“I feel like it’s a real gift to be here,” says Vilcabamba expat Jeff Hutner. It’s a sentiment I have heard echoed time and again from expats in this part of Ecuador.
What’s so enthralling about this little highland town just north of the Peruvian border? Well, for Jeff and his wife Jamie, it’s the ability to afford a quality life surrounded by beauty.
Nestled into a warm valley ringed by high Andean peaks, the town of Vilcabamba leaves little to be desired. The warm (but not steamy) year-round weather is perfect for plant life. Trees with surfboard-sized fronds stand watch over neon flowers and creeping vines. Crystalline rivers tumble through the valley and there are plenty of hiking trails crisscrossing the slopes. If there’s a more perfect picture of paradise, I’ve not found it.
But natural beauty is not always enough to make a place feel like home, so why are Jeff and Jamie so content here? For Jeff, Vilcabamba reminds him of his hometown of Ojai, California with its artsy feel.
“I call this the Ojai of the Andes,” Jeff says. Culture, especially that of the musical variety is important to him. “I’m a musician—I play piano and sing and write.”
“There are people here who are wonderful artists that bring a lot to the community,” adds Jamie.
For people like the Hutners who like to have warm weather year-round as well as culture on tap, Vilcabamba is a great place to be. To sweeten the deal it’s a very affordable place to live. Jeff says “the low cost of living is a very compelling reason to be here instead of the U.S.”
According to Jamie, little indulgences can be had at very reasonable costs. “A massage with a local is $20 for an hour and they’re very good here. A facial is just $8.”
And a night out doesn’t need to break the bank either. “The best restaurant here is called Café Cultura,” says Jeff. “It has world class food and the most it will cost there is $16. To have that kind of meal which would probably cost $100 anywhere else is really great.”
An average day has the couple walking their dog through the winding roads of their sprawling gated neighborhood. They may choose to ride their scooter into town for breakfast or they might make it themselves at home with fresh local ingredients. A bit of time is likely to be spent on researching and finding furnishings for their house, but all in all as Jeff says “life here is very simple.” That’s a far cry from his one-time career in the securities world, but Jeff is not complaining.
In fact one of his favorite things about the area is “being able to see something here I haven’t seen since I was a kid—fireflies!” he says.
For this simple and stress-free lifestyle, the Hutners estimate they spend about $500 per month on basics. They don’t pay rent and they are spending extra money right now on their house, but for food, transportation, utilities, a gardener, housecleaner, and even a dog-walker, the $500 covers it all.
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