Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know

is cuenca safe

You might be wondering, is Cuenca safe? Well, we have good news! Cuenca is renowned for being one of the safest cities in Ecuador, offering travelers a unique blend of cultural richness and tranquility. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cuenca boasts a remarkable collection of historic buildings and attractions that contribute to its charm and allure.

Despite its reputation for safety, it’s essential to understand the factors that contribute to Cuenca’s secure environment. From its well-preserved colonial architecture to its strong community bonds, Cuenca exudes a sense of security that sets it apart from other cities in South America.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the reasons behind Cuenca’s safety, exploring its low crime rates and the measures in place to ensure the well-being of residents and visitors alike. So let’s get started on a journey to uncover the secrets of Cuenca’s safety!

How Safe is Cuenca?

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

When you first arrive in Cuenca, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Unlike some of Ecuador’s bigger cities like Quito or Guayaquil, where certain areas are known for crime, Cuenca offers a more relaxed atmosphere. The city has largely avoided the drug-related issues that afflict other urban centers, allowing visitors to stroll through its historic center with a sense of ease. With its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, Cuenca often evokes a European ambiance.

One reason for Cuenca’s safety is its location in the Andean mountains. Many cities in this region tend to be safer due to their rural way of life and geographical isolation. Additionally, the locals in Cuenca are known for their hard-working attitude, which contributes to a sense of community safety. Moreover, proactive measures, such as preventing cartels from establishing a foothold, have helped maintain the city’s security.

Overall, while no place is entirely without risk, Cuenca offers a relatively safe environment for residents and visitors alike. As you explore its charming streets and vibrant culture, you’ll likely feel reassured by the city’s welcoming atmosphere.

Is Cuenca Safe Right Now?

While Ecuador may have a higher risk compared to some places like the U.S., exercising caution can ensure a delightful experience. Currently, as of March 2024 the U.S. has classified Ecuador under a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” advisory due to high crime and civil unrest in some areas of the country. However, it’s essential to note that such ratings are common in developing nations like those in South America. Despite this, Cuenca maintains its reputation as the safest city in Ecuador.

Safest Place to Stay in Cuenca – Historic Center

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

The historic center stands as the vibrant hub of Cuenca, nestled along the Gringo Trail in South America. Here, you’ll find the city’s main cathedrals, museums, and a plethora of nightlife options. With hotels offering comfortable stays for as little as $8 USD per night, the historic center is the prime choice for tourists and remote workers alike. Clean streets and a noticeable police presence, particularly around the main plaza and adjacent blocks, contribute to the area’s safety.

During the day, Cuenca’s historic center is exceptionally safe for solo exploration, although venturing too far without familiarity of your surroundings is not advised. To safeguard your belongings, consider using a travel money belt to conceal valuables and minimize the need to display cash. At night, utilizing taxis, especially for journeys to more distant districts, is recommended for added security.

Our Favorite Place to Stay in Cuenca

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

Guillerminas, the best boutique hostel in Cuenca and our go-to place to stay, offers convenience and comfort with its central location near key attractions, modern amenities, and just six deluxe rooms, making it the ideal spot for exploring the city.

Places to Avoid in Cuenca

While Cuenca doesn’t evoke the same sense of “doom and gloom” as cities like Guayaquil, it’s wise to steer clear of certain areas to minimize the risk of encountering crime. The Bus Station is noteworthy among these, as it serves as a common arrival point. Opt for taxis when traveling from the Bus Station to the historic center to ensure a safer journey. Similarly, if arriving at the Airport, consider using transfer services for a hassle-free commute to your hotel.

Cayambe is another district best avoided due to its reputation for violence, including recent incidents of assaults and murders. Additionally, areas like La Merced and Feria Libre are known for higher levels of crime and are best avoided, especially by solo travelers or those unfamiliar with the area.

