Summary: Expats share some of their favorite places to live in Ecuador from beautiful colonial cities to affordable beach towns.
Deciding Where to Live in Ecuador
Deciding where to live in Ecuador can take some time and travel, but you can narrow down your possible destinations by knowing your priorities -- such as proximity to beach, mountains, quality healthcare, nightlife, work and preferences in terms of climate, privacy, security, expat or non-expat areas. "Come for 3 to 4 weeks to see if you will like the country and city before making permanent immigration plans," advised one expat in Bahia de Caraquez. "Choose an area of interest since Ecuador is so bio-diverse. Come for a visit, then if that works out, come for an extended stay to look around further. If you find something you love whenever you are here, go for it. If not, then just rent until you do. This does not have to be a one size fits all option," advised one expat.
Expats are the experts when it comes to learning about expat life in various cities and towns along the coast and interior of Ecuador. If you have additional destinations to add to our list, please take a few minutes to write about your favorite places in the comment section below.
Inland Cities in Ecuador Popular Among Expats
If you prefer inland cities, here are several non-coastal cities and towns that are popular among expats in Ecuador:
With approximately 700,000 residents, Cuenca, Ecuador is a beautiful inland city in southern Ecuador. Cuenca is about 9 hours by car south of Quito. An expat living in Cuenca described the city as, "This city has a little of everything. The old and the new blend very well indeed. Lots of great restaurants, lots of music the weather is the best, the mountains are breathtaking, the prices for me are just right. I really have everything here I could ever wish for." Another expat said, "Cuenca has a lot going for it as far as the arts. There are always free concerts that you can attend in the city. Art festivals, choirs, orchestras you name it. This is a very family oriented society and life revolves around the family. My local business colleagues are always spending time with their families on the weekends and we should learn from them. They have a wonderful network of family around them. Religious events are a time for parades, church and other activities."
"I would recommend Cuenca. Not as big as Quito and easier to get around in. Cool at night though and rainy at times. Not all day but afternoons during rainy season. Somewhat European in nature. Rent is very inexpensive and a lot of choices to get you away from the noise. Drivers about like New York City but not as bad as you describe. Pretty clean city and a new trolley car system is replacing a lot of diesel buses," advised another expat.
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In his article, Cotacachi, Ecuador - An Up and Coming Expat Destination, Gary Kesinger described Cotacachi as, "Cotacachi, Ecuador is a town on the move. While a few years ago, it was a little-known village that catered to tourists intent on buying leather products, it is now becoming a popular destination for retirees and others searching for a low cost place to live. The year-round spring like climate and mountain scenery are attracting expats from around the world. The changes can be seen everywhere. As little as three years ago, there were only a handful of full-time foreign residents. Now, expat-owned restaurants are opening that serve everything from meatloaf to fried chicken and French fries. Gated housing developments are springing up all around town. Social clubs are forming in the expat community around topics ranging from card games to Bible study." Another expat commented that, "Cotacachi is very small, with not a lot to do, unless you want to watch 'the grass grow', which for a lot of us 60's and 70's gringos is fine. Cuenca is where most gringos go as there is a big social scene as well as the beach. It's all about personal preference!"
"There is a gringo sports bar, a pretty decent jazz and blues club and just a gringo hangout place. Lots of local places to eat and one 5 star resort with a great European (French) restaurant. Prices about 1/3 of US. Rents are no longer that great and most of the developments are sold out. Still a great place to live and centrally located, 2 hrs to Colombia 2 hrs to Quito. As I said come on down and enjoy. Oh yea, lots of very comfortable rentals available," said another expat who offered an up-to-date report about life in Cotacachi.
Quito, Ecuador has an estimated population of around 2.5 million and is located in the northern highlands of Ecuador. If you are planning to work while living in Ecuador, Quito should be on your short list. "The city has all sorts of businesses and industries, but most expats will find quick employment in some sort of education job. The universities have many opportunities for those with degrees and the English institutes are always looking for native English speakers. Small business owners find it hard to get started here, but some do very well," advised one expat.
