The village of Cotacachi, Ecuador, lies in a fertile green valley between the towering peaks of Volcan Imbabura and Volcan Cotacachi in the Andes Mountains.
This small leather crafting and farm-to-market town bustles with activity during the day and practically rolls up its clean and tidy streets at night—unless it happens to be one of the many festival nights that occur during the course of the year, in which case get ready for marching bands, fireworks, and lots of dancing.
Cotacachi is becoming increasingly popular with expats from around the world, and for good reasons. We’ll go through some of these reasons as we rate Cotacachi on my personal and very subjective Four Cs scale.
The rating system assigns up to five points in each category for a possible total of 20 points—the higher the total, the better I like the place as a potential retirement or second home location.
Comfort: In my opinion, Cotacachi has the best weather on earth. At about 8,000 feet above sea level, you’d expect blizzard-blighted winters, but Ecuador lies directly on the equator. This combination of near-zero latitude and soaring altitude gives Cotacachi a spring-like climate that lasts all year—average temperatures are 70F daytime and 50F nighttime, 365 days a year. None of the sweltering heat, gritty sand, and corrosive salt air of beach locations, and none of the mind-numbing winter cold of mountain locations in the higher latitudes. This earns Cotacachi a solid 5 for Comfort.
Convenience: Cotacachi has high-speed internet, potable water right out of the tap, and available satellite television hookup. What it doesn’t have is a big-box store, supermarket, or large home improvement center. For those, you have to go up the road to Ibarra, the largest city in the area, about a 20-minute bus ride away, or to Quito, the capital, a 90-minute drive.
This makes major shopping trips for specialty food items, hard-to-find plumbing or electrical supplies, or a wide selection of furniture and appliances a bit of a pain. The international airport is also in Quito, which makes for a longish trip if you’re coming and going by air. This earns Cotacachi a 3 for convenience.
Cost: My favorite lunch in Cotacachi is a three-course almuerzo for $1.50. That alone earns high scores for cost in my book, but Cotacachi savings don’t stop there. A bottle of LP gas costs $2.50 and can provide hot water and cooking gas for a month. Rents for an apartment in the village start at around $150 per month. For those shopping trips to Ibarra, the bus costs 90 cents, round-trip. If you’re shopping big, take a cab back from Ibarra for about $10.
Cotacachi itself is small enough to walk across in half an hour, but if you do want to take a taxi, you can get almost anywhere in town for a buck. Renting a truck to haul your new furniture or appliances locally—four dollars. Put it all together, and I know people living well in Cotacachi on $600 per month, all rent, utilities, food, and transportation included. That has to earn Cotacachi a solid 5 for cost.
Culture: Ecuador’s Andean highlands are home to several indigenous groups who speak various dialects of the Quechua language, and they’ve managed to preserve much of their traditional way of life. You’ll hear as much Quechua as Spanish in the markets and on the streets, and traditional dress is common—so much so that it’s possible to tell a person’s group and status from the color of a hat or the embroidery of a blouse.
Religious festivals are common, both indigenous and Catholic. And the traditional shamanic and healing traditions are very much alive here—you can get your aura cleansed by an experienced shaman or see a curandero who will custom mix a batch of herbs guaranteed to fix what ails you. In short, you’re in no fear of mistaking Cotacachi for small town America or Europe—there is local culture galore, earning it another 5.
Tale of the tape: Cotacachi totals 18 on my completely personal and subjective Four Cs scale. And since no place is perfect, 18 is a great score—one reason I’ve chosen to live part-time here.
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