The Other Side of Ecuador

We’re considering a move to Ecuador at the end of this year, after our third child is born. Still weighing up all the options, but one city high on the list right now is Cuenca.

I was in Ecuador a few weeks ago, visiting Quito, Cuenca, and some of the mountain towns and guild villages of the southern sierra.

On this visit, I noticed something about Ecuador that you probably don’t get to hear about that often.

If you’ve been reading International Living for any length of time, you know about the dollar cab rides and $4 meals. How a North American couple can happily live there on $600 a month. That you can buy a beach house for around $100,000…and a city apartment for less than half that.

That’s all still true, and available to a good standard—one that I’d be perfectly happy to adapt for my own family.

But there’s another side to Ecuador that may surprise you—a luxurious way of life that’s mostly enjoyed by Ecuador’s wealthy businessmen, ambassadors and foreign executives. But I found that this “high life” is there for the taking by just about anyone.

I’m talking about things that could transform your overseas experience from an adventure to an indulgence. Think gardeners and country clubs…tailor-made suits and dining out in fancy restaurants every night…an apartment with killer views and enormous terrace that’s easily big enough to accommodate anyone you’d ever want to invite to the party. Weekends spent at your place on the ocean.

You can eat in the best restaurant in Quito for $25 a head (three courses). It’s also one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten in anywhere. And the one they reserve for the U.S. President when he visits. (It’s called La Viña, and if it’s raining, a member of staff will walk you back to your hotel carrying an umbrella for you.) Yes, this is the most expensive place in town. But it makes a nice treat if you ever get bored with those $4 lunches.

The point is, whatever lifestyle you dream about if money were no object…you’ll find it in Ecuador. I’m not saying every extravagance is good value—the fancy hotel that eagerly charges you $3 for a bottle of mineral water gets their supplies from the same place as the tienda down the street where you’ll pay 25 cents for the same thing. But with a small bit of know-how, you can easily leave rich.

If you’ve dreamed of owning a Spanish colonial home in a colonial city, then you’ll love it here. Ecuador is a great place to buy a colonial property.

If I move my wife and kids to Cuenca, we’ll live in a new-built condo at first. But I couldn’t help looking at a few colonial restoration projects. It’s hard not to be attracted to these old buildings, even the total gut jobs. To rescue something in the colonial style, even something that would take a lot of work, is compelling.

Here’s one I saw that you might like: A four-story, blue-fronted house, across the street from the pretty San Francisco Church. The lower floors have views of the church, the higher floors can see beyond to the mountains that surround Cuenca. (See the photo of this property above.)

I lost count of the number of rooms, but it was about 5,500 square feet. There’s a commercial unit downstairs that rents for $700 a month. You could tinker with the layout of the ground floor to make this unit bigger and more valuable. I particularly liked this house for two reasons: It’s a block away from Cuenca’s blue-domed cathedral.

Also, the house has already been renovated to a basic standard. It’s perfectly fine to live in, and the current style might suit some people. But if you wanted to do it justice, you could take it floor-by-floor and live in the rest of the house as you go. The Ecuadorian family who owns it is listing it for $265,000.

If you’re not in the market for a restoration, Cuenca has plenty of new-build condos. The biggest one I saw was a two-story penthouse in a popular residential part of town, five blocks from centro. This place was enormous—it’s hard to think of anyone who’d need so much space. And it had two big terraces outside. The asking price was $210,000. See this video I shot of the view from the main terrace.

You’ll find more about Cuenca (and the real estate contact for these two properties) on page 49 of the brand-new 2011 edition of Ecuador: The Owner’s Manual. (You can get a great deal on this right now—see below.)

This week, we’re going to showcase the sides of Ecuador you may not have seen before. Whatever you’re looking for—a perfect escape, spiritual retreat, business opportunity, affordable beachfront—Ecuador has it, and we’ll tell you all about it.

P.S. As I said, we’ve just released the 2011 edition of the Ecuador Owner’s Manual. If you buy it during our “other side of Ecuador” week, you also get a suite of free extras, including:

* 3 special reports on Ecuador’s colonial, mountain, and coastal opportunities.

* The Ultimate Ecuador Forum – more than 3 hours of audio presentations from our top Ecuador experts, including “Retire at 44,” “Starting a Business in Ecuador Made Easy,” “Low Priced Beach Buys,” and more.

* A very special never-before-seen video session featuring our favorite Cuenca expats, Kent and Christine Zimmerman, who will reveal 3 year’s worth of tips for living happily ever after in Ecuador.

Combined, this Ultimate Ecuador Kit 2011 (including the Ecuador Owner’s Manual) has a $243 value. But when you order by Friday, you get everything I’ve listed here for just $89.

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