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My Life in Ecuador: Mark Cowtan Living in Capaes (Salinas Peninsula)

This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.

Ecuador Expat Profile: Cowtan Family, Capaes Ecuador

The Expats: Mark Cowtan and family


Where are your currently living?

Capaes, on the Salinas peninsula in Santa Elena Province.

What’s Your Story?

We moved to Ecuador from Northern California, in Dec 2012 to a small beach community called Capaes on the Salinas peninsula, two hours from Guayaquil.

I am a British, and my wife is Peruvian, but we met in California where we were both living. She longed to return to Latin America, and I frankly had had enough of the grind.

When our small business went belly up, due to the real estate crash, we started to plan our escape from America. It took us a couple of years of research to take the plunge, sell everything, and start over in a new place.

To begin, we set up “base camp” in Lima, Peru, where my wife has family, and traveled up and down the coast of Peru and Ecuador for several weeks before finally settling on Ecuador.

My wife had already makes a couple of trips to Ecuador on her own to get the feel of the country, while I was still in the US packing up our home and getting the house sold.


Because my wife is Peruvian, Peru seemed like the obvious choice, but for a number of reasons, Ecuador proved to be a better option for us.

On our first trip together, we were more or less decided on where we wanted to settle, so we spent the time house hunting, and looking for an affordable car (Used cars are 50%-60% more expensive here than in the US, and in a lot worse condition, so it was tough to find one that felt like a fair deal).

We wanted to live by the coast, but just to be sure, we also checked out Cuenca, where we knew a lot of expats were settling too. Cuenca is lovely, but the coast was for us, and we returned to Peru with the wheels in motion to buy a condo near the beach in Capaes, Santa Elena.

On the next trip, we closed on the house, moved in, and started looking for contractors to help us fix up the condo.
My parents were big travelers, and so am I. So it was no big deal when I emigrated to California almost 20 years ago. It was an easy decision, and I was young and single, so I just did it.

But when you have a family to worry about, it’s a lot more complicated. It is not like being a 20-something traveler. There is a lot more to emigrating than meets the eye.

Not to mention this uneasy state of limbo, when your stuff is in a container somewhere, you don’t have a home anymore, and you’re living out of a suitcase (for 8 months already).

After 20 years in California, we were settled, and secure, but not happy with our lives. As the years rolled on, all we were doing was working, working, working. Besides the glorious weather, I wasn’t getting to enjoy most of the things that drew me to California in the first place – certainly not “smelling the roses”.

My wife and I started a real-estate marketing venture that collapsed along with the housing market, wiping out most of our savings. Then, we ALL took another beating in the financial meltdown. That was the last straw. The US was not working for us anymore!!!

But, like most Americans, we had our noses so close to the grindstone, we couldn’t see we were going round and round in circles.

We needed a fresh perspective and a fresh start. So, I used up all my accrued vacation and borrowed some from the next year, and we went to Puerto Rico for Christmas and camped by the beach for a month on Culebra island. Culebra reminded us of our dreams, and our passions, and it gave us time to think. The seed of the idea of leaving the US was born.

Planning Our Move Abroad

Over the next two years, we researched the Caribbean or Latin America, trying to find the right combination of things we wanted in our future life, our future home, and the future culture that our daughter would grow into.
The climate, uncontaminated food supply, nature around us, affordable housing, decent water supply, more relaxed lifestyle, access to cultural activities, and the list went on.

Although my wife is Peruvian, Ecuador kept winning. She tried skewing the scorecards in favor of Peru, with the “I’ve got family there” card. But it still wasn’t enough.

From Biodiversity to a low cost of living, Ecuador has a lot going for it, so for us the Ecuador coastline was the clear winner.

Having literally forgotten my first language Portuguese at the age of seven, I have always yearned to speak a Latin language again. In fact, it is one of the reasons I first met my Peruvian wife who was living in San Francisco.
But while we were in the US, I was lazy and learned very little, because her English is so good.

In Peru and Ecuador, it is a different story. I need Spanish every day, and it is improving poco-a-poco. I love the language, it is so rich. It is a big thrill to understand your first joke in a foreign language, and an even bigger thrill when you can make one!

