Medellín vs Cuenca: Which is the Better City to Live In? - Medellin Guru
Medellín vs Cuenca, Ecuador. Both are rated as top foreign retirement locations for expats and we compare the two cities in 20 categories.

Medellín vs Cuenca: Which is the Better City to Live In?

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10 thoughts on “Medellín vs Cuenca: Which is the Better City to Live In?”

    1. Before retiring I spent a month in Cuenca and before moving to Medellin I spent a month here. The pollution in Medellin is loathsome but the pollution in and around the center of Cuenca is lurid. One morning I saw a group school kids disappear in a ghastly cloud of smoke for about 10 seconds as a local bus belched its way past them. Ghastly. In Medellin you can get away from all that by finding lodgings above the valley floor such as in El Poblado and Laureles. The air quality immediately improves and the temperatures are noticeably cooler. I face North and never need heating or AC. Big savings.
      Prices in Cuenca are all in US dollars so there is no leverage to be had on the exchange rate like there is in Medellin. Because of the sharp rise in the value of the dollar to peso my cost of living has dramatically decreased in the last four years.

    2. Victor Herrera August 13, 2020

      I have a Colombian girl friend that lives in Monteria she has two kids one is 10 the other one 16, I support her with 150. Dollars per week and 180. the week when she pays the rent, recently she she got sick with the corona virus but she is out since last week, she was isolated at home all the time she was sick she has an insurance that pays for half the cost of the medical treatment, now she tells me that they are going to bill her for the treatment she received since there are so many unemployed people in Colombia due to the virus I suppose that anyone who depends on a salary for living would be unable to pay any money for the treatment they received, so I would like to know who is supposed to pay for her treatment, the Colombian government or her?

    3. Charles Scott December 16, 2018

      Thank you

    4. You’ve done a good job of comparing two incredibly different cities. I currently live in Guatapé, Colombia, but I’ve spent a great deal of time in both Cuenca and Medellín. From my experience, expats who choose Cuenca do so because of the historical and cultural opportunities that are easily accessible there. Cuenca’s center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains a wealth of interesting architecure as well as something the bigger, grittier city of Medellín is sorely lacking in–charm. The municipal government of Cuenca also cares deeply about the cultural arts scene there and from my point of view Cuenca wins in this category based on quality of offerings, if not quantity. However, a factor that could be a turn off for some expats is Cuenca’s isolation. The last time I was there, the city was basically cut off from all other Ecuadorian destinations except Guayaquil (a 3.5 hour bus ride to the west) due to the airport closure and a major slide on the Pan American highway to the north. One other aspect I’d like to comment on is that I found the air in historic center of Cuenca to be quite polluted. The extremely low quality diesel fuel subsidized by the Ecuadorian government and used in all buses leaves clouds of back smoke lingering in the air for pedestrians to breathe which isn’t very pleasant when walking on the narrow streets of the Old Town. The problem with dirty diesel is a huge issue in Ecuador and to a lesser extent in Colombian cities as well.

    5. Kudos to you for writing a well researched article that is for the most part contains very accurate descriptions of Cuenca. I have only visited Medellin once and that was in June/July of 2014. I was very impressed with the city, food, entertainment, world class transit and the friendly welcoming residents of Medellin.
      Climate is always a personal judgement but I found the need for air conditioning during my stay.

      I have lived in Cuenca for almost 7 years. I don’t know the last time you visited and your reporting of highly taxed imports is for the most part accurate but the taxies have come down with the new President. Re: I.VA. -you neglected to mention that those over 65 are eligible to receive a IVA refund of up to $1080 per year. Seniors (Tecera Edad) also get to ride the buses for 12 cents and get 50% off movie tickets and other public events that are run by the government. I think we also have much lower utilities rates. My land line, gas for heating, water and electricity average about $50 a month.

      In seven years I have lived in two locations A well constructed condo that never needed heat. For the last 6 years I have lived in a 2200 sq. ft home that is not tightly sealed and requires a space heater (gas) on average 15 days a month July – Sept) and maybe one or two days a month during the rest of the year. I lived most of my life in New York and Oregon and may have a higher tolerance for cold than most.

      I would say that 5000 Cuenca expats is a good number. The expat community in Cuenca is a diverse supportive group with a myriad of daily activities . I’m never at a lost for things to do in Cuenca. 7 years ago Cuenca was a culinary wasteland. Today, we have cuisines from all over the world including Iranian, Korean, Thai, Lebanese etc.

      The buses in Cuenca are an embarrassment to the city. The average age of a bus is >8 years. The Tram has been plagued with delays and corruption. The latest estimate for completion is Nov. 2018.

      Medellin remains my “plan b” city. Again, thanks for a well done article.

      • Fred Weller December 23, 2017

        Having lived in Cuenca for six years and Ecuador for seven I have a different assessment. I did a number of exploratory trips to Colombia before deciding to move here. After visiting many areas I focused on the Medellin area and finally Envigado.

        1) The quality of life here is superior to Cuenca by a long shot.

        2) The cost of living here is less for two of us in Envigado than for me as a single person in Cuenca.

        3) The climate is certainly better here. The fact that you needed an air conditioner here is likely because you’ve been acclimated to a colder environment. I experienced something similar for my first couple of months here.

        4) My living situation here is much better. In Cuenca I had a two bedroom one bath condo, furnished. My rent and utilities was $620 a month. Here I have three bedrooms, 2 baths, unfurnished and my total including utilities is $630. Also, I have a balcony, pool, racquetball court, gym, elevators, meeting room, and a porteria 24/7…All things I didn’t have in Cuenca.

        5) My health insurance for two of us is COP209,000/month (about US70 depending on exchange rate).

        6) The visa process in Colombia is very simple and quick. And, government officials here seem to want to help rather than find an excuse to reject. I got my visa before I moved to Colombia and it took two days at the Consulado de Colombia in Guayaquil.

        As Jeff mentioned, what one prefers is a matter of personal preference.

    6. Brock Canner December 20, 2017

      Thanks Jeff, not having been to either city yet. I think you did a wonderful job. I’d choose Medellin. For obvious and some not so obvious reasons. Hoping to come down with Live and Invest, but don’t know yet. May just come down with a woman friend or alone.

    7. Great article, thanks. Medellin is clearly so much better than Cuenca. Anyone who chooses Cuenca did not do their homework or believes the BS from International Living.

    8. David Williams December 20, 2017

      Thanks this is a great comparison. When I went to Cuenca I was not impressed at all. Too cold and too small of a city for me with not enough things to do. Medellin is so much better. International Living was selling a bill of goods when they called Cuenca the top foreign retirement location.

      • I agree. This article is a nice dose of reality. When I went to Cuenca with my wife it took us all of 3 days to realize we had been sold a bill of goods by International Living about Cuenca. There is nothing spring-like about the weather in Cuenca, not unless you come from Nome, Alaska. And getting private healthcare insurance in Ecuador if you are over 65 is nearly impossible. Also, I am from the construction industry and the quality of construction I saw in Cuenca was all substandard. Housing was not properly vented and mold looked to be a serious problem in all the properties we looked at. I heard from some expats in Cuenca that the percentage of expats leaving Cuenca within 4 years was about 90%.

        We were scheduled to stay for 3 weeks but we left on our 4th day and the following year discovered Medellin, which is much, much better.

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