My journey to Cuenca, Ecuador began with a discussion with friends in their home by the beach in Panama. We were all disenchanted with the U.S.—the regulations, the taxes… We concluded that there’s no American dream anymore.
For most folks, the perfect way to start a day is with a stroll on the sand or a dip in the ocean. Owning a beach home so that they can do it every day is at the top of many wish lists. Many people think they can’t afford to do that. Understandable: When you take the limited supply of beach property and combine it with strong demand, what do you get? Sky-high sticker prices. But you can still bag a beach bargain in some overseas destinations
You can’t help but feel happy in Panama’s highlands. The views are inspiring, with verdant pines and bougainvillea bursts covering the hillsides. Hidden gems include streams, waterfalls and even hot springs. Not to mention some of Panama’s best flora and fauna…including hundreds of species of colorful birds, orchids, and more. To be sure, Panama is known for its stunning Caribbean islands and popular Pacific beaches.
From our balcony, aided only by a pair of binoculars, my husband and I sit and watch whales breach, roll, and spout all day long. Before I lived here, I figured that you’d have to hire a boat and go out for miles to see whales—but not here. For some reason—perhaps the famously deep water that makes Manta, Ecuador a major fishing port—the whales come to us. And not only whales. Everything from quaint fishing boats to gigantic cruise ships to old-world “Tall Ships” pass by, providing constant novelty from the comfort of our balcony.
“Hey, where do you want to go eat tonight?” was not a question we asked each other much when we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador five-and-a-half years ago. It wasn’t that we weren’t hungry. You see, while our hometown had other outstanding attributes you’ve possibly read about—great weather, low cost of living, excellent medical care—interesting dining options were few and far between.
Ecuadorians are famously fun-loving people, who party every bit as hard as they work. This is magnified during the winter holidays, when throngs of visitors from Quito descend on the Bahía-San VicenteCanoa corridor on the northern coast for their family vacation. Over the last few weeks of the calendar year, the broad sidewalks of Bahía’s malecón (boardwalk) fill with vendors.
When asked what they like most about their new life in the small mountain town of Cotacachi, Ecuador, Jay and Nancy Keattering reply, “No alarm clock!” The couple escaped their busy corporate jobs in 2014 and can be found still enjoying everything that life in the high Andes offers…a slow pace of life, fresh produce, low-cost healthcare, and great living for under $2,000 a month.
“Every morning I wake up in Quito, it’s with a sense of amazement at how great my life is,” says Rami Amit of his new life in the Ecuadorian capital. “I absolutely love my hometown,” says his wife Daphna of their retirement haven. “Quito offers so many options that it’s impossible to be bored.” This diversity of cultural, entertainment, and dining options enticed the Amits to Quito in the first place.
For almost two years now, I’ve been living with my wife in a beautiful beachfront condo on the Pacific Ocean. That sentence alone might lead you to believe we live an expensive lifestyle. But not so. Thanks to the savings we made in moving our lives to Salinas, I have been able to retire this year at the ripe old age of 57. Here, I am happier, healthier, wealthier, and enjoying life to the fullest.
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
“Are you still working?” is a question I get asked a lot these days. Instead of working a steady 40-hour work-week with just a few weeks’ vacation, I’m routinely taking up a third of the year off…while still making a full-time income. I live in Cuenca, Ecuador, where my costs are a fraction of what they would be back home in Nebraska. I can dine out regularly in top-rated restaurants and afford to have a cleaning lady once a week.
Avocados…strawberries…lemons…blueberries…raspberries…fruits I’ve never seen before and can’t name. On any given day of the week, I walk past people selling these things before I ever get to a grocery store or mercado. They sell their wares from wheelbarrows, woven baskets, car trunks and the beds of pickup trucks, huge plastic pickle buckets, and on blankets spread on the sidewalk.
In Ecuador, 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.
When my husband Mark said, “Let’s go to the Galapagos for your birthday,” I couldn’t help but laugh. The Galapagos Islands, after all, are one of the ecological treasures of the world—and have a price tag to match…or so I thought. But when we used my 58th birthday as an excuse for a five-day, four-night trip there I found out otherwise. The bill? $1,037 for the two of us, including airfare.
