Objective

Welcome to our website ! Our vision is to inspire & promote international understanding through education and cultural exchange between South America - Ecuador and the rest of the world. To help people rediscover life with purpose, integrity and compassion, benefit from our experiences, and acquire knowledge for living in harmony in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world. To share our "life changing adventure experiences" with family and friends worldwide. We have consolidated a wealth of the best resources on Ecuador, along with travel journals and photos. Our hope is that you will find this a valuable, user friendly resource network, which enriches your life, enables you to learn, challenges your thinking, and empowers you to discover and undertake your own new experiences and adventures.

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We welcome your feedback, questions and suggestions and hope that you return often.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tren Ecuador - Nariz del Diablo

Ferro Carriles del Ecuador or Tren Ecuador ( Ecuadorian Railway Company ) invested over $ 300 million to restore an abandoned railway system originally built in 1908. Tren Ecuador now operates the railway as an example of how tourism can contribute to local development. 

 


 


Tren Ecuador recently was honored to win two World Responsible Tourism Awards in London, England. Ecuador's rail system received the gold award for "poverty reduction and inclusion", along with jointly winning an overall award. "  Awarded to an organization with a creative and long-term approach to reducing poverty in local communities and including local, and marginalized people in their activities. "The judges hold Tren Ecuador up as an outstanding, holistic example of how all tours should be designed, and feel that if all tourism was planned in this way it would be very effective at making better places in which to live, as well as better places to visit." 




Tren Ecuador showcases a wonderful working example to the world, having changed the traditional approach of heritage and luxury train travel. The creation of 26 station-cafes, 14 artisanal plazas, 13 museums, a variety of life size murals, 2 lodges, 9 folklore and historical recreation groups and several community-based tourism operations - all included as part of a tourist's journey - and greatly enhance the historic railway experience, and form the real Ecuadorian adventure.  The result is associated enterprises which create the livelihoods for 5,000 people in local communities along the tracks." 

 






Opened in 2013, the flagship service, Tren Crucero is a four-day, three-night, 500 km luxury rail journey from an elevation of 9,350 ft in the majestic Andes in Quito through the entire countries contrasting landscapes down to the lowlands, and Guayaquil at sea level on the Pacific coast. Tren Crucero provides, 150,000 international guests annually, a unique and authentic experience, along challenging historic rail lines, with many excursions allowing them to truly experience Ecuador's diverse cultural and natural heritage. It actively engages local communities along the routes to provide food, crafts, entertainment, and other services for the visitors.

 

Recognized as the leading luxury train in South America by World Travel Awards, and distinguished with European tourist awards. These lovingly restored, antique steam, and modern  electric-diesel locomotives pull a high quality convoy of two luxury, colonial and republican-style themed passenger cars with comfortable seating and tables.  A bar and gift-shop car with two comfortable observation lounges, and an open air terrace, complete this comfortable boutique train, carrying just fifty passengers. There are no sleeper cars so passengers disembark each night and travel to a historic hacienda hotel. Travelers from Argentina, Canada and the U.S., Germany, Switzerland and throughout the world enjoy the adventure.

 

The luxury Tren Crucero departs from Quito to Guayaquil every Tuesday, or traveling in the opposite direction from Guayaquil to Quito every Sunday.  The 4-day 3-night excursion costs $1,750. (2018)   Near Alausi the route travels the brave descent down Devil's Nose.

Local residents, or tourists, may undertake any of the eight segment journeys as independent day trips.  For schedules, tickets, or more information visit  Tren Ecuador's website.

 

After the trains leave their stations, the varied sounds of locomotive power used attracts many smiling local faces, children and elders waving frantically in awe.  It is an endearing part of the experience. 

 

The individual segments are:


NORTHERN ANDES

Offering spectacular scenery with traditional Andean pan flute music.


Tren de la Libertad I  -    Ibarra – Salinas – Ibarra

A 1.5 hour journey passing through 30 km of contrasting landscapes, seven handmade tunnels and two panoramic bridges to arrive in the vibrant afro-ecuadorian community of Salinas. ( not to be confused with the coastal community of Salinas )


 







Tren de la Libertad II  -  Otavalo – Salinas – Otavalo

Originating in Otavalo, the country's largest Indigenous market, a 10 hour journey north. Enjoying the diverse historic folklore, gastronomy, music, textiles, wood carving craftsmen, fertile agricultural valleys, and landscapes of the Imbabura province.  In Ibarra you may transfer to the Tren de la Libertad I traveling to Salinas.





