Adventure Travel In Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador

Adventure Travel In Ecuador

The World’s Best Place To Retire Well On A Tiny Budget

We made a sharp turn off a small country road into the brush and started to climb. After a brief pause to shift into four-wheel-drive, we continued climbing through fields of lemons, bananas, and finally sugar cane. The road narrowed and then disappeared as we entered a clearing at the top of the mountain. The Land Cruiser crawled over a deep bed of discarded sugar cane stalks, and we pulled to a stop in front of an old open-sided, tin-roofed building that housed an ancient cane press powered by an antique Briggs and Stratton engine. Just behind this enclosure we could see the tell-tale wisp of wood smoke indicating the presence of a “still” just out of sight. An old man was back at the still, tending a wood fire under a used 55-gallon oil drum as a clear, anise-scented Mallorca sugar cane liquor dripped from the other end. We all gathered on wooden stools around the still and sampled the hot cane liquor as it dripped from the copper tubing.

This was why I came to Ecuador.

Sure, the cost of living here is low, no question, but, living in Ecuador, my wife and I enjoyed so much more than super-low costs. As you walk the old cobblestone streets, marvel at the historic Spanish architecture, and admire the grandeur of Ecuador‘s colonial churches, you’ll know that you’re not in Kansas anymore.Lots of retirement destinations tout the fact that they’re just like the United States—that you can settle in to familiar surroundings—but you won’t hear that about Cuenca, Ecuador.Each day you spend in this city, you’re very aware that you’re in a different and wonderful part of the planet. In fact—even after five years living there—I’d frequently stop, look at my surroundings, and marvel at the fact that I was living such a life. The thrill of being in this old Spanish capital never wore off.If you’re looking for the world’s best place to retire overseas on a budget—to live better for less—then Cuenca will be almost impossible to beat. In a nutshell, here’s why:

  • It’s a beautiful colonial city in a fascinating and diverse country…
  • The cost of living is low, and the cost of properties is near rock bottom in Latin America
  • The health care is high-quality, honest, and inexpensive…
  • You can enjoy its fresh, spring-like climate 12 months of the year…
  • Cuenca’s large and growing expat community is one of Latin America’s most diverse and well-blended…

These are bold statements, and you’re right to be skeptical. So let’s take a look at the realities of life in Cuenca.The historic center measures roughly 12 by 20 blocks—large but manageable. Most of the streets are cobblestone, and are hemmed in by Spanish Colonial buildings that seldom exceed three stories.Downtown Cuenca is in a generally good state of preservation, considering the original adobe construction. And today’s Cuenca boasts a large number of cafés, restaurants, bars, and bookshops, alongside the traditional butchers, tailors, repair shops, clothing stores, and wonderful-smelling bakeries.Traffic in Cuenca can be congested, and I find it much easier to walk downtown than drive. Buses are not permitted near the town square, but where they are permitted, they can be frequent, fast, and noisy. Keep that in mind when property shopping.The city is built around its beautiful town square, anchored by the original cathedral at one end (built 1557), and the “new” cathedral (1800s) at the other end, with traditional Spanish arches around much of the square.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this former Inca capital still retains a prominent Andean-indigenous influence… with a number of colorful, open-air markets where women in their traditional hats—and brightly-colored, embroidered full skirts—bring their food and wares for sale.But of course the stronger cultural influence is Spanish, which dominates the local customs, architecture, government structure, and society norms.There are other colonial cities in Ecuador, but Cuenca is the cultural heart of the country. You can attend the orchestra or a play, enjoy a tango show or an art opening, in this center of art and literature; and these activities are usually free.Cuenca is also a popular destination for international tourists and a large number of language students. They bring an extra vitality to the city, as well as more than its share of “international” amenities, from Indian restaurants to English bookshops and Middle Eastern hookah lounges.Best of all, Cuenca is in Ecuador. It’s one of the most beautiful and diverse countries on the planet. Aside from Cuenca, Ecuador boasts the Amazon Rainforest, the Galápagos Islands, hundreds of miles of coastline, and the beautiful Andean central valleys… When I retired abroad, I wanted to have a rich and interesting life wherever I chose to settle. I wanted to travel and explore. In this regard, I can tell you from personal experience, you won’t beat Ecuador. It’s not only rich with adventure travel opportunities, but it’s also one of the world’s most economical places to travel.Gasoline in Ecuador is only US$2.40 per gallon. Hotels are inexpensive, and public transportation is available to every corner of this diverse country. I’ve explored the Andean highlands from top to bottom, from the woodcrafters of San Antonio to the leather crafters of Cotacachi, the guitar makers of San Bartolomé, and even the cane liquor stills of El Oro. I’ve traveled from the high, snow-capped peaks in the north to the hidden Valley of Longevity in the south. I’ve lived the wonders of the Amazon rain forest with an indigenous tribe and explored brilliant, secret beaches far from the tourist trail in the Galapagos Islands. When you retire to Ecuador, this world will be at your doorstep. Take it from me. Retire in Ecuador, and you won’t have to settle for afternoons of playing checkers on the square. Unless, of course, that’s the lifestyle you’re after. In that case, I can recommend some great outdoor cafés in Cuenca… Sincerely, Lee Harrison signature Lee HarrisonLatin America Correspondent

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