Opportunity for growth, adventure, and a unique tropical lifestyle await expats and investors in Portoviejo, Ecuador. This growing city, the sixth largest in the country, blends contemporary living, a rich history, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor exploration and activities.
As one of the fastest emerging retirement destinations, Ecuador’s Pacific region has become a focal point for expats and investors. Portoviejo’s location and role as the capital of Manabi Province has become a hub for those seeking to find a tropical respite with investment possibilities.
Portoviejo – Then and Now
Founded March 12, 1535 by the Spanish captain Francisco Pacheco as “Villa Nueva de San Gregorio de Portoviejo,” on the Pacific coastline, Portoviejo is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador. It was actually moved inland some thirty kilometers to its current location in 1528 as a result of repeated conflicts with the indigenous tribes in the area.
Portoviejo, Ecuador is also known as the “City of the Royal Tamarind Trees.” These beautiful trees are found in abundance in and around the city and are a source of pride to locals.
As the principal commercial and governmental center of the Portoviejo River Valley, Portoviejo has become the hub for agricultural processing in the region. In addition to tropical fruits and vegetables, coffee production, fishing ,and cattle ranching are also prominent in the area.
In spite of economic setbacks in the 1980s and 1990s, Portoviejo has rebounded and looks to continue its recovery as expats and investors discover the opportunities that are waiting there. In a very real sense, the motto of Portoviejo captures this “can do” attitude: Portoviejo se Levanta Querer es Poder (English: Portoviejo rises, to want is power).
Fun and Games in and around Portoviejo
The Manabi province has many activities that can entertain and educate expats and visitors alike. With beach towns like Crucita, Jaramijo, and Manta in close proximity, Portoviejo is an ideal jumping-off point to explore and experience the Pacific coast of Ecuador.
Manta and the Nearby Beaches
Manta is the second largest coastal city in Ecuador and has a vibrant ocean-driven culture. It is thought that Manta is home to the largest fishing fleet in South America and proudly proclaims itself as “Tuna Capital of the World.”
Being only 23 miles from Portoviejo, Manta’s beaches are readily accessible from the city by both car and bus. There are two beaches to the north and west (Barbasquillo and El Murcielago) and three to the east (La Poza, Los Esteros and Tarqui).
There are several other beach locations in the area. One of the most popular is Playa San Marianita; this is not only one of the most “family friendly” beaches but also recognized as the most popular location for kitesurfing in Ecuador.
Roughly an hour’s drive from Portoviejo is Machalilla National Park. This preserve features beaches, two islands, a fog forest, and a dry forest. With so many ecosystems to experience, the park has become one of the Pacific region’s major attractions.
A different kind of eco-experience can be found just outside of Portoviejo in the nearby village of Sosote. Here artisans make handcrafted items from Tagua nuts. Tagua is a palm nut similar to ivory and used for a variety of carved items. Known as “palm ivory,” this fruit of the palm tree is viewed as a viable and more ecological alternative to using elephant tusks or other sources of ivory.
Getting to Portoviejo
Since Portoviejo does not have an international airport, most visitors begin their journey by flying into Quito. From there, TAME, the domestic airline of Ecuador, flies a single scheduled flight daily to the small regional airport (Reales Tamarindo Airport) just outside of the city.
There are regularly scheduled buses that run from Quito and Guayaquil as well as private shuttles and rental cars. The driving time can be somewhat lengthy but is an adventure in and of itself.
Budgeting for Expat Living in Portoviejo, Ecuador
As the sixth largest city in Ecuador and a governmental seat (capital city of Manabi province), prices in central Portoviejo for housing and amenities are somewhat higher than the less-developed regions in and between the city and beach areas. The trade-off is that the amenities and services in central Portoviejo are more established and closer in standards to similar-sized communities in the U.S.
Like most areas, the location and size of a residence are major factors in the cost, whether purchased or rented. Availability is another factor in determining how much a particularly property sells or rents for.
The Real Estate Market Has Rebounded
Following the financial crisis in 2008, Portoviejo, like many other communities in Central and South America, has experienced a resurgence in the real estate market. Prices are still lower than in Quito or Guayaquil and also include commercial units as well as residential units.
Potential buyers and investors can find a selection of completed properties that range from rustic, traditional Ecuadorian style homes, to luxurious beachfront villas. There is also the possibility of finding lots ready for development and working farms for individuals seeking a different lifestyle with a strong potential for return on investment.
Rents can run the gamut for as little as $200 per month to over $1,000. Apartments in the center of Portoviejo with modern amenities are naturally at the higher end of the spectrum. Single family homes may run even higher depending on whether or not they are in a gated community.
