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Loja, Ecuador: Diamond in the Rough or Just Rough?

Located in the nation’s Southern Sierra, Loja, Ecuador, may very well be one of the country’s most underrated retirement destinations.  Known as the “Valley of Smiles,” it’s a friendly village whose amenities rival, if not exceed, those of some of its more popular counterparts.

Loja, Ecuador

Georgia Popplewell

One of the oldest cities in Ecuador, it’s also one of the most pioneering. Loja successfully marries authentic colonial charm with modern conveniences, and it comes with an attractive price tag.  In many ways, Loja, Ecuador Real Estate, offers its foreign residents the best of both worlds.

And, while the city does receive its fair share of tourists, surprisingly few expats have made it their permanent retirement destination.  This could make it the ideal place for those looking for a more authentic expat experience in a place that doesn’t seem to be headed in too much of a North American direction.

Here are a few things would-be expats should know about undiscovered Loja, Ecuador:

Despite its rural location, it’s incredibly easy to reach and get around in.

Located in the Cuxibamba Valley, Loja is surrounded by lush, green mountains that cascade down into beautiful valleys with rushing rivers.  Its climate and elevation of 6,750 feet above sea level make it the perfect place for growing crops ranging from coffee to plantains to citrus fruits.  Those who want to own a large tract of land or farm can easily find one.

However, Loja itself is a very walkable city.  In fact, most residents find owning a car to be unnecessary for day-to-day life.  Taxis are readily available and inexpensive.  They can shuttle you across town for about a buck or even to other parts of the country. Loja has a modern bus system, as well as jet transport to other major cities in Ecuador via its nearby airport.

Loja, Ecuador, may have the world’s most ideal climate.

With daily temperatures rarely rising much above 70 degrees, you won’t need air conditioning.  Heat is also unnecessary, although the cool nights will require a few extra layers.  This same wardrobe will get you through the entire year, though, as there’s very little seasonal variation.

What fluctuation there is comes in the form of a wet and dry season.  The best weather days are in October to January.  The wettest time is February through May, but the daily afternoon rainbow is likely to make you forget about any inconvenience.

Loja offers modern amenities without compromising any of its authentic details.

Established in 1548, Loja is one of the oldest cities in Ecuador.  Its town squares are full of statues, frescoes, and other remnants of its colonial past.  Original structures, with their arched doorways and wide balconies, stand adjacent to similar new construction designed to complement the city’s historic architecture.  This harmony of old and new is something that Loja intentionally aimed for and achieved beautifully.

Loja established itself as one of Ecuador’s most forward-thinking cities when it became the first to make use of electricity, as early as 1897.  It has continued this trend of well-planned modernization and industrialization, while still maintaining its historic charm.

Visitors to Loja can tour centuries-old churches like the Fatima and Santo Domingo. They also have access to conveniences often found only in much larger cities, including several universities, shopping centers, and hospitals.  Its technology is up to par, and its nightlife rivals some of the country’s liveliest destinations with its restaurants, bars, and other happening hotspots.

The city has also thrived financially as a result of its carefully planned economic development.  It has also been internationally recognized for its efforts to protect its environment and natural resources.

Loja, Ecuador, is the ideal place for optimal cultural immersion.

With a population of about 185,000 people, Loja has a more small-town feel than many of its competing expat destinations.  For comparison the mountain town of Cuenca, located 3 hours north of Loja, has almost double the population at 330,000.

The people of Loja are friendly and social.  The town’s squares function as places to relax, spend some time people-watching, or meet up with friends.  The locals also welcome foreign residents in a way that’s much different than many expat destinations.

Loja has virtually no expat community to speak of.  As a result, immigrants are treated as just another member of the local community.  Not as just another gringo.  While many would-be expats are deterred by cities without an established expat community, others welcome the opportunity to be accepted on their own merits and not pigeonholed into a certain stereotype.

Loja is both safe and affordable.

Like many other smaller-scale expat destinations, Loja does not suffer some of the problems of its larger counterparts.  For starters, it’s an incredibly safe city.  It experiences far less crime than in places like Guayaquil or Cuenca, or the capital city of Quito.  Residents can walk through the city streets in the middle of the night without any concern for their safety or fear of robbers.

And since it’s still somewhat off the radar of most expats,  real estate prices (and for that matter, everything) in Loja are still reasonable.  A large, picturesque 70-acre property on the outskirts of town, complete with waterfalls and a view, will only set you back $150,000.  A two- or three-bedroom apartment in town rents for as little as $300 per month.  In fact, a couple could enjoy a fine lifestyle in Loja for $1,000 per month, less if they want to live more like locals.

A 3-course meal for two in a nice restaurant runs around $15.  You can enjoy a pint of domestic beer in a local pub for $1.  And there are no “gringo prices.”  Whether you’re renting a car or buying land, you can rest assured that the amount you’re being quoted is the same as what locals would pay.

