The Gringo Invasion in Cuenca

Cuenca's Gringo Invasion

By Dr. Lee Dubs

Editor's Note: This article is excerpted from a print article by Dr. Dubs, which appeared in Azuay Are We Here?. We appreciate Lee granting us permission to publish this article in Captivating Cuenca.

The Gringo Invasion in Cuenca

In case you haven't noticed, North Americans are showing up here en masse, with what appear to be dozens of newcomers arriving in Cuenca each month.

My own love affair with Cuenca began 20 years ago, when one seemingly could count the number of gringos on two hands—or maybe one. So, why the sudden influx, and what does it portend?

Why the Sudden Influx to Cuenca?

The answer to the first question is easy. Travel magazines such as International Living, as well as certain blogs, are currently filled with messages that make you look like a fool if you don't immediately grab your money and move from North America to Ecuador.

Various writers extol the virtues of living here, with most or even all of the emphasis on economic advantages. What some newcomers do not realize at first is that many of those articles and blogs are written by people who have financial gain at stake with the import of gringos bearing money.

Simply put, some writers make no small amount of money selling tours, real estate, and what-have-you. "Promote it and they will come," seeking the promised land where—they are happy to tell you—living like royalty is as cheap as Ecuadorian dirt.

What Does It Portend?

The answer to the second question is more complicated. What is it all leading to? That all depends on what we do after we are here, folks.

Cuenca flower market
The Cuenca Flower Market

Many of us came to Cuenca to live in retirement where we genuinely like the people, the culture, and the opportunities to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. We have felt welcome; the economy is a bonus.

Toward the other end of the "why" spectrum are those coming primarily or even solely because "it's cheap." Some newcomers see little beyond an investment opportunity and/or a bargain lifestyle.

I have seen gringos who arrive in Cuenca on a Sunday with the determination to buy or invest quickly and fly back to the States by the end of the week.

Unfortunately, those who fly down here to buy cheap land may not have thought through the fact that they will be living where most things are very different: language, culture, food, driving, even the very manner of thinking, planning and analyzing.

Culture Shock

The response of many gringos who feel the early stages of culture shock is to first criticize almost everything local, and then to seek the security of camaraderie among other gringos.

After they ask me, "Where do all the expats live?" some recent arrivals express surprise that we Cuenca gringos do not cluster; that we do no more than have very informal weekly social gatherings. "Don't you all live together?" some ask. No, we don't, and let's keep it that way, thank you.

Newcomers may indeed find their cheap land, their cheap houses and their cheap lifestyle, but too many are not comfortable among Ecuadorians: They seek out other gringos, not only for social events but also for a degree of comfort.

Sociologists refer to this as the need for familiar props. The maladjusted and distressed often catch a flight back home or, worse, soon talk of building walled communities, irreverently referred to by the rest of us as "gringo colonies." In other words, they want to create a Little America.

If the example of gringo colonies in Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica are followed in Ecuador, there is trouble brewing. In fact, conflicts between gringos and locals already are occurring in some regions of this country.

What's Distressing Ecuadorians?

What is it that has begun to distress Ecuadorians about the gringo influx? First of all, let us be clear that Ecuadorians do not at all resent the many who come to assimilate and who call Ecuador—not North America—home. Cuencanos appreciate those of us who use (or at least try to use) the Spanish language, who treat Ecuadorians as equals, and who have native amigos as well as gringo friends.

However, they are well aware of rapidly escalating real estate prices, as new gringos are eager to throw money at not only the scrupulous but also the opportunistic realtors and private sellers. As Ecuadorians increasingly cannot afford to buy real estate in their own country, hostility emerges. That hostility has already been observed beyond Azuay province.

Cuenca street musician
A Cuenca Street Musician

And then there are the "do-gooders," the transplants who want to "help" the less fortunate. Those warm and fuzzy gringos unwittingly disrupt the cultural and economic flow by overpaying, overtipping, and overhelping.

