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.
They say the best way to make a living—if you can—is to monetize your hobby. Sometimes that can be easier said than done. But if you can do it, it can lead to a far more enjoyable and fulfilling vocation. This has been the case for me in the Ecuadorian mountain city of Cuenca. Its beautiful colonial architecture and friendly, colorful locals have enabled me to supplement my retirement income through photography.
Ecuador is a land of rainforests, breathtaking river gorges, and volcanic hot springs, where you can be pampered by affordable spa treatments or simply enjoy the beautiful landscapes. My life has changed over the last 10 years since I discovered how to fund my travels and spend more time there. I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve logged on my trips.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
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.”
Cuenca is a cultural hub, with no shortage of things to do. And as entertainment is modestly priced, you’ll have plenty of money in your pocket to afford it. A thriving expat community guarantees you’ll ﬁnd plenty of like-minded people in the city and have no trouble making friends.
So you’ve decided to move to Ecuador. You’ve done your research and know just the town to begin your adventure. You’ve got your documents sorted for getting a residence visa. You’ve even gone through the house and decided what will go with you and what will stay or be sold. But what about your beloved family pet? Just how do you bring Fido or Kitty into Ecuador from the United States or Canada? This is a concern for many aspiring expats. As it turns out, it’s really not all that difﬁcult.
Ecuador, a place I often travel to, is a land of rainforests, breathtaking river gorges, and volcanic hot springs, where you can be pampered by affordable spa treatments or simply enjoy the beautiful landscapes. I’m still amazed at how much my life has changed over the last 10 years since I discovered how to fund my travels and spend more time in Ecuador. I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences. And to make it even better, these were business trips. I made far more money than I spent. The priceless memories cost me nothing.
My wife, Cynthia, and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, almost five years ago with no plans other than to have fun and look for interesting opportunities. Retirement had kind of taken us by surprise. The “Economic Tsunami of 2008″ slapped us pretty hard, so that retirement had arrived sooner than expected. Still, we had for years been envisioning what it would look like: a life where we were free to pursue the activities and interests we wanted to and not be held hostage by busy careers and hectic schedules.
It’s been called the Sacred Valley, the Valley of Longevity, and the Valley of Eternal Youth. Tucked into the heart of Ecuador’s southern Andes, the little town of Vilcabamba has earned those monikers, and it’s easy to see why. Steep rounded mountains rise from all directions, giving the town a feel of seclusion and protection. The rich black soil turns out hundreds of varieties of edible plants. And warm weather year-round makes the place a permanent paradise. In fact, when the Ecuadorian tourism bureau decided to market the country as “The Land of Eternal Spring,” I’m convinced it had Vilcabamba in mind. With temperature highs averaging between 74 F and 79 F and lows never dropping below the mid-50s F, it’s tough for me to imagine a more ideal climate.
Ecuador attracts people from all over the world for many reasons. The natural beauty, colorful culture, great climate, and affordable cost of living are just some of the pulls. Beer, however, has never been one of the country’s strongest selling points. And this is something that U.S. expat Greg Gedeon is trying to address with his microbrewery, Zarza—coupled with the beer and bar of the same name—taking the mountain town of Loja by storm. Texan Greg first came to Ecuador nine years ago, fresh out of acupuncture school and looking to ply his trade in Latin America. Attracted by Loja’s nice weather, friendly people, and colonial architecture, he settled down in the area and stayed for two-and-a-half years. “When I first moved here, I was desperate for a decent beer,” Greg says. “So I started learning to brew my own beer.”
Lower costs, less stress, better weather, new adventures…all the expats I meet have their reasons for moving to Ecuador. In my little mountain town of Cotacachi, I’m loving the lower cost of living—my husband David and I and our two sons live here for $1,400 a month, including rent—which in turn allows me to work only part-time. That, of course, leads to more time with my family, which creates a happier environment at home. This nice little chain reaction ultimately creates a relaxed overall atmosphere that is great for my health.
Our daughter in New Jersey hasn’t seen her yard for months because it’s covered with snow. Our son in North Carolina finished raking leaves a while back just in time to get out the overcoats in preparation for the frigid weather ahead. My wife Cynthia and I, we’re weather junkies, who like the climate to be perfect…not too hot and not too cold… The thermometer was already getting close to 100 degrees when we left Las Vegas for Cuenca, Ecuador almost five years ago. We’d had enough of that scorching heat—as well as the humidity and chilly winters in the southeast where we previously lived…
While the wind blows and the snow flies in Colleen Thom’s old stomping grounds of Alberta, Canada, she and her husband Bill are enjoying their new life in a year-round paradise. For the last year Colleen and Bill have been living a life of warmth, friends, and adventure in the small Andean mountain town of Vilcabamba, Ecuador.
