El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Photo Essay: 3 Mountain Retreats in Ecuador

By Suzan Haskins
Friends in Ecuador couldn’t decide between the mountains and the beach. So they chose both. Because Ecuador may be the most affordable expat haven ever, you can do that here. For $114,000 total, our friends bought two condos—one beachfront and one with a mountain view. And their monthly expenses are less than $900.

But if you're sure you want a mountain view all the time, here's what you need to know.
Most expats in Ecuador choose Cuenca...and most of those tend to settle within walking distance of Cuenca’s colonial center. The heart of this is the tree-shaded Parque Calderon, where musicians play in the bandstand, street vendors sell tasty treats, and you’re surrounded by some of the city’s historic monuments, like the Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, also called the "New Cathedral." Its blue-tiled domes are Cuenca’s most-photographed landmark.
Cuenca is a city of almost half a million people, so you’ll find everything you’d expect in a city that size: modern supermarkets and shopping malls, good hospitals and clinics with well-trained medical staff, and plenty of intriguing restaurants and cultural activities…sporting events, art galleries, musical and theatrical performances, and more. The growing expat community is well organized and quick to offer advice and fellowship, with several English-speaking get-togethers every week.
If a large city isn’t your cup of tea, you might want to check out Imbabura province—and especially the small artisan village of Cotacachi, two hours north of Quito. Tucked between two volcanoes, Cotacachi’s majestic mountain views are gob-smacking.

With a population of only about 8,000 people, this little village also attracts its share of expats—about 400 live here now. There’s little traffic so the air is eucalyptus-scented fresh and you can get plenty of exercise on the clean, walkable streets. While you won’t find city-type cultural events, there are plenty of colorful local fiestas to keep you busy.

Vilcabamba, in southern Ecuador, is even more rural and with even more staggering views, if such a thing is possible.
At a lower elevation than Cuenca or Cotacachi (which enjoy average daytime temperatures in the mid-70s) the climate is a bit warmer in Vilcabamba, which is also known as the "Valley of Longevity." Long, healthy lives are common and many of the locals live well into their 100s. Whether that’s thanks to the clean, mineral-rich water, the pure air or the fact that just about any kind of healthy food grows plentifully here, there’s no doubt that Vilcabamba offers a perfect lifestyle for the nature lover or anyone looking to lower their stress levels.

These cities and towns are only the tip of the mountain, of course. (No icebergs or snow here.) And these are only the most popular mountain towns…along with Quito, one of my all-time favorites. If you’re a beach lover, you’ll want to explore Salinas, Manta, Bahia de Caraquez...and little fishing and surfer villages beyond and between.

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