Ecuador: The Hidden Paradise Where A Couple Can Live Comfortably On $2,000 a Month or Less
Sell your winter clothes...and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime in the Land of Eternal Spring. Every cliché you've heard about living large on little...on even a retiree's budget...is true in Ecuador.
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- Population: 15,439,429
- Capital City: Quito
- Climate: Tropical along coast, becoming cooler inland at higher elevations; tropical in Amazonian jungle lowlands
- Time Zone: GMT-5
- Language: Spanish (official), Amerindian languages (especially Quechua)
- Country Code: 593
- Coastline: 2,237 km
When John and Heather Schmit sold their 10-year-old trucking business in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011 they found their dream home amid white sandy beaches, rocky headlands, gentle surf, and inland breezes… Their home in Punta Carnero on the coast of Ecuador “is our piece of paradise,” says Heather. “I can walk along the beach and be the only one out there. It’s so quiet and peaceful.” As they were considering their overseas move, Heather began conversing with a former classmate who lived in Vilcabamba for three years…so Ecuador made it on to their radar.
Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France offer the best retiree benefits in the world, according to International Living’s just-released annual Global Retirement Index 2015. In a bid to entice expats, these countries have assembled attractive benefits packages, which offer huge savings for foreign retirees on everything from travel to utility bills to medication. Topping the “Retiree Benefits and Discounts” category in the Index is Panama, which offers the best incentives for retirees in the world.
Gray skies…dark mornings and evenings…and inches of snow covering your driveway… Those don’t need to be a fact of life. For the 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, our editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying where you can find the best climate in the world. The “Climate” category assesses the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate.
My wife and I have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for years and continue to be amazed at how far we can stretch our dollars while enjoying a high quality of life. Let’s break down some of those costs so you can compare your current budget with what you might expect to pay in Cuenca, beginning with activities that are free. How much does it cost to attend the symphony and museums where you live? Guess what—there is no charge for either in Cuenca. How about your gym membership? The city offers free Zumba classes in parks all over town several times each week.
“This is the best thing I ever did—in so many ways,” Jim Evans says. He’s talking about moving to Ecuador and opening a business. His small shop in the historic downtown district of Cuenca, Ecuador is close to the Concepcion Convent, an institution that traces its roots back to 1599. The rhythm of life surrounding the convent is simple, unhurried, and low-stress—exactly what Jim was looking for when he relocated in December 2009.
On any given evening, you’ll find Kasie Estevez serving up drinks and tasty snacks while laughing with the regulars at the bar she opened in Cotacachi, Ecuador. “I love it here,” she says. “The weather’s good, and you develop friendships like nowhere else. I think people have more time to invest in relationships.” Plus the cost of living is low. A couple can live on as little as $1,600 a month in Cotacachi. Kasie finds that Ecuador’s slow pace allows her to enjoy life more. It’s a far cry from holding down a sales job as a single mother in Las Vegas.
Last year, at the International Living Fast-Track Ecuador Conference in Quito, Ecuador, I spent a few minutes chatting with a woman from Idaho. She and her husband (well, mostly her husband) were thinking of retiring to Ecuador. “Before I got here,” she said, “I wasn’t at all sure about this idea. Heck, I didn’t really even know where Ecuador was…but my husband convinced me to at least come down for a look. And I owe him that.” We chatted a bit about the husband/wife dynamic and about how, when you’re faced with retirement, there are so many decisions, and yes, compromises, to be made.
It would be a challenge for anyone to find a more perfect picture of paradise than Vilcabamba, Ecuador. This little valley is surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Andes and is the perfect example of the “eternal spring” that the country is well known for. With warm days, dependable rain, and little change in weather year-round, it is a lush South American Eden. Dennis D’Alessandro is one of the many North Americans who have come to Vilcabamba to enjoy the climate and opportunities presented. As a third generation organic farmer from Pennsylvania he brought his skills and knowledge to Ecuador.
Have you ever been to a place so breathtakingly beautiful you never wanted to leave? And once you did, you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Los Frailes is that place for my husband and me. Better yet, it’s one of Ecuador’s best kept secrets…one I am going to share with you… The first time we visited this unspoiled piece of paradise I let out an audible gasp when I caught a glimpse of the beach’s turquoise-blue waters and its white sand. I turned to my husband, Mark, and whispered, “You have to promise me you’ll never tell anyone about this place.” It reminded me of Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda where we spent our 25th wedding anniversary.
InternationalLiving.com’s just-released Annual Global Retirement Index profiles the best destinations for good-value living around the world today. Using input from a large team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, the Index combines real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. “The world’s top retirement havens for 2015 may dot the landscape from Asia to Latin America to Europe, but they share certain assets,” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “They’re safe, offer good value, and are places you can settle with relative ease.
