Cotacachi: U.S. Style Comfort at Ecuador’s Prices

When people hear that I live in Ecuador, they often assume that I’ve given up many of the comforts I had back home. I’ve actually been asked if I can watch television, if I have internet service in my house, or even if there are international airports here. The answer to all three of those questions is, of course, yes.

In fact, this little South American country has nearly everything I would want or need and there is very little that I miss from the U.S. Even with living in a small town in the Andes, I’m anything but deprived of a comfortable life.

Take, for example, my day-to-day surroundings. I live in Cotacachi, which is a craft village that sits in a green valley flanked by two impressive (and dormant) volcanoes. My house is a spacious two-story with vaulted ceilings and wood beams. In my yard, all manner of exotic flowers grow, which attract the heavy hummingbird population.

The weather is ideal too with most days seeing a mix of sun and clouds with moderate rainfall during the “winter” months of November through March. Being on the equator means little variation in temperature throughout the year and daily highs usually range through the 70s F, while night-time lows are in the high 50s F. This perfect climate means I’m never too hot or too cold, even without a heating or air conditioning system in my home.

When I’m not working, I do take advantage of my television and internet while I stream movies on Netflix. Many of my friends have Cable TV packages that broadcast sporting events from Latin America and back home, plus a wide array of shows. I often meet friends for a latte at one of the several cafés in town or at our local pastry shop where I’m always tempted by the tasty pies, cinnamon rolls, and cobblers.

My lifestyle here isn’t much different than in the U.S., but there is one big advantage in Cotacachi. My cost of living is less than half what it was back home. While a few things are more expensive here (anything imported has added tariffs), most items cost less.

Food is a prime example. Because of Ecuador‘s amazing climate and lack of extreme temperature fluctuations, crops can be grown year-round. Cotacachi’s local fruit and vegetable market is packed with produce every day and I can fill a large re-usable grocery bag with bananas, mangos, papayas, tangerines, tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers, and potatoes for five dollars or less.

My house that I mentioned earlier cost less than $100,000 to have built four years ago, and I pay no more than $50 per year in property taxes. In addition, it costs nothing to heat or cool, so my electric bill runs under $20 each month. Water and gas for cooking are a combined $7 monthly.  And my family’s grocery bill usually runs around $400 per month. Internet packages start at around $30 and cell phone usage costs 10 cents per minute on the pay-as-you-go plans that most expats use.

Saving so much money on the basics means that I tend to indulge in things I rarely took advantage of back home. It’s not that I didn’t have the funds to splurge a little, but I had a tough time justifying the expense of a massage, regular manicures, or a weekend in the city with friends. But in Cotacachi, I don’t feel one bit guilty. Why? Well for starters, I can get a great manicure in town for just $3. Not only are my hands massaged, moisturized, and babied, but I can get custom designs (like palm trees, lilies, or flags) painted on to my nails for no extra charge.

I love to hike and nothing feels better after a weekend of climbing mountains then a good hour-long deep tissue massage. However, instead of the $100 I would have paid five years ago in small town U.S.A., I can have the same thing here in my new home for $30.

And a weekend in downtown Seattle spent eating sushi, drinking craft beer, catching theater shows, and taking taxis all over the city would have run at least $1,000. Yet, I had that very experience in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito and spent just over $200.

I suppose in some ways I am missing out. I’m missing out on utility bills that run into the high hundreds during exceptionally hot or cold months. I’m missing out on shoveling wet snow and driving on dangerous icy roads. And I’m missing out on worrying every month about the economy and what would happen if my husband or I lost our jobs.

So, you see, in my eyes, it’s the folks back in North America who are missing out on the best that life has to offer.

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