Quito, Ecuador: A Magnet for Expats, Investors and Adventurers
From its lofty perch (9,350 feet) on the eastern slopes of the active Pichincha Volcano, Quito, Ecuador is the highest official capital city in the world.
Long overlooked as a tourist or expat destination in favor what many had viewed as Ecuador’s premier attraction, the Galapagos archipelago, the unique blend of historical architectural neighborhoods, cultural diversity, stunning vistas and surprisingly affordable cost of living for those seeking to retire or relocate to a new and exciting locale, Quito has been “rediscovered” as a place to see and experience.
Why Quito, Ecuador has become a new investment and relocation hotspot
Favorable treatment of Ecuador by the U.S. Government as a trading partner
Over and beyond being a prime location to experience South American culture at its finest, Quito, Ecuador has also emerged as a vibrant spot for relocation, investment, and business opportunities for retirees and those who seek new horizons in which financial growth potential abound.
To begin with, the significant upgrades and improvements made by both municipal and Ecuadorian authorities have opened many investment and real estate opportunities both in the central area and in the ever-expanding outlying regions.
In 2011, as part, of the National Export Initiative, the U.S. government made a strong commitment to help U.S. companies grow their export market and expand business operations into Ecuador. Being the seat of the national government, Quito has become a major focal point for much of this growth and activity.
Importantly, on March 13, 2000, the U.S. Dollar became the official currency for the country. With U.S. products being favored by Ecuadorians, there is a real potential to develop business and financial partnerships that can provide true economic potential.
A new airport means enhanced access for both passengers and cargo
In 2013 the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport opened for business, expanding the growth potential for both the number of flights and the potential increase in cargo both imported into and exported from Quito.
The new airport also increased the safety of flights which no longer would have the task of taking off and landing over a dense urban area.
A vibrant and affordable real estate market
The real estate market is a strong and vibrant area that should appeal both for the investment potential and in terms of affordable housing. The biggest single draw for settling in a city like Quito is the affordability.
By way of example, an 85 square meter (900 Sq. Ft.) fully furnished unit located in an upscale part of Quito might run in the $700-$800 range with utilities running between $90-$100 per month.
If purchasing an apartment is under consideration, a potential buyer can expect to pay between $800 and $1100 per square meter (roughly 10 square feet) outside the city center and slightly higher ($800-$1200 per square meter) in the central area.
Tax advantages for seniors
Importantly for retirees, seniors can apply for property tax exemptions on the sale of properties. Annual property taxes are reasonable throughout the country as a whole. Taxes are generally assessed at roughly 2%-to 2½ % of the market value.
As might be expected, locations like central Quito might run higher than a rural home. By way of example, a home in an urban area that runs in the $170,000 range could have a taxable value of only $4,250.00.
The advantages of living in a highly developed community, like Quito, Ecuador, combined with the very favorable real estate situation make this an exciting and viable option for a move overseas.
Living in Quito, Ecuador – the potential for expats
In recent years interest in Quito, Ecuador has dramatically renewed as the “baby boomer” generation looks toward retirement and new locations where those retirement dollars can return a maximum amount of benefit as economically as possible.
As the nation’s capital, Quito has the kind of benefits one would expect of the country’s second largest city. The infrastructure is constantly being upgraded with such features as an increased number of electric trolleys (for example) that will help reduce pollution in this city of just under two million.
Moderate temperatures, moderate rain
The climate is as unique as the city’s history; most locals would agree that it is possible to experience “four seasons in a single day.” If you are looking for the tropical “beach life,” Quito is not for you. The temperatures are moderate year-round ranging from an average in the mid to high 60s during the day to a comfortable low in the high 40s to low 50s at night.
Like much of central and South America, there are only two “official” seasons – wet and dry. The “dry” season, June through September, matches the summer months in the U.S. and only has an average of 7 days of rain per month.
The “wet” season is far less daunting than other tropical destinations; the monthly average of precipitation during these months is 12.5 days. The most moisture-laden months, March through May and October, range from 13 to 15 days.
Modern amenities and low cost of living
As one would hope to find in a modern city, high-speed internet, cell phones, cable and satellite television are all accessible. Importantly, Ecuador does not tax U.S. social security payments and like other central and South American countries, the cost of medical treatment is significantly lower than in the U.S.
If you are over 65, there are numerous 50% discounts for utility bills, admission to sporting or cultural events and, as the number of expats continue to grow (some estimates put the number at between 5,000 and 10,000) existing expat communities will expand and new ones will be developed as Quito’s real estate potential grows.
Getting around in Quito – lots of options for tourists and expats alike
Inexpensive public transit system makes getting around an easy matter
With all the colonial charm infused in the city, it is easy to expect that transportation from one point to another could be a real challenge. Surprisingly, there are a number of affordable options that make exploring this colorful and historical center much easier and, for those who have decided to make Quito their expat destination, an inexpensive way to enjoy life in Ecuador’s cultural hub.