CENTRAL ANDES

Travel the beautiful inter-Andean valley route that German scientist Alexander von Humboldt traveled 200 years ago and named  "The Avenue of the Volcanoes".


Tren de los Volcanes -    Quito – El Boliche – Machachi – Quito

Departing from our capital city of Quito, this 9 hour journey 60 km south through majestic Andean landscapes and diverse eco-systems. The  El Boliche departure leaves from the foot the 19.350 ft Cotopaxi Volcano. Following the " Avenue of the Volcanoes " 18 snow capped volcano cones, often cloaked in clouds flank the railway line. Alpine tundra high above, we pass through fertile fields and haciendas nestled in the valley where Andeans pause from their farm work to smile and wave at the passing train.




 Tren de los Volcanes II   -   Ambato – El Boliche – Ambato

A newly launched 9 hour route leaving the Ambato fertile agricultural valley traveling north between the Eastern and Western Andes north to Cotopaxi. Passing the Tunguraha and Sangay volcanoes who guard the entrance to the Amazon. Climbing to 11,400 feet, you will pass rose plantations, and the Latacunga Artisans' Plaza finally reaching the cloudforest of Cotopaxi.  Treeless alpine tundra above.

At the Lasso train station, a small troupe of dancers performed in traditional costumes, including huge headdresses covered in small mirrors, dyed feathers and bright ribbon. This performance felt a bit like an especially colorful and confusing school play, but the performers' passion was real.


Tren del Hielo II    -  Ambato – Mocha – Urbina – Cevallos – Ambato

A nine hour journey south from Ambato's valley of fruits to the Andean paramo of Chimborazo. Urbina, the highest point at 11,800 ft  you will encounter the last Ice Merchant of Chimborazo, Senor Balthazar Oscar in his seventies who since he was a young boy hikes the 20,500 ft volcano to the glacier to bring down 40 lb blocks of ice. Continuing an ancient but dying trade, he summits twice a week to collect ice from the glacier. 






SOUTHERN ANDES


Traveling towards the South of America after the Tungurahua volcano, the volcanoes begin to sleep, and you will encounter extinct crators and lakes.   Markets gather trade from throughout the country. The river Chanchán accompanies the railway to the coast through the picturesque town of Alausi.


Tren del Hielo I        -    Riobamba – Urbina – La Moya – Riobamba

Beginning in Riobamba a 6.5 hour journey north to Chimborazo – Ecuador´s highest peak. At the Urbina station you will meet Baltazar Ushca the last ice merchant of Chimborazo, who continuing an ancient trade, summits Chimborazo daily to collect ice from the glacier. On returning to Riobamba a visit to La Moya. The descendants of the ancient Puruha people will share their secret daily live in the Andes and you will enjoy a typical lunch in the paramos of Chimborazo volcano.



Nariz del Diablo   -   Alausí – Sibambe – Alausí

This section of railway line provided the engineers with the most demanding complication for the Trans-Andean railroad.  The Devil's Nose is a mountain with almost perpendicular walls along the narrow river Chanchán gorge.   In order to overcome this obstacle, on these steep mountain walls, the train climbs 500 metres in less than 12 km using zig zaging tracks. The route was blasted out of the rock, track laid in a Z-shape, creating a series of three extreme switchbacks. Brakes are thoroughly checked, and traversing these switchbacks the train essentially changes direction several times. Even today it is an impressive piece of engineering. Now this legendary Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) with its short 1.5 hour descent is the most famous and popular section.   More detail and photos follow below in the article. 

 


We then dropped down through eucalyptus stands, and farther still, to the steamy, orchid-laced tropical jungle of the lowlands.



PACIFIC COAST

The coastal plains are home to the mighty Guayas River, where its mouth creates the largest watershed on the Pacific coast of South America.  The fertile plains are home to endless banana, rice, and sugar cane plantations and imposing tropical forests.


Tren de la Dulzura    -   Duran – Bucay – Duran

The largest river delta on the Pacific Ocean is born from the confluence of the rivers Daule and Babahoyo forming the brownish waters of Guayas that edges past the city's Malecón 2000.  Parque Historico, Isla Santay, Las Peñas, La Perla ferris wheel, are some of Guayaquil's major attractions.

Leaving from Duran, near the bustling port of Guayaquil, you will enjoy a 10 hour adventure through coastal landscapes, cacoa, suger cane, and banana plantations.