Whatever your personal opinion on gun ownership in the United States, there’s no denying that millions of U.S. residents feel a great fondness for their ﬁrearms. So it should come as no surprise that many aspiring expats want to bring their guns with them to their new home. While it’s possible in some places, be prepared for a lot more red tape and tighter controls than you typically face in the States. Bear in mind that gun laws are liable to change, so you need to do your due diligence if you plan to import or buy a gun overseas.
Donna McNichol says that moving to Cuenca, Ecuador, has been a grand adventure. But the truth is, the move to Ecuador is just the latest in a series of adventures… “After being widowed at age 58,” Donna says, “I spent part of a year traveling the U.S. on my motorcycle, covering 42 states and riding 27,000 miles alone. In another two years I sold everything I owned, bought a used Class C motorhome and started traveling full-time.”
During a recent visit with family in the States I was playing with one of my granddaughters who is just learning to talk. We had several activities going at once in the playroom and I told her we were multitasking. She replied, “Yes, we are monkey-tasking.” This malapropism stuck with me because it so innocently describes how our “monkey brain” works away when we have a lot going on.
David and Sandy Kraft were living in a cabin in the small town of Hayesville, NC when one evening David asked, “What do you think about retiring overseas?” Sandy replied, “I’d love it. Where…France…Italy?” “Ecuador.”
Although living in Cuenca, Ecuador, seems like a year-round vacation for me, it’s still nice to get away for a few days to explore other parts of this beautiful country. And one spot that’s well worth a visit is the small coastal village of Puerto López.
As the 2008 recession began to hit home, Philadelphia-born Tom Ewing and his wife Tonya, a Colorado native, lost everything—their business, their cars, and their home. But now, six years after moving to the laidback beach town of Canoa, Ecuador, Tom and Tonya have rebuilt their lives—and created a business building custom homes up and down the central Ecuadorian coast.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
The sun is out and brilliant blue skies with white fluffy clouds—that you can almost touch—overlook my morning jog next to the Yanuncay River. The linear trails, three blocks from our condo, are immaculately groomed with colorful flowerbeds and towering Eucalyptus trees that give off a familiar scent reminiscent of my childhood in California. Along the way fellow joggers greet me with “Buenos Días.”
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I love my life in Cuenca, Ecuador. I start the morning with a coffee on my terrace, watching the hummingbirds flit around the feeders that I put up and just enjoying the view. A walk to el centro takes me to the little tienda (store) that sells a pound of Loja coffee (really delicious) for only $3.50, then lunch with friends, and maybe a walk along the Rio Tomebamba or an ice cream cone in the picturesque Parque Calderon.
With high peaks, and stunning mountain scenery, Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is known to some as el ciudad de los cielos (the city of the heavens).
Envision a city set high in the mountains. On all sides are views of green-splashed hillsides and snow-capped peaks. In the city itself you’ll find 2.5 million people enjoying art exhibits, museums, and musical events. On weekends couples share bottles of wine over gourmet seafood dinners and families kick around soccer balls in the many leafy parks.
You have probably heard of Cuenca. It’s Ecuador’s most popular retirement haven, home to thousands of contented expats, colonial architecture, verdant parks, galleries, museums, and plenty of bars and restaurants. But that’s just the city itself. Since arriving, my work with a local tour company has helped me uncover some of the best day trips:
September is a special time in the South African town of Hermanus. The end of this month heralds the arrival of giants just offshore, as the southern right whales return to mate and reproduce. You can get amazing views of these 50-ton behemoths from your hotel room, or catch one of the many chartered boats for an even closer look. Right whales are famously friendly and will often approach boats…a trait that made them an attractive target for the whalers of old. The waters off Hermanus are home to another, more terrifying denizen of the deep: the great white shark. And this is one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with this awesome predator…from the safety of a cage, of course. For around $110, you can even get a cameraman to ﬁlm your dive for you.
