Ecuador is an incredibly diverse country. Even though it is only about the size of Colorado, it has many distinct eco-systems, several cultural groups, and landscapes from beaches to some of the tallest mountains in the world…and everything in between.
When searching for your perfect home, in this top retirement destination, there’s a wide range of options. Two of my favorite cities are a great example of the diversity this little country can offer—the beach resort community of Salinas—and the city of Loja in the southern Andes mountain range.
Salinas, the most popular beach town in the country, sits on the westernmost piece of mainland Ecuador, right on the Pacific Ocean.
Loja, known as the “Music and Cultural Capital of Ecuador,” is nestled in the Cuxibamba Valley at just less than 7,000 feet above sea level.
Let’s take a look at what each of these places can offer you…
What’s the weather like?
Climate is important to most expats, so let’s start there. Salinas is dry, with an average rainfall of only about five inches a year. Although the Humboldt Current offshore moderate’s temperatures, Salinas still can have highs in the 90s F during the summer months (December through April). Even in the low-season months between May and November, it still rarely gets below 70 F, even at night.
On the other hand, Loja has a cooler but still moderate climate. A hot day may reach 80 F, but generally daytime temperatures range between the upper 50s F and the 70s F, with nights about 10 degrees cooler. Loja, owes its lush vegetation to the rains it receives—almost 42 inches a year on average.
What is there to do?
As you might expect with the title “Music and Cultural Capital of Ecuador”, Loja has several major universities, musical conservatories, museums, and performance venues. Frequent performances of music and dance take place, both in concert halls and out on the streets. In addition to modern styles, indigenous cultures are well represented. Loja is also a city of parks and attractive city squares, with plenty of places to relax and watch the world go by, or to get out and enjoy nature.
In Salinas, let’s face it—it’s all about the beach! There is the La Puntilla Nature Preserve, with its trails and bike paths, and a few museums with relics from cultures up to 10,000 years ago…but mostly all activities center on the sand and water. You can take fishing trips and sightseeing excursions, or even go whale watching in season. There are places to learn to paddle board, surf, scuba dive, or sail. You can just relax on the beach or in the surf, or try your hand at jet-skis.
What should you know about dress and customs?
In the Sierras in general, more attention is paid to good manners and proper dress. In Loja, it is customary to greet people when you enter a restaurant with a buen provecho (enjoy your meal), and to say goodbye when leaving. Spanish is enunciated more clearly, and people tend to talk a little slower and with little or no slang. Although it is sometimes warm enough for shorts, it is considered more proper to dress in slacks or blue jeans, and to wear shirts with collars. Hats for men are also common in Loja.
In Salinas, on the beach anything goes as far as clothing. Shorts, t-shirts, no shirt, any type of shoes, or even bare feet are all acceptable. Although people still greet each other and are polite, the language is more relaxed. There is more slang, and people tend to drop the last letter or so when they talk. In Salinas, you often hear simply a cheerful “Buena”, dropping not only the final “s”, but also the specific dias, tardes, or noches.
What does the real estate market offer?
Finally, a quick comparison of the real estate markets. Because Salinas is a resort community—and of course has a lot of oceanfront property available—prices tend to be higher than that in Loja. Loja has condos for sale or rent, but these buildings are usually no more than four or five floors tall, whereas Salinas has many condo buildings that are in the 15 to 20 floor range. Prices also vary between the two locales, in Loja they are the same year-round, while Salinas has a high tourist season, which in turn affects prices.
In Salinas you can find a single-family home or a two-bedroom on the beach starting at about $150,000, with prices dropping sharply once you move back from the sand. A similar home in Loja might run $50,000 to $70,000 less. So too are rental prices lower in Loja, with furnished apartments available for $600 a month or less. In Salinas, bargains can be found off the beach, but again the seasonal nature of the market, drives prices higher during the popular beach season.
Conclusion: Loja and Salinas offer two very different lifestyles. But something they have in common, and something that my wife Rita and I have experienced all around Ecuador…is that Ecuadorians are always friendly, and helpful. We’ve also found delicious fresh fruits and vegetables to choose from wherever we may roam. Sure, on the coast seafood will be a little cheaper and easier to find, and in the Sierras produce is more available, but whether you are enjoying ceviche (a popular Latin American seafood dish) at the beach, or a locro de papa (a potato soup) in the mountains, you still find great Ecuadorian food .
So, which one is right for you? That’s a hard choice to make, and fortunately…you don’t have to give up one for the other. It is both easy and inexpensive to travel in Ecuador, so you can always choose to live at the beach and visit Loja, or live in Loja and visit the beach. Living in Ecuador, you can have the best of both worlds.