15 Cuenca Safety Tips

Keep Valuables at Home

When exploring Cuenca, it’s wise to leave valuables at home to minimize the risk of theft or attracting unwanted attention. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or watches that may draw attention. Opt for simple attire and consider using a crossbody bag that you can wear securely across your body to deter snatch-and-grab incidents. If carrying a tote, ensure it is always zippered shut for added security.

Have Travel Insurance

Traveling in Cuenca requires the essential safety net of travel insurance. In the event of unforeseen accidents, emergencies, or medical expenses, having coverage is indispensable. We recommend World Nomads for tailored protection, ideal for digital nomads and travelers exploring Cuenca’s attractions like the Historic Center, Parque De La Madre, or Gringolandia (Ordonez Lazo). With reliable travel insurance, you can venture into the city’s wonders with peace of mind, knowing you’re financially safeguarded against any unexpected circumstances that may arise during your journey.

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Don’t Wave Your Phone Around in Public

In Cuenca, as in many South American countries, it’s essential to be cautious with your phone in public spaces. While the city is generally safe, it’s wise to avoid drawing attention to your phone to minimize the risk of theft. Instead of using your phone openly on the street, plan your routes beforehand or step into a store or restaurant if you need to check directions. Similarly, if you’re carrying a camera, be discreet when taking photos to avoid standing out as a potential target.

Be Careful in Markets

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

When navigating markets in Cuenca, exercise caution as they can become bustling and crowded, particularly on weekends. Keep your belongings secure, holding handbags close to your body to minimize the risk of pickpocketing incidents. While exploring these vibrant marketplaces, be aware of your surroundings and avoid displaying valuables or large sums of cash.

Don’t Walk Alone at Night

In Cuenca, avoid walking alone at night or in potentially dangerous areas of the city. If you must walk after dark, do so in a group and stick to well-lit and busy areas. Thieves often target individuals walking alone in deserted areas, making safety in numbers crucial. Consult locals for advice on which neighborhoods to avoid, as safety can vary drastically from one block to the next. For instance, while the historic center of Cuenca is generally safe, areas surrounding the Rotary market and Plaza San Francisco are known for petty theft incidents.

Buy a Sim Card or eSIM

Enhance your safety in Cuenca by obtaining a local SIM card or eSIM. While free Wi-Fi exists, having a local phone connection is crucial, particularly for solo travelers. In Cuenca, acquiring an affordable SIM card from airports, convenience stores, or malls is convenient, with Claro and Movistar being popular carriers. Remember to bring your passport for the purchase. Alternatively, opt for the ease of an eSIM, ensuring continuous connectivity, access to local emergency numbers, and the ability to stay connected in any situation, thereby enhancing your overall safety while exploring Cuenca.

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

We’ve tested the top eSIMs on the market in Peru, and AIRHUB took the top spot. It’s the most reliable, giving us the strongest signal possible even at the highest altitudes and the deepest canyons of our hikes.

You’ll have the option to access multiple carriers when you sign up for an Airhub eSIM. Haven’t found any other eSIM that got that in the bag.

Learn Some Basic Spanish

While many in the service industry in Cuenca speak English, knowing basic Spanish can enhance your experience and safety. The official language is Spanish, with Quechua also common. Being able to communicate with street vendors and locals in Spanish is courteous and can help in various situations. Even a few simple phrases can go a long way in making connections and navigating daily interactions.

Don’t Fight Back or Resist

In Cuenca, as in any city, if confronted by a thief, it’s crucial not to fight back or resist, especially if a weapon is involved. While incidents like pickpocketing can occur unexpectedly, attempting to resist may escalate the situation and put your safety at greater risk. Thieves in Ecuador, known to operate on motorcycles for swift getaways, often target unsuspecting individuals. If confronted, focus on attracting attention by shouting for help, as this may deter the thief. However, if faced with a weapon, prioritizing your safety over valuables is paramount. Your life is invaluable, and material possessions can be replaced.