The low cost of living really makes it easy to stretch ones budget. And the amazingly low $2.15/gallon gas price gives you the freedom to explore this beautiful country. We love the parks, the rivers and especially the beaches.
When we were researching Ecuador, we found it hard to connect the dots between where different towns and neighborhoods were, and what attractions or beaches they were near to.

So we’ve made it our weekend hobby, to visit and take photos of Ecuador beaches and put detailed information online for others to see. It’s a great way for us to learn about and appreciate the country too.

How’s Your Spanish?

In the US I was lazy because my wife speaks very good English. But now that I need it, my Spanish is coming along quite nicely.

What Do You Do?

Once the dust settles, we expect to start a local business here. Everywhere we turn, we can see so many opportunities here. We just need to spend more time understanding the market dynamics.

The low cost of living is a real blessing. Our money should last us pretty well until we get back up to speed with a new business. Low gas prices make traveling and exploring around very affordable.


What do you love about Ecuador?

Here are some the challenges we faced and some common misconceptions about Ecuador:

Schooling: One big concern for us was finding a decent school for our daughter who turns 7 this month. The school system in Guayas and Santa Elena provinces is pretty antiquated, and even more behind the times in the provincial towns along the coast. It’s like stepping back to 1960.

We have met the parents of a few wealthy Ecuadorean families who turned to homeschooling. We thought we might need to do the same.

But just in the nick of time, before the school year started, we found a new school that was much more progressive and offering something between a Montessori and traditional curriculum. It is called Educa, and is located in La Libertada.

Safety: Before coming to Ecuador, we had lots of warnings about crime and safety in the big cities. By the beach it is not an issue at all, but even in Guayaquil, we have never felt threatened.

We have a tiny stun-gun 30,000V that looks like a cell-phone (only about $30 in the US), which we carry in Guayaquil, or when we get money from the bank teller machine, just to be sure. It’s reassuring to have it, but we’ve never needed to use it.

Bureaucracy: Overall, we have found Ecuadorians to be exceptionally friendly and helpful, and we feel sure that coming here is the best decision we’ve made in a long time. Yes the speed of life and the bureaucracy, takes some getting used to. Be patient, and go with the flow… you’re in Ecuador!

Getting our residency and Cedula was a frustrating experience, and my best advice on this to anyone emigrating, is make sure you do as much preparation as you possibly can, in your home country. That means multiple copies of original birth and marriage certificates, with translations and apostil.

And then act immediately to get the ball rolling as soon as you arrive. There are a lot of time dependencies, so if say your visa or your police clearance letter expires, you’re back to square one, and it is much harder getting things done in the US, once you’re out of the country.

The bureaucracy aside, life here is a breeze, and the stress we lived under in the US is fading away into a distant memory. It’s a bit like waking up from a nightmare – the day ahead holds so much promise.

What We Love in Ecuador

Here are some of the top reasons why we chose Ecuador:

  • Amazing Biodiversity, from the Galapagos to the Jungle
  • 10% of land masses and lots of ocean are protected areas
  • One of only two non-GMO countries in Latin America
  • Hasn’t sold out to US, with mining and oil rights
  • Government is making a dent in reducing poverty
  • Affordable housing, and housing boom still to come
  • No shortage of water, rain is abundant
  • Great weather by the coast, not too hot
  • Warm ocean with ~100 beautiful beaches
  • Generally eco-friendly government policy
  • Moderately Eco-aware population
  • Incredible geology in a small geography
  • Lots of places to go and things to do
  • Low gas prices and low cost of living

Read more Ecuador expat profiles.


Sunday 12th of March 2017

Hello There ! Interesting reading your summary and positive outcome of then venture. Especially that I had traveled in both Peru and Ecuador. I am strongly considering relocating myself, as, A) situation here in Montreal Qc. Canada is the pits and having to endure a weak and futureless employment prospects B) being much drawn to the Latin culture, lifestyle and keen on traveling C) desire to be close to nature and especially ocean setting and in a location from which other regions are relatively easy to access. I have a much easier profile though being single. But, being in my early 60's and feeling as I have several goods years of productive work capacity left, it is important to be able to develop opportunities to earn income. Not seeking a direct business venture, what are the possibilities of linking successfully with contacts locally to perform contract or consulting type work in Ecuador, and perhaps in which fields. Thinking utilizing English base in providing services and developing links for local organizations or companies with regions in North America and abroad as situation presents itself. I ask this since you are on site and have done much research. Spanish should not be a hurdle to get by with, as I understand it quite well and would only become better at as time glides. Thanks for your time and wishing you all the best! Julius

