Warm weather, swaying palms, and glorious Pacific sunsets are just the beginning of what Ecuador’s central coast has to offer. Add the year-round tropical fruits and vegetables, mouthwatering fresh seafood and shellfish, and a great lifestyle for less than $1,000 a month…and you’ll begin to see why so many expats are choosing this stretch of coast for their retirement or for a second home in the sun.
And that’s not even the best of it. You can find a prime building lot directly on the sand for less than $40,000, or a 2,350-square-foot home in the coast’s premier resort for less than $100,000. A luxury condo on the beach in the principal city’s best sector costs less than $133,000.
Regardless of your taste or budget, Ecuador’s coast has something exciting to offer you.
The best place to live on Ecuador’s coast
Last month, I reported on Bahía de Caráquez, one of my favorite coastal cities. Readers often ask which I prefer—Bahía or Manta. In fact, both are excellent choices. I’d choose Bahía if you want a smaller, quieter, laidback and relaxed atmosphere. There’s little industry except for shrimp, fishing, and some tourism. I’d choose Manta for the conveniences of a larger city, such as malls, a big selection of restaurants, and planned communities. Manta also has a large, well-organized North American expat community. While I like Bahía personally, I’d favor Manta as an investment, as it has broader appeal.
NEED TO KNOW
Great retiree benefits
In Ecuador, you’ll be eligible for the same benefits as Ecuadorian retirees at age 65, including:
- 50% off all public transportation
- 50% off domestic airfares
- 50% off tickets for all cultural and sporting events, including movies
- 50% off electric and water bills (below certain usage levels)
- Free landline phone service (without long distance)
- Reductions in income, sales, and property taxes .
At this time, you’ll also get 50% off international airfares for round-trip flights originating in Ecuador, on Taca, Copa, or AeroGal airlines.
And best of all, you never have to stand in line. Seniors go to the head of the line throughout Ecuador.
Know your developer
I’ve seen dozens of great residential projects along the coast of Ecuador. But I’ve also seen dozens of failures. And their abandoned, skeletal hulks are likely all that remain of the investors’ and pre-construction buyers’ money. When buying pre-construction, you’ve got four choices:
1. Buy from a developer with a good track record. For example, one large project I looked at was being built by Proinmobiliaria, which has completed over 70 projects.
2. Check out the specific project—either on your own or with help—to assure yourself that it’s well backed.
3. Buy a completed unit when construction is at or near completion.
4. Take a chance.
If you go for the last option, make sure it’s money you can afford to lose.
When does the sun shine?
On Ecuador’s central coast, expect sunny weather between mid-November and April, although this can vary by region. This period will include a rainy season, usually characterized by sunny mornings and afternoon showers. From May through early November, it’s usually overcast, but dry.
I’ve spoken to many people on the coast who have told me that their region is in a microclimate that gets sun all year. And given the number of microclimates, a couple of them may be right…I’ve had first-hand reports of some July sunshine in Manta from a fellow writer.
If you intend to use your home on the coast during the North American winter, no problem. But if it’s important that you have sunshine in June and July, my advice is to visit during that time and see for yourself.
Cost of living
Life on the coast is inexpensive. Gasoline is less than $1.50 per gallon, and diesel fuel is around $1. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available all year at giveaway prices, and the fresh, mouthwatering seafood and shellfish costs a fraction of what you’d expect. Taxes are insignificant.
A friend of mine lives a good life here on just $800 per month…for a family of three. And he even owns a car.
The city of Manta is the unofficial capital and prime expat location on the central coast, and with a population of almost 200,000, it’s the area’s largest city. My first impression was spectacular. I was headed south on Ecuador’s coastal highway, just a few yards from the blue Pacific. As I rounded a curve in the road, I could see Manta a few miles ahead, gleaming in the afternoon sun. We passed an old-fashioned open-air boatyard, where builders were hand-crafting large fishing vessels from tropical hardwoods. A number of Great Egrets were on the beach working the receding tide, while off in the distance, a large cruise ship eased into port.
On the inland side of the road, a group of Otavalo Indians—far from their home high in the Andes—had set up a large market, showing their weavings, artwork, and handicrafts. As Ecuador’s most business-savvy indigenous group, they were no doubt anticipating the arrival of the cruise passengers.
