Columnists / Travel

Ecuador is safe and rich in culture; weather and rent are temperate

Quito, capital of Ecuador, García Moreno street in the historic centre of the city. The Virgin of Quito is seen in the background. Photo by Cayambe, Wikimedia Commons

I have no great desire to live year-round in a place other than Montreal. My community, my grandchildren, my friends (and Ollie the Dog) enrich my life. But the thought of a long-term stay, say three or four months during the worst (and most dangerous) months of our winter, is mighty appealing.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the magazine International Living, Ecuador is considered the No. 1 spot to retire.

Ecuador is a paradise for budget-controlled retirees and a way to experience another culture safely. The breathtaking Galapagos Islands, the Amazon rainforests and the Andean central valleys give meaning to the expression “value added,” with more than enough to keep a traveler engaged for four months.

The capital, Quito, is a short flight from Los Angeles or Miami and flights to those latter destinations are regular and affordable from Montreal, making Ecuador accessible. We even share the same time zone.

I contacted Panama City-based Kathleen Peddicord, former editor and publisher of the International Living group, who now publishes the Live and Invest Overseas e-letter and organizes conferences. This exuberant and bubbly 50-year-old maven also writes weekly blogs for the U.S. News & World Reports and the Huffington Post.

“The biggest drive for Ecuador is that it’s really cheap … the cheapest place in the Americas,” she said. “You can live very comfortably on $1,500 a month in Cuenca.” And Cuenca—440 kilometres south of Quito—is the place to consider for a long-term stay.

“That cost would include an American standard apartment with a 24-hour doorman. … It would likely have a gym and high standards of finishing in the kitchen and in the rest of the apartment.”

Apartments in older but acceptable buildings fetch half the price. That’s a max of $1,000 a month for accommodations, with the rest for entertainment and food, and a little extra for shopping.

Cuenca, a city of 450,000, is nestled in a valley and celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is considered the cultural centre of Ecuador, offering orchestral presentations, plays, tango shows, art exhibits and various cuisines, features that draw foreigners learning Spanish. As the former Inca and Spanish capital, the city retains the cultural influences of its indigenous Indian populations and its Spanish conquerors.

In historic Centro, markets bustle with colourful and traditionally dressed Ecuadorians selling fresh food and goods.

“But you have to remember,” Peddicord said, “Ecuador is still a Third World country. For many people there is a culture shock. Amenities and services are still more limited and less reliable. Life is still going to be frustrating at times. It can drive you crazy. Sometimes you look around and you ask yourself, ‘Why are they doing it that way?’ ”

To succeed in Ecuador, Peddicord contended, “You have to have an open mind and a sense of humour. And you still have to have enough Spanish to get by. It’s still an underdeveloped country … it’s not like living in an English-speaking country.”

The city enjoys a relatively even 21C to 25C temperature without much seasonal change—it’s spring year-round. Some seniors would marvel at the area’s mild weather, since many recoil at places with too hot a climate. The rainy season, beginning in January and ending in May, shouldn’t deter visitors because, according to Ecuadorian blogger Suzan Haskins “there’s seldom an all-day rainy day.”

Peddicord does not advise renting an apartment via the Internet. “Very often apartments are over- or under-represented online,” she said. “The pictures may look good, but once you see the apartment it may not appear like what you saw.

“If you don’t like it, the landlord will say: too bad you’ve lost your deposit and your first month.” She advises long-termers to book a hotel in the Centro area “for the first few days and shop around, ask expats, walk the areas you might want to live in and take a look at the ones advertising.”

While it has its share of petty crime and pick pocketing, there is little violent crime in Cuena. It also boasts world standards in health services, with one hospital associated with a counterpart in Boston.

But take my advice; your best bet is to stay fit. Hike the trails in the national park close to the city.

mmedicoff@videotron.ca

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