Shopping, Utilities, and Medical Expenses
Utilities such as electricity, water, heat, and garbage can run in the $25 to $60 a month range depending on usage. The cost for internet and cable TV/satellite service, while varying by plan, can be estimated in the area of $30 to $70 per month.
Groceries and food are difficult to estimate as tastes vary from person to person. Buying local produce and meats is certainly a more budget-friendly option that the higher-priced imported items.
Durable goods, such as appliances and vehicles are, as might be expected, high-ticket items due to the import fees and taxes. By way of example, a vehicle costing $25,000 in the U.S. might run $30,000 or more in Ecuador.
One area that is certainly budget friendly is medical expenses. Portoviejo, like other major Ecuadorian cities, offers quality health care at significantly lower rates that its North American counterparts. Health insurance can also be purchased from Ecuadorian carriers at much more affordable rates than one might expect. The city is also home to the cancer treatment hospital “Dr Julio Villacreses Colmont.”
Further Considerations about Expat Life
Portoviejo and the entire Manabi province certainly provide opportunities to create and personalize a tropical retirement. There are some realities to take under advisement before committing time and resources to a move.
First and foremost is the fact that, while the expat community is growing, the number of expats in and around Portoviejo is small. As a result, language and cultural difference could become barriers that detract from the lifestyle you were hoping to find.
Second, developing property (as opposed to buying/renting a completed structure) can be challenging in a variety of ways. If you aren’t comfortable with having to deal with the myriad of issues that building your own home can bring, this may not be the best choice for your future getaway.
Lastly, it is important to remember that many of the items and conveniences found in the U.S., Canada, and Europe are either unavailable or difficult to find in the region. Again, if having access to these things is important, you should ask yourself whether not having them would be a deal breaker.
Finding Out If Portoviejo Is a Good Fit
There is no substitute for going to the city, experiencing what life is like there, exploring the region and then seeing how the reality matches up with the dream. You may just discover that, like Portoviejo’s motto says: to want is power.
Map of Portoviejo, Ecuador
Portoviejo, Ecuador Fast Facts
- Population: 207,000
- Typical temperature: 72º F.
- Major airports with U.S. flights: José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport – Guayaquil, Ecuador .
- Nearest U.S. consulate: Guayaquil
If you’ve never traveled to Ecuador’s northern coast (or if you haven’t in a while), Bahia de Caraquez, known to the locals as Bahia, Ecuador, is one city that’s worth a second look.
Once a bustling port city, Bahia was virtually devastated by El Niño rains and an earthquake in the late 1990s. Determined to overcome these tragedies, the town re-established itself as an up-and-coming eco-city, and the results have been astounding.
Bahia’s Climate Makes It an Ideal Coastal Destination
Although it lies just 40 miles south of the equator, on a peninsula at the mouth of the River Chone, Bahia’s climate is surprisingly comfortable. The city lies in a dry tropical belt that experiences relatively low humidity and temperatures averaging around 80 degrees from May through November.
A wet season begins in December or January and can run as late as April. During those months, the sky is often overcast with evening showers and temps closer to 85 and moderate humidity.
There’s a constant breeze blowing off the ocean, which helps considerably with the heat. As a result, there’s less need for air conditioning. You might even find yourself reaching for a sweater or blanket at night.
Such conditions are considered by many expats to be a breath of fresh air from a lot of the hotter, more humid coastal cities. Many also find they prefer mild, coastal living to the thinner air that plagues the colonial cities that lie at higher altitudes.
Bahia Offers a Great Mix of Residents
Bahia, Ecuador is a city of only around 30,000 regular inhabitants, which allows it to maintain a small-town feel, despite its popularity as a beach destination. Most of the locals come from very meager backgrounds, but they aren’t looking to take advantage of visitors and expats.
Instead they’re warm and welcoming to the many middle- and upper-class citizens from Quito and Guayaquil who have vacation homes in the area. In fact, Bahia has a reputation for being an incredibly friendly city.
It’s also extremely safe, with the lowest crime rate in all of Ecuador. Just like with any other foreign city, you should use care not to carry around wads of cash or flash extravagant items. But in Bahia you don’t have to worry about getting swindled by the locals or walking around late at night.
Because Bahia has historically been somewhat cut off from much of the rest of the country, it doesn’t see a lot of international travelers or expats. However, that seems to be changing.
In fact, on my last visit I was surprised to see that an established expat community does exist, albeit a small one.
Bahia, Ecuador Has Just Enough of the Attractions You Crave
Whatever your tropical passion, you’re practically guaranteed to find a place to enjoy it at least near to, if not in, Bahia. Yet at the same time, it’s not overrun with tour buses or overpriced souvenir shops.
There are beaches with small waves that are safe for swimming, yet at times steady enough for long boarding. You can also go water skiing, sail boarding, or fishing. Both hang-gliding and surfing lessons are available just up the road in Canoa.
