For a few years now, the presence of "strangers" living in and around Cotacachi has become more noticeable. Generally these are retired Americans and Europeans taking refuge in the pleasant climate, the colorful landscape and mainly in the tranquility here. With no regrets they're settling into this privileged place, leaving behind an agitated world of intense stress but also some of the advantages of life in those other lands. They are amiable people who little by little are adapting to the way of life here. Approximately 300 people of American and European nationalities now have their houses and apartments in the city and its environs, each looking for what they most prefer; whether this be country life or city life. In some cases their houses are rustic constructions of wood and adobe earth. However, others prefer brick and cement constructions with extra comforts, and in either case they value having pretty views of the landscape.
The houses preferred by the pensioners cost sometimes as much as 120 thousand dollars and the apartments run around 80 thousand dollars, prices considered by many to be pretty high for this area. Among those benefited by the newcomers are the constructors of new developments which then also provide work for local people- plus there is increased economic opportunity that all of this activity generates for other businesses and markets and especially it seems for restaurants, since the outsiders often meet in these places to chat or set up activities. As negatives, I should mention the rising prices of real estate even for the rental of houses and apartments, and rising labor costs even in the wages for domestic employees. Since the new residents generally pay by the hour and pay closer to the monetary level that is paid in the United States or Europe, these changes have caused malaise between some people of the area. Although some things are affected negatively, optimistically I would say that in the long run the presence of these newcomers generates mostly benefits.
Editorial Opinion article by Renata Barragán
Translated into English by Dan Delgado
Article on New Residents from El Norte newspaper
Published Friday, 4th of May, 2012
Original article can be seen at:
By Jack Moss
2:03 p.m. EDT, September 25, 2011
Life as an expatriate is like being on a permanent vacation. And after a hectic career in Broward County , I really needed it.
For 55 years, I'd been involved in a frantic and restless career in politics, business, civic service and government. Stints as chairman of the county commission, president of the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way, owner of Broward's largest travel agency, chairman of the Children's Services Council and regional director of the state Department of Children and Families were interesting, fun and tiring. My wife, Debbie McClosky, had worked in the courthouse for almost 30 years as a prosecutor and general magistrate. She wanted a change, too.
So, about two years before retirement, I began researching where to live and where to begin a new life outside South Florida. I had to get off the hamster wheel, and knew that I couldn't do it by staying in place. So we moved to Cotacachi, Ecuador, just 17 miles from the equator but still a managable three-hour flight from Miami International Airport . We have 12-hour days of sunshine, a hair cut costs $2, and folks my age are treated with respect.
In short, life is good.
Fortunately, my years in the travel business took me to many parts of the world, and although I wasn't thinking about retirement at the time, those trips left various impressions. The lure of foreign lands has always been of interest. Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama were high on our initial list. Then we added Ecuador, as it kept coming up as the new, smart retirement destination.
Ecuador seemed to meet a lot of our criteria. Weather was a big factor, and Ecuador isn't too hot, not too cold, not too humid and not too dry. We also wanted to stay away from large cities, but still have urban conveniences. Ecuador gave us those options. Living comfortably on our retirement income was a must. Ecuador passed that test with flying colors.
So, we flew there for a couple of weeks and found Cotacachi, a village of 8,000 people nestled in a valley of the Andes. There were about 50 expats living there at the time, so we decided to return the following summer, rent a condominium for a month to give it a test drive.
It worked out well. After a couple of weeks, we began to look at local housing developments. There were options in the mountains just outside of town with beautiful views, and some choices in the village where we could walk to the grocery store, the bakery, the barber, restaurants and other shopping. We found a new 32-unit condominium development under construction that was right in town -- a great location since none of the expats have cars.
Virtually on the spur of the moment, we said, "OK! This is it." We put some money down and said that we will be back in a year.
As the date to relocate came closer, we decided that if it didn't fit into a suitcase, we were not going to bring it to Ecuador. It is hard to imagine seeing your lifetime of "stuff" being sold on the front lawn. We gave a lot to the kids. We suffered through the trauma and eventually moved with 10 suitcases under 50 pounds each, and with Gizmo, our Pomeranian.
