Why Ecuador?

Cuenca, Ecuador

Last week I shared that my family is planning an extended stay in Ecuador.

At which point, I’m guessing about half the people reading said “Ecuador?”

How did we settle on Ecuador? Why not Italy or Indonesia? Why not France or Finland?

I’ll admit that up until last year, Ecuador wouldn’t even have been on my radar as far as a place that I’d want to visit. For some reason South America seemed both not exotic enough for an adventure abroad (it *is* an America, after all) and also a little bit scary (aren’t there like, drug wars and stuff down there?)

But after doing some – okay, a lot of – reading, I found myself seriously considering a continent that we previously wouldn’t even have given a second thought. Here’s why:

Why South America:
South America first emerged as a contender when I read The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International EducationAuthor Maya Frost made the radical decision to pull her daughters out of high school to move abroad, settling in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

After reading the book – which is more about living abroad in general than South America specifically, but still includes a lot of great tidbits of information about Argentina – I started researching by reading expat blogs and forums.

I was intrigued by what I read about Latin American culture, specifically the focus on families and love of children (to be fair, lots of countries and continents seems to trump the US in this regard).

It’s also a lot safer, overall, then we might be conditioned to think. Of course there are not-so-desirable and even dangerous places in South America, but we’ve also got those right in our own states and cities. In general, I found that a lot of crime against tourists is preventable. (More about that in a future post.)

I found out fairly quickly that, due to an expat explosion, Argentina and specifically Buenos Aires have become much more expensive places to live than they were 5 or 10 years ago. But I kept reading that in general, South America offers a low cost of living – crucial to us as we will be maintaining a household in the U.S. and would like to spend less, month-to-month, living abroad than we would living here.

In other words, when everything balances out at the end of the month – the cost of food, utilities and rent there plus the cost of our basic bills here like insurance and the house payment – we wanted to spend less money per month than we do now just maintaining our basic North American lifestyle. And we found that there are areas of South America where we can reasonably expect to do that.

“Living cheap” definitely wouldn’t be the only reason I’d choose a specific destination, but considering we have a family of 7 and limited funds, it’s definitely a factor.

Why Ecuador?
When looking for countries where we could find that laid-back, slower pace of life along with a super low cost of living, Ecuador came up again and again…but so did a lot of other countries. Here’s what put Ecuador top of our list:

  • It’s not too hot. Yes, Ecuador is on the equator, but the area we’re considering is up in the Andes mountains. Cuenca is said to have a “spring-like” climate year-round, with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the mid-50s. (Those are the kind of temps a northern girl like me can get behind.) Even the areas on the coast with lower elevation seemed to have pretty reasonable temps, with mid-80s year-round being a common theme.
  • A cool mix of cultures. Ecuador is a small country that offers many different cultural experiences, from European-settled colonial cities to small fishing villages, each offering its own history, art, music, festivals and food. There’s also a huge amount of geographical and biological diversity in the country, which I’ll explore in another post.
  • The U.S. dollar is the official currency. Maybe this seems like a silly reason to choose a specific place, but with all the transitions we’ll be going through as residents of a new country – language, culture, and just getting familiar with the terrain – the last thing I want is to be trying to figure out how the value of the currency works. I have a hard enough time figuring out the exchange rate when I go to Canada.
  • Ecuador is on Eastern time zone. Okay, yes, admittedly this is another silly little thing but I am awful at figuring out how to adjust for time zone, and it’ll be nice to know I don’t have to worry about that, especially since I’ll continue to work remotely. When I’m facing so much that is new and strange, I think it’ll be comforting to know that when it’s 9 AM down there, it’s 9 AM “back home,” too.
  • It’s about an 8-hour flight from Chicago to Quito. I liked that the flight is a reasonable distance, meaning if we had to get back for any reason or if family or friends wanted to visit, it would be possible. During certain times of year flights are pretty reasonably-priced, too.

