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Why I’m Living in Coastal Ecuador: Santa Marianita (Inge Van den Herrewegen)

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This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.

Living in Coastal Ecuador

Why I'm Living in Coastal Ecuador (Santa Marianita)

Inge Van den Herrewegen
Website / Blog URL: puntalabarca.com

Sunset in Santa Marianita Ecuador
More reading: Buyers Guide to the Best Sun Protection Hats – specifically for travelers to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Where are your currently living?

We (my partner Juan, our two sons, and I) are living in Santa Marianita, Ecuador. I have lived here since 2012.

Santa Marianita, Ecuador

Santa Marianita, Ecuador

What's Your Story?

I’m from a small town called Oudenaarde in the Flemish region of Belgium. I did my studies in biomedical engineering and then worked for an orthopedic company as a researcher.

I worked for around 3 years as a researcher; life was comfortable, work was comfortable, I had a routine. But it was missing something and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

So I quit my job and started traveling. I didn’t want a routine, I didn’t want plans, I didn’t want an end date. I wanted to live and be present – and kitesurf.

My journey began in Australia, with lots of expectations of an authentic and idealistic lifestyle – like most Europeans have. But I ended up leaving Australia disappointed, and most probably because of these expectations I had.

South America was the next destination, but flying was an expensive option, so I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to island-hop and kitesurf through the pacific. I did New Zealand, Fiji, French Polynesia, Easter Island, and then to mainland Chile.

From Chile, I made my way up north to Peru, and then I hit Ecuador. I had met a traveler who had mentioned a town, by the port-city of Manta, called Santa Marianita where there was perfect scene for kitesurfing and that it was not swarmed by tourists.

I arrived at this small fishing coastal town, and I loved it! As corny as it sounds, it was exactly that “authenticity” that I was looking for. It became my base for a while, splitting time between Santa Marianita and Bahía de Caráquez.

For four days a week, I would be kitesurfing in Santa Marianita, and then three days in Bahía de Caráquez, working with a guy, who had a boat, in exchange for a place to stay and a free trip to to the Galapagos Islands. Spoiler alert: I never made it to the Galapagos Islands.

One day I was out on my board, and the line to my kite had snapped. Suddenly I was stranded in the water, and it was too far out from the shore to swim back. Luckily there were other kitesurfers around and they helped me back to shore.

But during the struggle, in the distance, I see this young, handsome Ecuadorian guy just observing from the shoreline. That was Juan. He helped me out with my line later that day, but it didn’t matter – I knew I had the “catch”.

A romantic relationship was the last thing I was looking for, but within a week there we were. I had obviously been accustomed to life here already. We got to that part of a relationship, where we started to dream of a future together.

We tossed around the idea of buying property and creating a hostel, a space where travelers like myself could find refuge in this piece of paradise. It seemed like an idealistic dream, and then by surprise I became pregnant – this actually became a catalyst for a lot of things.

Punta la Barca, Ecuador

Punta la Barca, Ecuador

We found and purchased a property on top of a hill in Santa Marianita (that was actually owned by Juan’s grandfather) and we started to build our dreams with our bare hands – literally. It took us almost a year to finish the cabañas and set up our business.

By the end, we baptized it ‘Punta La Barca’, paying homage to the land it breathes and beats on. There’s something really beautiful and cathartic about seeing what we dreamt, form into life. The feeling is like when you catch the right wind and you just keep “surfing”.

Over time our family has expanded and we now have two ‘niñitos’. We have changed from being a backpackers’ hostel to more of a co-live and co-work space for nomad travelers, remote workers, and kitesurfers.

And now, there are still no routines in my life and I get to live life in the moment – and I get to kitesurf whenever I want.

How's your Spanish?

I speak Spanish, Flemish, English, French fluently – but I speak Spanish here everyday. I didn’t know any Spanish before arriving to South America – I kind of guessed based on French. But I learnt on the road during my travels, and I took a week’s worth of class in Ecuador to just pat down the basics of grammar.

When I arrived to Santa Marianita, no one spoke English – with the exception of retired foreigners living here, but I didn’t want to be part of that culture. You really do miss out on a lot if you don’t speak the native tongue.

Language and culture are so interconnected, that you can’t fully understand the culture unless you know a little bit about the language at least.

Also, Juan doesn’t speak English, so I had to learn it in order to communicate to him and his family. But the process of learning any language is like a rollercoaster.

It was tough and I had a severe headache for two months, but the best way to learn is just to be immersed in it all.

Living on Ecuador's coast

How do you make your living?