 



NARIZ DEL DIABLO

Of all the railway track in Ecuador, the one that is regarded as the most difficult of all, that links the coastal lowlands with its Andean highlands: the Devil's Nose.  Our journey begins in the village of Alausí.  



Alausí, a small, sleepy, town of 7,000 whose economy is inextricably linked to the railway.

 

 

With the construction and opening of the railway Alausí boomed. 



Early in the 20th century the railway line connected the capital with the coast eliminating the grueling journeys of the past.  It quickly became the hub for fish, seafood, tropical fruits brought up from the Pacific Coast and cereals, maize, barley, potatoes, blackberries transported from the Andes. Immigrants arrived from Europe, traders flocked to set up stores, merchants built mansions, and the town expanded.  
 

Nestled into looming green Andean slopes, where the towering monument of San Pedro watches over the city from its strategic vantage point, it is a wonderful setting for enjoying an ice cream and watching the locals.   

 


Enjoy a well done documentary video of Nariz del Diablo.

 

This 7.5 mile section of railway line provided the engineers with the most demanding complications in building the Trans-Andean railroad. It is said as many as 2,000 men were killed while constructing this section. 

 

The Devil's Nose is a mountain named after the noselike shape of this imposing, jagged rock with almost perpendicular walls along the narrow river Chanchán gorge.   In order to overcome this obstacle, on these steep mountain walls, the train climbs 500 metres in less than 12 km using zig zaging tracks. 



The route was blasted out of the rock, track laid in a Z-shape, creating a series of three extreme switchbacks. Brakes are thoroughly checked, and traversing these switchbacks the train essentially changes direction several times. Even today it is an impressive piece of engineering. The train hugs the steep perpendicular canyon walls which are often just inches from the windows, and the landscape below is not visible creating an eerie feeling of floating. 

 


Cascading streams meander below, canyons and ravines around each bend. The rapid descent of over 1000 meters translates into a dramatic shift in climate and environment.


 


In previous years you could ride on the roof top of the carriage until two Japanese tourists were decapitated by a low hanging cable.    Now this legendary Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) with its red, steam-driven locomotive, and short one hour descent to Silambe is the most famous and popular section, and ranks as one of the 10 most dangerous train rides in the world.



In the Silambe plaza you will be greeted with a presentation of indigenous dancers, artisan market, photo ops with llamas or donkeys, railway museum, and several options for light refreshments.
 
Our stay in Alausí was in a quaint, rustic, bed & breakfast with character and warm hospitality overlooking the town, and the valleys below. We enjoyed the outside garden benches for relaxing and enjoying the panoramic vistas. We enjoyed our wonderful breakfasts in the glass enclosed balcony restaurant filled with antiques.   

 

 

The civic square is welcoming, and following the railway tracks at the town's edge is an impressive black bridge spanning the gorge of the River Alausí  below. Nearby attractions include trekking along the old Inca trail from Achupallas, waterfalls of Huigra and La Multitud, horseback riding, or mountain biking.




HISTORIC TIMELINE

The construction of the Ecuadorian railroad began in the late 19th century, and by 1908 the stretch Quito-Guayaquil was completed. The Trans Andean Railway line contributed significantly to the country's modernization, and was instrumental in unifying the country. Today some of these tracks have been refurbished offering  a very unique and attractive way to discover Ecuador's contrasting landscapes.




 


1873   -  the Government started construction of 41 kilometers of track on the coast from Yaguachi to Milagro. 

1895  -    The Liberal revolution triumphed, and work was resumed by the General Eloy Alfaro Delgado.

 

1897 -    The Guayaquil and Quito Railway Company was formed in 1897 and it began construction of the southern railway. The railway line network was built by  4,000 laborers brought in from Jamaica and Puerto Rico of which nearly 3,000 of them perished.

1902  -   Nido del Condor or Condor Puñuna known as the famous hill of the Devil's nose was built. This piece of complex engineering designated the railway  line as the world's most difficult. This section's difficult terrain, and adverse weather conditions caused 2,000 deaths ( 67 % of the projects   death toll ). 


 

1905  -  the Durán-Riobamba section was inaugurated.

1906    - the train arrived in Ambato. 




1912    -   the Bahía-Chone section was inaugurated.

1928   -   the section from Santa Rosa-El Oro was opened.

1936    -   the Guayaquil-Salinas section was inaugurated.



 

1957   -   the section from Ibarra-San Lorenzo was opened. The provinces in the Sierra now finally had access to the Pacific Ocean ports.

1965   -  the Sibambe-Cuenca section was inaugurated.

