There’s More to Cotacachi Than Just Low-Cost Living

By now it’s no secret that Ecuador is a very affordable place to live. In fact, my life in the little mountain town of Cotacachi is so inexpensive that I can support my family of four as a part-time freelancer. The lower cost of living in Cotacachi doesn’t just ease my stress levels and give me more time with my family, but it also allows me the time to enjoy all that Cotacachi has to offer.

And there is much to enjoy about my new home. Cotacachi is nestled in an Andean valley and flanked on either side by two stunning volcanoes—Mount Cotacachi and Mount Imbabura. These peaks have long been inactive, but they do provide gorgeous views every day. More than that, they offer opportunities to explore them.

Plenty to Do Outdoors

My choices of outdoor activities in the area are nearly unlimited. My family and I often head out for short walks to waterfalls, all-day treks up mountainsides, or even horseback riding down scenic country roads. And biking around town and through the surrounding indigenous villages is easy and a great way to spend the day.

Sometimes it’s great to have a change of scenery, which is why it’s nice to have so many great day-trips accessible from the town. Within an hour I can be soaking in relaxing thermal pools surrounded by emerald Andean slopes. Or I can spend my Saturday at the continent’s largest indigenous market in nearby Otavalo. There are a number of craft towns to visit throughout the region that specialize in weaving, woodworking, embroidery, and much more.

One of my favorite day trips is up to the cobalt-colored lake on Mount Cotacachi’s upper reaches. The lake sits in a caldera and contains two islands. It’s a great place to bring a picnic lunch, or if I’m up for some exercise I’ll spend four hours hiking the trail that follows the crater’s rim.

Of course I do appreciate relaxation too, and Cotacachi has some great haunts for meeting with friends and taking it easy. Café Rio Intag, better known as Eddy’s, is a cozy little coffee shop where I often meet my girlfriends for coffee or tea. Every Tuesday a knitting/crochet club meets there and maybe one day I’ll find time to join them.

There are a couple of restaurants at the Solid Rock Plaza where the umbrella-covered tables in the courtyard are a great place to sit and find friends old and new. This is also the site of a Thursday artisan food market where I buy my avocado flower honey, aji (hot pepper) cheese, and organic pesto sauce.

While Cotacachi doesn’t have the array of restaurants you’d find in a city, it does have a nice variety offering everything from traditional fare to high-end five course meals. My favorite spot these days is Casa Vieja. It’s a small place, but the décor evokes images of the Mediterranean and they serve some of the best pizza around. The owner is friendly and accommodating and fun to practice my Spanish with.

Culture at Every Turn

Perhaps the best thing about Cotacachi is the opportunity to witness or even take part in Ecuadorian culture on a regular basis. Rarely does a weekend go by without some type of festival or event. On Good Friday there is always a long procession through town with hundreds of people playing instruments, carrying banners, or hoisting large statues of Jesus and Mary.

June sees the energetic sun festival of Inti Raymi, where indigenous groups dance in the town square for over a week. In addition, there are horse parades, harvest and planting festivals, seed exchanges, dance exhibitions, and much more. In fact, rarely can I walk through town without seeing a parade, marching band, or procession of some sort.

But I think the best thing about Cotacachi is that I have the choice to spend my time exploring, taking in festivals, and socializing with friends, or I have the option of having a quiet time at home. There’s no city noise and no rat race pressures to distract me. Any time I choose I can spend time in my garden, curled up with a good book, or experimenting in the kitchen with local Ecuadorian produce. Cotacachi truly gives me the best of everything.