The Cheapest Places to Live: Ecuador

Where’s the cheapest place to live in the Americas? Well, it could be Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, or any other number of places. But if you want a mix of cheap prices, good weather, and plenty to hold your interest, my money would be on Ecuador. It’s got mountains, jungles, cloudforests, beaches, and vibrant cities all in one package.

I’m heading down there myself in October so I’ll report back later with prices on the ground right now. But for one thing, those prices are in U.S. dollars so they don’t fluctuate much. Bring a lot of coins though: from what I hear you’ll be looked at as a crazy rich person if you try to pay with a twenty. Dollar bills rule. The list of “what you can get for a buck or less” from here in The World’s Cheapest Destinations is a long one.

International Living just named Ecuador the top retirement haven in the world in its annual list of the best places to retire. They cited its natural beauty, pleasant climate, pockets of colonial architecture, and cheap health care (like $25 doctor visits). They highlighted places where nice two-bedroom apartments go for $300 a month and places right on the beach go for $500 or $600 a month—less in the off-season. You can buy a comfortable house or condo almost anywhere in the country for under 60 grand. The editor of International Living just bought a new penthouse with a fireplace and terrace (1,000 square feet) in the mountain town of Cotacachi for $51,000

If you’re of retirement age, there are some nice incentives, like 50% off domestic airfares, 50% off public transportation, and discounts on international flights on some carriers. You can eat well for a few bucks at lunchtime no matter what your age is.

We’re taking our sabbatical in Mexico next year, but if I were advising someone with no attachments on where to get the most out of life for the least amount of money, Ecuador would be competing at the top of the list.

[Cuenca, Ecuador flickr photo by erikdeleon]


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  1. OurExplorer Sightseeing Tours

    It seems that Ecuador is more a destination of good value. Wish you a great journey in Eduador! If you want to explore with some local people, you may check out our guides at

    Happy Exploring! : )

  2. ASP

    The funny thing about Ecuador is that dollar bills do not rule, but instead dollar “Sacagawea” coins rule as the dominant currency form – I hadn’t seen one in 5-6 years here in the States, and that must be where all of them got off to.

  3. Anna Michaels

    Hi…its an interesting and important piece of information that you have given about Equador.I’ll surely try to make it my next travel destination.
    Anna Michaels.

  4. Anna Michaels

    Travel blogs like this really interest me a lot and as i had mentioned earlier, i’ve found your article “The Cheapest Places to Live: Ecuador” very interesting.

    I’m also working for a site which is totally based on travel/honeymoon/vacation in New Zealand, Fiji, Australia…etc. I’m sure
    you’ll enjoy it.

    However, i was wondering if you could review my site in your blog too.I’m sure visitors to your blog would enjoy reading about Journey Pacific and plan their vacation accordingly.

    Let me know what you think.

  5. Erica

    I have stumbled onto your blog post because our family is thinking about a move there next July. We currently live in Puerto Vallarta with our 2 small children. Please Please keep us informed on your Oct. visit (cost, sites, people ect) Im really excited to see what you write about. Thanks again!

  6. Barbara

    How is it in Puerto Vallarta these days?

  7. Charley


    So… did you make it to Ecuador in October? What did you learn about costs, other things?


  8. David

    Ecuador is an awesome place to live, surrounded by nature everywhere, if you need help in Ecuador, like visiting around, getting to know the country, invest on real estate, or just have a good friend there, with no doubt contact him at this web page:

  9. linoventura

    Can anyone tell me if it is safe to travel in Ecuador, as I heard a lot of negative responses even from Ecuadorian born people who live in the US. They say when they go to Ecuador to visit their families, they do not walk alone in the streets, etc .

    • tim

      Linoventura, the expatriates who have moved from the U.S. to Ecuador tell a very different story. They say they feel far safer in their new home than they did before. This could be a matter of your Ecuadorian friends having moved from bad neighborhoods in Ecuador to nicer neighborhoods in the U.S. As we all know, where you are within a country or a city can make all the difference, regardless of what the overall national crime stats say. But in general, Ecuador has a far lower crime rate than the United States, especially when it comes to homicide.

  10. Nancy

    Homicide – perhaps. But theft – not so much. I spent time in Quito, Ambato, and Banos. On my way back to the states, I struck up a long conversation with an American who has been traveling to Quito for years to visit her son and his family. I asked commented on the theft, and her reply was interesting. She said, “If an American is sitting at a table with a cell phone in view, it’s assumed they no longer want it.” Hm. So then I asked about routine thefts from hotel safes and pick pocketing, including cells well-hidden. “Well,” she said, “I’m not saying it’s right, but the way they see it, if an American ‘loses’ his cell, it doesn’t ruin his day. He still eats, and his family isn’t affected. He just gets a new one!”