Gary lost his job as a producer selling commercial printing after 30 years with the same company. Louise says, “It was terrifying; we went from a very livable income to nothing in a matter of minutes.” Fortunately, as a stay-at-home mom, Louise had set up a lighting business several years before Gary’s job loss. “Gary joined me and we expanded my little business into a very lucrative lighting business. We designed and manufactured the most wonderful, whimsical lighting.”
A little distance away from Ecuador’s famed colonial city of Cuenca lies a small city that you might never have heard of…but which is rapidly becoming a retiree favorite. Just about an hour away from Cuenca, you’ll find Paute, a destination with a population of about 30,000 people—a tenth of Cuenca’s population. It’s fast becoming known as “Little Cuenca” as more “Norte Americanos” are finding their way to the outskirts of the city with its laidback lifestyle. Randy and Karen Kimbler are just two of the expats who are enjoying the slower pace of life in Paute.
It’s hard not to smile a lot when you live in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Take, for example, my walk through the leather-boutique-laden main street this morning. I strolled a total of five blocks and encountered more familiar faces than I could count. Alberto, a local landscaper, greeted me with a “Buenos dias, Señora Wendy” as he zipped by on his well-used bicycle. My Canadian friends Brian and Janette stopped to chat for a few minutes and catch up. As we finished our discussion I heard a shouted “Hola, Wendy.” I turned to see one of my regular cab drivers, Richar, rolling by in his freshly washed yellow taxi, arm out the window and wide grin on his face.
International Living’s just released Annual Global Retirement Index 2015 highlights the best places in the world to retire. This Index ranks the top 25 countries in the world for retirement in eight important categories. There are many perks available to retirees when you move overseas and one of the eight categories weights Special Benefits for Retirees. These special retiree benefits will help you save big. See below for the benefits you’ll receive in Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France—all four countries topped the Index in this category.
Eighteen years ago along with my whole family, I moved from Colorado to Ecuador. Most people thought we were crazy, but that decision opened my eyes to a beautiful world and changed my life forever…for the better! It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Ecuador…especially with our new home town of Tena. There is a vibe about Tena, a feeling of youth, fun, and adventure. That atmosphere is contagious and impossible to shake. It’s rather like a hip beach town…except instead of the ocean we have rivers, instead of sand we have jungle, and instead of surfers we have kayakers. The laidback lifestyle is one of my favorite things about Tena and about Ecuador as a whole.
I’ll be honest; Cuenca, Ecuador was not my number one retirement destination—it was Italy. My husband, Mark, and I lived there for six years in our 20s and 30s, our older son was born there, and it was the birthplace of Mark’s grandparents. Yes, I married into one big, loud, happy Italian family. It was the best of times—la dolce vita—a life of pleasure and simple luxuries. And what a life we had there…living in a villa on the Mediterranean…enjoying fresh fish and pasta every day…taking walks along the “lungomare” (seafront)…and watching spectacular sunsets from our terrazza every evening. I desperately wanted it all back when we retired at 55. But then we discovered Cuenca, Ecuador while doing an Internet search for the best places in the world to retire. Mark made his first exploratory trip in February of 2010 without me.
As a time to reflect on the past and envision the future, New Year is unrivaled among holidays. Especially in the northern climes, where the holiday coincides roughly with the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year, New Year is an important spot on the seasonal cycle. The nights are as long and the days are as short as they’re going to get… It’s all uphill, sunlight-wise, from there on. So it’s a time of hope, of renewal, of looking forward.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
Ecuador takes top spot in this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index. Every year, International Living releases this Index after months of research. With the assistance of dozens of expats and experts around the world…data is collated and numbers are crunched…to identify the very best retirement destinations in the world in 2015. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your-buck retirement destinations on the planet. Twenty-five countries made it on to the list this year, and Ecuador gets the highest score.
Ecuador makes it to the top of the list for many people who are considering a move abroad. Climate, cost of living, culture, and ease of obtaining residence are some of the reasons often cited. But an often overlooked benefit is the potential for improved health due to a better diet. Most expats in Ecuador find themselves eating much more fresh produce than they did back home and the reason can be summed up in two words—variety and availability. While Ecuador does have supermarkets, every town has a centrally located farmer’s market. This is where most people prefer to shop, especially for produce. And the reason is simple. The variety of fruits and vegetables is great quality and prices are typically a fraction of what you’d pay back home. In addition, because of the climate, fresh produce is available year-round. This reduces or eliminates the need to buy frozen or canned foods.
