Travel Adventures in Ecuador

“So why did you move to Cuenca, Ecuador?”

Even after three and a half years I’m often asked this question, and there are many answers—the low cost of living, temperate climate, proximity of the U.S., excellent medical care, and the wonderful mix of historic architecture plus modern conveniences.

But when I tell people, “One reason my wife and I moved to Cuenca is so we can leave,” I invariably observe confusion in their faces. Let me explain.

Our monthly budget here is a fraction of our previous outgo in the States. This allows us the financial flexibility to fulfill our dreams of enjoying active travel while we are still young and vigorous enough to do so. Living in a secure building, we simply lock the door and leave for weeks at a time whenever we choose, never giving a thought to the safety of our home and possessions.

At present we are in the States visiting family for the holidays. With three grandchildren of toddler age we go back as often as possible (this is our third trip this year) to experience firsthand the joyous miracle of their rapid development.

Our funds are certainly not limitless, so these frequent excursions back home have put our more expensive and exotic travel plans on hold. Great news, though: there’s a multitude of interesting destinations just waiting be discovered right here in Ecuador, and exploring this diverse country won’t break the bank.

Last month, for example, I headed a few hours south to research Loja and Vilcabamba. On the way a routine lunch stop at the central square of Saraguro turned into a delightful culinary adventure. Shamui Co, run by a native Ecuadorian and his Spanish wife, features remarkably sophisticated and inventive tapas-style cuisine and desserts. Along with the cool vibe and ambiance I felt more like I was in a hip neighborhood in Chicago or New York than a small town in Ecuador.

I was interested to find that Loja reminded me in many ways of Cuenca, only on a smaller scale. Half of Cuenca’s size, Loja has the same modern conveniences plus, because of its lower altitude, a warmer climate. This lovely city remains undiscovered by foreigners and for now has only a few expat residents.

Vilcabamba, on the other hand, has the highest ratio of foreigners of any place in Ecuador (roughly 10% of the population). Known as the “Valley of Longevity”—although this claim has been largely discredited—the town is nevertheless a haven for healthy living with perfect weather, abundant organic produce, and remarkable vistas. For years Vilcabamba has been a magnet for creative types of all persuasions.

Loja and Vilcabamba can both be reached by car, bus, or shared van service easily from Cuenca.

Affordable stays make it easy to travel as often as you want in Ecuador. For example, when we visited Vilcabamba, we stayed at Izhcaluma, a hostel in a lush setting with pool and spa, for only $38 a night—including breakfast.

Next year I look forward to continuing our family visits and uncovering more of Ecuador’s treasures. Why not? It’s one of the reasons we moved to this wonderful country.

In the video below Edd Staton talks about some of these treasures in Ecuador and how one of the reasons he and his wife moved to Ecuador, was so they could leave.

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