Bahia offers a plethora of birds and other wildlife. The nearby Isla Fragatas and Isla Corazon are home to a variety of birds. Saiananda is a local park that’s home to deer, donkeys, ostriches, geese, and sloths. Whale-watching is also a popular pasttime.
There’s also the Chirije archaeologial site and the Rio Muchacho organic farm to explore.
It’s worth mentioning here that Bahia’s beaches are somewhat limited. Due to significant beach erosion in recent decades, the south shore of the peninsula is narrow and often crowded. At high tide it can become almost completely submerged. The north (bay) side of the peninsula is polluted and unsuitable for swimming.
In terms of consumer options, Bahia has everything you’d expect to find in a mid-sized tourist destination, including a new modern supermarket. What you can’t find in town you can easily get from a nearby large city like Manta or Portoviejo.
One other area where some expats might find Bahia a bit lacking is in its cultural offerings. While it does have a few attractions, like a great museum, it doesn’t have a lot of them.
Bahia’s Eco-friendly Initiatives Keep Everything Nice and “Green”
Bahia is known throughout the country’s as Ecuador’s cleanest coastal city, ever since it established itself as an eco-city, and the benefits are obvious as you stroll along the beach or through the pristine streets of the city.
Eco-friendly behaviors are a part of life in Bahia. Residents are encouraged to recycle and employ other sustainable practices. There’s daily garbage service, and the town even has its own paper recycling plant.
It was also the first coastal city in Ecuador to ban the use of plastic bags.
Living in Bahia, Ecuador Won’t Break the Bank
Like the rest of Ecuador, Bahia de Caraquez enjoys an extremely affordable cost of living. A mere $1,000 per month could buy you a very comfortable life there.
Factors that contribute to the low costs include government subsidized fuel (currently around $1.50 per gallon) and low wages. As a result, almost everything is cheaper in Ecuador and particularly in Bahia.
An almuerzo (a typical lunch of soup, salad, rice, and beans with meat) is only $1.50. You can enjoy the fresh juice that comes with it or spring for a $1 beer to wash it all down.
Other affordable perks include the services of a domestic helper, such as a maid or gardener, as well as inexpensive Spanish schools.
Bahia Has Bridged the Gap for Expats, Tourists, and Investors
What’s kept Bahia de Caraquez off the radar of most expats and international tourists, has been the fact that it was more than a little off the beaten path. Even merely crossing the Rio Chone, on the most direct route to Quito, once took three hours on a small ferry that held only 12 cars.
After the 2010 completion of the 1.25 mile (2 km) Bahia-San Vicente Bridge, however, the river can now be crossed in only 15 minutes. This longest bridge in Ecuador is expected to considerably boost trade and tourism to the area, as Bahia is now connected to nearby San Vicente, the fishing village of Canoa and basically the entire rest of Ecuador’s northern coast.
Getting to Bahia has never been easier thanks to the new bridge. There’s an airport in San Vicente, but it’s small and doesn’t run regular flights. The next closest are in Portoviejo or Manta, both of which are about 90 minutes or less by bus. The flight to these airports from Quito is only about a half hour.
There are also bus services that run to and from cities like Quito, Guayaquil, and Esmeraldas.
Why Now Is the Best Time to Purchase Bahia, Ecuador Real Estate
Bahia, Ecuador is a town that has clearly reinvented itself. Although it was due to unfortunate circumstances, the city has no doubt benefited from its fresh new eco-friendly image. This fresh start, combined with the drastic increase in accessibility from the new bridge, has brought new life and new interest to Bahia.
In addition to the renewed appeal of Bahia itself, the town is also strategically positioned for growth in the surrounding areas. The area across the bridge just north of Bahia is a naturally beautiful, and largely underdeveloped, coastal region. With the new infrastructure in place, it’s primed for a big surge in property values.
The bridge has also opened up a new path for the transportation of merchandise that can now be brought through Bahia on its way to the port city of Manta just 30 minutes south of town, making what could become a stop on a major thoroughfare.
As a result, the time is right to buy or invest in Bahia before prices start to rise. Here are a few examples of what you can get for your money in Bahia, Ecuador.
- Just $75,000 buys you a 2-bedroom, 2-bath beachfront penthouse with an ocean view in a gated complex with a pool and landscaped grounds.
- For $170,000 you can have a 3-bedroom, 3-bath condo in a high-rise building with panoramic views of the bay, the beach, and the city.
As you can see, Bahia is still a place to score a great bargain on real estate in an area that has the potential for tremendous growth in the near future. Consumer and cultural options that are currently lacking in the area are likely to be introduced soon.
Who knows? Maybe you could be the one to fill a much-needed niche in the city’s scene.