I love my life in Cuenca, Ecuador. I start the morning with a coffee on my terrace, watching the hummingbirds flit around the feeders that I put up and just enjoying the view. A walk to el centro takes me to the little tienda (store) that sells a pound of Loja coffee (really delicious) for only $3.50, then lunch with friends, and maybe a walk along the Rio Tomebamba or an ice cream cone in the picturesque Parque Calderon.
As my retirement was approaching, I began to think about the best way to spend it. I was working as executive director of a substance abuse counseling agency in Hartford, Connecticut and as it came to an end, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to afford the same quality of life in retirement. So I began looking at the option of living overseas.
I had made several trips to Costa Rica and then a friend suggested I check out Ecuador. My first trip, five years ago, took me to Quito and surrounding towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi, then to Banos Ambato and Puyo, and finally to Cuenca. I can honestly say that I had not heard of Cuenca before I started researching my trip…and it was love at first sight.
Cuenca is absolutely beautiful. The architecture is amazing, with the iconic domed New Cathedral serving as the centerpiece. The colors of Ecuador, best seen in the weaving and art work available all over the city, most notably at Plaza San Francisco, and the flower market across the street from the cathedral, are spectacular.
The cost of living was a major consideration in my decision to move to Cuenca. I have a three-bedroom apartment with a small terrace and spectacular views of the city that I pay under $400 a month for. Most of my food is purchased at the mercados. I can buy a bag full of fruits and vegetables for under $10. A pound of beautiful big strawberries costs $1. My “regular lady” always waves me over when she sees me, and puts a little something extra in my bag…maybe an avocado or a couple of peaches.
Most of my lunches or “almuerzos” are eaten at restaurants in the center of town. For $3, I get lunch that includes a bowl of soup, and either pork, chicken, or beef served with rice and vegetables, a glass of juice, and a small dessert. I like to cook so dinner is usually at home, but at least once a week I dine out with friends. Great meals can be had for less than $20 per person at really fine restaurants all over the city.
The weather in Cuenca is perfect for me, too. I don’t like hot weather unless I am at the coast for a vacation from my “permanent vacation” here in the highlands. The winter months of July and August are cool, but compared to the harsh winters in Connecticut, the climate here is just fine. We get occasional heavy rains, but for me that’s a plus, as we often get some amazing rainbows and sunsets afterwards.
Cuencanos are, without a doubt, the nicest and kindest people I have ever met. On my first visit I met a Cuencano family who invited me to join them on a day trip. We are still very close and I have been a guest at their home on Christmas Eve the last few years. And I’ve made many friends here who often stop by (with the whole family) for an afternoon on the weekend.
The decision to move to another country, and another continent, is one that I have never regretted. Life here really is great.
Swimming with endangered green sea turtles in Akumal, strolling the cobblestone shopping district in Playa del Carmen, exploring cenotes or ancient Maya ruins or just lazing in a hammock…this is my life today. But it’s a far cry from where my husband Don and I were back in 2008.
In the wake of the financial collapse and the deep recession that followed, our comfortable existence was completely upended. At an age when we expected we could begin to slow down, we found ourselves starting over in a very inhospitable economy. Add to that Don’s second heart attack and the loss of his health insurance when his job disappeared, and you have a recipe for real desperation.
But we were smart, educated people who had spent our professional careers helping others in the non-profit sector. Surely we could figure out a way to help ourselves during this time of crisis in our own lives.
As we struggled to keep afloat, Don began to search for out-of-the-box solutions to our untenable situation. Then he stumbled across an Retirement Havens Blog at BlogsApp.com about retiring overseas. He spent a few days researching before approaching me with the idea. You see, we hadn’t spent our working years planning for life as expats. In fact, I don’t think it ever occurred to us.
But Don’s research revealed that retiring overseas might be a viable option for us. He found that there were places—beautiful, interesting places—where we could live well on just one $1,600 Social Security check a month.
I was excited about the idea right from the start. And the more we learned, the more we felt that retiring abroad could be the answer for us.
At the time, International BlogsApp.com had named Ecuador as the #1 retirement destination in the world for North American retirees. The famous Galapagos Island is in Ecuador. As we developed our criteria for choosing a destination and compared several options, Ecuador was at the top of our list as well. So, after shedding the trappings of our American lifestyle, we headed to the sleepy fishing and farming village of San Vicente, Ecuador with three suitcases apiece and our beloved Chihuahua, Carmine.
The tranquil setting and slow, easy pace of life in San Vicente—and it’s slightly larger sister-city of Bahia de Caraquez just across the bay—turned out to be the perfect environment in which to decompress after years of struggling and decades of work. The drop in our stress level was profound and immediate.
Instead of sinking further into a hole each month, we were actually able to regularly put money into savings. Our first apartment in San Vicente was a beautiful, fully furnished, two-bedroom, two-bathroom place in a gated community with two pools, lush, flowering vegetation, and numerous fruit trees, directly overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Our rent was just $450 per month, and we could enjoy our ocean view and lush surroundings without a worry in the world.
After two years in Ecuador, and with our finances vastly improved and our confidence boosted, we made our second international move, this time to Cancun, Mexico. Today we have a lifestyle I never imagined possible. We rent a gorgeous condo right on the beach in Cancun’s famed Zona Hotelera, with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea or Nichupte Lagoon from every window.
The number one tourist destination beach in the Western Hemisphere is steps from our door, and serves as our backyard, gym, and romantic getaway spot. Warm breezes and the sounds of the surf lull us to sleep at night. There are more opportunities for recreation, entertainment, and cultural exploration within easy reach than we could ever exhaust. Our Spanish has improved tremendously, as has our understanding of Latin American culture.
The past three years have been the most interesting of our lives, and today, we live virtually stress free…a world away from our worrisome, tiresome lives in the States.