My friend, Crystal, isn't too sure about my upcoming exploration of Ecuador. "Why are you going?...Is it safe?...Tell me why are you going, again?" To be fair, Crystal lives in southeast Florida and knows one is already a gringa in Miramar or Miami, USA -one might wonder why one would actually fly abroad for more of the same!
Our Ecuadorian adventure was prompted by International Living's Ultimate Event, which is being hosted in Quito. IL provides publications, services and events for those interested in living and/or investing internationally. Ecuador was chosen #1 on IL's 2010 Index of Global Retirement Destinations. Doug and I decided to extend our stay past the conference and check out a few of the expat gems in Ecuador.
Most people know about Ecuador's natural beauty. Fewer pay attention to the Socialist antics of President Correa , such as puffing up his clash with the police protesting budget and salary cuts or his threats to nationalize the oil industry ala Chavez. Sadly, third world Ecuador is no more violent than first world Memphis, Buffalo, Detroit or Oakland. All in all, expats seem to feel that the pros far outweigh the cons in their zero latitudinal paradise.
The mountain village of Cotacachi in the north, culturally rich hilltop Cuenca and the southern coastal town of Salinas are the areas that Doug and I plan to explore for a future extended vacation, residential Spanish program or real estate investment.
Everything we read in publications, expat forums and blogs as well as international real estate newsletters points to Ecuador's exciting potential. However, as Jessica reminds us, we are tempering our excitement because one man's first world in a third world is another man's dangerous slum. This we discovered about Panama...looks great on paper but not so great in 3D.
We don't know what will come of our trip, which is over 3 weeks. A few of the highlights we are looking forward to are:
We are arriving in the country's capital, Quito. We will celebrate Valentine's Day with a visit to a US trained chocolatier and hunt for the prettiest famous roses of Ecuador that we can find. We will also attend a 4 day conference on living and investing abroad.
Cotacachi, population 9500, is popular with expats and boasts its own world class Relais & Chateaux resort. Cotacachi is nestled within natural splendor; it enjoys close proximity to Lake Cuicocha and the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Preserve. In the markets, you will find leather goods and fruits and vegetables watered with the volcanic mineral rich water of the Northern Andes.
We'll be staying at the hotel own by South Florida expats, The Scotts. We expect we will run into more than a few IL attendees and other Americans shopping for real estate.
Next up will be Cuenca, Ecuador's colonial capital of art and architecture. Population is about 600,000 with an historic town center and suburbs with a newly built Boston Medical Center affiliate hospital, shopping malls and strip centers. The opposite of Cotacachi, here we expect to find more comforts of home such as a variety of restaurants, a cinema and good espresso.
Cuenca has a thriving expat community and we have plans to meet up with a few at the local english bookstore, the homestyle California Kitchen restaurant and the Kookabara Cafe. We elected to stay in a restored colonial mansion in the old town...hoping it reminds us just a little of Perugia or Malaga.
Salinas has been dubbed "The Gold Coast", no doubt by enterprising real estate agents fresh off their Florida or New Zealand vacations. Both Ecudorian-Americans and expats are snapping up condos and beach proximal housing in this area that is the yachting playground for wealthier Ecuadorians. It also has some of the best residential coastal prices in the world, "$100 sq ft or less".
We are here for a week...in a condo renting by the week for about the same as a 3 night stay at our marina/hotel in downtown Dunedin. Here we will truly be on our own, more vacation like, although a meet up is in the works with a couple I met through their blog of Salinas living.
Generally, the draw to Ecuador is eco-tourism. Quito is a stopover on the way to the Galapagos Islands. Travelers are more likely to fly into Guayaquil, head south to Vilcamba and through the jungle to Peru. Most miss the tranquility of Cotacachi, the rich cultural history of Cuenca and the high rise haven of Salinas. But Ecuadorian travelers are not just hikers, climbers, divers and kayakers anymore. There are also Latin American trend watchers, global real estate speculators, international developers and continental individualists all seeking to be ahead of a boom.
Likely to the dismay of readers of Lonely Planet and backpackers everywhere, retiring boomers are also finding their own reasons for making their way to Ecuador. We are all looking for our own little piece of cielo.