Judging from the popularity of our article about Our First Furnished Apartment in Cuenca's El Centro, a whole lot of people must be considering expat life in South America. If you want to move to Cuenca, Ecuador but have no idea how to find and rent an apartment there, this article is for you.
A reader asked:
Hi Dan & Linda,
I came across your blog while researching on furnished apartments in Cuenca as I am planning to make a trip to Cuenca in coming fall and stay there for 2 or 3 months. I love travelling and whenever possible I try to live for a few months in different parts of the world.
I don’t know where you are now but I am wondering if you could guide me with a little help on how to find and rent a furnished apartment in Cuenca. I can see that you found your furnished apartment in Cuenca with a help from a local realtor. Would you be able to give me how I can reach him once I am in Cuenca? Does he speak good English? Are those furnished apartments offered for short terms such as 2 months? Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Certainly Andy isn't the first person to ask us for more information. So I guess it would be good to actually explain how we managed to do it … as a public service. 🙂
WAIT – we're happy to help, but we are NOT real estate agents!
We'll share what we can, but please understand that we don't have all the answers. The best we can do is to share what we've learned and tell you what we did in this article. Hopefully, this page will give you some direction as you begin your search to find a place to live in Cuenca.
As they say, your mileage may vary.
OK, enough about that. If you want to rent a furnished apartment in Cuenca, here are some useful tips to help you find a place. Hopefully knowledgeable readers will share even more tips in the comments.
Don't make your trip a chore.
If you're going to do a preliminary trip to make all your arrangements, PLEASE don't spend all your time looking for a place to live. Have some fun, too.
Take some time to explore while you're in Cuenca. You might even wish to consider a more comprehensive tour like this one. A little relaxation will give you a clearer perspective.
Besides, you'll fly home with some wonderful photos and stories to share. Why not show everyone what your future home is like? If nothing else, it'll make your friends jealous!
How much should an apartment cost?
First lesson on living in Cuenca: Cuencanos aren't stupid. They know that Norte Americanos have more disposable income that they do. Therefore, they reason, it is perfectly fair to charge more to gringos (that's us) than to locals.
What that means to you is that if you see an apartment advertised in English, they are charging gringo prices for the place. Guaranteed. The flip side of that is they also know that gringos are usually more selective. The apartment may be in better condition, in a better area, and/or have more amenities.
ⓘ TIP: As you search, you will get a general idea of what reasonable rental prices should be in Cuenca.
Searching in Spanish
As most anywhere in the world these days, the best place to begin to look for an apartment is on the internet. (That's probably how you found this article, am I right?) You'll find even more apartments and lower rents if you do your search in Spanish. How does a low-level Spanish speaker find an apartment to rent in Cuenca?
Here's how to do it:
- Take advantage of your browser's Translate feature. Chrome and Firefox, for instance, have an add-on that enables you to instantly translate web pages.
- Copy and paste an ad into Google Translate.
- Learn these useful Spanish terms:
- Furnished = amueblada
- Leases = arriendos
- For rent = se renta
Search in English first. Then run the same search in Spanish, using search terms like “arriendos en cuenca” or “se renta en cuenca.” You can use Google Translate to translate.
Which Cuenca neighborhood is best?
It's best to get to know a city's neighborhoods before you commit to a long-term rental in an area you don't like. We learned that the hard way. When we first moved to Panama, we stayed in a hotel for a week, and it was a blessing in disguise.
- Our hotel was a block from the nightlife, which created traffic noise outside our window until the wee hours.
- Plus, the church across the street pealed out its bells every morning before the 6, 7, and 8 am services. Sleeping late was out of the question.
Result: The experience helped us realize where we DIDN'T want to stay. When we began our apartment search, we ensured we would be nowhere within the sound of those bells and nowhere near a late-night party area.
Tip: A little research into expat neighborhoods, markets, malls, nightlife spots and religious sites can help you narrow down your search.
If you want to live with other North Americans or would prefer live in a high rise
Take a look at Gringolandia (around Ordonez Lasso & Las Americas). Newer apartments, piped gas, modern fixtures, higher prices.
If you want a lot of local culture and want to be in the middle of things
El Centro may be more to your liking. Larger apartments, not always renovated to North American standards.
If nightlife is your thing
The best place for Cuenca nightlife is near Calle Larga. These are older homes, with larger apartments. The middle of El Centro is within easy walking distance. Best for people who go to bed really late, because bars and music venues are right outside your window.
