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.
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.
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.
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 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 Ecuadorian jungle town of Tena…and to be honest this is not at all how I had imagined the Amazon to be.
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.”
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.
For years, Richard and Amy Griffin ran successful businesses in the southeastern United States. Amy’s focus was interior design, while Richard was a food distributor for restaurants, hotels, and country clubs. Things were going well until the economic downturn hit in 2008. “Charlotte is a banking community and all my customers were pretty much bankers, so they pulled the plug immediately, because they had no clue what was going to happen,” says Amy.
When I first began researching Ecuador as a possible place to live four years ago, I found that the country offered a lot to attract would-be-residents, especially retirees. There is the moderate climate promoted by Ecuador’s tourism board as “Eternal Spring.” There’s the low cost of living that allows many retirees to live comfortably off their social security income. Ecuador is also close to the U.S. (4.5 hour flight to Miami) and the country uses the U.S. dollar.