Finding a Jewel in the Andes From $72,900

Consistently rated as one of the top places in the world to retire, Cuenca is often referred to as the jewel of Ecuador. As you stroll the old cobblestone streets, marvel at the historic Spanish architecture, admire the grandeur of its colonial churches and houses adorned with wrought-iron balconies, you’ll know you’ve arrived someplace special.

And not only that, but it’s a place where you can pick up a piece of real estate from less than $100,000.

It’s an active city. Countless parks throughout its boundaries are filled with people exercising and families playing with their children. Pathways lining the riverbanks are a favorite destination for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. Cuenca is very walkable, yet it also has an excellent public transit system—you can easily live here without a car.

Expats make up a small percentage of the city’s nearly 500,000 residents, but their presence has made an impact by encouraging the opening of restaurants and shops, and the building of a new tram set to debut in 2017.

Yet, despite its size and growth, many Cuencanos have maintained their indigenous culture. A common sight around town is a woman wearing a bowler hat, colorful embroidered skirt, a shawl and braided hair.

You can still find good value in real estate, but values are rising fast. In the El Centro historic district, you can find an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bathroom top-floor apartment with spectacular views of both the new cathedral and the Turi Mirador for only $72,900. Beautifully restored, it is perfect for a couple or someone looking for a solid rental income (it currently rents for $550 per month). The first floor includes a kitchen, living room, dining area, study area, bathroom, and storage area. The huge, bright open kitchen boasts granite countertops.

If townhouse living is more your thing, then you’ll find a new gated community currently under construction on Cuenca’s Westside only 20 minutes outside of El Centro. In the hills overlooking Cuenca, many of the units feature wonderful views. You can choose from different floor plans and sizes, with prices starting at just $93,500. Cuenca’s newest and largest shopping mall is under construction just a quarter of a mile away.

You can also find standalone homes. One example, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 1,528-square-foot home, can be yours for only $135,000. And you’ll find many other similar houses within the same price range.

It’s not just the price of real estate that makes Cuenca affordable. The year-round, spring-like climate makes heating and air conditioning unnecessary. The weather also keeps the city awash in fresh tropical fruits and vegetables available for pennies on the dollar compared to what you’re used to paying back home. Fresh fish and shrimp arrive frequently from the coast, and much of the local poultry is free-range.

So, if you are looking for one of the world’s best places to retire on a budget—to live better for less—you owe it to yourself to make a visit and check it out. Who knows? You just might find yourself joining the ranks of expats who have made this gem in the Andes their new home.

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