I admit they are mostly very practical, even boring reasons – but hey, South America is a big place, and you gotta start narrowing down your options somewhere.

Which leads us to the question: Why Cuenca?  But that will have to wait for a future post!

Oh, and in case you’re curious, we are planning this trip for late 2013, so we have a year to prepare. Which is good, because I think we’re going to need it!

Until next time!


  1. Heather Panjon says

    Cuenca Ecuador IS A Wonderful Place. I Took My First Visit There At The Beginning Of The Year To Visit Inlaws, I Was Amazed At The Beauty Ecuador Offered. The Locals Are Very Friendly And Eager To Help.The Local Markets Are Amazing And Prices Are Very Cheap Compared To American Prices( However The Average Ecuadorian Only Makes Roughly 300 Monthly). It Can Be A Huge Cultural Shock Some , I Recommend That You Read DiscoverCuencaEcuador.com A Blog About A Family Of 5 Living In Cuenca, Great Resources . Thanks For Sharing , Good Luck With Your Search !:)

    • Meagan Francis says

      Thank you for weighing in! I think I actually bought Discover Cuenca’s ebook a while back…lots of great info!

  2. says

    I think your reasons make a lot of sense! And from one time-zone challenged journalists to another, I thoroughly applaud your Eastern Time zone reasoning.


    • Meagan Francis says

      I knew you’d get it :)

  3. says

    This is so fantastic, Meagan!!! Congratulations! What a fabulous experience for the whole family — and for us lucky readers who get to “go” with you.

  4. says

    No idea that it could be that temperate on the equator. I love your reasoning and am laughing about the currency being one of them. Totally get that!

  5. JillyG says

    Meagan, I am so thrilled for you and your family! I ended up poking around on blogs to read about it and I can see why you’re so excited! One thing that stood out was that internet is not reliably “up” – people were saying that if you’re a blogger or otherwise dependent on the internet to take that into consideration.. Then I was scratching my head, because uh, er, aren’t THEY bloggers? LOLOL! Go for it, I can’t wait to hear all about it (and maybe visit? Oooohhhhh!)

    • Meagan Francis says

      Jill, I had read that Cuenca is really pretty reliable, but there are other areas of Ecuador where that’s definitely not the case. Like you said it appears there are several bloggers there who are doing just fine! I think I’d have to be very organized and be sure to work way ahead so that if I had any connectivity issues, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

      And, uh, YES you need to visit!

  6. says

    My friend, Mindy, pointed me to your site, because she’s heard me talking about our crazy idea of moving to Ecuador for the past year or so, too. :-) My hubby went down in June to check things out. He visited Vilcabamba, Cuenca and Quito. All three places had their pros and cons. We’ve lived overseas (Italy) before, so we’re not too worried about complete culture shock, and I’d be excited for my kids (13, 9 and 5) to get a different perspective of the world. But, life here in suburban Maryland isn’t so bad, either, so such a drastic change is a lot to consider. It’s really exciting to think about, though… not sure we’ll get the nerve to actually do it… you first! :-)

    • Meagan Francis says

      Nice to meet you Tara! Yes, the whole “life is pretty good as it is” thing definitely makes it harder to commit, but in a way, I think it’s good that we aren’t running away from anything. It makes it feel more reasoned and proactive, rather than reactive, you know?

  7. says

    This is a huge decision and you have tons of fun planning ahead.

    I’m on a family sabbatical in the south of France with my husband and three children. We’re on our second year abroad now.

    There are quite a few families in Ecuador or around ecuador doing what you are about to do. I think you are going to have the time of your life..

    I’m so fascinated by all the families i am meeting online that are taking a sabbatical with their kids. I started featuring them on my blog over at http://www.annieandre.com. The latest family i featured went to Nanjing China for the sake of their adopted children.

    I wold love to feature you and your family too. So far i have not had a chance to feature anyone in the planning stages or before departure. I think it would be a great and inspiring story to share.


