.

Take note of the contract terms. Many plans are 2-3 years, with penalties for leaving early. Our plan from Etapa allows us to take the connection with us if we move (within their Cuenca service region). But if not, then we’ll need to pay for the installation costs ($55) that we waived at the start of the contract. Some companies have higher termination costs such as paying out the rest of the plan + exit fee.

 

Water – $10/month


Water is cheap in Ecuador. The water in Cuenca is noted as having some of the best water quality in the world due, so you shouldn’t feel the need to get in bottled water or pay anything extra.

With 2 adults and 2 kids, we’re constantly using the shower and washing clothes. We consider $10/month for water to be a very good deal.

 

Electricity – $20/month


Our house has a lot of lights and we generally have at least 1 (normally 2) screens on during the day. We weren’t given a choice with the electricity provider.

The biggest issue I’ve found with electricity providers in Ecuador is they are ruthless when it comes to turning the power off for non-payment. If you are a day late, someone may come to your house & ask what is going on and request payment. Or, they may just cut off your power without warning.

Our power has been cut off in Cuenca and we’ve needed to go to the Electricity company to have it switched back on (the following working day).

 

Security – $22/month


This is largely for peace of mind. This covers the cost of the electric fence, alarm and monitoring from the security company. The company is generally very quick to respond to any alarm.

It pays to shop around for a security company. I’d definitely recommend asking your neighbors for their experience with their providers as a starting point.

The other form of security comes from our neighbors. We live in a welcoming community where every house belongs to the WhatsApp group created for discussing any practical issues like security.

As an example, last night our next-door neighbors’ alarm went off. They were out of town, so I got up to check it out and their security company was already there and talking to another neighbor. Our next-door neighbor was thankful to have all of their neighbors and the security company watching their back whilst they weren’t there. Other neighbors have done the exact same for us.

 

Home phone – $6/month


I’ll be honest, I don’t know why we have a home phone as we always use our mobile phones for calling locally or Skype for international calls.

Okay, I’ve just asked Michelle and we have the home phone only for the security system as it uses our landline to communicate with the alarm company.

 

Gas (Propane) – $3/month


Gas is ridiculously cheap in Ecuador. The price varies a little by city, but expect to pay around $3 per bottle delivered to your home. And, expect to be annoyed by the constant passing of gas trucks through your neighborhood, complete with speakers blaring a ‘gas truck’ song so you don’t miss them.

We generally only go through 1 (maybe 2) gas tanks each month. This powers our hot water, oven and even our clothes dryer. We don’t use a space heater.

You’ll need to pay for at least one, we recommend an additional as a spare, propane tank for about $45. The condition isn’t super important, just make sure it isn’t too rusty… Then you can participate in the home deliveries where they just swap tanks. Quick, easy and cheap. You should be able to sell the tank for a similar price ($45) upon leaving.

 

Maid (4 x monthly) – $80/month


Depending on how busy we are, we alternate between having a full-time maid/nanny and just having her come in 1 day per week for the ‘deeper’ cleans.

We’ve found it hard to find a quality, affordable nanny that is still happy to do a fair amount of cleaning. You may need to trial a few until you get a feel for their enthusiasm for the work offered.

If you’re providing any sort of on-going work, you may also be required to register this with IESS and also be aware of the full range of pay entitlements. This includes paying into the IESS system and the two additional monthly salaries each year (ie 13th & 14th months).

We also provide lunches and coffee for any worker in our house. I believe this is a fairly standard custom. Even if the worker has their lunch, the gesture has always been appreciated and it’s a nice way to get to know the workers a little more.

 

Gardener (1 x monthly) – $30/month


Whilst we enjoy doing a lot of gardening ourselves, we also pay for a gardener to come once a month to do the stuff we aren’t equipped for. In particular, we don’t have a lawn mower, edge trimmer or a decent hedge trimmer.

The amount we pay is for 2 gardeners for the entire day. They are very efficient and knowledgable. Their knowledge of how to grow certain things or control bugs has also been very valuable to us.

Again, on top of their payment, we also provide lunch and coffee.

 

Mobile Phone (x2) – $20/month


Michelle and I both use mobile phones.

I’ve just switched to Tuenti (a challenger low-cost brand) and pay $5 for 2GB data, 30 mins of calls & free Whatsapp. This plan lasts for 30 days. The biggest downside for me is that they use the Movistar network, which isn’t so great where we live (Claro has much better service).

I use a cheap Android phone which is not included in the pre-paid plan from Tuenti.

Michelle is on a $15 pre-paid plan from Claro that provides 15GB data, 200mins of calls & free Whatsapp. This also lasts one month. Michelle needs a better, more reliable plan than me as she uses her mobile a lot for work.

