Situated in South America’s northwest, Ecuador is bounded by the world’s largest ocean on one side and the planet’s largest jungle on the other. At the same time, slicing straight through the tiny country is the earth’s longest mountain range. What this all means is that people who decide to retire in Ecuador can choose to relax on serene ocean beaches or settle in scenic Andean mountains, not to mention the Amazon rainforest or the country’s Galapagos Islands.
Ecuador’s low cost of living makes luxury retirement possible … even on middle-income budgets. What’s more, because Ecuador is one of the most affordable places to retire in the Americas, even middle-income retirees can enjoy comfortable and even luxurious lifestyles, availing themselves of quality housing, world-class healthcare, trendy eateries, and a vibrant cultural life just outside the door.
Still, as retired life in Ecuador can be challenging, we’ve begun collecting information on what you need to know about launching a new life overseas in this enthralling South American nation. What we present here are five top places to retire in Ecuador, since your lifestyle could vary dramatically depending on where you choose to live.
Cuenca: Understandably a magnet for foreign retirees
Unquestionably one of Ecuador’s most attractive colonial cities, Cuenca not only offers a step back in time but the laidback culture here is both endearing and addictive. This UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the best examples of well-preserved colonial and indigenous heritage in the country – has cultural and architectural influences dating back over 3,000 years.
Any trip to Cuenca can easily be spent quietly wandering cobbled streets and historical buildings. Many of the old structures have since been turned into museums and cafés, so soak up the atmosphere of this ancient place while casually sipping a cappuccino! Cuenca is rivaled only by Quito in terms of its rich past, though without quite the same level of urbanization one might find in the capital.
Famous for its colorful festivals, distinctive food, and breathtaking scenery, many Ecuadorians and travelers alike consider Cuenca to represents the best in Ecuadorian city life. Being smaller than the capital city (Quito), Cuenca poses fewer typical big-city problems, though (with a metro population of more than a half-million) it’s large enough to possess the cultural and infrastructural conveniences appreciated by most foreign retirees. Along with its year-round spring-like weather, the city boasts plenty of supermarkets and malls, great restaurants, handsome condominium complexes, comfortable suburbs, and some of the best hospitals and medical care in the country. Cuenca’s stunning flower market exemplifies this welcoming city.
Making retirement here even easier, Cuenca is home to one of the world’s biggest and most established foreign retiree communities. Some 12,000 American, Canadian and European ex-pats call this Spanish-colonial, UNESCO World Heritage city home. As such a large body of other English-speaking ex-pats have made the transition to living in Ecuador, they can help you acclimate to retirement overseas.
Quito: A South American gem for urban-minded retirees
If you’re a city dweller who loves being at the center of the action, then you’ll relish your retirement in Quito. With a population of close to 2.6 million people, Quito is Ecuador’s second-largest city (after Guayaquil) and is also the capital of the country. This means that nearly any service or amenity you could want is readily available. Shopping malls, nightlife, and five-star restaurants make this the best choice in Ecuador for a cosmopolitan lifestyle. You’ll also have easy access to administrative offices like international embassies and immigration offices, and the international airport is just a 45-minute drive from the city center, making travel back home convenient and easy. Then too, if you also like a rich culture, historic churches, beautiful architecture, and magnificent Andean views, then Quito or its surrounding areas could be just the place for you.
Fine dining above Quito’s iconic Panecillo Hill
The Ecuadorian capital is often called the “most beautiful big city in South America” due to 1) its location in the palm of a valley cupped between towering Andean peaks and 2) because of its immaculately preserved historic center. Complementing these qualities is the city’s remarkable park system, which provides for plenty of green spaces mingled within the urban center. At the same time, Quito possesses abundant transportation options — including efficient taxi and bus services, a light rail system, and a new underground metro — which all make getting around safe and easy. Achieving a rare combination, healthcare in Quito is both first-rate and inexpensive. Even at one of the best medical clinics in the city, you’ll never spend more than $50 for an office visit – and that’s with a top-notch, English-speaking specialist.
As for accommodations, Quito’s upscale neighborhoods are popular neighborhoods among ex-pat retirees, who avail themselves of fashionable condos and easy walking access to restaurants, markets, entertainment venues, as well as all the modern conveniences. For those seniors who like such big-city conveniences but prefer a quieter existence, great housing options abound in Quito’s more exclusive suburbs, which are full of golf courses, country clubs, gated communities, and high-end shopping centers. You’ll also find a wide range of international expats in these areas, which give these neighborhoods a multi-cultural vibe and attract more varied dining options. And don’t worry, high-speed internet is commonplace in Quito, and services like Skype and Zoom make it easy to stay in touch with those back home. English programming Cable TV is also common, even providing packages for watching the NFL or other U.S. sports leagues.
But you won’t have to stay pent up at home, you’ll begin making friends among members of the capital’s large expat community and the many Ecuadorian professionals in Quito who speak English. Then too, Quito (as well as Cuenca) is one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish – which will open you up to a whole new world of friends and perspectives.
