Judging from the popularity of our article about Our First Furnished Apartment in Cuenca's El Centro, a whole lot of people are considering expat life … but have no idea how to find and rent an apartment there.
A reader wrote:
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. 🙂
We love to help, but we are NOT real estate agents!
I'm happy to share what I can, but please understand that we don't have all the answers. The best I can do is to share what we've learned and tell you what we did, hoping that this page will give you some direction as you begin your own apartment search.
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.
Welcome to Cuenca.
Tip: You Don't spend all your time looking for a place to live. Have some fun, too. Take some time to explore the area. You might even wish to consider a more comprehensive tour like this one. A little relaxation will give you a clearer perspective.
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, and therefore they reason that 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, you can be sure that they are charging gringo prices for the place. The flip side of that is they also know that gringos are usually more selective, so 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 typical 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 are some tips:
- 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, then run the same search in Spanish, using search terms like “arriendos en cuenca” or “se renta en cuenca.”
Which Cuenca neighborhood is best?
We've learned the hard way that it's wise to get to know a city's neighborhoods before you commit to a long-term rental in an area you don't like. 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 its 6, 7, and 8 am services so 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.
I can tell you that the best place to stay if you enjoy nightlife is near Calle Larga, because it puts everything within easy walking distance. If you would prefer live in a highrise, take a look at Gringolandia (around Ordonez Lasso & Las Americas). And if you would prefer a lot of local culture and want to be in the middle of things, El Centro may be more to your liking. See the end of the article for more resources.
Once you're in Cuenca you can 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. In our case, we began with a week in a hotel while we searched for a short-term rental. More expensive? Yes. But since it helped us avoid being tied up in a contract in an undesirable area, we considered it money well spent. (We had 24/7 traffic noise outside our Panama City short-term rental on Via Israel. Another neighborhood crossed off.)
If a hotel is your preference, we recommend HotelsCombined because it gathers the rates from all the usual hotel sites (Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, etc.) in one place. You might be surprised by the rates.
Unsure of what part of Cuenca we would like most, we chose to rent a room for a few weeks while we got to know the city and sought a more affordable, long-term alternative.
It worked out well when 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. And our English-speaking landlady, who lived nearby, would stop by occasionally to say hi and was available 24/7 by phone, so we had lots of help learning our way around.
There is something to be said for this style of living. It's usually more affordable than a hotel, you can cook your own food, and your host can explain things like how to get around the city, where to shop and which places should be avoided after dark. 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.
To find such a place, you will want to search online for “short-term rentals” or “vacation rentals.” If you prefer to search one-by-one, here are a few companies to begin with. We suggest comparing websites to see what is the best fit. 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.
- Airbnb (get a $20 credit toward your first stay if you register from this link)
UPDATE 2018: You can use Tripping to search across various vacation rental sites. According to Wikipedia, Tripping.com is an online search engine and aggregator for vacation rentals. It aggregates over 10 million listings in more than 150,000 cities worldwide. (I found over 300 properties in Cuenca.)
TIP: in some locations, hotels actually are less expensive, so compare prices for both.
Living with Cuencanos can be a great experience!
Word of mouth
There are also a number of weekly expat meet-ups around town so 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 asked on online Cuenca expat groups (including on Facebook!) but we didn't think of that until later.
Word of mouth is how we found our very first apartment in Cuenca. 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 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. 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 “take it or leave it” option to renew for a year at the end. By the time the lease was ready to expire we had realized we were ready to move. We didn't like being insulated from Ecuadorians anyway – that's why we'd moved there, to experience the culture – so we decided to move to El Centro. We'd 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, such as that it is fine in their country tocan discriminate. 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 in town do you look?
- 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.
Hiring professional help to find your Cuenca apartment
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 for us, 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're happy to share what we know. After all, that's what As We Saw It is here for: to empower you to be a savvy traveler. Or expat. 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.
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