Michelle has also purchased her phone outright. Electronics like phones and computers can be expensive in Ecuador, so we recommend bringing these electronics with you.

The two main networks in Ecuador are Movistar and Claro. My experience is that Claro generally provides better coverage, but they are also difficult to deal with. Ie You can no longer just turn up at their service center to receive help, but need to make an appointment using their not-so-great app.

Getting out of post-paid plans without a significant exit fee has proven to be difficult for us. So, we’ve vowed to stick to pre-paid as we’re a little sick of being the games played by telco companies in Ecuador.

 

Home Subtotal – $1022/month

We find this a very reasonable cost for our lifestyle. However, there are some discretionary costs that can be minimized if we needed to. Take out the maid, gardener, security and home phone and you’ve cut down expenses by $138. Rent a slightly cheaper home or apartment at $600/month and you’ve saved another $200.

Combine both savings and we’d take our monthly home costs down to $684.

 

Cuenca monthly food costs

The main food choice you’re going to make in Cuenca is how much food you’ll buy at the local markets (mercados) vs the supermarkets such as Supermaxi. The more you can shift your purchases towards the mercados, the cheaper it will be.

 

Fruit and vegetables (mercados) – $85/month


Ecuador has cheap and plentiful fruit and vegetables. Our family of 4 finds it difficult to spend more than $20 on fruits and vegetables each week. And we mostly eat a plant-based diet. Check out this article for the types and costs of fruits and vegetables in Ecuador.

We are always sure to have a steady supply of starchy staples such as potatoes, green plantains (for bolones de verde) and choclos (corn). These form the basis of 3-4 meals each week.

We’ve included our coffee costs in the fruit and vegetable section as we generally buy these at the same time. We pay $4 per pound of quality roasted coffee beans. You can have them ground for the same price.

If you’re not aware, Ecuador has some very good quality coffee. But, coffee culture as we know it with fancy coffee roasters, cafes and hipster baristas are still in their infancy.

 

Groceries (Supermaxi) – $220/month


Supermaxi is the biggest and most renowned supermarket chain in Ecuador. They have 4 locations in Cuenca that are well scattered throughout.

The big advantages Supermaxi have over the mercados are quality control and variety. If you’re after some creature comfort foods from back home, your best bet is going to be Supermaxi. Note – these comfort foods will also increase your food bill. A lot.

We generally buy all of our cleaning, toiletries, dairy, bread and meat from Supermaxi. We’re making a conscious effort to ween ourselves away from Supermaxi by baking our own bread and making our own yoghurt etc, but the convenience of Supermaxi can be hard to break free from!

Supermaxi tip: Flash your cedula to a store assistant and ask where you can apply for a loyalty card. Most locations allow you to sign up on the spot and issue you with a loyalty card. This will open up more specials and shave a few dollars off your grocery bill.

You can certainly decrease your grocery bill by buying meat and dairy from the mercados, and many do. But we don’t really eat much of either, so it would probably cut down our bill to $180 or so.

 

Food Subtotal – $305/month

Ecuador has an in-built price incentive to purchase fresh, unprocessed food. This is opposite to many developed countries where the balance is skewed more towards processed food.

If you’re aware of this and able to take advantage by switching your diet and cooking towards fresh, unprocessed food, then Ecuador is perfect for you.

If your diet consists of processed food, high-quality meat, or you just need to eat certain brands, then your food bill is going to be considerably higher.

Your meat requirements are also worthwhile considering as Ecuador does not have a good reputation for producing high quality, cheap meat. You can find different meats, but there is no government assistance for farmers, so meat prices might be higher (and of lower quality) than you’re used to.

Vegan basics are covered with plentiful fruits, vegetables and grains. There’s some organic markets in Cuenca too and the prices are not much more than the regular markets. Supermaxi stocks some vegan-friendly food such as tofu, cheese and fake meats. But, if you need to take it up a notch and buy specialty items like nutritional yeast, then you’ll need to find a store like Nectar, bring it with you, or have it muled in.

 

Cuenca Health Insurance Costs


You have the option of private or public health insurance in Ecuador. But, many temporary residency visas require private health insurance. We also think you’re better off with private health insurance until you’ve properly explored the public health system.

The public health system is a lot cheaper, but the level of care is not as high as the private system.

 

Health Insurance (2 x adults) – $170/month

Our private health insurance with Salud allows us to visit our preferred hospital in-network. The main health insurance variables are yearly plan limits, deductibles, co-pays and network coverage.

