How to Get Around Cuenca – Part One

If you stop in front of a porch in Maine where two old men are sitting in rocking chairs and ask for directions, you will undoubtedly get the answer, “You can’t get there from here”. There are challenges to getting around Cuenca, Ecuador, but there are also solutions. Your choices are car, taxi, Metro (or tram), bus, bicycle, or walking.


There are approximately 858,000 cars (excluding 8,000 taxis) in Cuenca with a population of 436,000. In Chicago, there are approximately 1,731,600 cars (excluding 7,000 taxis) with a population of 8,901,000. This results in fewer people per car in Cuenca compared with Chicago, but there are more taxis in Cuenca than Chicago. My conclusion is there are too many cars in both Cuenca and Chicago. Might this not be an example of our problem with greenhouse gases?

The center of Cuenca and some of its close-lying areas are composed of predominantly one-way streets. Given the number of cars, there is more driving, faster speeds, and excessive gridlock. One-way streets are necessary in El Centro because the streets in this old part of town are narrow. Because of the one-way streets, going from point A to point B may require going around several blocks to arrive at your destination; hence more driving. High speeds are the results of traffic lights being coordinated to lessen the amount of stop and go. In Cuenca, from 2021 to 2022, the number of vehicle registrations grew 7.2% from 152,676 to 163,598 while the population grew 2.11% . It is this excess number of cars which result in the gridlock.


Taxis are a popular means of transportation because they are usually readily available and the fares are inexpensive. With more taxis than Chicago, it is often easy to flag a ride. There are also popular phone apps for requesting a taxi. You never have to tell a taxi where to pick you up. You open the app and a map appears giving your exact GPS location. You will receive an estimated time the taxi will arrive and you can watch a car icon traveling the streets on its way to your location.

At times, however, it is difficult to get a taxi—on holidays when fewer taxis are operating and when it is raining and more people are soliciting taxis. All taxis are required to have a visible meter so you know the cost of your trip. Generally, a taxi ride within Cuenca costs $2.00 or $3.00. Drivers also expect a tip, so you can round up the meter charge. Uber and other cars-for-hire are not allowed in Cuenca.


Not to be outdone by the taxis, the metro or light rail system (called Tranvia) also offers an option of paying a fare with an app. Your charge will come from your local bank account. With the large number of tourists in Cuenca, it will probably only be a matter of time before the payment will come from any bank.

Jorge Moscoso, the Tranvia Director, predicts the use of the app will increase ridership by 20%. Currently, the Monday-Friday riders amount to 19,400. The Tranvia is new in Cuenca with only one 11 km line starting at Parque Industrial via the airport and ending at the Rio Tarqui. There are 27 stops along the way. taking about 35 minutes, but expectations are more lines will be developed in the future. You can purchase a card at the Tranvia office or various other locations for $1.00. You then insert your card into pay stations at various metro stops and add money to the card; you cannot use cash on the metro. The normal fare to ride anywhere on the line is $.35 (or a discounted fare of $.17 for students or senior citizens with a cedula). Without the card, expect to pay $1.00 per ride.

For the more intrepid, I will discuss bicycling and walking as well as the bus system in the post next week.

Fact: Getting around Cuenca is quite easy
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The Value of Friends

I have found that making friends is one of the most important requirements when moving to a new community. I have been blessed to have made new friends who seem to have been just waiting to help me. My introduction to Cuenca would have been so much harder without their help.

I am subletting an apartment from a man who is in France for July and August. He has generously taken the time to frequently email or WhatsApp me with all kinds of information about the city. Additionally, he told me to look up a friend of his who has gone out of his way to show me around and given me helpful advice. We were sitting in the small park near my apartment when who comes walking by but Amelia and JP. I know there are those of you who have followed them on the Internet (website and/or YouTube). I started attending a church and I have been taken out to lunch and encountered a couple in a different restaurant. They started teaching me how to use a taxi app to get around. Where would I be without friends?

Walk Along the Tomebamba River

Generally, I am pretty good with directions. However, I made the mistake of thinking a major street through my neighborhood ran east and west when I later learned that it ran north and south. I have been working hard to reorient myself ever since. If only the streets ran in a predictable pattern, but they don’t. Add to that that there are few street signs, and I can become totally lost.

Fortunately, in El Centro, many of the buildings are numbered and there is a system to this. Numbers begin with 1 or 2 digits followed by a hyphen and then the actual building address. Those digits indicate the block, like 3-150. This is very helpful when you know the address of a store on a long street, for instance. Unfortunately, if you only know the name of the store, you don’t know in what block it is located. Outside of El Centro, house numbers and street names are almost nonexistent.

Even taxi drivers have some difficulty finding their way to a specific location. These drivers can drive around circles, intentionally or not, to keep the meter advancing. I’ve learned to hand the driver a note with an address to try to prevent this. However, if my destination is not marked, it’s nothing but a guessing game. I’ve had a driver tell me he couldn’t take me where I wanted to go because he had no idea where it was. Another drove around and around not finding the location and finally told me to just get out of his cab, in the rain no less!

Cuenca’s Tranvia

I haven’t begun to tackle the bus and train (think above-ground subway) systems yet. So, I walk when I can. Walking in Cuenca is really the best way to encounter this city and its many charms. I will write about this in my next post.

Fact: The riverside trails extend 13 kilometers through Cuenca (8 miles)
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