By Dean LaCoursiere
Summary: After years of exploring Central and South America, LaCoursiere found his paradise - Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador.
After years of travelling and exploring in Central and South America searching for a retirement location that is warm, friendly, safe, economical, naturally beautiful and above all... a little off the beaten track, I've done it!
I have found such a place -- Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador! It is located just 40 miles South of the equator on the estuary of the Rio Chone. 'Bahia' as it is know to Ecuadorians is a quiet tourist town that primarily caters to the middle and upper class of Quito and Guayaquil that have vacation condos here. The area population is only about 30,000. Don't let the photos of the mid-rise condos fool you, the place has a small town feel. This area is almost completely undiscovered by the rest of the world. Bahia has the lowest crime rate in all of Ecuador, and may be the cleanest as well with daily garbage service.
One may be thinking that because you're on the equator that the weather is hot, sticky, and buggy. But, nothing could be further from the truth -- a pleasant surprise awaits you! Here in Bahia, there has never been a hurricane or tropical storm -- and lightning is extremely rare. Bahia is in a dry tropical belt only about 60 miles wide, there is even cactus growing near here! During what they call the rainy season, we average an hour or two of light rain in the evening per week! The average daytime temperature during these months of December through April is about 85 degrees with moderate humidity. May through November we have very low humidity and daytime temps near 80 degrees. In addition, the daily sea/land breeze pattern means that there's almost always a pleasant breeze. In this area there is a special micro climate caused by the north and south currents meeting. In the off season it is cloudy most mornings and then after a few hours of sunshine the clouds and comfort return. You might even find yourself reaching for a light blanket at night, it's great sleeping weather!
Nowhere else in my travels of 11 Latin countries have I found people so open, friendly, and willing to help. Although they are mostly from very humble backgrounds, you won't be panhandled or hustled like you may have experienced in other more popular destinations. You'll feel safe and welcome walking the streets of Bahia day or night. You'll likely have people trying out their few words of English as you visit. Tour the city on foot in an hour or take one of the tricycle taxis that are a nice alternative to cars. Things to do include going to the local beaches that slope gently into the water, safe for children and the elderly in most conditions with usually only small waves, or beaches with flat water on the bay side of the malecon. Go water skiing in the bay side, sail boarding in gentle steady wind, and of course fishing! 15 miles up the coast in the rustic surfer-town of Canoa there are hang-gliding and surfing lessons available. At times here in Bahia the waves are perfect for long boarding, low and slow! For the ecology minded there are many eco-projects to view or become involved with. Some say this place is 'for the birds' and this is true, there are many eco-tours including a trip to the Isla Corazon bird sanctuary. Not far away seasonal whale-watching excursions are waiting for the adventurous. In all my travel, I have found Ecuador to be the most inexpensive travel destination where you would actually want to live -- plus we use the U.S. dollar here as currency. The prices in the local restaurants, and also the rest of Ecuador, are very low. You can order an almuerzo (set menu lunch) which includes soup, salad, rice, beans, with fish, meat, or chicken, and a fresh juice for $1.50. A large beer (600 ml) only costs $1 in most places. Ecuador is world famous for inexpensive Spanish schools and there is one here as well.
Here I feel it is especially attractive for those on a limited budget or those who what to retire early and enjoy a tranquil life by the ocean. For less than people pay for an RV you could own a house or condominium by or near the ocean. What kind of life can you have in the USA, Canada or Europe on $1,000 a month? Here you would have to think of ways to spend that much! An $800 a month pension or a $25,000 investment in a bank CD or real estate qualifies you for residency -- it's easy! A lot of people become tired with hot tropical weather. Here it is near perfect with air conditioning seldom needed depending on the location and construction of the building you are in. I found in the higher elevations of Ecuador like Cuenca, most older people find the altitude makes them uncomfortable doing even light exercise -- even climbing stairs is dreaded. In Bahia, there are no noisy polluting buses like Quito and very few cars. The land is almost completely flat, which is great for bicycling. You can walk anywhere, too. The majority of people here, like elsewhere in Ecuador, earn low wages even at the professional level. This will insure you a low cost of living for basic things like rent, food, health care and domestic help. To get someone to work for you, expect to pay $6-10/day for laborers/domestic help, and $20-30/day for journeymen level. Ecuador is a county that exports oil -- this is where you want to be! The government subsidizes the price of gasoline -- currently for the last two years at $1.48 a gal.
Bahia was a boomtown in the early 90's until a disastrous El Nino and then an earthquake occurred in 1998. With some foreign help they reconstructed and decided to make Bahia an 'Eco-City'. Now those problems are behind and with the new bridge project I feel the time is right to get in before real estate prices start going up again. Europeans won't believe how cheap it is here with the strength of the Euro vs. the dollar. Ecuador being such a diverse country in such a small area the variety of things to see and do will insure that you will not become bored like many island inhabitants. We are less than 90 mins. from the provincial capital of Puerto Viejo where there are US-style supermarkets and most everything you need including jet service to Quito. Almost the same amount of time takes you to the bustling port city of Manta, the tuna capital of Ecuador and their famous malecon with superb seafood! You can travel here in 8 hours from Quito on the Reina de Camino bus line or fly to Puerto Viejo or Manta in 30 mins. and take a taxi or bus from there. There is a seasonally operated airport across the bay in San Vicente that handles commercial jets. Because of the distance to get here and the lack of luxury infrastructure (sorry, no golf) there is not much international tourism -- just surfers and the backpack set. If your dreams of retirement include budget living by the ocean in a foreign land, this small part of the world merits your consideration.
Drawbacks (or a plus) for some is the fact that there aren't many foreigners living here yet. Cultural activities exist, but are limited. One Australian woman started a hostel and an American with his Colombian wife have a restaurant-bar combined with a yacht moorage. There are a number of 'yachties' that hang out and enjoy what is probably one of the cheapest and safest moorages to be found. For myself, I started a little bed and breakfast to keep busy and meet new and interesting people. I welcome correspondence to answer any questions. I have knowledge of and have seen almost all of Ecuador, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit my website ecohostalbahia.com.
First Published: Jun 14, 2008