Loja is the musical and cultural capital of Ecuador.

As one of the few expats in Loja, you will have a front row seat to some of the best culture Ecuador has to offer.  Unarguably, most of the the country’s most talented musicians and composers got their start in Loja.  Music can be heard throughout the city most evenings, from the bands at the outdoor restaurants to the lone crooners on their balconies.

The city is home to a noted music conservatory.  It also has two orchestras.  You can check out the local talent at the Teatro Bolivar, which offers many concerts free of charge.

In addition to its musical scene, Loja also offers a local movie house and museums with a variety of historical and art exhibits.  If you’re looking to take up some of the hobbies of the locals, the Allianza Francesa offers both cooking and dancing lessons.  The Virgen del Cisne festival is another popular cultural event, where a famous statue makes it annual pilgrimage from nearby El Cisne to the town of Loja and back again.

Loja, Ecuador


Loja is perfect for those who want to live a healthy life in harmony with nature.

The natural beauty and climate of Loja, Ecuador, make it an ideal place to live a healthy lifestyle and enjoy everything the environment offers.  Due to its year-round spring-like weather, fresh tropical fruits and vegetables can be grown all year.  You can grow them yourself or buy them at the local markets for a fraction of the prices you’d pay in North America.

Fresh squeezed fruit juices are very popular.  They’re packed with vitamins and so much tastier than the bottled varieties.  The area offers several well-equipped gyms and fitness centers, all for very reasonable prices.

In addition to the healthy food and fitness options, it’s proven that being in nature is just flat out good for you.  And Loja is a great place to do just that.

Nearby Podocarpus National Park is a habitat for approximately 800 species of birds, as well as others that have yet to be discovered.  It’s also one of the last major habitats for the spectacled bear.  The area’s jungles and cloud forests also offer miles of opportunities for exploration.

While there’s speculation as to the accuracy of its claims, the region is known to be one of the healthiest in the world.  Due to the quality of its drinking water, as well as its challenging terrain and nutrient-rich produce, nearby Vilcabamba has been studied for the longevity of its residents, many of whom are reported to have lived to be over 100 years old.

The mere fact that other expats are overlooking Loja, Ecuador, may be reason enough to consider it as a potential destination.  It’s either a still little-known city that will eventually experience the same boom as some of its neighbors.  Or it could be one of those well-kept secrets that manages to remain untouched and unaffected by the increasing influx of North American immigrants.

Either way, now is a great time to take a closer look at this hidden Latin American gem.

Map of Loja, Ecuador

Use this map to see the proximity of Loja to the nearest international airport, GYE, in Guayaquil.

Loja Ecuador Fast Facts

  • Population: About 200,000.
  • Typical temperature: Ranges from the 60s to mid 80s
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Camilo Ponce Enriquez airport in Catamayo, 30 km (30 min) distant. From there, it is possible to fly to Quito or Guayaquil.
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: Quito

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36 thoughts on “Loja, Ecuador: Diamond in the Rough or Just Rough?

  1. 1

    I really wanted to read this post but the Boca Chica hike ad is blocking it!!!!!!

  2. 2

    Not many expats live there because of the noise level in the city. Noisy traffic and the sound of car alarms fll the air. It is a same….

  3. 3

    After living here for over 3 years we would suggest exploring just south of Loja to Vilcabamba, known for it’s longevity of it’s citizens. There is a great Expat community not found in other locations in Ecuador.

    Great article and thanks for spreading the good message about this incredible place on Earth.

    • 4

      I was looking to move to a tropical paradise a hidden treasure, Looking at Cuenca Equador then stumbled into Loja, now you mentioned Vilcamba, What are the natural disasters’ we need to be aware of. Only living there for three years – where did you come from? I love hearing it is a great place to live

      • 5

        Thanks for commenting Debbie! Wikipedia describes Vilcabamba as “a village in the southern region of Ecuador, in the Loja province, and the area has been referred to as the “Playground of the Inca” which refers to its historic use as a retreat for Incan royalty. A mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters, overlooks the valley.

      • Jonathan Robinson

        I’m trying to get a sense of what the weather is like in the “rainy season” which I understand is January to March…the very time I have each year to be away. Is the rainy season a time when there is little or no sun…like the northwest cost of the US and Vancouver Canada, or is Ecuador rainy season more like Nicaraguan rainy season…sunny all day…rains at 6 pm for 15 minutes and then more sun? I like so much of what I hear about Ecuador, but I’m worried I can’t be there when it’s reasonably sunny?

    • Helios Carpenter

      No, don’t spread the word!