We haven’t done a lot of research into other health insurance providers, so it’s quite possible that we’ll change providers over the next 6 months.

It’s worth pointing out the cost of medical treatment is considerably lower than many expats are used to (especially if you’re US based). The cost to see a doctor or even a specialist in Cuenca is generally less than $50. So, some expats choose to self-insure for these smaller costs, but still have public IESS insurance to cover any major surgeries, etc.

 

Car Costs in Cuenca

The decision to buy a car in Cuenca is not one that should be taken lightly. It involves a commitment and they are expensive. But, getting an Ecuadorian driver’s licence is relatively easy once you know how.

 

Gasoline (small car) – $30/month


Gasoline in Cuenca, and Ecuador, is super cheap. But, gasoline prices in Ecuador are a hot topic as the strike in 2019 that resulted in nation-wide chaos was partly caused by the President removing a long-held subsidy on gas and diesel prices.

The President eventually backed down, but was able to slide in a decree in 2020 that removes the subsidy, but limits the effect of any price movement to 5%.

The current price for gasoline is approx $1.75 for regular gasoline (ie Ecopais) and is $1.00 for diesel.

We have a 1.8L manual hatchback car and generally go through 1.5 tanks per month. It costs us $20 each time we fill up.

 

Car maintanence – $100/month


Maintaining a car in Ecuador is relatively cheap given that labor costs are so cheap. But, if you need to rely on imported parts than it will cost you considerably more. For this reason, Ecuadorian’s tend to like commonly available cars like Chevrolets.

Whilst I consider the roads in Ecuador to be good compared to other Latin American countries, they are not as good you’ll find in many developed nations. Potholes, speed bumps and other unexpected surprises caused by the weather (ie landslides and fog) can make driving difficult and cause a fair bit of wear and tear on the car. And, given Cuenca is in the Andes, you’re bound to be going up and down mountains a lot which also puts pressure on the engine.

Given the expected wear and tear on cars here, you’ll need to find a good, honest mechanic in Cuenca.

We’ve included the following in our $100/month car maintenance costs:

  • General repairs (ie suspension, brakes etc)
  • Tire replacement
  • Oil & other minor servicing
  • Car washing twice per month ($5 each time).

 

Car Subtotal – $130/month

This is an easy cost to remove if you decide to live in the city of Cuenca as many expats get by without a car. Taxis, buses and trams are cheap and you’d be doing well to spend more than $30-40 per month.

If we didn’t have a car, then I’d expect us to spend around $150/month on transport. The majority of this would be on taxis as it costs us about $8 each way to get into Cuenca.

 

Child Related Costs in Cuenca

I’ve already mentioned that the cheaper cost of schools in Cuenca was one of the reasons we moved here from Quito. On top of that, general activities like horse-riding and other after-school activities are cheaper here.

 

School Fees (2 kids) – $500


You can choose the private or public school system in Ecuador. We’ve noticed a very substantial difference in the quality of teaching offered through each system, with private schools generally outperforming public schools in every metric except for cost.

School fees for our school of choice in Cuenca are $250/month. Transport costs extra, but we don’t need it as we drive or walk the kids to school.

There are also yearly costs such as uniforms, books and in what is a weird custom to me, you’ll also need to buy (and label with your child’s name) a whole host of other materials that they’ll use throughout the year. I’m talking about stuff like educational toys down to colored paper. Basically, anything your child will use throughout the year, you are expected to buy at the start of the year.

These one-off costs are why the government mandates workers receive an extra payment in August – to help pay for these educational costs.

School fees vary a lot. You can find schools in Cuenca that cost $800/month down the $100 or so. Homeschooling is another option that is popular amongst expats.

 

Horse Riding (2 kids) – $100


This covers tuition and riding twice per week for each child. I realize horse riding is very specific, but most after-school activities are in a similar range, costing $30-50 per month.

Other activities include football (of course), bike riding, dancing, swimming and hiking.

Child Costs Subtotal – $600/month (2 kids)

If you’re looking to put your kids through private school, you will be looking to pay a similar amount for education in Cuenca. You’ll pay considerably more in Quito or Guayaquil.

Obviously you can save yourself some money if you removed the after-school activities and decided to go to a cheaper school. But, I would suggest you check out the various schools you’re considering before making any decision because the teaching methods and environments can vary a lot.

 

Discretionary Costs

Alright, time to spend some cash on the fun stuff!

 

Cafes & Restaurants – $150/month


We generally eat out 4 times per month for lunch and another 4-5 times for cafe style coffee and snacks. For 2 adults and 2 kids, lunch generally costs $20-$30 and the coffee/snacks around $10.