Such actions result in altered expectations by locals, and the hidden feeling that gringos are both filthy rich and pretty stupid people. We now see "gringo prices" alongside local costs.

Like it or not, gringos—whether residents or tourists—also attract some unwanted attention. We have witnessed the escalation of petty theft, home invasions, and even aggressive street holdups. Crime beyond snatch-and-run was uncommon in Cuenca until the gringo invasion began a few years ago. Fairly or not, we get some of the blame.

Why Are You Here?

How long will Cuencanos tolerate us before we see some major negative reaction here in Azuay? Fortunately, the answer to that question is in our own hands. We control our future in Ecuador by how we act now.

Assimilation or isolation? Good Neighbor or Ugly Gringo? Why are you here?

Why Are You Here?
What Do You Think About the Gringo Invasion?

Tell us why you came to (or want to come to) Cuenca? And tell us what you think about how we gringos are affecting Cuenca? What have you seen? What have Cuencanos told you? What are your concerns?

Have your say in public. Your thoughts will be published as a page on

Enter a Title for Your Thoughts

What Other Visitors Have Said
About the Gringo Invasion

Click below to see why others are here in Cuenca and what they have to say about the gringo invasion and how it's affecting Cuenca.

This article about the gringo invasion missed the drug problem which is dramatic in the historic center. I've seen expats doing cocaine on the streets, …

Gringo Invasion 
i think it's good for us to have gringos in Cuenca because they help in one way with the economy here. We learn new customs and meet new people. …

Working in Cuenca 
I am a hairstylist and would like to find a job in Cuenca when I move there. I have not been able to find out what kind of license I would need or could …

Weekly English Meetings in Cuenca 
Hello Everyone! My name is Mateo and I am a Cuencano who volunteers in a worlwide work done in 200+ countries all over the world. Ecuador is not …

Be Happy in Ecuador! 
Be happy in Ecuador: What Gringos need to realise is that in order to live and be happy here in Ecuador, you need to assimilate into the Ecuadorian …

DO NOT RETIRE HERE! Sorry. We do not like many of you here :-( 
It is true, you ( Americans) come to our city to spend but you do not know the big impact to our local Cuenca residents. If you ever come to Cuenca …

Why Not Cuenca? 
Not to be contrary, but I feel I'll be leaving the US. I don't care for our superficial culture (and I won't get started on the politics). I want a …

I'm a Cuencano Living in the US for 13 Years 
I have lived in the USA 13 years. It is a nice country, but I am not happy with the food, mostly processed and full of chemicals. So I want to go back …

I Think I'll Make a Good Gringo 
Let me say right up front that one of my reasons for making the move to, I hope, Cuenca, is financial. I am on SSDI and that goes nowhere in the US. I …

SWF Hoping to Retire to Cuenca 
Your articles have been greatly appreciated by me. I want to move to Cuenca (eventually) but have been concerned about safety issues. I appreciate …

We Want To Move to Cuenca for the Culture and Local Relationships 
My wife is a Japanese who lived as a volunteer in Costa Rica for two years. She loved the people and made many friends and if we choose to retire in Cuenca, …

In-Your-Face Racism in Cuenca 
I am currently visiting Cuenca (Oct - Nov 2012) and in the first two weeks, experienced four instances of in-your-face racism. I am an African American …

Crime Against Gringos 
I fully understand the importance of becoming a part of the culture and not part of the problem. The problem as I see it, though, is that the increase …

Teaching Online in Cuenca 
I currently have two adjunct teaching positions at different colleges here. After spending 27 years in the construction industry, I decided I wanted to …

Perhaps Justly Worried About Gringo Invasion? 
Your commentary has reinforced my worries about Cuenca. There's also a recent article in The Economist about the bus loads of "gringos" …

Some People Just Can't See They Are Being Insulted 
After months of research, my wife and I decided to visit Ecuador and target Cuenca specifically as a potential retirement spot. We are both widely traveled; …

American Enclaves in Ecuador? 
In the several years we have lived in Costa Rica and watched newcomers turn a lot of Costa Rica into their hometown, I would be disappointed to see Ecuador …

