This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.
Note: This is not a paid posting – this is part of our ongoing support of community-focused business in Ecuador.
A Taste of Ecuador Travel
Okay, now on to their story.
Our 6 Years Living in Otavalo Ecuador: Andra & Josh Carter
Where are your currently living?
My husband Josh and I are in Otavalo. We’ve been here for 6 years now!
Josh and I hiking Laguna Cuicocha, Ecuador
What’s your story?
Josh grew up in VT and I grew up in NJ. We met 9 years ago and realized we both wanted to explore living in a foreign country, even if only for a few months.
After we got married we made it a goal to move somewhere within 2 years. A year later we were in Costa Rica, where we spent 3 amazing months.
Totally enjoyed our time there, but realized that for a more permanent change, we’d want to be in a place with a more temperate climate.
We did some research online and Ecuador just kept popping up – mostly Cuenca and Cotacachi. Everything sounded amazing – the climate, the safety, the mountain views.
So we came down to check it out. Fell in love with the Cotacachi area, fell into a prime house-and-dog-sitting situation to begin with and have been here 6 years now.
Why did you decide to move Ecuador?
We wanted to move abroad primarily because we were kind of living the rat race, both working full time, I was commuting to NYC every day… we felt like we barely saw each other and didn’t have time for the more important things in life.
We wanted to simplify and move to a place where we could work less, be together more, and have more time for the more important things in life. Been here 6 years. And now gets to the interesting part 🙂
We are actually going to be moving back to the US in September. Our time here has come to an end, which brings me to the biggest reason we hope that you choose to feature us on your site.
About 3 years ago we worked with a group of local Ecuadoreans who became both our employees and our friends to create a cafe here in Otavalo – La Cosecha Ecuador.
This collaboration has resulted in an incredible location that serves thousands of customers a year. We are Lonely Planet’s Top Pick for Otavalo and rated on #1 on TripAdvisor in both the city and the province.
These employees (and friends!) receive a sustainable wage, healthcare, and a safe environment to work in from us. They describe the cafe as their second home, a place they’re proud to work in.
While we are the owners, we’re able to provide these benefits to our 7 employees, many of whom are supporting families.
However, after over 6 years the time has come for us to return to the US. We thought (and prayed) long and hard about what to do about the business and we have launched an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign today (July 1, 2017) so that the employees can raise the funds to be able to buy the business.
Our goal is to raise $100,000 to cover the costs of loan repayments and costs associated with turning over the cafe completely to our employees. They will become the sole owners of the business.
This will provide 7 employees and their families with reliable, honest work and a business they can continue to grow. This will also indirectly help many independent businesses we source from locally.
La Cosecha Ecuador has become a place of meeting within the community and we work hard to source our products from local farmers and artisans who rely on our business.
I should warn you – this next video is going to make you crave chocolate and icing and syrup… (You’ve been warned…)
How’s your Spanish?
NOW our Spanish is quite good!
We knew nothing more than “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me” when we got off the plane 6 years ago. We both definitely feel like we hit a plateau about 3 years in, and could be doing more to improve (my past and future tense verb conjugations are really abysmal) but we can communicate really well with the locals.
We feel it is SUPER important to learn the language of the country you choose to live in. There are so many reasons we chose to live here vs in the US for the past 6 years, and I feel strongly that if you are choosing to be somewhere other than “home” you need to make this new place your home. How can you do that if you can’t communicate?
Granted it was not easy to learn, and it’s still very hard at times to express feelings, but we don’t feel lost and confused like we did the first year!
More reading: The Best Book to Learn Spanish (Reader’s Choice)
How do you make your living?
We work online. I was in a good position when we moved down here, already working online part time, so the transition was very easy. We had a nice stable income coming in.
How is the cost of living in Ecuador?
The cost of living is obviously less than in the US, but we feel that there is an over-exaggeration on the web in general. Yes, you CAN live on $500 a month as most Ecuadoreans do, but that means living and eating like an Ecuadorean.
Basic necessities of life are cheap (propane gas, electricity, home phone, water, fuel for your car) but anything else is not (wine and beer, internet, a car itself, beauty products).
Personally, I was not willing to give up certain luxuries like having hot water in the kitchen, having secure garage parking for our car, having a washer and dryer, etc, and those things mean that our rent is much higher than what an average Ecuadorean is paying. But I am happy 🙂
Working online and running web meetings and phone calls means we need good internet…. here in Otavalo that means paying for a fiber plan, which is not available in our area at the residential rate, which means our internet is shockingly more expensive than it would be at home for a fraction of the speed.