  4. 8

    Happy new year , we would love to learn more about the differences between Loja and Vilcabamba. I hva a few more years tlo officially retire and want to get involved in social servicesand churches wherever i go.. can we surivive modestly with say $ 1,000 usd prr month incl rent?? Any Baptist churches in those areas? What towns are safer to rent in?? If you would be so kind and write to me at. [email protected] Lord bless, Joe n Ra2uel ee are. Saved To Serve …..thats it. Joe

    • Margarita Scoz

      Hi everyone , my name is Margarita Scoz I was born in Ambato, Ecuador but I live in Boca Raton USA for over 40 years. I am planning to retire and move to Ecuador and Loja seems to be a good choice . Not familiar with all details about Loja , but since I have lots of relatives and friends in Ecuador I can be of help to anyone with legal. Medical or any questions you may have my direct e- mail is [email protected]

    • Margarita Scoz

      Lots of Baptist churches everywhere in Ecuador ‘ I am sure you can find them in Loja

    • 12

      Hello Joe. I just came from Loja I took my girlfriend there to visit, I was kind of skeptical because I don’t have any luxury to offer her. I told her am poor and my city Loja is poor but when I got there I was totally wrong I found a very well develop city, people love and respect foreigners, I think 1,000 dollars is too much money I think you will need less, I think there is/are baptist churches. Me and my girlfriend are going to start building a house in Loja and also buy a land in the nearby town of Malacatos it is like 20 minutes from Loja. Ecuadorian government is going to lower the interest rate for construction this july and am going to ride tthe boat taking this new rate opportunity. Ilike Loja but I also like Malaatos and Vilcabamba where you can plant any fruit. Good luck

      • 13

        Thanks even though im a little late in answering. Im convince Loja is the place and habe connectd very well with a local church Semilla de Mostaza. Hope to be there later 2016.

  5. 14

    I have been looking to venture out and find a hidden treasure, a peaceful, healthy place to live. I was looking at Cuenca Equador at first but then stumbled into Loja – now you mention Vilcabamba – I need to look at that now. What are the mother nature natural disaster’s we need to be aware of and what does the job market look like.

    • 15

      Job market? We have a Sunday market. Haven’t seen a job market in Vilca. You pretty much need to make a living selling something, usually something to eat or wear. Unless you have a retirement check coming in, which is also your ticket to residency visa. It is a very lovely place to live, though. Not exactly beautiful, but very slow, friendly, warm, not hot.

  6. 16

    Loja with Caveats – For those of you thinking about retirement here, I think it´s fair to add some caveats about Loja. After one and a half years in Cuenca, I came to Loja primarily to focus on getting better at Spanish and to get away from a daily use of English. The fact that there is no expat community here and very few foreigners makes it ideal for my purposes. If you live in Loja, you will be pressed to use Spanish just to go about your daily business. Also, Loja is well known for being the city of Ecuador with the best traditional Spanish. Loja has a prestigious history as a cultural center of literature and music which reached its apex in the 1940s. The central area of the city (old town) is small and easy to get to know. Taxi trips are $1-$2. People are friendly once you break the ice and as they realize you are living in the city (or outskirts) they are quite hospitable. The caveats are: Loja is quite noisy! This is a major thing for some people and wouldn´t use the word ”peaceful” to describe the city. There is a lot of traffic congestion here (although pollution in the central part of Cuenca is worse), a lot of honking horns, loud motorcycles, loud mufflers,etc… You may be able to avoid this by buying property outside or on the outskirts of the city, but it calls for some very good preliminary research. Loja is not as charming as Cuenca in many ways and I think most foreign visitors find it quite rough and unpleasant (mostly for the dense traffic and noise). Almost all of the colonial style homes have disappeared. What´s left of the colonial heritage are the churches and some municipal buildings. Loja is simply not for every expat looking to retire and enjoy some peace and quiet. But if you are interested in getting immersed in the language and culture of Ecuador, and prefer a small town ambience, Loja might be the right place for you.

    • 17

      Wow! Gary W, you answered every question I had about Loja. Thank you.

    • 18

      I believe my wife & I met you at a pizza shop during our recent visit to Loja.
      You came over to our table and we spoke Spanish the entire time. So how
      are you liking Loja at this time ? We’re investigating Loja as a city to live.

  7. 19

    Hi what about hospitals/ healthcare/malls/movies/charitable social service agencies/ evangelical non-charasmatic churches/safety day n night/banking for expats/transporting your car or better to ourchase one there/how bad is the rain season,how cold at night?/police presence? Thanks, Joe

  8. 20

    Gary, Great Blog. We’ve visited Loja on two(2) trips, and I do believe your comments are right on. I recommend the HoJo for Lodging, very American-Style and Great Views of Loja at night.
    there’s a good sports bar across the street from the hotel too

  9. 21

    Hi everyone,
    I have been to Ecuador, mainly Quito, several times already to improve my Spanish. Want to visit Loja this year in Oct./Nov.
    Does anyone know about language schools or private teachers in the area?
    If you do, please send me an email!

