If you love the outdoors and crave a small-town mountain life (minus snow and ice, of course), listen up. I’ve got a place for you…
In the past few years, Cotacachi—just a two-hour drive north of Quito in the Ecuador Andes—has become increasingly popular with expats, especially those of retirement age. Although I’m not retired, I’ll admit to being among this crowd. My husband Dan and I bought a small condo here last year.
This is where we’ll be from May to September, away from the heat and humidity that much of North America experiences in summer. Thing is, Cotacachi weather is perfect year-round. Just a wee bit north of the equator but at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, days are sunny and warm and nights are cool but never cold—perfect for sleeping with the windows open and under a cozy blanket.
We love the soothing mountain setting and relaxed lifestyle of Cotacachi, a pollution-free alfresco town where the food is organic and fresh. It’s big enough to offer anything you need but small enough that you don’t need a car, and everyone knows your name. (An unexpectedly pleasant experience, having always lived in big cities where we hardly knew our next-door neighbors.)
There are no shopping centers or mega-markets…only a few mom-and-pop-type tiendas where you can buy the basics and an open-style mercado where local farmers bring their wares. (You can shop at Cotacachi’s open-air market any day, but the biggest market day is Sunday.)
What we have in Cotacachi, though, in over-abundance, are stunning vistas and friendly (and generous) local people.
There are mountains all around to hike, horseback ride, fish, or just languish in hot-thermal springs, from low-impact rustic to upscale luxurious. Heavenly. And we’ve made many friends of the locals, who delight in introducing us to all this area has to offer, especially their exotic produce and traditional foods.
About 20 minutes northwest of the famous Otavalo market town, Cotacachi is an artisan town—Ecuador’s famous “leather” village where you can buy any type of leather item, from saddles to shoes to suitcases…even full-legged chaps, if you’ve a mind, at prices that are 50%-75% less than you would pay in the U.S.
At night the artisan shops close up and only a few restaurants and small mom-and-pop shops are open. For this reason, Cotacachi may be too small for some. We have, however, night-tripped with friends to Otavalo and the even-larger Ibarra, just 30 minutes away, for a night out on the town. Ibarra is also where we go for major medical service, supermarkets, and big-store shopping. (And when we need a truly mega shopping, cultural, or nightlife fix, we head for Quito.)
Cotacachi is our little slice of paradise…I feel guilty even writing about it as we hope it never changes.
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