Michelle and I will also go for the occasional date night approx once per month where it’s just the two of us having dinner and drinks. This might cost $20 or $50 depending on how romantic we’re feeling lol.

 

Yoga (2 adults) – $60/month


There’s a decent selection of yoga studios in Cuenca, most of which offer drop-in classes for around $5. Better value are the monthly passes which we currently pay $30/month for. This gives us more than enough yoga every month.

Yoga not for you? No problem. Gyms and other activities also have monthly passes in a similar $30-$50/month bracket.

 

Clothes – $100/month


Whilst we generally wait until we holiday in another country to buy clothes, we still purchase some basics in Cuenca like shoes, jumpers etc. You are better off bringing clothes with you if possible – especially if you’re a larger ‘gringo’ size as your options here might be limited.

 

Streaming (Netflix & Spotify) – $15/month


Streaming costs are likely to be cheaper in Ecuador than in your home country. The combined cost of Netflix and Spotify for individual plans is $15.

I know numerous extended families in Ecuador that pay much less than this because they take advantage of the family plans which work out to be much cheaper.

With IPTV and a Firestick, you may find you have access to enough channels that you no longer need a Netflix subscription.

 

Discretionary Subtotal – $325/month

If strapped for cash, you can basically remove these discretionary costs.

An easy substitution if you like eating out, but prefer to be a little more frugal, is to stick to the lunch menu of the day or almuerzo. These are generally $3-$5 and consist of a soup, main, drink, and sometimes a dessert. The quality varies, but you should be able to find several staple restaurants in Cuenca that you’re happy with the price and quality.

You could also bring your yoga/gym costs down by working out at home. Michelle and I occasionally practice guided yoga with instructors on Youtube or Gaia. We value the community that comes from practicing in person at yoga studios, but we still enjoy practicing at home.

 

Total Costs – $2,552/month

Our total monthly costs come in at around $2.5K for a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids). This total includes many items that I would consider luxuries that we could certainly go without if we wanted to save a little more.

I believe we could get our monthly costs down to $1,500 if we needed to. But, this would require a lifestyle change and moving to a cheaper house.

Lastly, to get money into Ecuador, we generally use a low-fee online service, as traditional bank transfers normally cost more and are more effort.

Do you live in Cuenca and happy to share your monthly costs? Feel free to let us know if the comments below. Or, perhaps you’re still deciding about Cuenca and are busily comparing prices between here and your home country. If this is you, let us know if the cost of living in Cuenca is high, low, or similar to what you’re paying now.

Las Herrerias – The Best Tortillas in Cuenca?

When we first visited Cuenca on our holiday / scouting trip, Michelle's mom told us we NEEDED to visit calle Las Herrerías. I had no idea why and honestly it just slipped our minds. 

Then, we ended up staying at an AirBnB right by Las Herrerías and I'm so glad we did. 

Why? The tortillas of course. 

Las Herrerías history

This little street is popular for two reasons. The first gives the street it's name - the blacksmiths and artisans that set up shop on what was the city limits. They strategically placed themselves here because they could be close to the farmers that were not allowed to take their livestock further into the city.

You can still find several iron workshops in action, selling handicrafts such as chandeliers and crosses to adorn newly built houses. 

Tortillas in Las Herrerías calle

The popularity of the iron artisans gave way to the second reason to visit the street. The tourists that came to visit the artisans needed to eat and cafes selling local foods like tamales, humitas, bolones and tortillas sprung up along the street. 

This is the reason I love Las Herrerías and why I think you should swing by.

The tortillas are fresh, tasty & cheap and the street has a cheerful, local vibe.

Las Herrerias Cafe - Cuenca

What types of tortillas & other tasty treats can we buy?

I'm so glad you asked. There's numerous different types. I've taken prices from Cafeteria Las Herrerías:

 Name

Cost

Description

Tortilla de yuca

$0.60

Yuca is a root vegetable. These are white, fluffy & tasty.

Tortilla de choclo

$0.60

These corn based tortillas are dense and tasty.

Tortilla de maduro

$0.60

Maduro is a ripe plantain, so these are sweet. 

Tortilla de verde

$0.60

Made from green or unripe plantains. These are not sweet. 

Humita

$0.60

Steamed corn cake served in corn leaf.

Quimbolito

$0.60

Sweet steamed corn with raisins

Tamal

$0.60

Savory steamed dough with a meat & veg filling. 

Bolon de queso

$0.70

Green plantain mixed with cheese, served as a ball

Bolon mixto (queso & chicharon)

$0.75

Like above, but with pork too. 