Elizabeth Gravely

Sunday 12th of July 2015

Don't know how I got to this blog but it is great. We are Seniors VERY interested in Ecuador. Planning on renting 2 different locations for 2 weeks each . Want to be able to walk to beach. We will be learning the areas to decide where we would like to settle. Any suggestions?

Fran yates

Tuesday 14th of April 2015

To all considering coastal living: WE first visited Ecuador 2 -3 years ago, visited all the traditional places and on our last stop of a 3 week tour, went to Manta and while waiting at airport met a Canadian who turned out to be a developer with an American partner who were starting a Master Plan subdivision named Las Olas outside of Bahia right on the ocean named Las Olas. They weren't selling yet but a year later we returned and bought into it. Our home is scheduled to be built June 2015 along with 50 other homes. We loved many parts of Ecuador but it was too crowded in Quito, altitude bothered us in Cuenca, Quayquil was not for us, Cotacachi and Otavalo were gorgeous but too cold, but Bahia was a sleepy little coastal town where we felt we could have a home during the winter months and enjoy listening to the ocean. We kept running into this same Canadian David Maksymuik. Finally he showed us his master plan which is incredible and we knew we had found our place in Ecuador. We returned a year later touring the acres they had bought, saw the plans again, met people who had already bought, sold property elsewhere and we're waiting for the startup. Today the area is cleared, terraced for homes both on the ocean and others on the golf course (18 holes) with ocean view, and condos planned for 2016. The Canadian owners live in Bahia themselves along with many expats awaiting the construction of homes. We are in our 70s or close to it, but know that the weather is what we will enjoy on the coast. There is no way we could have afforded this golf course/ocean view home in Miss. But we could in Ecuador. The language is not a problem as I lived in the Canaries for 5 years. I enjoy reading Brian's blog and keeping up with all the new adventures of expats looking for homes in Ecuador. The name of our subdivision is Las Olas.


Monday 25th of September 2017

Hi Fran, I just came upon your comment regarding your experience in finding a place to live in Ecuador. I realize your comment is from 2015 but was wondering how your experience in living in Bahia worked out, if life living there in Bahia and in the new development was everything you had hoped? My husband and I are thinking of moving to Ecuador, at least for part of the year but can't decide between the beautiful Ecuadorean coast or the lush greenery of the highlands. I would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you. Ana

Estella Payne

Friday 8th of July 2016

I saw you comment about Los Olas, is your home ready? Where in Ecuador is that please? Gracias. Estella


Sunday 5th of January 2014

Nice interview & loved their story. Wish them the best of luck in their new ventures - posted on South America Living FB page (sold, new owner taking over soon!) - Happy 2014, Molly

si kendrick

Tuesday 5th of November 2013

Great post i have been living here in portoviejo manabi for nearly 3 years, first came for a holiday loved it so came back and here i am. I am from Newcastle in the Uk for me i don't think i will ever get used to the heat here, but that's why we have fans and air con, the beaches are great Los Frailles is the best i have been too, although never been to salinas, manta crucita san clemente bahia and canoa not really far in the car nearest being 20ins away. I have never had any trouble over here despite people telling me how dangerous it is, just keep your whits about you people may seem nice but when people see you WHITE they think you have money, don't flaunt it and just try to blend in is the best advice i can give anyone. Houses vary in price if you are concerned about safety buy something in a gated community, I live in a gated community quiet area, with further projects being added down the road. I have stayed in Quito and Guayaquil which are great, but i prefer the quieter life too congested in the cities. Any how sorry about the essay just very curious and amazed with everyones stories it's nice to see people taking the leap, and opting for ecuadorian life, i run a blog or basic info as you may call it few experiences i have had a bit of knowledege on day to day life here, will look forward to hearing from you and will keep looking for your new posts i am still learning!