Your day starts with a cup of coffee brewed from beans grown right outside your window. Stepping onto the terrace, you look out over rows of hand-planted, organic avocado trees growing lush and tall in the equatorial sun. Beyond them is a patchwork of farms and forests overshadowed by the towering Andes Mountains. Breakfast is eggs from your free range hens, with slices of papaya and a juice prepared from freshly picked naranjillas (think lime mixed with rhubarb) grown on your own patch of land. You breathe in the fresh, clean mountain air and savor the sound of the nearby river and the birds singing on your own peaceful mountain retreat.
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
Not long ago I found myself suffering a major sinus infection. My head was pounding and I had a cough that kept me (and my husband) awake all night…I was exhausted. Nothing I was taking over-the-counter was helping. I needed to see a doctor. Unfortunately, I was visiting the States. At the doctor’s office in Omaha, I got right in. I did the interview with the nurse about my prior health history and what my symptoms were.
If you remember your middle school geography you’ll know that Quito is the capital of Ecuador. It’s also a city rich with history, culture, and amazing features all around. Situated high in the Andes Mountains the weather is cool, the scenery sublime, and the people as friendly as they come. Quito though tends to be overlooked by visitors in favor of Ecuador’s big ticket tourist attractions like the Galapagos, the Amazon Basin, and the Otavalo Craft Market.
My four-year anniversary of living in Ecuador is rapidly closing in and it’s caused me to do a bit of reflecting on my time here. There was so much that attracted my family and I to the country in the first place…and in these last four years that list of positives has only grown. On a gorgeous sun-filled day like today I only have to look out my windows to be reminded of why life here is wonderful. I’ve got four volcanoes showing their stuff right now, one of which is laced with snow this morning and another sports a permanent snowcap.
Swimming with endangered green sea turtles in Akumal, strolling the cobblestone shopping district in Playa del Carmen, exploring cenotes or ancient Maya ruins or just lazing in a hammock…this is my life today. But it’s a far cry from where my husband Don and I were back in 2008. In the wake of the financial collapse and the deep recession that followed, our comfortable existence was completely upended. At an age when we expected we could begin to slow down, we found ourselves starting over in a very inhospitable economy. Add to that Don’s second heart attack and the loss of his health insurance when his job disappeared, and you have a recipe for real desperation.
Morning is my favorite time of day here in Cotacachi. The local stores are just beginning to open, street vendors are pushing their carts into position, and the bells of Iglesia Matriz are softly chiming. Nothing but blue sky means perfect views of the two dormant volcanoes that stand guard on either side of this small town and her valley. I’m walking the mile from my home into the center with my son. Our route brings us into town from the east and our first stop is Parque San Francisco, the smaller of two plazas. Park benches sit under sturdy palms surrounded by shrubbery and flowers.
One afternoon, as I awoke from a short nap and looked upon the brilliant, blue-green waters of the Caribbean Sea only steps away from my front door, I had a powerful thought. Nothing of what is now my amazing, wonderful life would be possible if I had surrendered to the fears I had only a few years ago. When my wife Diane and I ﬁrst embarked on our expat adventure, we had second thoughts, unanswered questions, and even an appropriate amount of fear.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
Right now, my wife, Susan, and I are packing up our home and heading off on our travels—first on a road trip in the U.S. and then to Ecuador. We’re going to fly to Guayaquil and then catch a bus down to Loja, a university town known for music and colonial architecture. This will be our base from which to explore the south of this beautiful country.
Ever since the internet caught on, people have been figuring out how to use a laptop to connect with money-making opportunities all over the world. As a result, there’s now between 3.3 million and 8 million completely untethered workers roaming the globe. I’m thrilled to be one of them.
“My husband and I were happily living in Arizona in a retirement community when, in 2008, everything changed,” says Patty Grimm. The financial crisis dealt the couple a heavy blow, and they no longer felt they could live the same quality of life on their retirement income. “We knew that if we wanted to keep our nest egg, we’d have to look outside of the U.S. to live.” Six years later, the Grimms are in the high Andes and enjoying an affordable and high-quality retirement in one of the world’s foremost retirement destinations—Cuenca, Ecuador.