Platano con queso

$1.00

Grilled sweet banana with cheese & butter in the middle

Tigrillo simple

$2.50

Almost identical to a bolon, but not rolled into a ball & comes with a fried egg.

Las Herrieras Cafeteria

We all have our personal favorites as you can see from the above picture. You can also see the aji, or mild chilli sauce in the middle. This is a common accompaniment for a lot of different foods in Ecuador.

You can of course get a range of different beverages, with the hot chocolate and juices being our favorites. I've included the various other menu items below including main dishes, but have to admit we don't normally have the mains here - as we generally just stick to snacking on this street.

Las Herrerias Cafeteria Menu
Las Herrerias Cafeteria Menu Fuertes

How to get to calle Las Herrerías

Calle Las Herrerías is a 15 min stroll from Centro Historico along the Tomebamba River. The walk along the river itself is a treat and you can easily visit here after taking in the Ruinas de Pumapungo.

Coffee Beans

A bonus to be found on this street is a little shop that sells good quality coffee beans. It's about half way up on the right. They will sell ground coffee for about $4.30 / pound. But, if you ask for whole beans (granos) they'll take delight in whipping out a secret stash of higher quality beans and sell it for $5 / pound. 

Do you have any other tortilla hot spots to share? Feel free to do so in the comments below. We are always on the lookout for tasty new cafes. 

Stop Buying (Fake) Vega Ceramics!

Eduardo Vega is an iconic Cuenca artist renowned across Ecuador and Latin America. He is responsible for the distinctly styled ceramics and murals you've most likely seen in museums, galleries and souvenir shops. 

Vega Ceramics Turi

Visiting his workshop and gallery is one our favorite Cuenca activities for new visitors as it's located at one of the city's most popular view points, Turi. You'll pass the entrance to his workshop (and house) just before you reach the Turi lookout. Be sure to be looking on the right.

E Vega Gallery Cuenca Entrance

The fake Vega ceramic problem

Eduardo and his son, Juan Guillermo, are the creative forces behind their authentic line of ceramics and murals. However, their popularity has meant they are under pressure from copycat artisans, and increasingly, big business. 

There are plenty of copycat Vega artisans around and you can often find imitations for sale at various markets across major cities.

Authentic Vega ceramics are only distributed to a select few retailers. There is one in Cuenca and three in Quito.

Fake vs unlicensed

I'm going to make a distinction between fake and unlicensed Vega ceramics as I think the intent is quite different for the purpose of this article. 

Fake

This applies to vendors and artisans using Vega's name that have no relationship with Eduardo Vega and are trying to pass off ceramics under his name. They are clearly illegally and immorally leveraging Eduardo's brand for their own financial gain. 

This applies to vendors selling cheap Vega knock-offs at markets around Ecuador. 

Unlicensed

This category applies to companies that may have a current or previous relationship with Eduardo or Juan Guillermo, but may be selling products that fall outside of this relationship.

Official Vega lookalikes

I may have fallen victim to acquiring a lookalike or unlicensed Vega ceramic when I opened a 12 month CD at one of Cuenca's most reputable cooperativas, JEP. As a thank you for opening the account, I was gifted a 'Vega' cup and saucer. 

I was already a fan of Vega, so I walked away rather happy and excited with my bonus and it quickly became my favorite mug. That was, until my next visit to Vega's gallery...

Vega vs 'Vega by Artesa'

On my next visit I started asking the Vega gallery manager about my recently acquired mug and the penny dropped. I assumed Eduardo or Juan Guillermo Vega had done a deal with JEP and their company was being rewarded for what would have been a very considerable order. I was curious about the deal and was happy for Eduardo for securing it. After all, they are artisans and should be rewarded for their creativity. 

I was informed that the Vega by Artesa mug I was gifted was not made by Eduardo or Juan Guillermo Vega.

Artesa

Artesa was originally formed by Eduardo Vega and a business partner in the 1970's. Vega was the creative force behind the partnership and the popularity of his designs allowed the business to grow quickly.

However, creative differences ensued and eventually led to the partners going their separate ways in the late 1990's. Eduardo and Juan Guillermo left Artesa to open their gallery in Turi.

Artesa's licence to use Vega

At the centre of the dispute is the licence for Artesa to use the Vega brand. I was informed that the original agreement limited Artesa to reproduce only 7 of Vega's original designs.

Is it possible that the Vega by Artesa mug I was gifted was included as 1 of the 7 original designs in the original licensing agreement?

Sure, it is possible. However, after knowing the history and understanding that Eduardo Vega received nothing from the deal with JEP, I can no longer bring myself to use the mug. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

To be clear, I am not insinuating that Artesa is creating fakes or that JEP has knowingly done anything wrong. I don't know the full extent of the licensing agreement and it is entirely possible that Artesa is within their rights to make good money from the deal. 