In Manta, I found everything I’d want in an expat destination. The restaurants varied from open-air beachfront seafood cafés to some of Ecuador’s best fine dining. The seaside indigenous market stood in sharp contrast to the gleaming, modern shopping malls. What’s more, Manta has a thriving North American expat community. It may well be Ecuador’s largest, and is certainly the best organized and most active; they help each other out and get together frequently.
Manta is built on a solid economic base, with large industrial companies providing employment to keep the local economy in motion. It’s also an important deep-water seaport, and home to the country’s large commercial fleet and tuna industry. Manta’s economic health is not dependent on the fickle tourism industry, or on the possibly-to-be-shut-down U.S. Navy operation.
Property prices in Manta are somewhat higher than I found in the more remote parts of the coast, but they are a good value. A one-bedroom apartment with an ocean view is selling for $60,000, and a 1,600-square-foot apartment (with a sea view) with three bedrooms and three bathrooms is $90,000.
Luxury beachfront apartments cost about $100 per square foot, on average. So expect to pay about $93,000 for a 1,000-square-foot unit. We looked at a new oceanfront condo building called Dorado II, which is offering a 1,400-square-foot ninth-floor condo with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a garage for $133,000.
My favorite new construction project in town is called El Navegante—beachfront condos that offer a pool, sauna, parking garage, gym, wireless Internet, and emergency power. The 1,700- square-foot design with a head-on ocean view starts at $168,000. For more information on these properties, contact Richard Parker of Ecuadorean Coastal Properties by e-mail at: RP@ecuadoreancoastalproperties.com.
If you’d prefer a planned community, a project called Ciudad del Mar is a great option. Located on the southern edge of Manta, the 100-acre project is on a long stretch of beach. The terrain features rolling and rising hills, providing good ocean views to the entire property. It’s a high-end community, with pool, poolside bar, parks, tennis courts, café, gym, spa, and even a soccer field. It also offers a shopping area, chapel, and clinic. The properties include beachfront one- and two-bedroom condos ranging between $64,000 and $106,000, and small building lots starting at less than $50,000.
But Ciudad del Mar’s most interesting idea was the selection of development lots, where you can build your own project. For each lot, the developer has figured how high you can build—and how many units the master plan has approved for that location—in order to protect everyone else’s view.
It’s perfect for the small developer. It’s a painless way to start your own project, since you’re halfway there with the planning, and already a part of a high-end community with all its amenities. For more information, contact the English-speaking sales manager, Lorena González, by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For city living, Manta has the broadest appeal on the Ecuador coast, hands down. The frequent flight service to Ecuador’s international airports makes it convenient to get to. It offers good access to quality health care; modern, even luxury housing at reasonable prices; good shopping and city services; year-round warm weather; beaches; great restaurants; and a thriving expat community.
Follow the “route of the sun”
Heading south from Manta, the coastal road is known as the Ruta del Sol. This section of coast features the popular village of Puerto López, and Montañita, the unrivaled surfing capital of Ecuador. Many travelers also come for the spectacular whale watching, and to visit Isla de la Plata, an island wildlife refuge off the coast that boasts a treasure trove of unique wildlife, and Ecuador’s best snorkeling.
In this region, you’ll see a good example of coastal Ecuador’s changing microclimates, as the terrain cycles between a lush, verdant landscape and tropical dry forest. You’ll find a handful of expats in Olón and Puerto López, and a large number of young North Americans in Montañita, which has the best tourist infrastructure with lots of restaurants and shops along its sandy streets.
Just north of Montañita, I saw an interesting opportunity with expat Mike Sager. It’s a partially finished house—with a small lot right on the sand—on an eight-mile stretch of beach. The concrete framing is finished, and it’s set up to have two master suites on the second floor, with a living room, dining room, kitchen, small bedroom, and bathroom on the ground floor. The asking price is $35,000, and Mike estimates that it will require about $25,000 to complete everything. When finished, you’d have a new home on one of Ecuador’s best beaches for $60,000…or you could sell it for between $85,000 and $100,000. Write to Mike Sager by e-mail at: email@example.com; website: www.ecuadorproperties.com.
