Since I arrived in Ecuador with my wife Heidi and son Easton just over a year ago, I have experienced both the slower pace of life on the Pacific coast, and the activity of city life in the Andean mountains.
My time living on the coast was in a little town called Bahia de Caraquez, while my experience living in the mountains was in the historic city of Cuenca. These two places have provided quite different and unique experiences for me.
In Bahia de Caraquez, there was a real sense of community. People sitting in front of their houses were quick to greet me as I passed by on my way to the small produce market filled with fresh fruits and vegetables at excellent prices (lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, and peppers of every variety…each for only about 50 cents).
Fisherman bringing in their blue-painted wooden boats in the early morning or late evening gave me an opportunity to lend a helping hand as you walk by them on the beach. Shop owners in the small tiendas (stores) recognized and greeted me when I arrived for staples.
Each sunset in Bahia de Caraquez is a town event. Expats and Ecuadorians alike gather along the malecon (boardwalk) to watch the dazzling show of color in the sky. Small children run along the beach, and play in the nearby park. Street vendors grill chicken, beef, and fresh vegetables to sell on a stick for $1.50. The local ice cream man rides his red bicycle, with its refrigerated box, through the crowd, satisfying every sweet tooth for a dollar or less.
As with other small towns and villages along the coast, the quality of utilities can vary. Power outages are more prone to occur, especially during the seasonal rains. Sometimes the water supply can be interrupted for a short time. Internet availability and quality can vary greatly. These are realities of small-town life on the coast, and the enjoyment I received for this quaint life experience was well worth it.
Life is slow here. Dining options are limited but usually involve seafood and fish caught fresh that morning. Ceviche camaron (shrimp) is a staple at lunchtime for $5 or $6 a bowl. The town is comfortable in its simplicity, and not much of anything moves fast.
Living in Cuenca, I felt the vibe and activity of a bustling city. Walking in El Centro along the narrow sidewalks, surrounded by the many historic buildings towering above me, people were always on the move. Workers, tourists, and locals all going somewhere for something, and I zigged and zagged among them to make my way too.
After business hours, Cuenca becomes a place where an evening of live jazz can be enjoyed on the second floor of an old colonial era building, now turned restaurant. Our dinner, a glass of wine, and live music would cost us $12 each. The ambiance alone of the heavily wood trimmed interior was worth that price.
The many dining, museum, art, and music options create more activities to enjoy than there are hours in the day to engage with it all. The lights rarely if ever go out, and the internet is fast and efficient. Walking the city is easy, and taxis are plentiful if you need one. You can travel almost anywhere in the city by taxi for under $3. Should you decide on a bus, it only costs a quarter. Cuenca is a well-run city.
It’s important to know the experience you want when deciding to move to a foreign country. What are the things you must have? Where will your soul thrive best in a new foreign land? In Ecuador, maybe it’s the big cities in the mountains, or maybe it is the small towns of the coast.
Whatever your ideal scenario, it’s good to know that Ecuador offers a city or town to meet most every variation in size, services, and climate. Just take your pick.