Don’t Flash Your Money in Public

In Cuenca, as in any destination, avoid handling money in public spaces to minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention. Count your money before venturing out, and keep it in a secure pocket inside your purse or wallet for quick access. If you need to handle money outside, do so discreetly inside a restaurant or store. Additionally, avoid carrying large sums of cash and be cautious when using ATMs.

Want to Know a Secret?

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

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Be Careful of Over-friendly Locals

Exercise caution if approached by overly friendly locals in Cuenca. While many locals are genuinely hospitable, it’s essential to remain vigilant, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Be cautious of individuals who seem excessively eager for your attention or assistance. In the past, criminals in Ecuador used drugs like scopolamine to exploit tourists and locals, rendering victims vulnerable to robbery. Although such incidents are less common now, it’s still wise to maintain a healthy skepticism and avoid close contact with strangers.

Trust Your Instincts

Listen to your instincts while exploring Cuenca. If a neighborhood or situation doesn’t feel safe, trust your gut and seek refuge in a nearby store or restaurant. From there, you can call for a taxi or reassess your surroundings. Your intuition is a valuable tool for assessing potential risks and ensuring your safety while navigating unfamiliar areas.

Don’t Park Outside at Night

In Cuenca, it’s advisable to avoid parking your vehicle outside at night. Unlike in the U.S., leaving cars unattended on the streets is uncommon in Ecuador due to safety concerns. Most residents either have garages or utilize city parking facilities, even during the day. Given the scarcity of parking spaces, especially in busy areas, consider inquiring about weekly or monthly rates for city garages based on your length of stay. Additionally, you may encounter uniformed attendants outside restaurants or busy nightlife spots offering to watch over your vehicle; tipping them is appreciated for their assistance in ensuring the safety of your car.

Watch Out for Landslides When Traveling in the Countryside

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

When traveling through the picturesque countryside surrounding Cuenca, be mindful of the risk of landslides, especially in mountainous areas. The drive from Guayaquil to Cuenca often traverses through the mountains, where landslides can occur after heavy rainfall. Exercise caution and drive carefully, as these natural occurrences can obstruct roads and pose significant hazards to motorists. Before embarking on your journey, check with local authorities or news sources to ensure that the route is safe for travel.

Base Yourself in the Historic Centre

When visiting Cuenca, one of the smartest decisions you can make for your safety is to stay in the Historic Center. Whether you’re a budget traveler seeking hostels or prefer more upscale accommodations, this area offers a lower crime rate and a safer ambiance. With clean streets and a more relaxed atmosphere, the Historic Center provides a secure base for exploring Cuenca.

Take a Taxi When Traveling to Bus Stations

For enhanced personal safety in Cuenca, opt for taxis when traveling, particularly to and from bus stations. Areas outside the historic center often have a grittier atmosphere where incidents of violence are more common. By relying on taxis for transportation to bus stations, you reduce your exposure to potential risks and ensure a safer journey.

Is Cuenca Safe For Solo Female Travelers?

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

Cuenca generally offers a safe environment for solo female travelers, but precautions are necessary. Instances of harassment and verbal abuse can occur, particularly in tourist areas. While incidents of attacks and assault have been reported, choosing accommodation with robust security measures can enhance safety. It’s essential to maintain vigilance and be cautious of strangers, especially when approached unexpectedly. Avoid hospitality exchange arrangements and decline rides or invitations from unfamiliar individuals.

Is Cuenca Safe At Night?

Cuenca remains pleasant for nighttime strolls, but precautions are essential, akin to any Latin American city. The Historic Center offers vibrant nightlife with numerous bars and clubs, relatively safe if you avoid drawing undue attention. It’s advisable to refrain from excessive drinking and stick to well-lit areas. Avoid walking alone in parks late at night due to increased risks of theft or assault. Consider participating in guided night tours for a safer way to explore the city after dark. When venturing outside the Historic Center, use registered taxis for added security, as other areas may pose higher risks for tourists.

Is Cuenca Safe For Digital Nomads?

