I had the unique opportunity to live in Quito and Cuenca during my one year stay in Ecuador. My opinion is probably not too far off from anyone else’s you may encounter who’ve spent time in both cities: Cuenca wins on almost all fronts. But I don’t think it is necessarily “fair” to compare Quito versus Cuenca. Each city has such a unique vibe, with advantages and disadvantages. Comparing, for example, New York to San Francisco is a task made in vain. But for a foreigner who is making a decision as big as which city to move to for retirement, work, study or simply for travel, comparisons are helpful.
One could easily sum up a comparison of Quito and Cuenca:
- Quito is a bit more dangerous, dirtier, larger and more spread out, but offers a bit more options for culture, architecture, history and entertainment. It is, after all, Ecuador’s capital.
- Cuenca is safer, squeaky clean, smaller, quainter and you can spend most of your time in the downtown area, enjoying the city on foot.
Looking closer, my qualms with Quito were:
- Having to depend on public transit and taxis to go almost anywhere.
- Almost always feeling the need to look over your shoulder while walking in public.
- Walking on dirty, littered streets with stray dogs and their poo everywhere.
- Not ever feeling part of a smaller, friendly community.
What I enjoyed about Quito:
- Being the capital, Quito serves as the cultural and international epicenter of Ecuador. There were many more museums, sites, musical genres, shows, entertainment, festivals, restaurants, foreigners and establishments to enjoy.
- The Quito airport meant easy access to all major domestic and international destinations.
- The friends I made in Quito, after three months, turned out to be the most important relationships I took away from Ecuador, even after spending 7 months in Cuenca.
- Its size never left me feeling too bored or claustrophobic — there was almost always something completely new to see within city limits. Nightlife, however, did start feeling a bit redundant.
Looking closer, what I didn’t enjoy about Cuenca:
- While small can be charming and communal, it can also feel smothering.
- It often feels as if nightlife and entertainment options can be counted on one hand, should you not challenge yourself to venture out.
- International and domestic travel can be a bit more challenging, expensive, and inconvenient.
- Smaller towns come with “small-town mentality.” Meeting people who’ve never left Cuenca can hinder intellectual conversation.
- Less work and study options; generally lower salaries offered.
- The “small-town vibe” can be charming and endearing, if that what’s you’re after.
- Feeling safe, most of the time.
- Impeccable cleanliness. Cleaner air.
- Genuinely enjoying the parks, squares, rivers and other public spaces.
- Friendly, warmer and less-busy citizens.
- Nicer weather.
Aforementioned, it is really difficult to ‘fairly’ compare Quito versus Cuenca. These represent only one foreigner’s opinions, perspectives and experiences!
Do you have an opinion about either city? Why do you prefer one or the other? What did you enjoy/not enjoy about them? Join the conversation and comment below.