There are three types of buses that operate in Quito: Metrobus El Trolio and Ecovia. The Metrobus stations are painted blue and are marked with the letter “Q”. They run from the Universidad Central in America to the last station located at Carcelen. This is the best bus to take to visit the Mitad del Mundo Monument.
El Trolio has green stations and run from the La Y location in the northern part of the city to El Recreo in the south passing through the downtown area and runs the closet to Plaza Grande.
The third line is Ecovia. This line has red stations and buses and actually runs inside the historic Old Town district. With stops that range from Rio Coca station in the north to La Marin station in Old Town, this would be the choice to visit the Casa de la Cultura and Estadio Olimpico.
When leaving the airport, there is also the option of taking buses with the “Amazonas” or “Juan Leon Mera” route markers displayed that will take passengers to La Mariscal; buses with “La Marin” indicated will drop visitors within a short walk of Old Town.
Lots of options for getting around town
Public transportation in Quito, Ecuador is much less expensive than their equivalent service in the U.S. or Europe. A typical fare is $0.25 per person (U.S.). Taxis are also much less costly; the minimum daytime fare being $1.00 and the nighttime minimum $2.00.
Just as in the other parts of the world, make sure that the cab is one of the “official” vehicles that are painted yellow with a number on the door and that the driver actually turns on the meter before the trip starts. “Enterprising” taxi drivers looking to improve their daily fares seem to be a worldwide phenomena and Quito is no exception.
For the more enterprising, adventurous and athletic, there are bike rentals available at Yellow Bike or the Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental. There is a well-marked bike path through the northern part of the town.
Motorized scooter and motorcycles are also available at these businesses. While it is possible to rent a car in Quito, the city is better explored using public transportation, bicycling or on foot.
Quito’s past is the cornerstone of its future
As one of the first two cities (Krakow, Poland is the other) designated by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site, Quito can quite rightly be viewed as the cultural center of Ecuador as well as an important location in the history of South America.
Early beginnings as part of the Inca Empire
Quito’s roots were imbedded in time well before Sebastián de Belalcázar and 204 Spanish settlers founded the city on December 8, 1534. The site had been inhabited by the Quitus tribe. The Quitus were part of the pre-Columbian Quechua society that later became the Inca Empire in the early 1400s.
Known as the Kingdom of Quito, ancient Quito was the major community focal point for the pre-Incan people who first settled on the side of Pichincha. Under the Incan rule, Quito became the second most important city of their empire.
Quito figured prominently in the Incan Civil War. Following the death of the Incan ruler, Huyna Capac, in the early 1500s, two of his heirs, Atahualpa and Huscar, fought over who would succeed as the leader of the Empire. Atahualpa had the backing of Quito and several military leaders, while Huscar had the support of Cusco.
Atahualpa prevailed in 1532 only to fall to the Spanish under Pizzaro who executed the Incan in 1533. To spite the victorious Spaniards (and perhaps to keep any valuables from them) a local general, Rumiñahui, burned the city so that when de Belalcázar and his party arrived they found little of value remaining.
The Colonial era
During the Colonial era, Quito flourished as a center of commerce and importantly, an artistic pinnacle. The Quito School of Art, founded by students of the Franciscan missionary, Jodoco Ricke, displayed a unique and high quality of painting and sculpture that fused classic Spanish religious and indigenous native themes.
On May 24th, 1822, following nearly fifteen years of attempts to break the stranglehold of Spanish rule, Quito was liberated during the Battle of Pichincha and became part of Bolivar’s “Gran Colombia”.
Simón Bolivar and Manuela Sáenz
One of the key figures of Bolivar’s revolution is still revered as a hero in Quito, Ecuador today; although the correct designation should be “heroine”. Manuela Sáenz was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish officer and Ecuadorian woman.
When she was born in Quito in 1797 her mother’s family disowned both of them and Manuela was sent to the Santa Catalina convent, located in Quito. A free spirit, Manuela, at age 17, also got involved with a Spanish officer and the nuns threw her out.
Her father decided to marry her off to a English doctor who relocated to Lima in 1819 after the wedding. Being well-to-do, the doctor and his young wife moved in a lot of prominent social circles where Manuela was introduced to the changing face of South America.
The call of revolution was like a siren song to the young woman and, in 1822, she left her husband and life in Lima and returned to Quito. It was there that fate intervened and Manuela met Simón Bolivar. The two fell in love and Manuela soon became part of the fight for independence.
As part of Bolivar’s cavalry, she distinguished herself and, on August 6, 1824 after the Battle of Junin; subsequently, she would rise to the rank of Colonel for her efforts in the cause at Ayachuco on the personal recommendation of Bolivar’s second-in-command, General Sucre.
But it was her bravery on the night of September 25th, 1828 that earned her a place of honor both in Quito and the history of South America.
She and Bolivar were spending the night at the San Carlos palace in Bogotá when political opponents tried to assassinate Bolivar. Manuela threw herself between her lover and the attackers, giving him time to escape.
It was this act of heroism (or love) that moved Bolivar to give her the nickname “the liberator of the liberator.”
