Moving to Ecuador? You've got my vote of support! I was lucky enough to live in Ecuador for 2.5 years. Even after all that time, I cried like a baby when my work contract was up and it was time for me to move on. I didn't pick Ecuador, my job as a Peace Corps volunteer sent me there, but I am so thankful it did.
South America has so much to offer and much of its biodiversity can be found right here in Ecuador. Although a tiny country, Ecuador has everything: the Amazon Rainforest, Andes Mountains, Pacific Ocean, and the Galapagos Islands. While the roads might mean it'll take you a bit longer than you might hope to go from Point A to Point B, in just 1 week I was in all 4 of these ecosystems without completely breaking the budget or spending all of my time in transport.
So, if you're dreaming of living in Ecuador, I can understand why. While I won't recommend the town I lived in (I loved it, yes, but it was a teeny tiny town near the Peruvian border that doesn't offer too much to expat families), these 4 best places to live in Ecuador I know and love and can't recommend enough.
At a quick glance, I'd recommend living in:
- Puerto Lopez
Cuenca, like Medellín, Colombia, is known as the "city of eternal spring" thanks to its pleasant year-round weather. If you don't like it too hot or too cold, Cuenca will already win some points in your book. You can expect a slightly lower cost of living here than compared to coastal cities and Quito.
Cuenca is located in the south of the country in the Andes Mountains. When I lived in Ecuador, Cuenca was my go-to destination to get out of the small town I was living in and relax for a weekend. Its stunning architecture, peaceful river, and vibrant local markets really have that effect on you.
If you love hiking, you'll be happy to know you're only a quick drive away from Las Cajas National Park, one of my favorite places to visit in Ecuador. The biosphere at this national park is super unique and it has loads of hiking trails, all different from each other.
Although 3 of the places I recommend on this list are mountain cities, Cuenca is easily my favorite. It's worth noting though that most of the expats that choose to live in Cuenca are retirees so much of the expat community is older here.
Quito, Ecuador's capital city, is also in the Andes but sits in the north of the country. Like Cuenca, it has a mild, spring-like climate but does tend to get a little colder than its southern neighbor. Sitting at 9,350 feet above sea level, or 2,850 meters, it's the second highest capital city in the entire world. While that alone might be surprising - what's even more so to me is the city itself feels like it's in a valley, surrounded by much higher peaks all around.
Quito isn't the largest city in Ecuador (that's Guayaquil) but it is the largest on this list. Living in Quito will introduce you to a much wider social circle, with expats and locals alike. Unlike the mostly retired community in Cuenca, in Quito you'll find more young professionals making up a pretty large expat community.
What's great about living in the capital is that you'll have more than enough things to do. There are great restaurants, beautiful historic sites, and plenty of parks but do know that the city itself can be hard to get around thanks to traffic. The cost of living is higher here but it's a trade-off with having more modern conveniences and entertainment options.
Since the Peace Corps Ecuador office is in Quito, I was lucky enough to visit this city often. I spent much of my "tourist time" in Centro Histórico but also in Guápulo, La Floresta, and La Mariscal. Just know that living in Quito's city center, just like living in any big city, means bigger safety concerns and being smart about paying attention to your surroundings.
Loja is another mountain town in Ecuador that expats tend to fall in love with. Loja is situated in the south of Ecuador, even closer to Peru than Cuenca is. This small city is the perfect place for those that prefer living in a quiet environment with easy access to nature.
The climate in Loja is generally warmer than that of other mountain cities in Ecuador but still come prepared for some chilly days and nights. Nature lovers looking for a much more affordable cost of living will love Loja. It's important to note though that the expat community is much smaller here than in other parts of the country. But, although it's small, it's still lively and inclusive. Here, you can expect to have more local friends than expat ones which can be a huge perk.
Known as Ecuador's cultural capital of music, this town tends to attract artists, retirees, and digital nomads that prefer a laid-back lifestyle.
Ok, it was really hard to narrow down all the beautiful beaches on Ecuador's Pacific Coast to recommend one to live in. I chose Puerto Lopez because personally, if I were to move back to Ecuador, I would move either here or to a small beach town nearby, like Ayampe.
Puerto Lopez, in my opinion, provides a nice mix of all the modern conveniences with stunning nature - mainly in nearby Machalilla National Park. Plus, with its central location, you can visit other coastal cities in just a short, scenic drive.
It's important to know though that although Puerto Lopez attracts plenty of foreign visitors each year, the town is relatively calm and relaxed. It doesn't have a big party scene like nearby Montañita, which could be a good or bad thing for you based on what you're looking for. The expat and digital nomad community is quite small here so expect to make local friends or put in the effort of seeking out the expat families who live in or nearby Puerto Lopez.
