Dear International Living Reader,
Breath-taking scenery, world-class crafts, a thriving indigenous culture, and year-round spring-like weather…the Ecuadorian Andes is one of the most spectacular stretches of terrain on Earth (at Cayambe, it is the only place on the planet where the equator crosses a glacier).
Plus, with some of the lowest property prices in a country that’s already one of the cheapest in the world, this part of Ecuador is growing increasingly popular with real estate buyers and expatriates.
Otavalo, an hour-and-half drive north of Quito, is surrounded by emerald peaks, and offers the largest indigenous market in Latin America. The region is famous for its highly skilled artisans who create leather, wood, and textile products. North of Otavalo, the town of Cotacachi, known for its leather crafts, and San Antonio de Ibarra, renowned for its woodwork, are major draws for tourists. San Antonio is famous for the intricately decorated carvings of saints which the town supplied to French and Spanish Catholic churches in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A popular small development that has attracted a number of North American and European investors to the area is San Miguel in Cotacachi, a project created by an Ecuadorian and Canadian. Lots that are close to downtown with spectacular views of Vulcan Cotacachi start at $20,000; houses begin at $65,000. For more information contact Santiago Guamani at info@EcuadorAmazing.com.
Cuenca, in Ecuador’s southern Andes, and the villages surrounding it, form another center of craftsmanship that rivals the Otavalo region. The area produces jewelry, leather, textiles, furniture, and ceramics. Within an hour’s drive of Cuenca, you’ll find the charming jewelry town of Chordeleg, famous for its filigree silver and gold jewelry, and the village of San Bartholome, said to produce some of the best handmade guitars in the world. Cuenca, which produces many crafts of its own, has become the center of the Panama hat trade, as production has moved from the coast to the Andes.
Cuenca itself is known as the cultural heart of Ecuador, having produced many of the country’s great artists and writers. Although the city’s metropolitan population approaches 450,000, the colonial center of the city retains a charming small town flavor. Many of the city’s old colonials have been restored into hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and clubs. Their charming fronts are painted in lively colors, their balconies overflowing with flowers.
Cuenca hosts dozens of craft fairs, and music and art festivals, and is known for its outlandish parades and celebrations. During a recent week, there was a native dance festival on the banks of one of the city’s four rivers, an opera performance in a downtown concert hall, a jazz program in the pavilion on the main square, and art exhibit openings at two museums. The local government mandates that the city sponsor at least 200 cultural events per year, most of them free to the public. Colonial Cuenca has become increasingly popular with tourists and language students, who enjoy the culture, the university town feel (the city has five universities), and the weather.
Despite Cuenca’s popularity and recent growth, real estate remains a bargain. New condominiums begin in the mid-$30,000 range, and go up to the low $100,000s for large penthouses. The mountains surrounding Cuenca also offer outstanding values. In the village of Ramada, 20 minutes east of the city, there is a 1,000-square-foot house on 2 acres on offer for $26,500. The 15-mile view from the back patio is a bonus. Closer to town, high above the city, is a 3,300-square-foot home with a separate guest house on a manicured 3/4-acre lot with gorgeous views all-around. The price: $145,000. For more information see: http://www.cuencarealestate.com/.
A four-hour ride south of Cuenca lies the magical valley of Vilcabamba. Although the ancient Quichuan language made reference to the entire area south of Cuenca to northern Peru as the “Land of Long Life,” or “Valleys of Good Life,” Vilcabamba has laid claim to the modern translation and dubs itself the Valley of Longevity.
Indeed the valley has been the subject of several studies to determine why so many residents live to ages of more than 100. Although the results of the studies were inconclusive, all agree that clean air, good water, and easy living is a major factor in longevity.
On a per capita basis, Vilcabamba boasts one of the largest concentrations of expats in Ecuador, attracted by the rural lifestyle and what International Living’s Roving Latin America Editor calls “the best weather on earth.” At an elevation of less than 5,000 feet, daily temperature range from approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
Although the price of land has appreciated rapidly in the past two years, you can still find good values in the Vilcabamba area, such as this 8-acre property in the Malacatos valley, adjacent to Vilcabamba, with stunning views of the valley. It includes a caretaker’s cottage with electricity and water. Price: $48,000. For more information contact Andre Grossenbacher at AGrossenba@yahoo.com.
Also in Vilcabamba, a newly constructed four-bedroom, two-bath house three blocks from the town square featuring gated parking, built-in closets, and guest house in the rear is on sale for $82,000. Contact Larry Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just outside of Vilcabamba, with 153 feet of river frontage on the Vilcabamba River, is a 1.5-acre plot with a three-bedroom, one-bath home. The updated rammed-earth home has 17-inch walls, new hardwood doors and ceilings and an unobstructed view of Mandango, the famous rock formation that overlooks the Vilcabamba valley. Asking price is $75,000.
For International Living