What is important to take away is that Eduardo has a very different view of the licensing deal and objects to his brand being used without proper consent. 

Vega by Artesa JEP Giveaway

How to tell the difference?

So, now you know that not all Vega ceramics are created equal and you have a choice to support Eduardo and Juan Guillermo. But, how do you know what is what? It's actually quite easy once you know what to look for.

Eduardo Vega's signature

The signature for Eduardo's ceramics is E Vega as shown below:

Eduardo Vega Ceramics Signature
Juan Guillermo Vega's signature

Juan Guillermo's design are easily distinguishable from his fathers by the signature:

Juan Guillermo Vega Ceramics Signature
Vega by Artesa

The Vega by Artesa designs can be identified by the following signature:

Vega by Artesa Signature

Final Words

Clearly, we know that buying a cheap Vega knock-off at a local market is not going to support the original artisans.

Even though I don't support it, I'm aware that there is demand at the cheaper end for tourists to stash their bags for friends and families back home that don't understand the difference between an authentic Vega and a knock-off.

If this is you, please consider supporting the original artists instead - the quality is much higher and you'll actually be giving a gift that is going to last longer and has a real history. 

What isn't so clear is the relationship between the corporate friendly Vega by Artesa and the artists behind the brand, Eduardo and Juan Guillermo. This is especially so given the inevitable intricacies of the licensing agreement. 

What I do know is that I will continue to buy my authentic Vega products direct from Eduardo and Juan Guillermo from their gallery in Turi. 

Top 5 Yoga Studios in Cuenca

Can I practice yoga in Cuenca?

Yes! There are numerous options for practicing yoga at different levels Cuenca. 

We’ve included a map and a comparison of 5 different yoga studios that we’ve practiced in at at least once whilst living in Cuenca. This map is not meant to be exhaustive as I’m sure there are other yoga studios in Cuenca that we’re yet to explore. 

Is it expensive?

Nope. Drop in yoga classes are generally $5 and most studios offer discounts and passes for multiple visits. 

But I’ve never tried yoga, is it for me?

Not sure. You may hate it. But what have you got to lose? $5 and an hour of your time is all. 

I never thought I was the yoga type either. That was until I tried it and started to realise the physical and mental benefits it brought to my day-to-day life. 

I’m a guy, are you sure yoga is for me?

Yes. Yes and yes. It’s true that classes are generally skewed towards a strong female to male ratio, but who cares. Yoga is about being in tune with your body and spirit. I’m a guy and when I started yoga I was also a little apprehensive because of out-dated stereotypes I’d grown up with. Just try it and take it as an opportunity for self exploration. 

Yoga Health Benefits

Which Cuenca Yoga Studios Do I recommend?

The 5 different yoga studios that we’ve tried in Cuenca are included in the map. We aren’t saying these are the only studios in town, and we hope there are more to explore. But, we think these are a great place to start exploring your Cuenca yoga options.

OM Healing Centre

OM Yoga Studio Cuenca (1)
OM Healing Center Timetable (1)

This is probably your best place to start your yoga search in Cuenca. 

In addition to yoga classes, OM Healing Centre also offers retreats, yoga teacher training and alternative medicines such as homeopathy and psychotherapy. 

Pros

  • Natural, energetic vibe  
  • Some dual English/Spanish classes
  • $5 drop-in classes
  • Strong expat presence

Cons

  • Ceilings could be higher. You may touch if you're tall. 

Conclusion:

The strong support this centre has from the expat community and quality teachers makes this an easy transition to practicing yoga in Cuenca. 


RumiSol Yoga & Teacher Training

RumiSol Yoga Cuenca
RumiSol Yoga Timetable

YumiSol Yoga provides another soft landing for expats into the Cuenca yoga scene. It's a homely studio with an inclusive, younger vibe.

This popular studio is large, simple and has a good amount of light penetration. The teachers I've had mostly instruct in Spanish, but provide English translations for key movements.  

They also offer 200 hr yoga teacher training if you're looking to dig deeper into the practice. 

Pros

  • Inclusive vibe focusing on positivity  
  • $5 drop in classes with passes for multiple visits
  • Popular amongst younger crowd
  • Modern approach might be more appealing to expats
  • Large practice area

Cons

  • Popularity means it's busy and a little crowded

Conclusion:

This is a strong contender for the best place for new Cuenca expats or travellers alike to start their yoga search. It has a modern approach which might be comfortable with your previous practice and it's a great jumping off point for new yogis. 