In addition to our Punta La Barca, Juan works as a kitesurfing instructor here in Santa Marianita and I have my part-time remote job.

The remote job, that I earn most of my income from, is from the same Belgium I left when I left Europe to travel.

Since I was still on very good terms with the management of the company, I asked them if there were any jobs that I could do remotely and they created a new position for me.

This is one of the reasons that enabled me to stay in Ecuador. Internet is good here – we have fibre optic – so it all worked perfectly!

At the moment for the company, I am working on a research-based orthopedic project in collaboration with the orthopedic faculty at the Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabí in Manta.

View from Punta la Barca, Ecuador

View from Punta la Barca, Ecuador

What do you love about Ecuador?

I can only speak for this part of Ecuador. People are very “authentic” (here goes that word again) here, very family-orientated, welcoming, and super curious.

If you put the effort to speak Spanish to them, they will converse back with you and perhaps tell you their life story. And if you’re considering moving to Ecuador, stay in a place for a while and feel it out.

Ecuador Positives:

  • The weather (here in Santa Marianita) is great and very pleasant – I live on 7km of deserted beaches. It’s extremely safe here, day and night, but that’s not always true for other parts of Ecuador.
  • Living here is cheap – local food, travel, accommodation, etc.
  • Nature – Ecuador has a variety of beautiful nature and all within close reach. It has a variety of coastal regions, the Amazon rainforest, tropical dry forests, cloud forests, and mountain ranges (Andes).

Ecuador Negatives:

  • It’s hard to find good bread.
  • Imported goods are expensive.
  • Some parts of the culture – like organization, punctuality, responsibility

Living in Santa Marianita Ecuador


Your Turn

Have a question for Inge about why she moved to Santa Marianita, Ecuador? Or what it’s like for her family in Ecuador? Join her in the comments.

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Tim Hull

Monday 29th of March 2021

I've long studied the possibility of retiring in Ecuador. I've done quite a bit of research on desirable locations and I am always drawn to the coast. Looked into the Las Olas development because I'm a golf nut, but that has fallen out of favor. Too much like North America and not at all inviting to locals.

It is important to me to immerse as much as possible, realizing that the best situations spring from a balance of immersion and the comfort of a familiar customs. Las Olas would be a virtual monoculture.

You seem to have chosen the perfect spot, although there are some negatives. It's possible to feel isolated, earthquake is a real concern, humidity and heat can become burdensome, sand and salt can wear on you, water availability might become problematic and, regarding an equatorial location in general, constant 12 hour days with no seasonal alterations would take a lot of getting used to.

Still, I haven't given up on the notion. It so happens nothing will be happening until I get both arthritic knees replaced. Maybe Ecuador offers expert orthopedic surgeons and outstanding rehab. And maybe, through your work, state of the art implants are just as available as they are in the U.S. I'd be interested to read your thoughts on those matters.

Thank you for the wonderful post.

Alex

Monday 22nd of June 2020

I just LOVE Inge's story!! I am mesmerized at seeing how sweet dreams come true! :-) I have accessed this page, because in mid-September I am arriving in Ecuador, to live there for at least the next 4 yrs (if not forever). I am writing from NY, and it seems my soul has been prompting me for the past couple of years to take a different turn. It is time to get in touch with Mother Nature in a deeper, more profound way...at the spiritual level, that is. Besides being a Legal Assistant/Paralegal (Bilingual), I am a Yoga and Meditation teacher from a classical school of yoga. I am also vegetarian...but, at this point in my life, have had enough of the incessant running around that NY demands of you. I have had enough of skyscrapers and of the conventional life that this part of the world gives you. Therefore, I am moving to Ecuador. BUT, I am still on the look out for my Shangri La or my Shambala. Would love to work within or with the Expat community and be able to have a as-much-as-natural lifestyle that is in accordance with what my soul is craving... Simple living, High Thinking is my motto these days. I am not quite at a retiring age, but must make this life change now. Need to have a more relaxed way of living and definitely closer to Nature. If any of you out there have any recommendations be it for affordable housing, work or ....anything, please communicate with me. Many, many thanks!! Alex

HS

Friday 12th of February 2021

Alex, email me, I am also a NYer leaving this dreaded place for Ecuador - would like to find like-minded friends - hope to hear from you!

