“You could hike every day here and see something different,” says Kristin Simmon-Lowman of her new home in the highlands of Ecuador. “My friends and I just hiked Fuya Fuya (an inactive volcano), which was wonderful. Now we’re working up to doing Mount Imbabura (one of Ecuador’s most iconic mountains), so we’ve been getting a training system going to get in shape for that. There are waterfalls all around and a lot of lower foothills.”
Four years ago when my family and I relocated to Ecuador, obtaining a residence visa was one of our top priorities. We knew we wanted to stay long-term and a residence visa would allow us to do so without penalties or needing to leave the country periodically. At the time, the process took several months to complete. But now, thanks to a more streamlined process, expats who have all of their paperwork in order can receive their visas within a matter of weeks. And just recently, Ecuador decided to half the cost of the application fee for over 65s (to $25) as well as the cost of a visa (to $250).
I’m here to tell you that I’ve found the Holy Grail of expat destinations. Each of us has our own priorities, but to find a place that ticks the boxes on nearly everyone’s list is something special. A perfect climate that’s neither too hot nor too cool (60 F to 80 F all year); amazing natural surroundings; plenty of cultural events; history-filled cities; superb healthcare; friendly people; and a welcoming country…all with a fantastically low cost of living—figure $1,500 a month for a couple, all in.
South America has many fine cities. Montevideo is known for its European flair and charming architecture. Beef and wine connoisseurs can’t do better than Buenos Aires. And Quito has its breathtaking colonial center. But there’s a new South American city on the rise: Medellín, Colombia. Largely ignored for decades, Medellín is now enticing expat retirees with its tree-filled streets and arts-rich character. A strong dollar makes today an ideal time to explore (and invest).
There’s something special about Cotacachi, Ecuador. It has a magnetic quality that draws people in and makes them want to call this town home. Maybe it’s the magic feeling of having two sacred mountains stand guard over this little valley town. Perhaps it’s the crisp, clean air and the perfect blue of the equatorial sky. It could be the friendly and welcoming atmosphere that envelops this area. Or maybe it’s the whole package.
How do you see yourself spending your ideal retirement? Does it involve strolling the cobbled streets of an historic city in Europe? Or maybe you’d rather lounge, cocktail in hand, on a lounge chair by a tropical beach. If you’re like me, you’d prefer the abundant clean air and farm-fresh produce in an Ecuadorian mountain town, relaxing in the local expat hangout when you’re not exploring awe-inspiring valleys and colorful local markets.
When asked what they like most about their new life in the small mountain town of Cotacachi, Ecuador, Jay and Nancy Keattering reply, “No alarm clock!” The couple escaped their busy corporate jobs in 2014 and can be found still enjoying everything that life in the high Andes offers…a slow pace of life, fresh produce, low-cost healthcare, and great living for under $2,000 a month.
Getting the best of both country and big-city life is a tall order. But in the valleys that surround Ecuador’s capital, Quito, you can have a country setting with green mountains in view at every turn, little brick houses tucked in amid lush gardens… and friendly neighbors who greet you with a smile.
Morning is my favorite time of day here in Cotacachi. The local stores are just beginning to open, street vendors are pushing their carts into position, and the bells of Iglesia Matriz are softly chiming. Nothing but blue sky means perfect views of the two dormant volcanoes that stand guard on either side of this small town and her valley. I’m walking the mile from my home into the center with my son. Our route brings us into town from the east and our first stop is Parque San Francisco, the smaller of two plazas. Park benches sit under sturdy palms surrounded by shrubbery and flowers.
Each time I visit Quito, I get to explore new and interesting areas, hear of fabulous events taking place, and meet more wonderful people. Among Quito’s 2-million-plus populace is a large community of international folks enjoying the affordable life and big-city buzz. You’ll find them pretty spread out, as there are neighborhoods and lifestyles to suit most tastes. But they’re all making the most of what Quito offers…which is a lot. Here’s some of my favorite things to do…