A Tale of Two Perfect-Weather Havens in Ecuador’s Andes

“I love walking along the Tomebamba River,” says Janda Grove. “I think it’s one of the nicest things about Cuenca.”

Boasting romantic 18th-century architecture, and a rich artistic and cultural tradition, the colonial city of Cuenca is set high in Ecuador‘s Andes Mountains. Janda, who is an artist, rents a studio in the beautifully preserved historic district with a breathtaking view of the Tomebamba river. For someone in need of creative energy, it doesn’t get much better than that.

“There are many cultural events to attend here,” says Janda. “There are other artists that I enjoy connecting with, and a wonderful variety of music. The city is beautiful and has many lovely parks, plazas, and historic buildings and churches. There are good restaurants and cafes, and there’s always something new to try.”

Janda is one of those lucky folks who is able to split her time between two beautiful destinations. When she and her husband Dan moved to Ecuador four years ago they didn’t come to Cuenca directly. Instead they settled in the small northern town of Cotacachi. This mountain village is considerably smaller than Cuenca, nestled between two long dormant volcanoes, and has a rich culture centered around the large indigenous population.

“When I arrived there I really fell in love with the local people, especially the women and the beauty of the way they dress and present themselves,” says Janda. “So my first three years here I mostly painted local indigenous people. I’ve sold a lot of my paintings through La Mirage (a luxury hotel and spa in Cotacachi).”

Even though she loves Cotacachi’s quiet, mountain-town atmosphere, Janda also found that Cuenca had much to offer. As Ecuador’s fastest growing city, Cuenca has a modern infrastructure, with four malls, numerous hospitals, grocery stores, cinemas, and scores of restaurants serving a wide variety of international cuisine. And it has a large expat population which is great for networking and interacting with like-minded people. “There’s something wonderful about being able to relate to people who have common experiences,” says Janda. “But I really enjoy being able to speak Spanish well enough to speak to the local people as well. I find that cuencanos are generally helpful, kind, and in good humor.”

Now Janda splits her time between the two locales. “I spend about a month here in Cuenca and then a month back in Cotacachi,” she says.

Both Cotacachi and Cuenca are affordable and have similar, spring-like climates. With average temperatures holding steady year-round between 60 F to 75 F, there’s no need for heating, air conditioning, or even fans. This alone keeps costs low and most expat couples find they live comfortably here on between $1,800 to $2,500 a month. And with airports in Cuenca and Quito—about an hour-and-a-half drive south of Cotacachi—you can hop from one city to the other in less than four hours.

Janda was pleased to discover that setting up a small business was relatively easy here in Ecuador. There are also plenty of venues for displaying and selling her pieces. In addition to her displays in La Mirage, she has participated in the Cuenca art walk and has several shows coming up in the near future.

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