 

1975  -   the railway started to decline due to high maintenance costs of lines and equipment in the rugged terrain with significant rains, lack of political interest from Governments, and competition from expanding road networks.

1980  -  the railway was abandoned after rails and rolling stock had been destroyed one too many times by landslides.

1992  - in an attempt to try and revive the railway the Government provided a capital infusion to buy diesel-electric locomotives

1993  -  the El Niño washed railway track sections into the Río Chanchán.

2008  -  on April 1, the National Institute of Cultural Heritage (INPC) declared the railway network as Cultural heritage of Ecuador and began restoration efforts.

2008 -  reinauguration of the section from Quito-Latacunga.


 

2011 -  opening the famous Nariz del Diablo Alausí-Sibambe railway section.

2013 -  commenced Tren Crucero operations  





Traveling Tips for when you go

* sunglasses, camera, binoculars, sunscreen, insect repellent, and cash
* comfortable walking shoes
* wear clothing in layers
* rain jacket.
* best views when the skies are clearest between June and August
* trains are equipped with 220 v electrical outlets

Through their social responsibility strategy, "Travel Good, Do Good, Feel Good" every time you enjoy a drink or food in a cafe, purchase a souvenir, or enjoy a local tour, you become a part of this "large family" committed to making responsible tourism sustainable, fun and profitable for all.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cuenca - Medellin - Panama - Comparison

Everyone sees the world through different lenses. Your perceptions, likes, and dislikes, and priorities will change with age, experiences, and taste. Travel is one of the best ways for most of us to broaden our horizons - living and immersing in a foreign country's culture is even better.

We are often questioned on the advantages / disadvantages / differences of several  Latin cities that have been rated as top popular Latin American destinations, and are currently retirement locations for expats. In many ways it is like " comparing apples & oranges " their populations and features vary widely, each has their advantages and disadvantages,  however here is our succinct summary of our subjective comparisons & experiences between Cuenca, Ecuador  Medellin, ColombiaPanama City, Panama.  We know many expats who have relocated from each of these cities to another for a variety of reasons.   

Medellin & Cuenca have being recognized within the emerging top 10 2018 travel destinations in South America along with Brasilia, Curitiba & Recife, Brazil; La Paz, Bolivia;  Cali, Colombia: Salta, Argentina; Asunción, Paraguay; and Guayaquil, Ecuador.

For background context, we are Ecuador expats with over ten years experience living in Latin America. Several years, and currently living in Cuenca, and two to three months exploring each of Medellin, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Chile.   

We have established and organized our thoughts and observations into eight categories for the comparison :  Attractions, History & Culture,  Economy, Geography & Climate,  Safety & Corruption, Infrastructure, Healthcare,  & Education


                                                                        Attractions

Medellín's mountains provide several natural parks including the huge Parque Arví nature reserve covering 39,500 acres with 54 miles of walk-able trails and activities like hiking, biking, jogging, horseback riding, atv's, picnicking, parasailing and bird watching. Plaza Cisneros - artificial forest with over 300 posts;  Botero Plaza with 23 monumental sculptures by Fernando Botero; Plazuela Nutibara - historical and representative of the city site; Uribe Palace of Culture; 40 museums; 21 public parks; 28 theaters; and several public libraries. In addition, Medellín has several small pueblos nearby including Guatapé, Jardín and Santa Fe de Antioquia. 





Cuenca's natural basin holds the confluence of four rivers and forms an attractive setting for the historic Incan settlement. Attractions are authentic representing 28 indigenous groups, colonial cobblestone streets, marketplaces, cathedrals, festivals set on the confluence of four rivers. The New Cathedral with its iconic blue and white domes, the colourful flower market in the Carmen de Asuncion Monastery, central Plaza Calderon, nearby Ingapirca, silversmiths of Chordoleg, fresh trout and hiking in the Cajas, and a variety of museums are the highlights.

Panama City's primary attraction is the world famous Panama Canal, but others include the Centennial Bridge, Presidential Palace, Panama Viejo, the waterfront promenade Las Bóvedas, and the cities museums, skyline of many high rise buildings, and shopping districts.  Coastal water related activities such as scuba diving, boating, deep-sea fishing, swimming, or water voyages to nearby islands. 