    • Meagan Francis says

      Hi Annie,

      I’m loving your site, and would love to be featured! Will send you an email.

  8. says

    I grew up largely overseas as the child of a foreign service officer, and I applaud your gumption. Home is where the family is–wherever family is–but reentry can be hard, especially for teenagers. I moved back to the US halfway through my freshman year of high school after being gone 6 years, and I experienced quite a bit of culture shock as I adjusted to attending a large fairly urban public high school (after a small, academically rigorous K-12 International School in Pakistan). But adjust I did :).

    Will your children attend local or international schools or will you home school them? Are you all going to be studying Spanish with any intensity before you leave?

    I can’t wait to follow along on your adventures!

    • Meagan Francis says

      Alma, likely we’ll home school because we won’t be there long enough to really get invested in a new school, and also because we’d like to have a lot of freedom to travel at will.

      And YES – we are going to need to start learning Spanish asap! Jon & I both have several years from high school – and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I can pick out when I’m reading – but I don’t remember much at all about verb tenses and that sort of thing.

      I’m not sure how to begin there. Rosetta Stone? Another program? I know being immersed will be the fastest way to get fluent, but would like us all to have somewhat of a foundation first.

  9. says

    Ummmm… call me! I used to live in Quito (my family lived there for 3 years). And we visited Cuenca. It is soooooooooo charming. My parents have been there a million times and probably would have some fabulous recommendations. It’s been a while since I’ve been back (a long while), but I have great memories of Ecuador. We loved living there as a family. I’m excited to hear more about your upcoming adventures.

    PS: While in South America, you really need to get down to Argentina and stop in Central America on your way home. My parents now live in Guatemala. They’d show you all around (not even kidding!).

    I’m excited for you!!!


    • Veronica says

      Yes, try to make it to Guatemala – it’s a beautiful country!

    • Meagan Francis says

      Really Jyl? That’s so cool to hear. It’s funny that so many people I know have connections to Ecuador; makes it feel a little more familiar already :)

  10. says

    Just came across your blog, Meagan, and love to hear about your adventure. My family returned just this year from 14-month sabbatical in Cuenca. My blog about the experience is http://www.WuWeiWeGo.Blogspot.com. And, like Annie, our trip inspired a website (www.radicalfamilysabbatical.com) to inspire and help others have their own family sabbaticals (and I discovered her on your comments — bonus!). We’d love to feature you for exactly the same reasons Annie would: to show the perspective of a family in the thick of planning. Let me know if you’re game. Either way, we’d love to give you any Cuenca insights you’d like as well. Buena suerte con su aventura!

  11. gary says

    Hi Meagan, I enjoyed reading your site. I have vacationed in Ecuador (Quito, Cotacachi, Manta, Salinas and Guayaquil) and had a great time. I agree that Ecuador is a wonderful country. I would love to return and visit Cuenca.

  12. says

    I LOVE that you are doing this! My husband and I are just dying to live abroad and are wondering how we can make it happen. You are inspiring me! My good friend is from Ecuador. Message me, and I’ll hook you up.

  13. says

    Fascinating! Thanks for writing posts about how you’re getting from “here” to “there.” What month are planning to leave the US for Ecuador?

  14. says

    Great to have chosen South America! We’ve traveled here for the past 6 years and it is fantastic. So much, that we haven’t even started exploring the northwestern corner of the continent but we hear good stories about Ecuador and surrounding countries. I find this a good continent to live as well as to travel. Enjoy your preparations and who knows, we’ll meet somewhere on the road.
    Happy travels,

  15. sarita says

    I enjoyed reading this post. I love Cuenca and visit from Minnesota as often as possible. My husband is from there and we built a house in Ricaurte just outside of Cuenca. I was on google this morning looking at blogs! Getting excited for our next trip there in a week to visit the family and see the house in person. How do you like Cuenca?


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