Now, two years later, we are still very happy with our decision. Our full-time expat community in Cotacachi is now at 150, and growing. We are on Eastern Standard Time year-round, and with 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness every day, the weather is best described as "eternal spring." It gets down to a brisk mid- to upper-50s in the mornings, and the low- to mid-70s in the afternoons. Most of the day is in the 60s. The two seasons are wet and dry, but it doesn't rain all day in the rainy season, and the dry season has occasional showers.
The biggest surprise is that, much like the other expats, we do not have a car. There is really no need for one. A taxi to anywhere in town is a buck. Yes, the U.S. dollar is the official currency here. We have learned to get around on local buses or to take taxis. We can hire a bilingual driver and van for $10 an hour to go sightseeing, which when shared by two or three couples is both reasonable and fun.
We live 10 short minutes from the Pan American Highway, with close access to Otavalo, the city famous for having the largest indigenous market in the hemisphere. Getting there is a 25-cent bus ride or five bucks in a taxi. Ibarra, the capital of our province, is 30 minutes away, where there is a large supermarket and other conveniences.
Cotacachi is referred to as being tranquil. The local people are about evenly divided between the mestizos and the indigenous. The indigenous residents still wear their native costumes and speak both Spanish and Quicha, the dialect of the Andes.
The villages of the Andes are "craft" villages, with each one having a different product such as clothing, hats, furniture, masks, shamans and wood carvings. Cotacachi is the leather capital of Ecuador. We have a leather college and about 75 shops with high-quality leather goods -- wallets, purses, shoes and boots, belts, briefcases, suitcases and even hand-tooled saddles. The streets are filled with tourists on weekends. Several times a month, there are festivals -- seems like the locals celebrate everything, from their conquest over the Spanish to street dances that ensure a good corn crop.
It's cheap to live here. The minimum wage in Ecuador is $260 a month, and the property tax on our condo is $52 a year. Water and sewer cost about $2.80 a month, which includes garbage collection five days a week. Our electric bills run about $35 a month, a far cry from FPL
Locally grown fruits and vegetables at the open-air market are very inexpensive. For $1, you can buy a pint of fresh berries, 10 tomatoes, 10 onions or the largest cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli that you have ever seen. On the other hand, electronics, appliances and other imported goods are expensive. We paid $72 for a hair blower that costs about $19 in the United States. We have friends who live here for as little as $1,000 to $1,200 a month. You can have a three-course dinner for $4 at a local restaurant, or spend $50 at La Mirage, our five-star Chateaux & Relais restaurant and spa at the edge of town.
Although there are no "early birds" in the restaurants, senior citizens are treated with respect and dignity. Discounts are given for property taxes and utility bills, and we even receive a 50 percent discount on all airline tickets, making the round-trip from Ecuador to Miami less than $300.
Recently, we were able to sign up for the Ecuador Social Security program, which includes health insurance. For $57 a month per person, we have physician visits, medications, hospitalization, eye glasses and dental care, all free with no deductible or co-payments. In fact, Quito, the country's capital, has world-class health care, but where we are, I guess it can be best described as medicine practiced in America about 10 to 15 years ago. Also, many of the physicians do not speak English, so a translator is needed. Some use Google Translate, as the appointments are not rushed.
Communication with family and friends back in the States is easy. Email works well, and we use the MagicJack phone system, which for about $1 a month gives us a Broward (754) area code, a number and unlimited time. The phone is attached to the computer, so we talk to family and friends as if we were still living in Broward County. We have DirecTV and access to most U.S. programs. We keep up to date on FOX News, watch the NFL and other professional sports and HBO movies, although Otavalo has English movies every Wednesday, and Debbie has SpongeBob Squarepants to keep her entertained.
What do we miss about South Florida? Variety would be a catch-all word. Restaurant choices are limited, and we don't have a Publix down the street. Museums and cultural attractions are sparse outside of Quito.
On the other hand, our social life seems to be much busier, as the expats frequently gather for meals in each other's homes, get together for bridge and other card games, special dinners for special events or a night out at a restaurant. We do local, one-day sightseeing trips, and some take more time to explore the country. Next spring, we hope to get a group together to explore the Amazon, which is only a five-hour drive from our home.
We may live in a Third World region, but we are not out of this world. As time goes on, we are learning the language, local customs and getting used to both the conveniences and inconveniences of living in another country with a very different culture. We are so far away, but yet so close.