Cuenca is often praised as Ecuador’s most tranquil city, but it’s important to acknowledge the rising crime rates. Like any growing metropolitan area, safety concerns persist, necessitating vigilance, especially for digital nomads considering a move or visit. Despite the criminal element, personal experiences vary, and many have not encountered violent crimes. While some expatriates opt for an insulated expat lifestyle, embracing the local culture can enrich your experience. Engaging with Ecuadorian activities and learning the language fosters connections and unveils the country’s friendly nature and vibrant culture.

Is Public Transportation Safe in Cuenca?

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

Public transportation in Cuenca can pose safety risks, especially on crowded buses where pickpocketing is common. While it’s the cheapest way to travel, opting for taxis is advisable to minimize these risks. Taxis offer a safer and more secure mode of transportation, particularly for tourists navigating unfamiliar routes.

Are Taxis Safe in Cuenca?

While taxis are generally safe in Cuenca, it’s essential to ensure your driver uses the meter to prevent overcharging. Confirm the meter is on and running, or agree on rates beforehand if it’s not functional. Avoid accepting rides from unauthorized taxis and instead opt for trusted cab companies recommended by hotels. Verify the cab’s legitimacy by checking for license and driver information displayed behind the driver’s seat.

Is the Tap Water in Cuenca Safe?

Contrary to common belief, tap water in Cuenca is safe for drinking. Sourced from the pristine lakes of the nearby Cajas region, Cuenca’s water supply meets potable standards. While skepticism may arise due to Ecuador’s general water quality, visitors can confidently use tap water for drinking, brushing teeth, and washing produce without adverse effects. However, some individuals may prefer additional purification methods for personal peace of mind. Overall, Cuenca’s tap water stands out as a reliable and safe option for hydration.

Is the Street Food in Cuenca Safe?

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

Street food in Cuenca is generally safe, especially from vendors with a steady stream of customers. While some may find Ecuadorian street food less varied than that of Southeast Asia, it still offers tasty options like encebollados, cazuelas, and ceviche de camarones. However, compared to neighboring Peru, Ecuadorian cuisine might seem less inspiring to some. Nonetheless, popular street vendors and bustling restaurants ensure quality and freshness. With a bit of caution and adventurous spirit, visitors can enjoy the flavors of Cuenca’s street food scene without compromising their safety.

Is the Air Quality in Cuenca Safe?

While not as severe as in some US states, air pollution remains a significant concern in Cuenca. The city’s location within the Andes mountains basin exacerbates pollution from vehicles and occasional ash from nearby volcanoes like Sangay. Diesel trucks, buses, and motorcycles contribute to exhaust fumes, especially in windless conditions.

Efforts to improve air quality include phasing out old smog-emitting buses for low-emission diesel ones and the introduction of the Tranvía system. Some residential areas experience less pollution than others. Despite these measures, visitors should be aware of potential air quality issues and take precautions accordingly, particularly those sensitive to pollution or with respiratory conditions.

Is Their Political Unrest in Cuenca?

Ecuador has experienced periodic political unrest and protests, with recent events suggesting potential for further instability. President Lasso’s attempts to counter impeachment threats by advocating for widespread gun ownership have been met with concern from locals. While Cuenca has remained relatively safe amidst rising crime rates in other parts of Ecuador, there are fears that political tensions could escalate, potentially affecting the city’s stability. It’s essential for travelers to stay informed about the political situation and exercise caution, particularly during periods of heightened unrest or protest activity.

Altitude in Cuenca

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

Cuenca’s elevation stands at 8,517 feet, making it a high-altitude city. This elevation exposes residents and visitors to intense UV rays, often exceeding 11 on the UV index scale. It’s crucial to apply sunscreen and wear hats to prevent sunburns. The thin air at high elevations like Cuenca’s can lead to breathing difficulties, headaches, fatigue, and altitude sickness. Acclimating gradually by spending a few days in high-elevation areas and increasing exposure over time can help mitigate these effects. Additionally, drinking Mate de Coca, known to alleviate altitude sickness symptoms, can provide relief.