Ecuador has it all: stunning beaches, dense jungles, snow-capped mountains, and lush plains. And when you spend them here you are among some of the friendliest people on the planet. My husband, Warren, and I spent three months exploring the country…and we found a way to make huge savings, leaving most of our budget for enjoying the food, destinations, and culture. The mountains in the Otavalo area were our favorite. Soaring peaks and dormant volcanoes surrounded green valleys, where llamas and horses grazed under blue skies.
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
I moved to Cuenca 17 months ago from Canada on a pensioner’s visa and in that time, my life has changed so much…for the better. Twenty-three months before I made the move, I made a conscious decision to change my lifestyle, and to get away from the rat race, the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and its attendant stress levels. I needed to find a place, somewhere on the planet, where I could live a happy, un-politicized and uncomplicated life.
“I feel like it’s a real gift to be here,” says Vilcabamba expat Jeff Hutner. It’s a sentiment I have heard echoed time and again from expats in this part of Ecuador. What’s so enthralling about this little highland town just north of the Peruvian border? Well, for Jeff and his wife Jamie, it’s the ability to afford a quality life surrounded by beauty. Nestled into a warm valley ringed by high Andean peaks, the town of Vilcabamba leaves little to be desired. The warm (but not steamy) year-round weather is perfect for plant life. Trees with surfboard-sized fronds stand watch over neon flowers and creeping vines. Crystalline rivers tumble through the valley and there are plenty of hiking trails crisscrossing the slopes.
In Western Australia, April marks the return of the majestic whale sharks to Nimbaloo Marine Park. This is a perfect time of year to snorkel with these gentle giants— the largest fish in the ocean. If behemoths of the deep aren’t your thing, there’s plenty more for you to do at the Surfer’s Paradise Festival, on the country’s Gold Coast April 3–18. You’ll find a wide array of food, street performers, art, music, and other entertainment to cater to all tastes… and all of it free of charge. April also rings in the Buddhist New Year. In Malaysia this is marked by the Songkran Festival (April 12–14), which also serves to celebrate the country’s Siamese community. Rivers and beaches in the state of Kedah are ornamented with sand temples, called stupas, which are then washed away by the tide.
Some things are the same no matter where you go. And whether you stay home or go overseas, healthcare is an important concern. The main difference—as you’ll discover on page 18—is the affordable array of healthcare options available to you when you leave North America. This month, we take a look at the five best retirement havens for healthcare. While you’ll find good healthcare available in many of the places we talk about, the five we have selected really stand out for affordability and quality of service. In all of these countries you’ll find world-class hospitals, English-speaking doctors, and all the medications you’ll need…and at a fraction of the price in the U.S. Turn to page 18 to find out more.
When Bob and Irma Caragol started looking for their new retirement home, they knew what they wanted. “We were looking for a warm climate at a high elevation, enough land for a garden with a good water source, a safe way to diversify our assets, and an affordable cost of living,” recalls Bob. They found all this and more in Santa Fe, Panama. “We are so impressed by the people of Santa Fe,” Bob says. “They are so friendly and helpful and we feel welcome here. There’s no sense of class distinction as in other places, and almost no crime. The environment is unspoiled, with clean rivers and no pollution.”
Every year, more than a million visitors travel to Ecuador for a taste of what this small South American country offers. The Galapagos Islands are undoubtedly Ecuador’s biggest attraction, but those who choose to explore the mainland itself are in for a cultural treat. This equatorial country is soaked in tradition—some of which originated in the times of the Incas, or even earlier. I’ve lived in Ecuador for three years and the longer I’m here, the more I learn and experience. And because the locals are so friendly and welcoming, I’m often included in their traditions—if you spend more than a few days in one place here, you will be too.
We came to Cancun after beginning our expat retirement adventures in Ecuador. Our retirement plans were in serious trouble in the U.S. I had suffered my second heart attack in 2009…and soon after I lost a good job and the health insurance that came with it. I was unemployed, uninsured, and the medical expenses were stacking up. So, we decided to take a chance and live overseas, a decision that first brought us to the small fishing and farming community of San Vicente on Ecuador’s coast, just a short distance from the equator. We spent two great years there, but with my heart issues, we decided it would be wise to live closer to top-notch emergency medical care.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Goldilocks who wanted to move abroad. Now Goldilocks was very particular—she wanted everything to be “just right.” One day Goldilocks was reading her International Living magazine and learned about a city in Ecuador called Cuenca. The more she read, the more excited she became. Goldilocks thought, “Wow, this place seems perfect!” Being very particular, she decided to visit Cuenca to see for herself.