If you dream about a different life… one lived on a sun-dappled beach… or in a colonial, history-rich town… or some exotic big city abroad… but you need an income to make it happen, sooner rather than later… Then you should know: There are proven, flexible ways you can fund your life overseas… and get paid to do something you genuinely enjoy… So you gain the freedom to pick up and go… travel when you feel like it… live in a place you love… and all the while earn $12,000… $25,000… $40,000… even $85,000 a year or more…
In a handful of noteworthy places on the planet right now, you could own a world-class property for $150,000 and have it throw off $1,000 a month, right from the start. These are what I call “exceptional markets.” Places where you’re looking at as much as an 8% yield… more than double the norm. But you don’t need mounds of cash on hand to get in – often less than $20,000. And these are gains you can pocket with little-to-no effort.
When people think about fine international cuisine, places like Paris, Rome, and Tokyo are usually what come to mind. If you’re looking for something with a spicy kick, head to Mexico. Want something healthy and delicious? Check out the Mediterranean. Rarely though do people equate the small South American country of Ecuador with great food, and in failing to do so they’re missing out on a whole range of tasty treats. It’s true that Ecuador does not have the gourmet culture that many other countries enjoy, but that doesn’t mean it should be completely dismissed. Take a look at a few of the regional palate pleasers that can be found throughout the country.
My first stop was Las Vegas for a recent International Living conference. The conference was fabulous and I loved chatting with potential expats and helping answer all of those big questions that need to be asked before an international move. But, in my downtime I began to notice some differences in myself. To start, I found during my first nights away, that I missed seeing the stars. While the lights of the Las Vegas strip are a sight to see, it never truly gets dark in Vegas. I longed for my view from quiet Cotacachi where millions of celestial bodies are visible on a clear evening from the middle of the world. It may seem trivial, but I felt out of place surrounded by man-made replicas of world wonders, when typically I sleep right in the midst of the real thing.
“Chinese stocks have the potential to deliver triple-digit returns within 24 months,” I explained in a recent CNBC interview. That was a bold thing to say on camera… but I believe it’s absolutely possible… In fact, twice in the last decade, Chinese stocks have soared by triple digits within two years. When China goes up, it can soar… In China’s 2006-2007 bull market, Chinese stocks soared by 500%. It soared by more than 100% in its 2009 bull market as well. Importantly, Chinese stocks today are just as cheap as they were when they started their last two triple-digit runs in 2006 and 2009. They are hated, too… Investors have been avoiding them for the last year. Meanwhile, Chinese stocks are now in a definite uptrend. This is the ideal setup for big gains… So how can you trade it?
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
At 7,300 feet and home to cobbled streets and majestic colonial buildings the small Ecuadorian city of Ibarra is not a big expat haven. But along with a year-round moderate climate it harbors opportunities nonetheless…as Canadian Enderick Spurette has found. Bordered by the majestic Andes Mountains the bustle of city life is balanced by that of surrounding farms and historic hillside haciendas. Ibarra is a place where the banking district sits opposite small craft stores and mom and pop setups, and where those with a bit of motivation and desire can still find a business niche—just like Enderick’s Caribou Bar and Grill.
Not everyone who comes to Cuenca, Ecuador, has an idea to start a business. Sometimes new surroundings, a change of pace, and a fresh perspective align to bring long-held passions to light. That was the case for expats Juan Carlos Morales and David Korkoian, who together discovered a niche market and filled it. Juan was convinced that Cuenca was the ideal spot to escape the rat race in the States. “The moment I stepped foot in Cuenca, I knew I wanted to live here,” he says. “It reminded me of when I backpacked through southern Europe in the 1980s.”
This year’s winner of our Global Retirement Index has it all. Ecuador is fringed by miles and miles of Pacific beaches. You’ll find the high mountains of the Andes, vibrant cities and quaint colonial towns. Explore fertile lowlands and see the splendid rainforests of the Amazon. All this for a fraction of the cost of living in the U.S. With its year-round perfect weather and political stability, it’s not difficult to see why growing numbers of expats are discovering the retirement of their dreams in Ecuador.
While most New Yorkers are busy trying to make a living and not a life, Diane and Jim Shanley are enjoying the fun life in sunny Cuenca, Ecuador. There was a lot to draw the couple to this city. Cuenca, the “pearl” of Ecuador nestled high in the Andes Mountains at 8,314 feet, boasts spring-like temperatures in the 50s to high 70s all year long. It’s the cultural capital of Ecuador with free concerts, an international film festival, and plentiful gourmet restaurants. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site with stunning colonial architecture, which attracts tourists from around the world.
Beautiful, friendly, perfect climate, inexpensive. There…I’ve just told you why I think Ecuador is the best place on earth to retire. The mountains and Pacific coast are remarkably gorgeous. The people are about as easygoing as people get. Being on the equator, the weather changes with the altitude, so you can pick any climate you like. And the cost of living can be astoundingly low, especially when you take high utility bills and property taxes out of the budget equation.
