Flowers bloom everywhere, and not one but four rushing rivers bubble over rocks to feed the lush vegetation. In Ecuador—the country that tops this year’s Global Retirement Index—nature is ever-present. And you can enjoy it fully in the city of Cuenca, where those rivers trail amid mountain surrounds.
The colonial churches, grand mansions, shady parks, and fountain-anchored plazas have earned Cuenca world-wide recognition for its beauty. A mild climate makes for comfortable living year-round. Average daily temperatures reach into the 70s F, and the nights are cool and fresh.
And Ecuador is one of the most affordable countries in the world. You can rent a furnished, two-bed apartment in an historic center for $220, or buy a large condo for $66,000. You can live well for $600 a month…and like royalty for double that.
For retirees, colonial Cuenca is Ecuador’s most attractive city. The third largest in the country, it offers the relaxed pace of a smaller town with the first-class amenities and health care of a bigger one. But Cuenca is by no means your only option in Ecuador. This is a country with something for everyone—beaches, rural highlands, jungle escapes, and colonial cities.
“No matter where you choose to live in Ecuador, there is no better place on earth to discover the simple abundance of health, tranquility, adventure, and beauty,” says expat Patricia Farmer.
“We chose Bahía de Caraquez on the coast to begin our Ecuador adventure. There are plenty of amenities, including a hospital, restaurants, and frequent expat get-togethers.”
Patricia, her husband Ron, and their two nervous cats arrived at their new beachfront home in February of this year. “We knew no one. And yet we immediately felt at home,” says Patricia.
“Living in Southern California, we were spoiled by the warm climate and beautiful beaches. Retirement would—or should—have given us time to enjoy all that more fully. And yet we had no realistic chance of retiring anywhere near a beach in California.
“Looking back now, we’re glad we needed to look elsewhere to fulfil our retirement dreams. Otherwise, the chance of living in one of the most beautiful and exotic retirement havens in the world might have passed us by.”
For Douglas Willis and his wife Lisa, Cuenca became the haven of choice. “We love the fact that Cuenca has preserved its Old-World feel. It has excellent medical facilities, too, and we can find just about anything we need here in the way of shopping,” says Douglas.
Douglas and Lisa have been in Cuenca for four years and say that the city’s extensive public transportation system makes it easy to live there without a car.
Plus, “we’ve been extremely pleased with the quality of the health care offered in Cuenca. In our experience, it is superior in almost every way to the U.S. Doctors here are more accessible and hands-on than doctors in the U.S. They are very well-trained and qualified. There are a number of new medical facilities in Cuenca that rival anything available in the U.S.,” says Douglas.
But there’s more to Ecuador than affordable beach life and vibrant highland cities. After weighing their options, Jack Moss and his wife Debbie opted for smalltown Cotacachi.
“We read about Cuenca but didn’t want the larger city. And we didn’t want the heat of the beach. We visited the mountain-valley village of Cotacachi three times. On the last visit, we stayed for a month and decided that the tranquility, the weather, the small expat community, and the low cost of living were what we were looking for.”
Since Ecuador’s official currency is the U.S. dollar, you have no problems determining the cost of goods or services. “Although imported goods are more expensive, local products and labor are quite reasonable,” says Jack.
Patricia says that, on the coast in Bahía, the living costs for her and Ron average out to a fifth of what they spent in California. “We live in a nice highrise condo overlooking the ocean. Even with two spoiled cats in need of gourmet food and our love of eating out with friends, we enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle—even more luxurious than we had in California. You can live on less, no doubt, but including everything except rent ($500 a month), we are currently spending about $1,500 a month.”
This value represents Ecuador’s number one retiree benefit. Costs are just plain low. In Cotacachi, “many expats say that they have trouble spending over $1,200 a month for all expenses per couple,” says Jack. And in Cuenca, Douglas says he, his wife, and their children live on about $1,000 a month. “That’s a quarter of the budget we lived on in the U.S.”
And health care in Ecuador is cheap, too. An appointment with a doctor averages $25 (without insurance). “I’ve visited an English-speaking doctor here in Bahía and was very pleased,” says Patricia. “For insurance we chose Cruz Blanca, the least expensive with the most coverage. We pay $40 each per month (no exam needed under age 65); this jumps to $95 each at age 65 and remains there for life.”
Editor’s Note: Ecuador’s low costs create options you just don’t have in most other places. That’s why International Living is soon hosting its first event in five years focused exclusively on Ecuador. Get your advance notice details here.