Just make sure to arrive 10-15 minutes before class to ensure there's a spot for you. 


Shakti Yoga

Shakti Yoga Cuenca
Shakti Yoga Cuenca Timetable

Ok, I'll admit it. I kinda love this yoga centre. It's set in a large compound with beautiful gardens and an aura that I find intoxicating. 

The teachers at Shakti are not your casual - I'm teaching yoga for a hobby - type that you can come across. These yogis are devotees that live at the house and it feels like a privilege that they welcome the public into their inner sanctum.

They also give back to the community with free yoga classes:

- Saturday mornings at Parque de la Madre and

- Sunday mornings at Parque del Paraíso. 

Pros

  • Top notch yogi teachers  
  • Spirituality focus
  • Beginner friendly poses offered
  • Immersive vibe
  • $4 drop in classes

Cons

  • Potentially intimidating for 1st timers.
  • Little hard to find
  • Yoga room is relatively small

Conclusion:

This is definitely the centre I would recommend if your focus is on establishing better form and a stricter practice on yoga fundamentals.


Adhikara Yoga

Adhikara Yoga Cuenca
Adhikara cuenca schedule

Another contender for best yoga centre in Cuenca is Adhikara Yoga.  

The studio is the biggest from all centres mentioned in this list, inviting a level of openness that I valued. 

Like most of Cuenca's yoga studios, their morning classes focus on Hatha yoga and this was the gentlest of all the classes I've visited. This is most likely due to the predominantly older clients that were practicing that day.

This is a good reminder that you should be checking out all the classes mentioned in the list at least once to start your exploration journey and expand on what works for you from there. We are all different and yoga is ultimately about being in tune with your body. 

Pros

  • Gentle practice for beginners 
  • Biggest practice area in Cuenca
  • Car parking on premises
  • Use of props encouraged

Cons

  • Mainly Spanish instructions may put you off
  • Teacher quality has varied a lot during my 5 visits
  • Slightly higher drop-in price of $7. 

Conclusion:

I've mixed emotions about Adhikira. The centre itself has so much potential with a bright, big practice area and I enjoy the improvised use of props. However, the varied teaching quality has made it difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend it above the other yoga studios. I need to go back here a few more times before making any final decisions. 

Yoga @ Selina Cuenca

Selina Yoga Cuenca

I'm including Selina Cuenca here as a dark horse as the classes aren't as regular as other studios. It's definitely worth a look if you are staying in Centro Histórico as it's the most conveniently located and has a beautiful yoga deck overlooking the river. 

The classes are normally run by 3rd party teachers, so the type of yoga practiced and the quality of instructors will vary. I've only been to one class here and it was a basic yoga for beginners class that I enjoyed. 

For the digital nomads out there, Selina also has a very well equiped co-working space, making it an ideal place to get our wellness and digital work needs done at the same place. 

Image credit: Salina

Pros

  • Great for those staying in Centro Histórico 
  • Gorgeous deck with river view
  • Get some coworking done after class

Cons

  • No set class schedule
  • Quality will vary
  • Class price varies, but expect around $15. 

Conclusion:

Mixing up yoga with some co-working after may be perfect for you. Especially if you're passing through the Centro Histórico and are short on time. The unpredictability of the class schedules has stopped it from becoming a regular studio for me.

Did I include your favorite yoga haunt in my round-up?

If not, please let me know in the comments so I can check it out. I'm always looking for somewhere new to practice and mix up my daily routine.

How to Transfer Money into Ecuador

One of the first questions new Ecuadorian expats ask is ‘how do I send money to Ecuador and is it expensive?’

The answer is, well, it depends. Like many latin american countries, transferring money in and out of Ecuador has traditionally been problematic, expensive and time consuming.

These difficulties arise through the combination of weak governmental oversight, tough anti-money laundering measures and lack of innovation from the banking industry. This can result in a not so great experience for the end consumer.

Hopefully this guide will provide you with the best options on how to transfer money into Ecuador.

Money Transfer Options

$500 or less

You have several options for transferring amounts of $500 or less into Ecuador.

ATMs

If you’re only here for a short period of time as a tourist, or don’t have an Ecuadorian bank account, then ATMs are going to be your best bet.

Pros:

  • Easy and accessible across the entire country (incl Galapagos).
  • Withdrawing small amounts is secure as you don’t need to have large amounts of cash on you.