Learn To Blend 
I lived in various parts of Ecuador 25 years ago. During the 18 months or so I was there, I fell in love with the country, people and culture, and I have …

A Costa Rican Expat 
As expats currently living in Costa Rica for the past 6 years, I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Dubs. Once expats invade a country, particularly the developers …

Scared to Live in USA 
I love the Hispanic culture and feel I was born in the wrong country. Being fluent in Spanish and familiar with Salvadorean culture, I wish to spend the …

Went for a Simple Vacation and Can't Stop Thinking About Ecuador 
¡Hola! I have read many of the comments from other readers on this site and am saddened by some and made happy by others. Most of the posters criticizing …

To Live the Rest of My Life With Peace and Enjoyment, Appreciating My Friends 
I have lived in different countries because of my military life, and seen first hand "The Ugly American." His music, loud mouth when drinking, and dirty …

My wife and I are considering a move to Ecuador, possibly Cuenca, because we are seeking to have a lifestyle which doesn't require us scrimping and living …

Living in Cuenca, Ecuador 
The following is my latest blog post on living in Cuenca:

Click here to write your own.

Ecuador and the America I No Longer Recognize 
We (my wife and I) have been looking for a way to retire on social security. We looked at Spain and then were pointed to Ecuador. We started looking at …

Re-inventing Myself in Ecuador? 
I've spent almost five years in Mexico's Baja Peninsula, both on sailboats and small motorhomes over the past 25 years. I'm 58 and recently divorced; recently …

I am embarrassed to be an American sometimes! I plan to move to Ecuador within the next few years and I hate to think that the gringos there have messed …

That Is the Way of European Whites 
First I would like to say that I'm considering Cuenca as my retirement destination. It looks like a beautiful country and I'm looking forward to lazy walks, …

Trying To Make a Decision 
I'm glad I read the article by Dr. Lee Dubs before making a decision to relocate. During most of my research regarding this city, all I've read is financial …

Call Someplace Paradise -- Kiss It Goodbye... 
My husband and I have been doing research for a couple of years now on Ecuador as a retirement designation. Based on what we have learned so far, it sounds …

Pick Your Battles 
Dr. Dubs, Great article; I'm a Cuenca native living in North America with my family. I have lived most of my live out of Ecuador - so we are apparently …

Americans Abroad 
I am British and have lived in Phuket for 6 years and Philippines the last 2 years. I am sorry to say that it is not only the North Americans who have …

Cuenca Bound? 
Well, after reading many of your responses, it seems like Cuenca may become burdened with an overabundance of what I refer to as "The Ugly Americans" (TUA). …

Hope To Change Any Negative Trend 
My wife, Karen, and I are in the final stages of completing our long awaited move to Cuenca! We have our Visas and just got our Cedulas. What an interesting …

Why am I interested in Cuenca? 
I grew up in South Texas in the 60's and 70's when being a Texan meant you had more in common with the hispanic community than someone from the north (Dallas). …

Click here to write your own.

Click the Like button to share this page with your friends...


Have your say about what you just read! Leave us a comment in the box below.
The Gringo Invasion in Cuenca

Click the Like button to share Captivating Cuenca with your friends...

Follow CaptivatingCuenca on Pinterest

Stay Current
With Our Cuenca Updates

RSS button

Custom Search


I just want to thank you both soooo much for creating this web site. I am originally from Cuenca but moved to New York 11 years ago and have not being back since. My husband and I are planning on visiting Cuenca over the Summer and this web site has helped me a lot.

When I came to the US we still had the "sucre," the bus ride cost 1,000 sucres and a pack of trident gum would cost 3,000 sucres. I am very nervous to go back, but thanks to your web site I now know what to expect.

My husband is American and Captivating Cuenca has taught him a lot about what my great city has to offer, things that I had forgotten about myself! :)

Thank You both so much! I cannot wait to visit Cuenca!!

Sofia Hoffman