Vilcabamba: The senior homesteader’s heaven
At a perfect altitude of about 5,000 feet, the village of Vilcabamba enjoys a climate that’s one of the best in Ecuador. Locals bask in temperatures in the 70s and 80s all year round, while the town receives only moderate rainfall. These rainwaters splash down from the breathtaking mountains on all sides of the village to form crystal-clear streams that provide the area with sparkling clean water.
Just 30 miles from Loja (pop. 180,000), Vilcabamba is a tiny rustic settlement (pop. 4,000) situated in this scenic valley, often called the “Valley of Longevity” for its supposedly long-lived population.
A bird’s-eye view of Vilcabamba
Vilcabamba is a great retirement option if you’re interested in homesteading and outdoor activities like horseback riding, hiking, and communing with nature. Its natural and healthy lifestyle attracts many folks here — both expats and Ecuadorian — seeking a more wholesome, back-to-basics life. These are people who enjoy getting keeping their green thumbs exercised by growing much of their own food, raising chickens and providing for many of their own needs.
Also keep this southern Ecuadorian village in mind if you’re a retiree interested in living primarily among Ecuadorians rather than other ex-pats. In Vilcabamba’s charming town square, bordered by quaint little shops and eclectic restaurants, you’ll often find others ready and willing for a bit of socializing. Notwithstanding, the small community of area ex-pats in the area are anything but boring — just be sure to keep an open mind as they tend to be quite free-thinking and varied, consisting of everyone from massage therapists and reiki experts to organic farmers and artists.
Though Vilcabamba is small and somewhat remote, none of this means sacrificing modern conveniences. Cable TV and cell phones are common, and high-speed internet allows TV and movie streaming, as well as keeping in close touch with friends and loved one’s back home.
Salinas: A ‘snowbird’ wonderland
Sometimes called Ecuador’s “Little Miami,” the ocean-front town of Salinas is the country’s most developed beach destination. Miles of modern condominium buildings lining the beachfront, trendy restaurants, laid-back coffee shops, welcoming bars, and relatively easy access to the international airport all make retirement in Salinas an attractive retirement option.
The main attraction here, though, is of course the beach, which is wide, sandy, and clean, while bordered by calm, blue, Pacific waters. From any condo balcony, you’ll see the sun is gleaming off a few dozen yachts, sailboats parked in the marina, and an entire beachfront bustling with activity, at least in the high season.
“Snowbird” retirees wishing to escape the snow and cold temperatures of northern winter will be happy to find that Salinas’s sunny season extends from mid-December through April, with its beach’s warmest waters occurring between January and March.
As you’d expect, the lifestyle in Salinas is active, with most of the activities centering around water sports: including game fishing, whale watching, and yachting. The “downside” is that Salinas can be quiet out of season – though many consider that period a welcome reprieve.
Cotacachi: A healthy retreat in the Andean highlands
Two of the most majestic cordilleras of the Andean mountains flank the sides of the small village of Cotacachi. In addition to this striking scenery, the small town of just 8,000 boasts good weather, clean air, healthy living, a rich indigenous culture, and a tranquil small-town lifestyle that’s perfectly fitting for many retirees.
Known as Ecuador’s “leather” town, artisan shops line Cotacachi’s main street, where you can buy any type of leather item, from shoes, boots, and jackets to coin purses, bags, and suitcases…even upholstered furniture.
In its quaint downtown, you’ll also come across small mom-and-pop shops, a couple of barbershops, a small health clinic, and the town-band pavilion. At the same time, ethnic restaurants and cozy cafés make welcoming spots to catch up with friends or just sit and watch life unfold in the Ecuadorian highlands.
This charming lifestyle has made Cotacachi one of Ecuador’s most active ex-pat communities over the past couple decades. Many foreigners have been attracted to locate here as it’s the sort of town that reminds many “boomers” of their childhoods and simpler times.
In addition, Cotacachi is great for improving your health. The year-round moderate climate means that nearly every fruit and vegetable can be grown nearby, and the small size of the town makes it perfect for walking. These healthy food choices and extra walking each day are sure to help you to shed and keep off those excess pounds.
For a small town, few things are lacking in Cotacachi. Spas, fitness centers, and basic medical needs can be found within a few blocks of each other. Retirees can also participate in art classes, hiking groups, dance lessons, live musical events, yoga, foreign films, and science courses. Plus, the city of Ibarra (pop. 150,000) is just a 30-minute drive, while metro-Quito and its international airport are only two hours away.
Estimates are that about 100 ex-pats live full-time in Cotacachi now, but the locals are friendly and welcoming too. Indeed, it’s tough to spend much time in Cotacachi without making friends. The townspeople are outgoing and relaxed, probably because there’s not much to worry about. Remember, there’s no traffic, no temperature swings, no pesky insects, and the costs so low that comfort-filled living is a snap.
Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.
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