An expat living in Quito said, "Be prepared for pollution and robbery problems. Quito also has a large traffic issue and makes it hard to get around at busy hours of the day. The altitude is sometimes hard for people with asthma or the elderly. In general, it's still a small city and has a friendly welcoming attitude. It's easy to get away on weekends and go to the mountains for fresh air. The night life is fun and exciting in the Mariscal area. I would research the city really well before renting or buying. Find the safer neighborhoods like Quito, Tenis or Gonzalez Suarez where there are many other expats. Quito is very diverse. We have a growing Asian community as well as a large expat community. The Quitenos are very nice and accepting of other cultures and people. The Latinos in general do not mix classes (the city is separated into neighborhoods of different classes.)"
One expat recommended Vilcabamba saying, "I suggest Vilcabamba, the valley of longevity, in southern Ecuador. The elevation is 5000 ft and its about 10 degrees warmer than Cuenca. The city of Loja is about 45 minutes away population 250,000 people... and it has all the modern conveniences..." Another said, "I've lived here over a year and have NO plans to live anywhere else. For us, this is the best country in the world and Vilca is the best place in this beautiful country. It depends on how you want to live. We like how quiet and beautiful it is here. The weather is unbeatable with more sun than anywhere in Ecuador and the air quality, if that happens to be on importance is awesome. Fresh from the Amazon. That cannot be said for Cuenca. We can grow most of our own food so we know what we're eating. The coldest temperature we've seen is 15C and the hottest was 30C. When/if we feel the need for entertainment, all the major cities are a short flight away or a $15 bus ride from Loja. The population of Vilca is about 5,000 with around 500 expats."
With a population of over 2.5 million, Guayaquil, Ecuador is the largest city in Ecuador. Situated on the Guayas River just upstream from the Gulf of Guayaquil, Guayaquil is another city to put on your short list if you are planning to look for work in Ecuador. "I love my adopted city. Yes, there are dangerous areas, but much of the city is vibrant, and interesting. My family and I have lived here over 13 years now, and I love so many things here. There are many expats here who have lived in Guayaquil for decades, many of them working professionals," explained one expat in Guayaquil. "The government have done an awesome job of developing the riverside (Malecon). It has a theme park feel to it with lots of activities for children (free). There are cafes, sitting areas and park-like settings. Toilets (free) are plentiful along the walk, plenty of rubbish bins and it's spotlessly clean. Yes, there is a significant police presence throughout the entire tourist areas but it's certainly not intimidating and I never was uncomfortable. Day and evening there are literally thousands of people walking the Malecon enjoying the Christmas decorations and festivities. The city has lovely parks and wonderful old buildings and so many other attractions also," said one recent visitor.
If you like heat and humidity, Guayaquil may be the perfect spot. One expat said, "Guayaquil is probably my least compatible climate in Ecuador. Daytime temps will be in the high 80's to mid 90's and very humid." Another added, " I lived in Guayaquil for 4 years. It's year round summertime, near the beaches and plenty of things to do. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit."
Coastal Cities of Ecuador
If you prefer coastal cities, here are several beach cities and towns that are popular among expats in Ecuador:
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
With a population of about 19,000, Bahia de Caraquez is a city on the northern coast of Ecuador. "We chose Bahia to live because it is a wonderful little city that is clean and friendly. We also wanted to be at the beach and we love it at Bahia. The market is wonderful, the streets are clean, and the garbage is picked up. Our plan is to learn the language, make friends with the locals and expats," said one expat living in Bahia de Caraquez.
San Clemente, Ecuador
About 30 minutes south of Bahia de Caraquez, you'll find the quaint fishing village of San Clemente, Ecuador. For some, San Clemente is too sleepy. For others, it's paradise. An expat in San Clemente described life there, "We love this small fishing village and the Ecuadorian people are amazing, warm and always anxious to help. We have learned to give up some of the expected conveniences from the States in exchange for our easy, laid back lifestyle. No car, no close by shopping, very little English spoken, but we now speak Spanglish.. lol. Periodic loss of electricity and water, water here is very bad quality but we have had a reverse osmosis system installed so now have excellent pure water right from the sink. Mainly we have learned to expect and accept this way of life where manana does not necessarily mean tomorrow but just not today. Our health has improved, I have lost 35 pounds without dieting, just by being able to eat chemical and additive free foods and fresh air and walks on the beach."