The expat community was much smaller when my wife Cynthia and I arrived in Cuenca in 2010. Back then, there were maybe only 500 or so, and a lot of those were old Peace Corps folks who had been here quite a while and faded into the landscape. As part of the first big wave of gringos to hit town, all of us were pioneers who truly needed each other for assistance and support in our new adventure. Cynthia and I would introduce ourselves to every North American we saw (on the street, in a restaurant—it didn’t matter) and exchange contact information. It was actually a good way to get to know people; problem was, we really had no place to get together.
My stomach is happily full after a delicious rice dish stuffed full of clams and chopped vegetables. As I sit sipping the last of my fresh lemonade under the umbrella-shaded outdoor table, a cool breeze whispers past. Families amble by, politely wishing me “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) while kayakers across the street load their gear into a shiny new pickup. All the while wild birds mingle their notes with the Latin rhythms spilling from the restaurant. Where am I? I’m in the Ecuadorean jungle town of Tena…and to be honest this is not at all how I had imagined the Amazon to be.
Like so many baby boomers, Suzy Giles felt she was destined to continue working full-time in the U.S. She wasn’t working a bad gig—conducting wine tours in Napa Valley, California—but it didn’t leave much time to pursue her passion for painting. So she began to explore her options overseas for a location affordable enough to allow her to retire…and discovered Cuenca, Ecuador. After visiting the colonial city twice, Suzy took the leap. That was almost two years ago and the decision has proven to be a good one. “I wanted an adventure,” says Suzy. “I needed to stay out of life’s ruts and to get out of my comfort zone.”
Could there be a more perfect country for ecotourism than Ecuador? With four distinct regions in an area the size of Colorado, Ecuador offers endless possibilities for adventure travel. You’ll find the Galapagos, Pacific coast, Andean highlands, and the Amazon… Ecuador is, per square mile, the most biodiverse country on the planet and numerous expats have moved there to become part of the ecotourism industry. Back in the 1980s, Richard Parsons was based in Quito and one day, while enjoying a leisurely drive through the Tandayapa Valley, he and his wife Gloria stopped and struck up a random conversation with a man cutting up a tree.
In their 30 years of marriage, John and Vickie Kendall had often talked of living abroad. But their work as nurses in the Pacific Northwest kept them occupied and tied to the U.S. They began formulating a plan to retire and then move overseas in the summer of 2013. “We had been to Thailand and were looking at that as a possibility. And we were looking at Panama, Uruguay, and then Ecuador came up, so we were considering all different places,” says John. “But when we got down to it, we realized we wanted to be in the Western Hemisphere so that we weren’t too far away from home.”
If you’re planning a trip to Ecuador, my advice is simple: Bring the biggest suitcase you can find…two if your airline will allow it. Get on the Andean Craft Trail in the Sierra region along the Avenue of the Volcanoes that cuts north to south through Ecuador. It is full of artisan treasures that you won’t be able to resist. Cotacachi, the village where I live, has a main street lined with leather shops selling jackets, boots, and shoes as well as beautiful handbags and luggage. You can even have things custom-made in a few days. And everything is so much cheaper than you would pay for it in a high-end store—either in the U.S. or in Ecuador. You’ll adore Cotacachi.
Michelle Klein and her husband, Gary Garces, live in the idyllic environment of a small Ecuadorian community. They awake to the call of wild birds and the scent of orchids on the breeze…a quick walk to the mom-and-pop store on the corner rewards them with fresh bread rolls for breakfast from the friendly proprietors…and access to the many rivers that roll through town is just a quick car ride or a leisurely stroll away. They run the Casa Blanca jungle hostel in Tena where they are raising three daughters.
There’s a small city in Ecuador that you might never have heard of. But if you’re looking for a retirement destination, it’s got a lot to offer. Called Ibarra, it’s Ecuador’s northernmost mountain city. You’re not alone if it’s unfamiliar to you. Though I, and several hundred other expats, live just 30 minutes away in the small town of Cotacachi, Ibarra gets too little attention considering how attractive it is as an expat destination. Why doesn’t it get the recognition it deserves, you ask? Well, it’s partly because Ibarra lost much of its original colonial architecture to an earthquake over 100 years ago. Not that you’d notice much—the buildings that replaced the wrecked ones are a pretty good replica of colonial style.
I’ve mentioned before how Ecuador made me a huge fan of mountain living. But it’s more than just the mountains that did it for me. After all, there are mountains running the entire length of the Americas, from the far north of Alaska and Canada to the very tip of South America. Almost any mountain range you choose in North, Central, or South America is in some way majestic and breathtakingly beautiful. But—and this is the crucial thing that makes Ecuador’s mountains different for me—none of these mountains are directly on the equator. In nearly every other mountain location in the Americas, seasonal changes make living up at a high altitude a part-time thing, at least for a guy who dislikes snow and cold as much as I do.