Once you're in Cuenca, you should check bulletin boards around town, talk to expats and read the local paper.
If you don't have a place waiting for you when you arrive in Cuenca, you'll have to find a place to stay while you search. One solution can be staying at a hotel or short-term rental until you find the perfect place to hang your hat.
When we moved to Panama City, we spent a week in a hotel while we searched for a short-term rental. More expensive? Maybe. But we considered it money well spent because it helped us avoid being tied into a long-term contract in an undesirable area.
That said, that's no guarantee. We moved to a short-term rental in Panama on Via Israel, only to discover that it had 24/7 traffic noise and very thin windows. We could hardly wait for the 3 month contract to expire.
Short-term furnished apartment rentals in Cuenca
Unsure of what the various Cuenca neighborhoods were actually like, we chose to rent a room for a few weeks. The goal was to get to know the city while looking for a more affordable, long-term alternative.
We chose to rent through Airbnb, because it offers a variety of options, from private, furnished Cuenca apartments all the way down to private rooms in a local's home. So, depending on your preference, you can stay as the honored guest of a local family in a homestay, rent a furnished room (you do your own thing), or be left alone in your very own apartment.
There is something to be said for this style of living. For one thing, it's often more affordable than a hotel. But not always. in some locations, hotels actually are less expensive, so wherever you go, be sure to compare prices for both.
Other advantages are that you can cook your own food and you'll have a host, who can be an incredible resource. Imagine having someone explain how to get around the city, where to shop, and which places should be avoided after dark. Priceless!
But we weren't the only ones with this idea, and we became friends with another expat couple who were also staying there. We would compare notes in the evening and share our discoveries of unique markets, museums, and restaurants. Bonus: Our English-speaking landlady lived nearby, and she would stop by occasionally to say hi and check in to see if we had any questions. She was also available 24/7 by phone, and so between the two, we had lots of help learning our way around.
To find such a place, you will want to search online for “short-term rentals in Cuenca” or “vacation rentals.” Or, here are a few companies to begin with. We suggest comparing websites to see what is the best fit.
- Airbnb (get a $20 credit toward your first stay if you register using this link)
- Tripping – This is an aggregator, allowing you to search across various vacation rental sites at once. I found over 300 properties in Cuenca.
ⓘ TIP: Be sure to verify the total cost for your stay before you book; just as hotels add taxes, some of these sites have add-ons, like security deposits or a one-time cleaning fee.
Living with Cuencanos can be a great experience!
Word of mouth
There are also a number of weekly expat meet-ups around town. As soon as we arrived we started our apartment search by asking all the expats we met about rentals. You never know when someone may know of a good place to rent short- or long-term.
We also could have joined some of the Cuenca expat groups on Facebook. They're super helpful, but we didn't think of that until later.
This is how we found our very first apartment in Cuenca: by word of mouth. The building was in “Gringolandia,” a part of the city that is chock-full of new condos and popular with North American expatriates.
The pros of living in Gringolandia were that we were within walking distance of both a huge American-style grocery store and the city's largest local market, Feria Libre. We were also impressed that it had full-time security, a gym, a pool, and an English-speaking building administration. We were also enchanted by the beautiful view of the Cajas mountain range from our windows.
But there were downsides as well:
- the higher price of our rental,
- that the cost of some utilities was shared among all tenants, and
- it was far from El Centro, our favorite part of Cuenca.
We also hadn't made any real friends in the building. That mattered, too.
We had negotiated a three-month lease with a desperate owner. It came with a “take it or leave it” option to renew for a year at the end. By the time the lease was ready to expire, we knew Gringolandia wasn't for us.
We didn't like being insulated from Ecuadorians anyway. After all, that's why we'd moved there, to experience the culture. So despite other expats' why-would-you-want-to-live there opinions and advice, we decided to move to El Centro.
We had dreamed of living among Ecuadorians and wanted to shop where they shopped. And besides, we had never lived in a UNESCO site before.
Searching around town
Be prepared for a new life in Ecuador. They have their own laws and different attitudes. It's hard, but we try to leave the judgment to God.
As Americans, we grew up believing in equality for all people. In Ecuador, it is perfectly okay to discriminate against certain groups of people. Some Cuencanos prefer to rent only to locals (similar expectations, culture and language), some raise the price for gringos, and others don't care who you are, they'll rent to anyone who's interested. Some will consider short-term stays, others won't. You just have to ask.