    My first night in Quito the hotel desk clerk smiled as he handed me the key and said, “Your watch will be stolen.” I said it was an cheap Timex, probably $10 at the time I bought it 15 years ago. He nodded and and shook his head with concern, “It doesn’t matter. Your watch will be stolen.” I’m happy to say he was wrong, probably because I never wore it, choosing instead to keep it in a zipped picket. I personally wasn’t a victim of theft, but know people who were, including some of my travel companions. My advice is don’t use hotel safes, don’t carry a purse, do distribute your cash in multiple pockets that zip, don’t get into ‘unofficial’ taxis, carry a copy of your passport separate from your original, be aware of your surroundings especially on buses, use extra caution in the main bus terminal in Quito, never let your bags out of site (carry them on your lap rather than using overhead storage), be aware of sticky fingers in the most unlikely places, leave your jewelry at home, and have an idea where you’re going by sunset, which is 6:30 p.m. Finally, be sure to visit Banos, a beautiful tourist town. It’s a 3-hour bus ride from Quito. The locals are welcoming, the scenery is spectacular, and the air is fresh!

    • tim

      Nancy, most of what you’ve written is good advice for anywhere, including the tourist robbery capitol of the world—Rome. I’ve spent time wandering around Quito with a watch on, late at night, and had no problems. I didn’t meet any other tourists or expats who had problems either, and I met a lot. But of course my money was always hidden away in my pants and I didn’t strut around with lots of jewelry or gadgets. Prevention matters more than where you are—that’s been my experience spending time in 45+ countries, lots of them places with terrible reputations, some with better reputations but worse actual crime stats.

  11. natalia

    I defenitely will recommed Ecuador as the perfect place to retire and/or visit. Regardeless its crimes/political/finantial/economic situation. Its such a beautiful country. Food is delicious, night life is great, breathtaking sightseeings, beautiful beaches, relaxing landscaping, and so much more. Yes its a must to have your preventions. Why are you going to show your jewelry or keep great amount of cash in your pockets on the streets?. I dont do it here in USA, which is supposed to be a safer place. Life is so simple down in Ecuador. And that is the reason why i am always back every single time that i can. By the way, i am Ecuadorian (from Guayaquil).

  12. Terry

    We were in Cuenca for 2 months in Feb-Apr, 2009. Some of the early posts on the blog listed above show our apartment and daily life there. We had a great time, nice expat crowd gets together Friday night at Zoe’s. We paid $350 for a nice small furnished studio, very modern, very nice with internet and cable tv that you wouldn’t want to watch. We lived on the banks of the Tomebamba (the best possible location, IMO) in the great, old UNESCO world heritage site city.

    There are great restaurants, beautiful national parks (Cajas and Podocarpus) within easy travel of the city, Spanish language schools, museums, the gorgeous cathedral. We’ll probably go back next year for another couple months. What’s not to like?

    • tim

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Terry! Cuenca is on the cover of International Living this month, so I think the secret is out now. Here’s another piece on buying real estate in Cuenca, for anyone who’s interested in that.

      • Adolf

        Hi Terry,
        Great comments from you. Me and wife are retirees, want to visit Cuenca/Tomebamba. Could you kindly share the contact info of the place you stayed and enjoyed so much.
        Thanks and appreciate your help.

    • dkp

      To Terry – could you please share how to contact the apt. complex you referenced in your note above “paid $350 for a nice small furnished studio, very modern, very nice with internet and cable tv that you wouldn’t want to watch. We lived on the banks of the Tomebamba.”
      Thank you for your help.

  13. Dave Storm - Flight Simulation Games

    I had heard that Costa Rica was the big travel / move-to / retirement destination for the last few years for Americans. Is there a migration towards South America from Central? Has the property values in CR increased so much that the better values are now in Ecuador?

  14. Chica

    In any of these countries in Latin America, common sense will get you far. Most crimes against tourist or expatriates are petty in nature so, with a little bit of forethought, you can have great adventures. If you are purchasing properties inside the country, do your due diligence and find an attorney not associated with the sales agents (realtors) for the area.

    Good Luck!

  15. Kevin Canada

    I’m trying to escape he CIA do you think I can do that in these countries?


  16. Gerda

    I’m going to Ecuador in 2 weeks time all the way from England. It’s my first time in Latin America and I’m very excited about it! But working on the itinerary isn’t the easiest task, the more I read about Ecuador on internet the more confused I get. I’ve chosen over 10 cities already, but I have only 14 days. Please, can anyone suggest me the must see places and help me fit into my time..? Thank you :)

  17. Gary

    My wife and I have been living in Cotacachi, Ecuador for a year and a half after retiring early and moving abroad. Ecuador has it all…low prices, ideal weather, fresh produce, incredible diversity, and friendly people. We love it here and have never regretted out decision. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking to excape the rat race.

  18. DT

    I am thinking of moving to ecuador with my family. How safe is it for my children. Is southern safer then northern? I have heard of the FARC and kiddnapping for ransoms. As a photographer I plan on traveling through the country, mountains, jungle and coast line. Is it safe to carry my equipment in a backpack or should I only carry the bare neccesities.

    • tim

      DT, you should never move anywhere without spending some time there living like a local first and traveling around different areas. I believe you’ll find it to be as safe as home—or safer—but naturally you’ll need to follow common sense and use a bag from someone like Pacsafe if you’ll be in crowded city markets or buses. But you need to experience it before making such a big decision.

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