A jewel to be polished – That is Ecuador. For the last several years, International Living Magazine has determined that Ecuador is the best retirement location in the world, rated on various factors including climate and cost of living. Having moved from Canada to Quito four years ago, I, for one, sing its praise.
When making such sweeping statements, however, one must always look for the qualifications that go with them. Much of what has been written refers to the coast of Manabi Province and Cotacachi, Otavalo, Quito, Cuenca and Loja in the sierra. These are the primary targets for gringos looking to settle in Ecuador. Each of these is a place where I could be happy. There are many other small towns that could equally be lauded; but, for the most part, Expats tend to settle in clusters. Not usually mentioned as a place to live is the Orient, the East side of the Andes at the edge of the Amazon Jungle. This area is typically viewed as a place for stimulating tourist experience, rather than Expat settlement. The Galapagos Islands below to Ecuador; but, residency there is tightly controlled as part of the protection of the environment program.
I am not a beach person, and I do not like extreme heat and humidity. My preferences, therefore, are for all the sierra locations. For whatever reason, resort and condominium complex has boomed along the Manabi coast. People fleeing Mexico? Development money available? For those looking for ocean front, or near, property with substantial positive up-site to their investment, this is the place to go. Recognizing the positive side, the government has poured money into new roads, a bridge across the Chone river and the promotion of tourism.
Much further behind in progress is the Northern Province of Esmeraldas. Coastal, with lush greenery, the emerald connotation of the name is well deserved. It is agricultural with beautiful African Palm, banana and other plantations. It is, however, a particularly poor area with little to attract tourists. With high crime in the main towns, it currently suffers the presence of criminals involved in the drug trade with bordering Colombia.
I had occasion to visit a doctor in the town of Esmeraldas. To obtain a laboratory examination, I had to walk three blocks through the centre of the town. Very worried for my safety, the doctor recommended that I lock my valuables in his safe till I returned. I did that, and, despite a visible police presence, felt uncomfortable.
San Lorenzo, further North in Esmeraldas, can also be characterised by acute poverty and risk for unwary travellers. It has a bustling street market selling cheap, articles of little tourist action. Parts of the town consist of flimsy shacks on stilts built over the water of the Nadadero Chico river. The wharf becomes a hub of activity on weekends. Residents flock there to enjoy the river breeze, fish or just hang out with friends. Small boats ply the waters, taking tourists to the local interior to look
at the flora and fauna. Despite a police presence, smugglers of parrots comfortably debarked from their motorized canoe with grocery bags stuffed with captured parrots. Here, one tried to make its escape.
South of the town of Esmeraldas the lack of development continues to show. The next large (sic) town of Atacames has a beach and a strip of bamboo constructed shops selling trinkets. The main street along the beach seems to be continually backed up, apparently mostly with locals.
There are two brighter specks on the provincial mosaic that I wish to mention, the resort condominium project of Casablanca and Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach)
Casablanca is an island onto itself. It is an attractive coastal condominium development with row housing, apartments, a social club, a small grocery and incidental stores to provide for the basic needs of residents. The beach area is for as far as the eye can see. Adjacent is the ruins of an uncompleted hotel building that just never made it to success. It is an escape from the city, though seven hours from Quito. Our friends bought a house there, on the high ground a couple hundred meters inland, with a great view of the ocean. They loved it at first; but, going to the same isolated place eventually became somewhat tiresome, and the condominium fees for the mostly uninhabited property an inconvenience. There gorgeous view of the ocean is no more. The developer is building high rise apartments between their house and the water, blocking the
Playa Escondida is a little known, almost hidden ecologically conscious development by a Canadian woman, located just South and along the ocean from Casablanca and Atacames.
It consists of 100 acres of pristine land and vegetation, only about less than 10 of which have been developed for a few private homes, hotel accommodation and a restaurant. All development is as environmentally friendly as can be. Construction is mostly wood. Toilet and kitchen waste are all recycled to the land and the woodland kept groomed for health. The beach is limited,
especially when the tide is out and the flat rock and solid mud bottom dominate. For those wishing a quiet escape to nature, it is a good option. Oh ! In a concession to modern life,
WIFI is available.
Ecuador is a jewel and much is being done to make it shine. It will take time. For retirees and property investors, the time is now. I predict that in 10 to 15 years, assuming good government, Ecuador will be recognized as being well on the way to first world status and environmentally
( See also blog The Noise of Change is Keeping Me Awake )
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