I was very excited to go to Ecuador and see as many places as I could in ten days including five of them in the Galapagos Islands. I wanted to know if Ecuador is a place I could live in retirement, at least part time. I also wanted to visit some of the interesting tourist spots like Ingapirca, an Inca ruins, and the guild villages in the Andes near Quito.
My first days in Quito did not leave me with a feeling that this city was the place to settle, but that I could definitely visit it often because there is just so much to see and do there. My visit barely scratched the surface of getting to know the multi-layered cultural history. When I returned through Quito on my way home however, I had a renewed respect for it as the most cosmopolitan area of Ecuador and the easiest place to get to from the U.S. Flights from Quito within Ecuador are plentiful and inexpensive, making the rest of the country accessible.
The second place I visited was Cuenca, another colonial city, but much smaller and where most retirees from the US and Canada who move to Ecuador live. We didn’t have much time there, but wandered around the main part of town admiring the old churches and beautiful squares. Our hotel was a restored manor with hand carved wood, wrought iron, and painted tin panels throughout. The central courtyard and grand drawing room drew me back to a different time. I can see the draw of the greater Cuenca area which has approximately half a million residents. It’s much smaller and more manageable than Quito and still large enough to feel like a city.
We flew in and out of Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, but didn’t spend any time there outside of our hotel. We flew from there to the Galapagos and back and we took the bus to Salinas and back. Guayaquil is a large, port city and perhaps another time we will stay and learn more about it.
Salinas, a beach town on the Pacific, was a dichotomy of third-world country and luxury-on-the-cheap. The waterfront is beautiful with a wide-sandy beach lined with ten to fifteen story condominiums. A yacht club lies in the crook of the protected beach. Behind the condos is the more typical small Ecuadorian village. One whole section of town is filled with Ceviché restaurants and is self-called Cevichélandia. A small flat overlooking the ocean would be a welcome respite…but it would take a day or more to get there from the U.S.
Our five days in the Galapagos were a wonderful adventure, and if I had the opportunity I would gladly return. It is expensive to visit and although I am happy I went, I rather doubt I will return. We flew there from Quayaquil, but there are flights from Quito as well. Many people go to the Galapagos by boat and stay on the boat each night; we chose to stay on land.
So, what were my impressions? I had tried to read as much as possible about Ecuador before going, but life being busy, had not even scratched the surface. I had heard enough to be intrigued, however, at the claims of how inexpensive it was and how welcoming for foreigners. In my first day there, I had a taxi driver who told me many things about Ecuador including that any food could be grown there and of course I knew that it is on the Pacific coast, so fresh fish and seafood is available. I realized that the food in this country is so cheap because it’s all local and you can get fresh, healthy food year round.
I found that most of what I’d read about Ecuador as a retirement haven was true, but tempered by the fact that it is a very poor country. If I lived there I would want to spend part of my time working with a local NGO, although that is what I would do no matter where I ended up. Housing and food are very inexpensive compared to the U.S. For the most part, you don’t need heating and cooling if you live in the Andes, and you certainly don’t need heating on the coast. I didn’t check out the medical care, but did note that there were both public and private hospitals in Cuenca.
Throughout the country, even in the Galapagos which is 600 miles off the coast, I was able to get cell phone coverage as well as Wi-Fi connectivity. It was easy to stay in touch with friends back home through e-mail, social media, and my blog.
All in all, I will keep Ecuador on my short-list of possible part-time retirement destinations.
Find the Joy in the Journey, even if you don’t always know where it will take you!