Where do you start a Cuenca apartment search?
- Some people have found leads from ads on bulletin boards at local restaurants, hotels, hostels, and Cuenca University.
- The classifieds can be a great source for finding a furnished apartment for rent in Cuenca. Check the local newspapers. You can find them all at the university library.
- If you keep your eyes open as you walk through town, you'll see windows with signs that say se arrienda (“for rent”). If they are furnished they will also include the word amueblado. This is how you get the best prices because you don't have any fees from agents and websites.
Here are a few other tips:
- When viewing apartments, it is smart to have a local Ecuadorian with you (for translating and to avoid getting ripped off). You may also want a friend to accompany you (for safety concerns).
- If you find a great apartment at a fabulous rate, you must decide quickly. Low priced rentals get snapped up quickly.
- It is advisable to get receipts for all transactions with your landlord in case a dispute ever arises.
- It is always best to get a written lease agreement, just to have something on paper. Insist, if you must. Likewise, always get a receipt for your deposit (usually one month’s rent) and every rental payment.
- Make sure the landlord includes things like cooking pots, towels, shower curtains and dishes. You shouldn’t have to spend money buying necessities for a furnished apartment, especially if you will not want to keep it when you leave. Be insistent on having everything you think you should before making a deal. It's also fine to negotiate for everything you think you will need before making a deal.
- Speaking of “furnished,” the sheets in Ecuador are horrible quality; no matter what the label says, they will pill within a few weeks. If you can manage it, bring a set of sheets from home. Same tip if you like fluffy towels.
Hire a professional for your Cuenca apartment search
Researching online, you may read that apartments can rent for as little as $300 per month. That may be true, but the fine print is that these apartments are unfurnished or partially furnished places and not in Gringolandia.
With only a couple of weeks left on our lease, we hired Frank and Angie Lewis at Gringo Good Samaritans to search for a suitable apartment and negotiate the best rate. They were extremely helpful and sympathetic, and showed us a number of good places around the city. It was also nice to find someone who spoke English who we could trust.
While we were looking with Frank and Angie, an ad for a one-year rental appeared in GringoTree that sounded perfect. A few emails later, we met a real estate agent to see an apartment in El Centro. This one rented for $200/month less that our place in Gringolandia, and it even included utilities!
Our agent did all the negotiation on our behalf, and gave us a printed English translation of the contract we were to sign. Yes, this is the apartment that we wrote about in our hit article, Our First Furnished Apartment in Cuenca's El Centro.
Did this help?
As we said earlier, we don't have all the answers, but we do share what we've learned. After all, that's what As We Saw It is here for: to empower you to be a savvy traveler. Or expat. Whatever your goal, we're here for you.
We hope you like Cuenca as much as we did, if not more. Please leave a comment below if you found this article helpful or if you have any additional tips for apartment searchers.
Plan your trip to Cuenca
- The official tourism website for Cuenca, Ecuador can be found here.
- Lodging: For sleeping options, we recommend HotelsCombined. From resorts to hostels to apartments, they compile the best deals from all over the web, including Booking, Expedia, Agoda, and more.
- Transportation:– This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
- Take a look around Ecuador, to get a better sense of the country. Get Your Guide offers affordable, custom tours to and around Cuenca. Click here to see them all.
- For more sightseeing, see our Ecuador photo gallery.
- Google Maps offers an aerial view of the area around Cuenca, Ecuador. Zoom, scroll around and explore!
- Why Is Cuenca, Ecuador a UNESCO Site?
- Parque Calderon: the Heart of Cuenca Ecuador
- Feria Libre: Live Like a Local in Cuenca, Ecuador
- The Cost of Food in Cuenca, Ecuador – Here’s What We Paid
- This article discusses the 5 most popular gringo neighborhoods in Cuenca.
- Frank and Angie have written the DIY Cuenca Landing Guide. We bought it and thought it was really helpful.
- Relocating to Ecuador – Eyes Wide OPEN: Quick Reading, Bulleted Do's and Don'ts That the Author Wishes Had Been Available to Clarify Things before His Own Move to Cuenca
- Expats in Cuenca, Ecuador: The Magic & the Madness
- Travel Like a Local – Map of Cuenca: The Most Essential Cuenca (Ecuador) Travel Map for Every Adventure