''You could hike every day here and see something different,'' says Kristin Simmon-Lowman of her new home in the highlands of Ecuador. ''My friends and I just hiked Fuya Fuya (an inactive volcano), which was wonderful. ''Now we're working up to doing Mount Imbabura (one of Ecuador's most iconic mountains), so we've been getting a training system going to get in shape for that. There are waterfalls all around and a lot of lower foothills.''
It's not a place for your typical expat lifestyle, that's for sure. There are no theaters, no shopping malls, and no gourmet restaurants. You won't head to a local sports bar to watch the Super Bowl or soak in your condo building's on-site pool. But for a certain type of person, Ecuador's Intag Valley holds just the life they are looking for.
"I like quiet, I like privacy, and I have that here," says Tracy Copeman of her home in Ecuador. Tracy and her partner Peter McGoldrick own a home on the grounds of an old hacienda a couple hours north of the capital Quito, near Lago San Pablo. They're a long way from their home of Montreal, Canada, but the couple are loving their new life in the Andes. "The temperature is perfect here in the mountains," Tracy says. "And I have great mountain views. From here I can see Mount Cusin, Imbabura, and if I'm sitting in my chair I can see Cotacachi."
“We have horses, pigs, geese, dogs, and one chicken,” says Deb Swansburg. Caring for so many animals may not sound like a relaxing retirement to everyone, but for Deb it’s the perfect life. Deb spent the last 20 years in New Mexico and she always dreamed of living on her own ranch. She just never expected that her dream would come to fruition near the little town of Cotacachi, Ecuador. But that is exactly where Deb, along with her husband David Meade, are spending their retirement today and they’re keeping busy by managing a small farm.
“Here’s your lunch,” my neighbor Eloisa proudly proclaimed as she thrust a squawking, flapping mass of feathers into my arms. “How do you like to kill your chickens?” “Ummm, I don’t,” I replied. “I don’t like to kill my chickens!” She gave me a perplexed look and no doubt wondered how I had managed to survive all these years without knowing how to transform a live bird into a feast for my family. But she graciously took the knife, did the dirty deed, and walked me through the steps of cleaning, plucking, and finally cooking the bird in her wood-fire oven.
It was late in the evening...well after dark...and I had just finished up an interview in the countryside outside of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. The lodge where I was staying was also in the country, but on the opposite side of town. As I slid into the passenger seat of the taxi truck I hesitated, wondering if getting in was such a good idea. I am an adventure-loving traveler. But I'm also a product of a U.S. childhood in the '80s.
Who doesn’t love the chance to view exotic birds and mammals in the wild? Many people pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity to do just that with African Safaris or treks through Asian jungles. But here in Ecuador, where I’ve lived for four years, sightings of exceptional animals are commonplace. With Ecuador holding four main geographical regions (the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Basin, the Pacific Coast, and the Galapagos Islands) along with dozens of microclimates and pockets of unique ecosystems, the animal viewing can be spectacular.
''I initially came to Loja for the business opportunities, but what I like about it is that you're in one of the ten largest cities in Ecuador, but still close to nature with parks nearby,'' Darnell Dunn says, after he quit his job at Putnam Investments and left Boston for the small city of Loja. ''Also being one only of a few foreigners, you get the chance to integrate into the culture. And I get to know people and families on a personal level because of the small size of the city.''
Where do you envision yourself when you think of retirement? If you're like most folks, at some point you've probably daydreamed of spending your post-work years in a city full of culture, art, and history. A place where you could spend the morning strolling through carefully restored centuries-old buildings while gazing at their beauty. Every so often you'd stop to admire a grand cathedral or a stone-block church built in the Gothic style of architecture.
Deciding where to live in Ecuador can be a daunting yet exciting prospect. Though the country is only the size of Nevada, the choices in lifestyle are many. You’ll need to decide if you’re a beach bum, mountain lover, or maybe even a jungle dweller. Do you want to reside in a large metropolis, a small city, or a quaint village? Those are all important things to factor in to your decision and ones that only you can answer.