Cons:

  • Fees can add up. You’ll generally pay about $5-6 to the Ecuadorian bank on top of whatever your home bank charges.
  • ATM issues do happen in Ecuador and the banks don’t have a great track record of helping customers regain their money. I personally had to wait 6 weeks when a Bank of Pichincha ATM failed to dispose of my $600, but still charged my account. However, my bank in the US (Bank of America) was great and immediately credited the account whilst they investigated.
Pro Tip: Sign up for a bank account in your home country that reimburses ATM fees such as Charles Schwab or Fidelity. But, be aware of any fair use policy and I would not suggest telling them you're just about to move overseas...

Online Money Transfer

There’s several services you can use to transfer from your home bank direct to your Ecuadorian bank or for a cash pickup.

This is my preferred method for payments up to $3000. But, I’ve still used it for smaller amounts as it is quick (24 hours generally) and I can transfer straight into my Ecuadorian account, so I don’t need to worry about walking around with a wad of cash after visiting an ATM.

My preferred method is WorldRemit because it offers the cheapest fees and I find it user friendly. Western Union is also quite popular, but is generally a bit more expensive.

Pros:

  • Quick (one business day)
  • Transfer straight into account or cash pickup

Cons

  • Fees for smaller amounts (ie $500) are approx $10. More cost effective for larger transfers (ie up to $3000).
  • Won’t help you out if you need instant cash
Pro Tip: Use my WorldRemit refer-a-friend link and you'll get $20 credit to make your first transfers.

$500 to $3000

Online Money Transfer

This is where the online money transferring services shine. They are quick, safe and cost effective.

I was a long-time devotee to an online transfer service called Transferwise, but they do not operate in Ecuador. Whilst annoying, this did lead me to comparing all of the various online services that would allow me to easily send money into Ecuador.

My recommendation is WorldRemit because they are the cheapest and I’ve found their support to be helpful the one time I needed it.

I actually needed to contact them because I couldn’t find JEP in their long list of Ecuadorian banks and cooperativas they transfer money into.

Hint – WorldRemit calls JEP “COOP. AHORRA Y CREDITO JUVENTUD” as shown below:

JEP WorldRemit Ecuador

The fees will increase depending on how much you are sending. But, for reference, a $2000 transfer will cost $15 with WorldRemit. This compares well to other services such as Western Union where fees are $20+.

Pros:

  • Transfer into most Ecuadorian banks
  • Setup bank details once and send follow up transfers within seconds
  • Cost effective

Cons:

  • They have a limit of around $3K for bank transfers. So, not a great option for larger one off purchases such as property or cars.

$3000+

For larger transfers you’ll be limited to bank transfers and checks.

Bank Transfers

Each Ecuadorian bank has a different policy and will charge different amounts for wire transfers. Your best bets are the larger banks such as:

Expect to pay at least $50 to your Ecuadorian bank for a wire transfer + the fee from your home bank. If you’re transferring from the US, then you won’t have to consider exchange rates, but if your home bank is an another country, then you will.

Note, transferring amounts $10K or greater will trigger the bank to ask you a bunch of questions around where you got the money from. They are required by law to ensure that the funds were legally obtained (ie not through drugs, money laundering or a scam). This is not normally a major burden, but just adds another step to the process.

Pros:

  • May be your only option for amounts of $3,000+

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Need to open an account at the bank

Checks

Again, you definitely want to check with your Ecuadorian bank on their policy for accepting checks. Pay particular attention to the limits and expected processing time as it can take 3-4 weeks for checks to clear.

Pros:

  • Straightforward process
  • Many banks do accept checks

Cons:

  • Long processing time

Sending Money to Ecuador FAQs

Can I use PayPal to withdraw money in Ecuador?

Not directly, no. Whilst it would be convenient to be able to withdraw cash straight from Paypal into a local account or ATM, that isn’t possible.

You still have a few options to get your cash into Ecuador which are similar to the above, but with the added step of transferring from Paypal first:

  1. ATM
    Transfer from your Paypal account into your US (or other home country) account. Use your foreign debit card in Ecuador to withdraw from an ATM.
  2. Online transfer or cash pickup in Ecuador
    Send from Paypal to an online transfer service such as World Remit, Western Union or Paypal’s own service, Xoom. Then you can choose to transfer to a Ecuadorian bank account or arrange for a cash pickup at a bank in Ecuador.

Is there an ‘import tax’ on cash entering Ecuador?

No, there is not. Moving small amounts of money into the country is relatively easy.

What is Ecuador’s cash exit tax?

Sending cash out of Ecuador triggers an exit tax of 5% if transferring over $1,200. The $1,200 threshold is calculated from 3x monthly minimum wage ($400 in 2020).

Have I covered your favorite method here? Feel free to let me know in the comments if I’ve left anything out so I can update to include.

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