 

                                                       History & Culture 

Both Cuenca in 1999, and Panama City in 2003, have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.  Both have rich historic districts featuring an impressive concentration of many well preserved  European architectural style historical buildings: museums, cathedrals, and prominent homes.  Cuenca has over 52 stately churches, some dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  Cuenca's architecture, much of which dates from the 18th century, was 'modernized' with the economic prosperity of the 19th century. Cuenca's cobblestone streets provide a harmonious blend of ancient tradition and contemporary style, with old and new successfully existing side by side.







Cuenca, one of Americas' premier Spanish-colonial cities, has about 1,000 years history over the other two. Originally a Cañari settlement called Guapondeleg founded in 500 AD. Subsequently conquered by the Inca's and renamed Tomebamba known as a regional capital.

Panamá Viejo founded in 1519 is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. 

Medellin started as a small rural agricultural settlement in the early 18th century.  Its more recent tumultuous and violent past with drugs has destroyed much of its cultural history, leaving very few historic buildings. Its culture is contemporary being a pioneer of inventive architecture and urban renewal.
  Medellín hosts Latin America's largest Christmas light festival which is world famous, a summer flower extravaganza, and  fashion show, Colombiamoda amongst many other events. 

 
 

In each city, you can enjoy orchestra, theater, art openings, museums, and a robust cultural scene. You'll pay a fee for most of these in Medellin or Panama, while in Cuenca they're often free. Panama's culture most closely resembles the United States, and it has a much larger, and more established, community of foreigners.  It's up to you to decide whether that's the atmosphere you're seeking.

Cuenca known as the "City of Festivals," is an interesting confluence of cultures and is an Artesanel Mecca for South America.  From religious celebrations during April, International Art Competitions, and Film Festivals, Corpus Christi in June, November's  " Fiestas de Cuenca " major cultural event in South America, to Cuenca's Christmas holiday parade, Pase del Niño Viajero, ( the largest and best in the country ).


                                                                   Economy 

 
Medellin currently has the lowest cost of living ( due to COP exchange rates which have dropped dramatically over the last several years ) with the broadest selection of imported goods, followed by Panama then Cuenca, Ecuador with the highest cost of living. Costs of imported items, particularly electronics, appliances and automobiles, are much more expensive in Ecuador. This often takes new visitors by surprise, and has recently caused a significant exodus of expats north to Colombia, Panama, and Mexico for lower living costs. 

Medellín is important to the region for its universities, academies, commerce, industry, steel, textiles, confections, food and beverage,  science, health services, flower-growing and festivals. The main economic products are agriculture (from its rural areas), public services, chemical products, pharmaceuticals, refined oil, and flowers. Fashion is a major part of the economy and culture of the city.

Both Panama & Ecuador use the U.S. dollar, so there's much less risk associated with the country's currency exchange. Sales taxes on goods and services is 16 % in Medellín,  12 % in Cuenca, and 7 % in Panama City.



 

Panama's economy is service based, weighted heavily to banking, commerce, and tourism. The Panama Canal, which opened in 1914, was of great benefit to the infrastructure and economy in Panama City. During World War II, construction of military bases and the presence of large numbers of U.S. military and civilians brought prosperity to the city. Panama City, a major international port, is the political and administrative center of the country and home for over 80 banks.

Cuenca's economy is based on industry, rubber and car tires, textile, furniture and Panama Hats, agricultural, and tourism with its influence extending to the surrounding communities.


                                                            Geography & Climate 

All three cities temperatures are constant year round, with minimal variations due to their proximity to the equator.

Cuenca, at 2,450 metres, is in a large Andean basin with four major rivers.  Encircled by spectacular mountains, natural beauty, with a backdrop to the Cajas National Park, it is a source of enchantment for visitors and locals.  Cuenca has a much higher daily temperature range with warm days in the mid to upper twenties falling to the low teens for chilly evenings. Without central heating some foreigners find a few evenings each year rather cold. This provides the lowest average daily temperature of  15.5 °C , also half the precipitation at 32 inches annually with 1800 hours of sunshine. The rainy season, which is characterized by bright sunny mornings and afternoon showers, falls between January and May. A major advantage of Cuenca's higher altitude is the absence of tropical insects, from wood devouring termites,  disease carrying mosquitoes, cockroaches, crickets, & scorpions and many more.  And a concern of the higher altitude is the possible health affects that may occur as your body must adjust to the lower amount of oxygen available.  