With a population of over 200,000, Manta, Ecuador is home to the largest seaport in Ecuador. An expat in Manta said, "This is a super place to retire and Manta's location is dry and arid. Makes it very healthy and with little rain it's easy to plan many outdoor activities. One needs to smile a lot and it's amazing how a positive outlook spreads." Another said, "As for Manta, it's a developing city. I can give you comparisons, Manta is a place that people are helpful and nicer than Guayaquil. Very rare to see traffic, and drivers are somewhat pedestrian friendly. Yes, transportation is cheap, most rides start at $1 and go up to $2, the most I've paid. I don't know any expats in this area, I might be interested in meeting people here, so I can talk to people in English. I like how people here take siestas seriously, as I do as well for my business. Things I don't like about manta - very few streetlights and drivers like to speed because they claim they have preferencia."
"Do not overlook Montanita. Yes the town itself can be loud and full of young people but you don't have to live in town. Manglaralto south of Montanita is a very quiet town away from the noise of Montanita, but close enough to go to surf and to one of the many restaurants. You can surf in Manglaralto as well. Also to the North is Olon. A little more touristy than Manglaralto but more family oriented. I also know people that surf there every day. The really nice thing about this area is that there is everything here that you need. Lots of tiendas for groceries, lots of variety in restaurants and Montanita is supposed to be the best surfing in Ecuador," reported one expat.
With a population of approximately 50,000, Salinas, Ecuador is another coastal city that is about an hour and a half down the coast from Montanita. "I spent two weeks in Salinas on the coast and it is great. The weather is warmer but not too hot. It cools off comfortably in the evening. The views are great and the people are friendly. There are a lot of expats who are easy to meet and you will make friends quickly. Prices are reasonable and life is positive for those I talked to there," commented one expat. Another member recently announced that travel to and from Salinas has improved. She said, "You can now fly directly to Salinas, Ecuador from Quito! The Paez National Airport in Salinas opened to commercial flights -- with flights to and from QUITO."
"The weather here is great, wardrobe is mostly shorts, sleeveless shirts and sandals. As expected, so much less stress than in the U.S. due to slower pace of life and simplifying daily tasks. The fresh inexpensive seafood, vegetables and fruits you can get at the outdoor markets are wonderful and daily walks on the beach make for a healthy lifestyle," commented one expat.
You Don't Have to Pick One Place to Live in Ecuador
In a discussion about choosing between the coast or the interior regions of Ecuador, an expat shared some great advice that primarily applies to people retiring in Ecuador. He said,
"One thing here in Ecuador you can do is live inland and take long stays by the ocean vs living there all the time. Or you can do the opposite and come up here. Here being 5,000' high in the southern Ecuador Andes. We are less than two hours from the upper upper Amazon yet about four and a half hours from the Pacific. Vilcabamba specifically. Clean air, inexpensive, the village is very international and mildly old/young hippie them'd. Suits me. In local terms we are well off. I get only $1200 from uncle but here I have lots of discretionary $$. I just don't choose to go to the coast (or anywhere else) but I could do several multi week expeditions annually and not notice the cost. You don't have to do one or the other, you can switch back and forth - you should too, that way you can decide. The first six months really don't tell. Like shoes or spouses it takes years til they fit comfy and we know wither or not the rough edges are going to wear down or continue to irritate. Yes, it takes years. I was three years in Cuenca and that got old. Now I've been here three and its ok, no urge to leave Vilca. Both are good. Don't cast a decision in stone, remain flexible for years and explore. We are programmed, I think, to root deep and permanent - not appropriate in Ecuador for us at this time of life, not necessary, just habit."
Expats in Guayaquil report a variety of opinions regarding what it's like to live there. It offers a very warm and humid climate for sun lovers, but others find the heat stifling. Similarly, crime is a major concern of some, while others find that it's perfectly acceptable with proper precautions.
Many expats in Cuenca, Ecuador love the city's climate, friendly people and low cost of living. Other expats find that this developing city's bland food, dirty streets and noisy neighborhoods are too much to take.
The earthquake in Ecuador has impacted many areas where our members reside. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Ecuador. We have setup a Check-In and Help Needed thread for our members in Ecuador.