EDITOR’S NOTE: Something that Ecuadorian expats learn early is how difficult it is to get accurate information in their adopted country. Anecdotal information, often wildly inaccurate, seems to rule the day for expats and locals alike. Ecuador Fact Checker is an occasional feature of Cuenca High Life which attempts to set the record straight on selected topics such as the population of major cities, weather, crime, the number of expats living in the country.
Checking through a pile of Ecuador travel guides you will find the population of Cuenca listed at 250,000 at the low end, and at 650,000 on the high end. Quito comes in at anywhere from 950,000 to 2.5 million. Check the tourist websites and you will find an even wider range.
So, which numbers can you trust?
We asked a consultant to the Ecuadorian census service to help us come up with accurate numbers. For larger cities, we asked him to figure populations based on the North American and European standard of metropolitan areas, ignoring municipal and cantonal limits commonly used as the basis for population figures in Ecuador. His figures are based on 2001 to 2010 population figures and projections compiled by the national census office.
In terms of ranking, Ecuador’s three largest cities have not changed in 40 years, with Guayaquil (2,875,000) and Quito (2.2 million) accounting for more than a third of the national population of 14.5 million, and Cuenca coming in a distant third with 518,000. In general, population trends favor continued growth of the larger cities as rural Ecuadorians continue to migrate to larger population centers for employment and educational opportunities. Another significant factor is the large number of Ecuadorians returning to Ecuador from overseas; this group overwhelmingly resettles in cities.
The fastest growing cities with populations of more than 100,000 are Cuenca and Ibarra with a growth rate of 20% between 2001 and 2010, and Machala at 18%. Guayaquil and Quito grew at 13%.
Populations of Ecuador’s 12 largest cities based on 2010 projections:
1. Guayaquil: 2,875,000
2. Quito: 2,200,000
3. Cuenca: 518,000
4. Santo Domingo: 345,000
5. Ambato: 325,000
6. Machala: 275,000
7. Riobamba: 230,000
8. Manta: 220,000
9. Portoviejo: 200,000
10. Ibarra: 197,000
11. Esmeraldas: 192,000
12. Loja: 190,000
Population of smaller cities popular with foreign residents:
Bahia de Caraquez: 47,000; Cotacachi: 8,500; Salinas: 45,000; and Vilcabamba: 1,200.