Jack Moss is a former Broward County Commissioner and longtime administrator with the Florida Department of Children and Families. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Imagine life in the slow lane, days spent savoring each moment without the heavy burden of stress that so many in the contemporary world experience. That can best describe what expat life is like in Cotacachi, Ecuador, a small but growing town in the Andes Mountains. My wife and I moved to South America in May, 2009 to begin a new life and have not looked back.
A typical day for us consists of waking to the sun as opposed to an alarm clock. No day can begin without a cup of hot, fresh Colombian coffee and a check of the Internet to see what is happening in the world. After our bodies are satisfactorily awake, it is time for a walk or a jog. Mornings in Cotacachi are sunny, crisp, peaceful, and beautiful, and a morning jaunt is just what the doctor ordered for a dose of fresh air in the lungs. During the course of our morning outing, we often run into and visit with friends who are also enjoying the mountain scenery. Once we have returned home and showered, it is time for an early lunch.
Cotacachi is blessed with a year round growing season and has an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at the local market. Avocados are our favorite, and an every other day trip to the market keeps us well stocked with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, bananas, grapes, and virtually any other produce you can think of. Very few expats own a car here. It's simply not necessary. We always walk home from the market with our bag full or take a $1.00 taxi ride.
Eating healthy in Ecuador is quite easy. For lunch we often make a salad with lettuce, onion, beans, tuna, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and avocados. After lunch, it is time to break out the Kindle to read a book and allow our food to settle. We are able to choose from a library of thousands of titles, so we are never without something interesting to read. All that mental exertion often leads to a mid-afternoon nap. When hunger sets in by late afternoon, we are off to one of the many good restaurants in Cotacachi for a meatloaf sandwich, pizza, trout, or the local specialty, carne colorado.
The length of the days stay the same year round and darkness falls around 6:30. Evenings are usually reserved for expat get-togethers or possibly watching a movie. Satellite TV with HBO, Cinemax, and many other English channels are available, and DVD's cost a dollar at any video store.
Typical days as described above are interspersed with frequent day trips. The city of Otavalo, 10 minutes away, is the scene of one of the world's largest craft markets. Ibarra, 40 minutes away, has a shopping area with a well stocked supermarket, restaurants, and stores for home furnishings, hardware and clothing. Not far from Ibarra, the town of Chachimbiro has warm mineral springs ideal for relaxation and soaking tired muscles. There are also several lakes in the area with great restaurants, fishing, and water sports. South of Cotacachi is the Guayabamba zoo with Speckled Bears, Galapagos turtles, and Andean condors.
Becoming an expat in Cotacachi, Ecuador brings with it many rewards for those searching for an alternative to the high stress modern lifestyle. An opportunity to slow the pace of life and stop and smell the roses awaits those who make the move.
Cotacachi is a small town with a population of around 8,000, nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. With a low cost of living, an ideal year round climate and infrastructure necessary for a high standard of living, Cotacachi is rapidly becoming a haven for expats from North America and Europe searching for a slower paced and less stressful lifestyle. It is possible to live comfortably in Cotacachi for $1,000 per month, including rent.
The cost of renting an apartment ranges from $300 - $350 per month for a basic furnished Ecuadorian style unit, to around $500 - $600 per month for a comfortable house or townhouse with high speed Internet, satellite television, electricity, gas and water included.
A wide variety of basic food items, such as rice, potatoes, quinoa, and so on, are very inexpensive and can be purchased locally. Processed items, including spaghetti sauces, peanut butter and candy bars are available at the much larger and well stocked “Supermaxi” supermarket in the city of Ibarra, about 40 minutes away. Most imported goods are quite expensive in Ecuador. An average monthly food bill for a couple runs around $300 - $400.
Eating out in Cotacachi is very inexpensive with lunch at a local Ecuadorian restaurant costing about $2.00 and a meal at a more touristy establishment running around $6.00 per person with drinks included.
Few expats own a car due to the availability of buses and taxis. A taxi anywhere within the city costs $1.00, and a 40 minute bus ride to Ibarra will set you back 45 cents. The fare for the longer 2-hour journey to Quito by bus is $2.00.
Given the low cost of living, it is entirely possible to live a very comfortable lifestyle in the town of Cotacachi on an annual income of less than $12,000. For those retirees on a fixed income or anyone looking for an alternative to the stress-filled rat race of modern life, living in Cotacachi, Ecuador may be just the ticket to a comfortable international lifestyle.