Other parts of Otavalo do now have fiber at the residential rate, but it’s not in our area yet… so that’s something to consider when choosing where you are going to live (the situation would be different for us in Quito, or even Cuenca I’d imagine).
We also find that we spend the same amount on groceries here as we did when we lived in the US. We like to cook Indian and Thai food at home, and that requires things like coconut milk ($5 a can!). I like to have a bottle of wine in the house. If you have any sort of allergy (i.e. dairy) it’s going to be very expensive to buy alternative milk.
So if you want to just buy your veggies in the market and eat rice and beans, you can spend much less on groceries than we do.
Oh – I am also particular about where I buy my meat – I don’t feel comfortable buying it where the locals do (you’ll see what I mean when you see a pickup truck drive by with 100 whole chickens in the bed! I think you’ll opt for Mr. Pollo from the grocery store too!).
All that being said, we did come down for a visit first, and we spent a huge amount of time in the grocery store looking at what was available and how much it cost. So the cost of groceries wasn’t really a surprise for us once we moved down here.
We also go home for a visit once a year and stock up on certain things (a big bag of protein powder, a big thing of peanut butter and coconut oil, a year’s worth of mascara!) that are pricey or nonexistent here.
It’s all a balancing act. Everyone needs different things to be happy. At the end of the day, we love being here, but it is a foreign country and it is tiring being out and about all day speaking Spanish.
So we want to have a home that is comfortable. Our definition of “comfortable” will be different from yours. But figure out what that means to you!
You might enjoy learning more about Otavalo Market.
What do you love about Ecuador?
Here are five things I love about living in Ecuador:
- Love the climate!
- Love the mountains (for hiking and for looking at).
- Love that the people are happy with what they have, not looking for more (generally speaking).
- Love that family is super important and family time is highly valued.
- Love to talk to the locals and see their joy when we say “we love it here!” and they realize we chose to be here vs the country we were raised in.
Things that are still hard for me to handle after 6 years:
- the disorganization and how everyone is just totally OK with it.
- fireworks at 3am for 10 days in a row for no reason that I can seem to figure out! And when I ask people about it they say “es por las santas” (it’s for the saints). WHAT?! It wasn’t even a holiday week! But they don’t care!
- the complete disregard for personal safety (not using the overpasses to cross the highway, having a whole family, 2 adults a baby and a child, on a motorcycle and no one but the driver is wearing a helmet).
I feel totally safe here in Otavalo BUT that being said, don’t fall into the trap of feeling safe. We don’t leave our cell phones out on the table, or our bags unattended.
I am discreet with my wallet when using the ATM or paying anywhere. We don’t leave the windows open in our house when we are not home. We try to be alert to our surroundings.
Only once in our entire time here did we ever almost get robbed, and it was during XMAS week when Otavalo was super full of people and I was stupid – I had my cell in an outer zipped pocket of my purse and some guy had his hand IN MY BAG.
Thankfully I realized it and was able to get away from him before he got my phone, but honestly that would have been on me if he had gotten it! And that’s the only time in 6 years.
So be careful, don’t get too comfortable. Think about how you would act if you were visiting any city in the US that you didn’t know…. or even that you DID know!
Housing depends SO much on the area. If you want to be out in the country it may be much harder or more expensive to find something nice vs if you want to be in a city like Cuenca or Quito.
Make a list of what things are important to you and what things are “nice to have” because chances are you won’t find it all. You may have to compromise so know in advance what you’re not willing to compromise on (i.e. car parking or hot water).
Two Ecuador Living Tips
- My #1 tip is: VISIT! Visit Visit Visit! Ideally for a few months! If you can only visit for a short time then I’d recommend finding a way (if possible) to make the first 6 to 9 months of your move not permanent… coming down on a tourist visa, maybe renting out your home in the US before selling it and maybe renting a furnished place here for a year. It is not cheap to set up an apartment here and you really need to be sure. 2 weeks it NOT enough time to be sure.
- My #2 tip is: learn the language. It will be hard, but even if it’s slow going the locals REALLY appreciate your efforts. And you will get so much more out of the country when you can communicate. You’ll meet some great people and hear some great stories.
We used tools like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo which are great, but we really came into the language when we took classes 2x a week. Our teacher kept us accountable and while I hated doing the homework, it really helped.
Andra and Josh have been living in Otavalo for 6 years now, and are actually going to be moving back to the US in September.
Hi, I’m Bryan Haines. And I’m a co-founder of this site. I’m a traveler and photographer. I also blog about photography with a focus on GoPro and action cameras.