Is Cuenca Noisy?

Noise pollution is a prevalent issue in Cuenca, Ecuador, primarily due to the bustling traffic of buses, cars, and motorcycles. Delivery dirt bikes, known for their loud engines, pass by frequently, sometimes every ten to fifteen minutes, causing significant disturbance, even rattling windows. Additionally, early morning Zumba classes and the city’s proximity to the airport’s flight path contribute to the noise levels.

Ecuadorian culture embraces loud music, with some households blasting it through giant speakers, especially during parties or karaoke nights. Furthermore, incessant dog barking and crowing roosters from 3:00 am add to the nocturnal disruptions. To mitigate the effects of noise pollution, using a sound machine during sleep can be helpful for residents seeking tranquility amidst the city’s vibrant but noisy atmosphere.

Is the Weather in Cuenca Dangerous?

Cuenca’s weather can be unpredictable and varied, ranging from cold and rainy to sunny and beautiful. Nights are often chilly, with dark, cloudy, and windy days. Daytime temperatures can soar, accompanied by strong winds and high UV levels, reaching up to 11 on the UV index scale. Sudden weather changes are common, with scorching heat giving way to rain within half an hour. Recent increases in rainfall have led to floods and mudslides, particularly in areas like Cajas, impacting road travel. Flash floods in May 2021 caused rivers to overflow, altering their courses and posing risks to surrounding areas.

While major earthquakes are infrequent, the region remains seismically active, with the last significant one occurring in 2016. Earthquake-prone areas may experience structural damage, as evidenced by cracks in buildings following seismic events, highlighting the importance of preparedness in such environments.

Crime in Cuenca

Is Cuenca Safe? Unique Things You Need to Know -

Cuenca, once considered one of the safest cities, has seen a rise in crime, particularly in petty theft and pickpocketing, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic. While the overall crime rate remains relatively low, recent police reports indicate an uptick in criminal activities, often linked to increased drug trafficking. Certain areas, including La Merced, Feria Libre, Mercado Nueve de Octubre, Cayambe, and the bus station, are identified as hotspots for criminal incidents. Thieves commonly target unsuspecting victims, employing tactics such as bag slashing on buses, distraction techniques, or swift grab-and-run maneuvers to steal valuables, especially electronics, which are more expensive in Ecuador.

Is Cuenca LGBTQ+ Friendly?

Cuenca is generally LGBTQ+ friendly, offering a variety of hotels, bars, and restaurants that cater to diverse crowds with a welcoming attitude. While Ecuador legalized same-sex marriage in 2019 and has anti-discrimination laws, societal attitudes may vary, and discretion is advised in more conservative areas.

Is Cuenca Airport Safe?

While Cuenca Airport itself is safe, getting there can be challenging due to limited flight options and connections. Traveling to Cuenca often requires multiple flights and long travel times, which can be inconvenient and costly, particularly for visitors with limited time. Despite these logistical challenges, many consider the effort to reach Cuenca part of its charm, as it helps preserve its authenticity and prevents it from being overrun by tourists. However, for those seeking easier accessibility, especially for shorter visits or family trips, the journey to Cuenca may not be ideal.

Well… Is Cuenca Safe?

Yes, overall, Cuenca is considered a safe city to live in, but like any other place, it’s not without its challenges. While it boasts many positives, such as its rich cultural heritage and relative tranquility, there are aspects that may not suit everyone’s preferences. Issues like heavy traffic, overcrowding, and pollution can detract from the overall experience. Additionally, some areas may have higher crime rates, requiring careful consideration when choosing a neighborhood.

Factors like elevation and weather can also be challenging for some individuals, leading them to seek alternative locations with lower elevations or more temperate climates. So, while Cuenca offers much to its residents, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons to determine if it aligns with your lifestyle and preferences. Thanks for reading, and let us know in the comments below if you have any questions!


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