Ecuador becomes independent and Quito becomes the capital
In 1830, Ecuador left Bolivar’s Gran Colombia to become an independent nation. As the seat of art, culture and the living symbol of the resistance and struggle for freedom, Quito became the capital city of the fledgling nation and remains so to the present.
The sights of Quito – true Ecuadorian works of art
Religion and culture have played important roles in the buildings and streets of Quito. With over 40 churches, convents, and monasteries and 17 public squares, Quito has been labeled as “The Reliquary of the Americas” for the variety, amount and blend of indigenous, colonial and independence eras of influence both in style and utility.
The three zones of Quito
Quito can be roughly divided into three parts; the Old City-which is located in the center of Quito, the modern Northern Zone, and the working class neighborhoods of the southern and northern zone (north of the airport) that have fewer tourist attractions.
Much of the dramatic architecture of the ancient community was constructed using indigenous carved stone and locally made sun-dried brick. Following the Spanish triumph over the Incas and de Belalcázar’s arrival, builders used these materials as part of their construction of many of the monumental buildings still in evidence today in the Old City.
Top sites to visit in Quito, Ecuador
Here are just some of the unique and stunning “colors” to the pallet of Quito that completes the picture that this fascinating city paints:
Conjunto Monumental San Francisco: This grand house of worship dates back to the latter part of the sixteenth century. The Franciscan order was the first religious group to settle following the arrival of the conquistadors. The church is home to many fine examples of what has come to be known as “syncretic art”; these works embody the unique fusion of Roman Catholic religious art with native Ecuadorian elements. Perhaps the best known example of this is the sculpture of the “Virgin of Quito” by the artist Bernardo de Legarda.
La Virgin de Panecillo: Located on El Panecillo, a large hill next to the Old City, this sculpture is the inaccurate replica of the Legarda work. Visible from practically any point in the city, local Quitoans often say that she is the only virgin in the city. Given the steepness of the hillside, it is strongly recommended that a bus or taxi be used to make the climb.
Casa de la Cultura: Lots of local artisans can be found here. This is a great location to find handmade craft items and paintings not readily available anywhere else. There is no admission fee.
Mitad del Mundo: Meaning “middle of the world” this monument a short distance outside Quito commemorates the location where measurements were first taken in 1736 by members of the French Academy of Sciences to test the flattening of the Earth’s shape at the poles. The monument contains a marked line that supposedly indicated the path of the Equator; modern GPS technology has established that the actual equatorial line is roughly 240 feet north of the original line. The admission fee to the park is $2.00.
Calle de la Ronda: This street in Old Town was restored in 2007 with the help of the city and the local residents. With quaint shops, romantic cobblestone streets, cafes, restaurants and romantic atmosphere, visitors here are easily transported to the days of colonial Ecuador.
Museo Mindalae: This museum offers a distinct and unique perspective of the ethnic and historical background of Ecuador’s people and cultures. Covering the various societies from the Amazon basin to the Andes mountains, the exhibits demonstrate the rich heritage of Ecuador that Quito so rightfully represents.
Museo de la Ciudad: Located in the heart of Old Town across from the Carmen Alto monastery, this exhibition focus more on the social history of Quito and Ecuador than the other institutions. By viewing re-enacted scenes from the daily life of the common Ecuadorian, a true sense of living in this unique and colorful country can readily be gained. Whether looking at a domestic scene from the 1500s or witnessing a battle for independence with the Spanish, visitors can better appreciate the path Quito and Ecuador have taken.
Parque Bicentenario: The second largest park in the urban area, this open air recreational space is a tribute to the dedication to revitalizing Quito and making it a more desirable residential area as well as a commercial center. The area has actually reclaimed the space of the old Mariscal Sucre Airport that closed in 2013 and contains well marked paths for cycling and walking, outdoor exercise equipment and a man-made pond.
Plaza de la Independencia: Known locally as “Plaza Grande” it is both the physical and symbolic heart of Quito. As the central square of the city, it also represents the political and governmental power of Ecuador’s capital and the location of the offices of the country’s executives. The principal feature of the square is the monument to the heroes of August 10, 1809 marking the first declaration from Quito’s Royal Audience of the desire to be free of the Spanish rule.
TelefériQo Cruz Loma (or Teleferico): Billed as the second highest cable car/aerial lift in the world, these gondolas, located on the eastern face of the Pichincha volcano (which is still active) will carry visitors from a height of roughly 10,000 feet to a dizzying 14,000 in roughly eight minutes. At a cost of $8.50 per person ($4.00 for local residents), the ride is certainly worth it as the entire city of Quito is visible below on a clear day.
Become a part of Quito’s future
With all of the economic, cultural, and lifestyle potential that are contained in this thriving and growing Andean capital city the obvious question is: How to find out if this cultural cradle is a place for you? The only way to find out is to visit and experience all that Quito, Ecuador has and can offer in the future.
With an ever-tightening economy, Quito can provide a potential for those considering an expat lifestyle that is both economically practical and socially and culturally exciting.
There is a kind of magnetism in Ecuador’s capital city that is compelling and desirable. Allow Quito to weave its magic and the possibilities are endless.