Inge

Tuesday 4th of August 2020

Hey Alex! Where did you end up? Inge xx

Nigel and Sue Bellamy

Sunday 6th of October 2019

A wonderful page. Visited Crucita in January to meet up with our Son and Girlfriend and then did a tour including Mindo, Quito, Latacunga, Banos, Guayaquil, Galapagos. It was all rather rushed. Looking to revisit with a view to seeing more of this wonderful Country. Any tips on longer car hire accommodation and Rotary Clubs in Ecuador. How difficult is it to relocate to Ecuador to live there semi permanently. Kind regards

Judy halter

Wednesday 29th of May 2019

Hello Suzan, I am 62 years old. My husband and 14 year old son and myself have lived on the beach in Santa Marianita for about 2 years. We retain our home in Phoenix Arizona and visit family a few times a year. I, like you just wanted to walk on the beach and listen to the waves crashing in a safe beautiful environment. I have found Santa Marianita to be just that piece of heaven. If you are still looking for a place to stay while exploring, or some peace and quiet,we have a spare bedroom suite with private bathroom and huge closet/changing room, along with a large beautiful home with panoramic ocean views from every room.We have never thought to do this but my husband and son travel to the states more often than we planned and my husband mentioned that having someone here with me might be a good alternative, as long as she was laid back like us.... Judy

HS

Friday 12th of February 2021

Hi Judy, Is your rental still available? Email me! Thanks

Shirley l Bryant

Sunday 7th of July 2019

I'm 68 and have been following info on ecaudor for couple of years and would like to have contact expat on question as I m thinking about move this year. Can we email

Richard Dayton

Monday 17th of June 2019

Judy, Just starting the process of applying for a visa. I'm retiring from my job this week and have been to Ecuador to visit and feel in love. Are there any rentals available in your area? What is the average cost of rent?

Janis Amberman

Monday 11th of February 2019

Congrats on living the dream I'm very interested in coming to Ecuador & your place sounds like a great place to start. I am on a fixed income so the US has priced me out. Is it reasonable to think I could have a decent life if yo vivo en Ecuador? Yo estudio Espanol. Yo tengo dos nietos son Mexican y Puerto Rican. Quiero una vida mas tranquila con un presupuesta. Thanks in advance for your help. Janis

Judy halter

Wednesday 29th of May 2019

We have a lovely home with panoramic ocean views from every room. We would like to rent out our extra bedroom suite to someone who is laid back like We are. My husband and 14 year old son travel to the states many times a year and it would be nice To have someone here with me. If this sounds like an option for you email me and let’s start a conversation. Judy

Jeffrey

Tuesday 12th of February 2019

This is for Janis Amberman. The real truth is that the coast of Ecuador is poorly planned. Manta, the closest city to Santa Marianita is one example. It is all concrete, no parks and mountains of litter in each gully leading to the ocean, where all street runoff also goes, and I am afraid a lot of the septic goes. Further south in Puerto Lopez, the beach is nice, but the town is squalid and muddy. Same for Machala. Jambelí, an island available by ferry from the Puerto Bolivar jetty close to Machala, is supposed to have some relaxed charm. Guayaquil is dangerous and too big. North is Esmeraldas dominated by petroleum. San Lorenzo dangerous as well. Salinas to the south is expensive. The only turquoise waters are around the Galapagos, and they are expensive. You are far better off in the Sierra. Much less litter, Cuenca is one choice, a little too large for me. Good mix of natives and gringos. Vilcabamba is dominated by gringos. Loja is a nice sort of mini-Cuenca, safe, cheap, and few gringos, but many conveniences, and the best gym in Ecuador (Total Flex gym). Just an hour from the Oriente, or the edge of the Amazon. About 4 hours from the coast (Machala) if you want some heat and ocean. Quito is cheap, but also noisy and polluted. Tena to the east of Quito is in the Oriente and is nice, quite warm but not super hot. Numerous rivers in town and to the east provide for raft and kayak trips. If you want warmth,stay to the east. Quito, Baños, Riobamba, Cuenca, are all around 9000 feet, and thus are cool, and January to April is the rainy season, with rain or drizzle every other day. Loja is at 7000 feet, and is a little warmer, but still has the drizzle in the winter months. Keep on your Spanish! The most English speakers are in Cuenca and Vilcabamba, but the gringo mix in Vilcabamba for some reason is towards heavy drinkers and arrogance, and they have driven up expenses, especially real estate. If you want a little farm or ranch, the slopes and valleys of the southern Sierra is the place.Places like Gonzanamá, Catamayo, etc. If you just want to rent an apartment, Cuenca or Loja or Tena is the place. Do like I did, spend the first 4-6 weeks traveling by bus and staying in cheaper hostals before deciding. Use the Lonely Planet guide. I will have some recommendations there for you if you are interested. Start in Quito, not Guayaquil. Cheaper to fly to, and gives you more range right off. Best of luck, Jeffrey

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