Five minutes south of Montañita, there’s a new planned community of 12 beachfront home sites. Each lot is a quarter of an acre, and will have 90 feet of beach frontage. Plans also include a gourmet restaurant and bar at the community’s entrance, and a convenience market for staples. One advantage of this site is its proximity to Montañita, with its wealth of restaurants and shops. The lots are selling for just $40,000. For more information, contact Mike Sager (details above).
To me, the communities along the Ruta del Sol are what make coastal Ecuador unique—simple, laidback coastal living with quaint villages and long stretches of undeveloped beach. This area is perfect for those who don’t want a city or a resort, but enjoy quiet living and magnificent Pacific sunsets.
Salinas: the top of the line in Ecuador’s coastal resorts
When I lived in Ecuador, I never wanted to go to Salinas.
Most Ecuadorians encourage their North American friends to visit Salinas by proudly telling them it’s just like Miami. And since most of us didn’t come to Ecuador to find Miami, we usually put off visiting Salinas for as long as possible.
That was a mistake.
Salinas is located on the Santa Elena Peninsula, the westernmost point of the Ecuadorian mainland. It’s about a two-hour drive from the international airport at Guayaquil. You can expect sunshine and the warmest waters from December through April, but the “high season” is between July and mid-September, due to school vacations in Cuenca and the other mountain cities.
The crescent beach at Salinas is as wide as any you’ll find in Ecuador, with fine, white sand and calm, warm waters. It’s clean and well-kept, with a boardwalk, swaying palms, lifeguards, and water-sport equipment rentals. But there’s plenty of open space left for sun worshipers and their colorful umbrellas. Just offshore, you’ll see a dozen or so motor yachts and sailboats at the marina, gleaming in the morning sun. Between the beach and the marina, you’ll likely find a few people on jet skis crisscrossing the scene, creating white wakes on the sparkling blue waters.
This beach stretches for miles into the distance along Salinas’s gently curving shoreline, bordered by a collection of modern, tall buildings mixed with old-fashioned apartments and seaside restaurants. It’s easy to see why Cuenca and many other mountain cities are virtually empty during vacation periods, when Salinas fills to the brim.
While the beachfront is bustling during peak periods, it tends to quiet down as you go west along the water. The place I preferred for longer-term living (a month or more) was the sector called Chipipe (chee PEE peh), located at the far west end of the public beaches, where they adjoin the property owned by the naval base. Since this is the “end of the line,” there’s no through traffic and it tends to be a little more peaceful.
Yet the beaches are generally wider and nicer than anywhere in town. In addition to the normal collection of condos, Chipipe is home to some fine, old mansions on the beach, as well as a nicely treed park with a large, postcard-looking church at one end.
I expected the properties to be expensive in Chipipe, with its exclusive feel…but that wasn’t the case. There’s an attractive house for sale three blocks from the beach, with four bedrooms and four baths. It’s more than 2,350 feet and in good shape, and the asking price is just $100,000. Call the owner directly: tel. +593(99)350-031.
If you’d prefer a beachfront apartment, we found one with 1,570 feet, three bedrooms, and three bathrooms, going for a negotiable $120,000. This one directly overlooked my favorite section of beach in Salinas. You can get more information from the owner: tel. +593(92)522-616.
For the investor, we found a prime beachfront development property. It’s a 1,000-square-meter corner lot…and when we spoke to the seller, we found that the owner of the property behind this lot is also willing to sell his plot of 400 square meters. Together, this would give a potential buyer a beachfront building lot of 1,400 square meters, with frontage on three streets. The asking price is $500 per meter, and the English-speaking owner can be reached at: tel. +593(99)447-505. There is presently a colonial-style home on the property, but the eventual buyer will likely use this lot as a development site.
If you want to operate a high-season rental, Salinas would be a good place to do it. But more importantly, Salinas is a great place to escape those long, cold northern winters.
Ecuador’s central coast is a terrific value in beachfront living. From the premier city of Manta to the sparkling waters of Salinas to the long stretches of deserted beach along the Ruta del Sol, the central coast is about the best deal you’ll find for your money.