The theme to Green Acres is one of my favorite songs. And nothing makes me want to belt it out more than standing high on a mountain top with rich, green fertile land “spreadin’ out so far and wide” below.
I want nothing more than to plant some rows of corn and cantaloupe and raise a few goats. Self-sufficiency. Fresh air. Farm living is the life for me!
If you’ve got a hankering to do the same…with or without the goats or crop tending…I’ve got just the place for you.
Ecuador’s Yunguilla Valley is Green Acres personified. About an hour south of Cuenca in southern Ecuador, it’s a more accessible alternative to Vilcabamba even farther south. And just as healthy and picturesque.
And while in Yunguilla you’ll find even more wide-open space than in Vilcabamba, you won’t find nearly as many gringos.
David Morrill, the real estate agent who took me to Yunguilla, says that only about 20 households here are occupied full-time by foreigners. And they aren’t concentrated in any particular area. Rather, they are spread throughout the valley that begins just outside Cuenca and stretches all the way to the coastal city of Machala, a distance of about 80 miles.
With elevations from sea level up to 7,000 feet, you can grow just about anything here—from coffee, papaya and oranges to bananas and sugar cane. The climate is near perfect—warmer than Cuenca because of the lower elevation. Because of its east-west orientation, the valley gets direct sunshine all day long. The short rainy season from January to May brings about 18 inches of rain per year.
The two primary villages in the heart of the valley are Giron and Santa Isabel, where you’ll find good country-style restaurants and basic supplies. For major shopping, through, a trip to Cuenca is in order. Fortunately, the well-maintained highway is safe and easy to drive.
Think you might like to give Yunguilla a try?
You can luck upon country homes on an acre or so of land for as low as $45,000, but these will undoubtedly require remodeling. Spend more and you’ll find many turnkey options. The well-to-do from Cuenca have built gorgeous country homes in the valley and occasionally put them up for sale.
One of these is not far off the main highway just a short distance from Santa Isabel. Designed and built by a Cuenca architect, the 2-year-old house is an amply sized 3,700 square feet—with six bedrooms and six bathrooms, as well as a full-size maid’s suite. There’s also a Jacuzzi and steam room and a large kidney-shaped swimming pool.
My favorite part of the house, though, is the covered terrace with a BBQ area and lots of room for hammocks from which to lazily gaze at the mountains in the distance. I’d guess the total land area to be about an acre, and it includes a tilapia pond.
My favorite property is a bit more difficult to get to. It’s above Santa Isabel via a narrow and winding cobblestone road. During the rainy season, you’d want a 4X4 vehicle. But the spectacular views from the property more than make up for this small inconvenience.
On more than 4 acres of a gently sloping and immaculately manicured mountainside is a three-bedroom/three-bathroom adobe-style home that looks to be straight out of another of my favorite childhood television programs, Bonanza…only far prettier and more modern. With Spanish tile on both the floor and roof, there are wood beams inside and out, and lots of clever wall nooks and decorative touches.
There’s room on the property to build several cabins, and I fantasized for days about building a little B&B or retreat center here. The views are inspirational. The Jacuzzi on the terrace would be the perfect spot to while away the hours with a glass of wine in total commune with nature before moving to the dining table for a dinner of freshly caught fish and grilled organic veggies. It doesn’t get any healthier or more relaxing.
To learn more about these properties, see www.CuencaRealEstate.com.
To Get There
First, make your way to Cuenca or Loja. You can take a bus from there to Giron or Santa Isabel, or join an organized tour. The Yunguilla Valley offers many options for nature lovers, like world-class bird watching, horseback riding and great hiking trails. Above Giron is a park with the spectacular 340-foot-high Chorro de Giron waterfall.
And make note: You can be as healthy as you want to be here. The Yunguilla Valley is also known for its aguardiente, a hearty liquor made from sugar cane. You can take a tour of the cane farms and see the distillation process firsthand.