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]

Related post: Cheapest Places to Live 2009

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