If you prefer living in a larger coastal city, head north to Manta or south to Salinas but for me, my vote would be for Puerto Lopez.
Before You Move to Ecuador
Now that you have an idea about where you want to live in Ecuador, there are a few other things you should know before you make the move.
Forget seasons! In Ecuador, you have the strange ability to choose the weather you like and get it all year round, with a little more or less rain sprinkled in.
This is the same for all countries on or near the equator - the weather you enjoy is based on altitude and little else. So, the higher in the mountains you go, the colder it’ll be all year; and the lower you go in the jungle and on the coast, the hotter it stays.
This makes choosing the best time to visit Ecuador easier but it is something you need to know if moving to Ecuador - what you choose is what you get!
The Reality of Visas
Unfortunately for those who work online, Ecuador isn't one of the countries with freelance visas allowing digital nomads to legally live and work from here. Instead, you'll need to take another route to legally live in Ecuador.
Most nationalities are given 90 days visa-free to travel and soak up the scenery here but if you wish to stay longer, you'll need to apply for a temporary residency permit which can later turn into a permanent residency permit. This is applicable for all of those who wish to work, study, or retiree in Ecuador.
Keep in mind that if you've gotten a job in Ecuador, you'll need to apply for a work visa (or ideally your work will handle this for you). To study, you'll need a student visa, and to live here as a retiree, you can apply for a retirement visa.
The requirements for each will depend on what exactly you're doing in the country but luckily, the process isn't as challenging as other countries.
The Culture & Language Hurdle
Ecuador is a Spanish speaking nation and from experience, you'll need to know (or be willing to learn) Spanish to really integrate into life here. While in big cities and touristic areas it's possible to find people that know the basics of English, a vast majority of Ecuadorians do not speak Spanish.
Luckily, the accent isn't too hard to understand so it can be a really great place to learn. I recommend getting a headstart on the process and use the app Mondly to start learning before you go. Once there, enroll in a language school and make a real effort to practice with locals. Know that while they speak Spanish, their vocabulary is mixed in with Quichua, the language of the Inca Empire. This is especially true in small mountain towns, so know that you might pick up some vocabulary you can't use outside of the country.
From my experience the culture you'll find all throughout South America is warm and welcoming towards foreigners. People are genuinely curious about what foreigners are doing in the country, especially those that have chosen to live there. Be open and forthcoming and trust me, you'll make friends quickly. The women at the market will soon start to give you deals (la yapa) and ask you questions that might feel too personal but are coming from the right place. (I'm thinking about your marital status, if you have kids, your job, your family, etc.)
It can be tough to see this side of Ecuadorian culture if you only speak English though. Even just speaking a small sliver of Spanish will take you a long way here.
I don't want to ignore the elephant in the room and that's safety. In the past few years, Ecuador has become increasingly less safe. With more political turmoil, drug trafficking, and violent crimes, there's no denying the reality.
Now, that doesn't mean every corner of the street means danger. It does mean though, as my dad says, you need to "keep your head on a swivel." Use street smarts, trust your gut, and when in doubt, ask a local. From my experience, Ecuadorians are incredibly kind and will want to help their (naive in their eyes) foreigner friend.
Unless you’re provided local health insurance with your job, I always recommend going prepared with travel insurance.
How Long to Stay
While I loved living in Ecuador, it's not all rainbows and butterflies. Ok, there are a lot of actual rainbows and butterflies here but metaphorically speaking, you'll face some challenges. Outside of big cities, the infrastructure is lacking, the litter on the side of the road and in beautiful stretches of land can be disheartening, and the political situation is, um, let's say, troubling.
Knowing how long to stay can feel like a challenging question to answer. In general, I think there are incredible reasons to move to Ecuador, ones that will want to keep you planted in the country for years to come but you might also be keen to see how things change and what the future holds.
As for me, I can't stay still (Ecuador and Vietnam are the only 2 countries I've stayed in for more than 2 years the past decade!) so my vote is to try it out for a few years and see where that takes you. Luckily, if you snag permanent residency, you can leave the country for extended periods of time without it being revoked.
Where Will You Live in Ecuador?
With a rich culture, incredible biodiversity, bustling cities and sleepy towns, there's a lot to love about living in Ecuador. As one of my favorite countries in all of Latin America, Ecuador holds a special place in my heart.
It's the first country outside of the US I truly called home. Iit taught me Spanish, it heightened my passion for nature, and it taught me that all you need are a few friends and a case of semi-cold beer to have an incredibly fun night. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's not, but I for one think you'll love living in Ecuador - you just need to choose where!
All photos courtesy of depositphotos.com