  10. 22

    Having visited Loja, in November 2013, I found it to be a veritable paradise if you like small city life. It is very cultural, particularly in music. Also, I was told it was voted the cleanest city in South America and I can attest to that. Very inexpensive, especially at the central market for fresh vegetables and other foods. The climate is magnificent and the people are wonderful. I do speak Spanish and this was very helpful. I am planning to retire there or in Vilcabamba ( somewhat more costly due to influx of American expats). All in all, I believe it to be the best place to live out the rest of my life peacefully, in this horribly unpeaceful world.

    • 23

      Franco, Wow! Thanks for your on the ground perspective of Loja, Ecuador.

      • 24

        My wife and I are American with Hispanic roots, I was born and raised in Venezuela and my wife in Spain. We are interested in exploring Loja, Vicabamba, and Cuenca for our retirement still some years away. We would want to arrange for a trip next year to these areas to have a first hand look . Can you share information as to how to arrange for such a trip possibly for about two weeks. Leaving from US. What transportation can be used from town to town what services are the most reliable. Do you have a list of reliable lawyers, doctors, real state agents, dentists, taxi service, builders, contractors. We are looking for a place that is quite but close to all modern life services. I want to grow my own fruits and vegetables therefore a god amount of land is a must. Our trip will likely occur March next year during spring break. Any information you can share will be greatly appreciated.

        Thanks in advance!!

        • 25

          I recently joined ”” tour .I highly recommend them for anyone wanting to consider retiring in Ecuador. We visited the Sierra, the coastline, all of the Cities and the mountains. Gives an overall experience of what might be a good place to retire. The trip will answer all of your questions plus more. Go to their website to learn more. The wealth of information and experience I gained is priceless!

    • 26

      My sentiments exactly Franco:-)

  11. 27

    Love hearing all the news about Loja. I am planning on going there for a vacation this next spring. I want to check it out with the intent of retiring there in the coming year. Any information for a new expat would be appreciated; healthcare, home rentals etc. would be appreciated!

  12. maraleeCostino

    Would like updates on Loja and Vilcabamba

  13. 29

    Loja is a very musical city. We have traveled and stayed there for 4 years now, usually staying 2-3 months at a time. You can enjoy state of the art symphonies with Andrea Vela at least once or twice a month for free. It is nice to have taxis & buses so readily available to get around town inexpensively. Otherwise walking is a great option. I must let you know though that the sidewalks are pretty narrow on most streets and a lot of the streets are one way. I can vouch that the people are very hospitable & kind. Once you make a “Lojano” friend you have a friend for life. It is very helpful to know some spanish. We get by not knowing much, but there are spanish schools and private tutors in town. We have used a private tutor at a low cost and it has been helpful!

  14. 30

    Enjoying this site.It’s very informative.From B.C. Canada

  15. 31

    Can someone please give me an exact name/contact for Spanish lessons, preferably a program maybe at the University or private that would include living with a family. 1-2 weeks. I keep hearing there are Spanish programs and Spanish teachers in Loja, but I can’t locate even 1 anywhere on the internet. Thanks for your help. I currently live in Ecuador north, and want to come to Loja in August. Gracias!

  16. 32

    Many of you will think this is a stupid question….but being from the southern US, I love American college football…any chance I’d be able to get stations there to watch the games ?
    Can you get ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN ? SEC Network ? Fox Sports 1 and 2 ? Anything ? Thanks very much !

    • 33

      Yes. We have cable Edgenaples .. lol is not that we live in the caves. . Just pay a full HD cable and youll watch your football games like you were in Texas. . But with a waterfall on your window. ; )

  17. 34

    Would like to receive updates with regard to the area. Sounds like a good place to consider retirement.

  18. 35

    My wife and I have visited Loja about 3 years ago and want to come back next year to look for a small finca out in the country side of the city. Can anyone give us contact information for people selling this type of property. Muchas Gracias.

  19. 36

    I’m in my 5th year of living in Ecuador, most of that time in Loja. It’s an incredibly beautiful very authentic Ecuadorian city. (The beauty is natural beauty, not human-made and you have to get away from the really urban parts to see it well, something that very few expats ever do.) More than 100 North American retiree expats have tried to settle in the city of Loja over the last 5 years but most leave before they even complete one year of living here. It’s much harder to settle in a place without an expat community for most. Because there are so few North Americans permanently living here, I end up answering questions about Loja all the time, sometimes more than 40 hours per week. I now have a series of blogs about Loja. The “grandmother” page is, and currently the “mother” page is I also have a very active Facebook group that provides hundreds of questions/answers at Best of luck to all of you in your research and decisions.

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