Medellin at 1,500 metres lies in a rather steep canyon bisected by the Medellin River. The steep valley provides spectacular vistas, however it also traps significant levels of smog and pollution in the valley basin. The World Health Organization has ranked Medellin #9 of the most polluted 10 cities in Latin America. Fortunately the frequent rains clean the atmosphere. It is known for its warmer eternal spring like climate.  It is also a tropical rainforest climate with an average temperature of 22 °C with 227 days annually providing 70 inches of precipitation, and 1820 hours of sunshine. We found mid day temperatures can reach low 30's Celsius, and without air conditioning it was uncomfortable in the urban asphalt of the valley basin. Higher elevations are popular for providing more breezes, less valley smog, and views. Rainfall was tropical and torrential - during rainstorms it was very difficult to hail a taxi.

Panama City, a Pacific Ocean port in a tropical rain forest. Average temperature is constant at 27 °C with 130 days annually providing 75 inches of precipitation. The heat and humidity here is very high, over 85 %,  we found uncomfortable and requiring air conditioning for comfort.  As is common in coastal locations sunshine is subdued by nearly continual clouds.  The salty sea air, and high humidity create significant maintenance issues, and tropical insects are plentiful.


                                                          Safety & Corruption

Just like all cities in the world there are areas to avoid with higher crime rates, particularly after dark.  While crime rates have been dropping in Medellin, the smaller city of Cuenca, and Panama City win by a wide margin here.  Cuenca has a friendly atmosphere and an easy and relaxed pace of life. In all Latin American cities you must take care - you don't go out with jewelry on and don't flash cell phones, money, or your wealth. Your lifestyle plays a significant role in your safety.    

Corruption is common in all Latin countries but is most prevalent in Ecuador. In 2016 Transparency International ranks Panama # 87, Colombia # 90, and Ecuador # 120 out of 176 countries in terms of corruption.


                                                               Infrastructure

There are few English speakers to be found outside of the service industries such as hotels, and tourist restaurants and facilities in any of these cities  so it can be rather difficult to get by in any of these cities without speaking some Spanish. Each of these cities have inexpensive, extensive public transportation networks with buses and metro systems, plus inexpensive taxis, reliable internet service and electricity.

Medellin is the largest city ( more than 8 times the size of Cuenca ) with a metro population of over 4 million, modern upscale ambiance with the highest traffic congestion. Obviously it has many more restaurants, shopping malls, brand name outlets, and nightlife options. In 2013 it was chosen as the most innovative city in the world due to its recent advances in politics, education and social development. It has a domestic and international airport which serve 7.5 million customers annually. Medellin Metro is a comprehensive " world class " system integrating two metro trains, a new tram, buses, 4 cable car lines, and two escalators. It is spotlessly clean, easy to use and very inexpensive. Not typical of Latin cities streets all have signs and use a simple numbered grid with Carreras running north and south, and Calles running east and west. In comparison Medellin is much easier to navigate with and street signs everywhere.




Panama City is a busy seaside port, less than half of the size of Medellin with under 2 million inhabitants. Tocumen International Airport provides direct flights to over 60 international destinations, and the Pan American Highway joins the Americas.  To reduce traffic congestion a new city wide metro now spans the city. Infrastructure most closely resembles that of the U.S.A. with its roads more well-maintained. Street layout in Panama City can be quite confusing with non-existent, or confusing road signs.

One of America's premier colonial Spanish cities, Cuenca, the smallest of the three with population of 500,000 has high quality services including high quality potable water, fiber optic internet, public plazas & sports and nature parks have free internet services,  efficient public transportation including an "under construction" state of the art 27 station metrovia system scheduled to open in late 2018, extensive network of dedicated cycling and walking paths, a wide variety of ethnic restaurants.  Currently it's airport has rather limited service of domestic connections.  




                                                                 Healthcare 

Perhaps somewhat surprising for developing countries, all three cities have very high quality, state-of-the-art network of public and private medical facilities. Being a bigger city, Medellín has many more medical and dental providers but they also have many more patients to care for.  It is a significant challenge to rank healthcare institutions due to lack of data, and availability of trustworthy information. However, Medellin has nine of the top 100 ranked hospitals in all of Latin America, while Cuenca and Panama have none.


                                                                   Education 


All three countries are investing heavily in education for their future generations.  All three cities have both public and private schools. Most of the private schools are at least bilingual. Medellin is home to over 30 Universities, Panama City has 12 Universities. Even though Cuenca has only 6 universities it was declared the " City of Universities" by Ecuador's National Assembly in 2011.


 

This comparison simply provides information. Everyone has different perceptions and priorities - the only way to know if it fits your requirements is is to spend time there and experience it !  The bottom line is determined by you !



 
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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador