I suppose when I look back I started planning this move in 1999 when I first visited Costa Rica.
I was a junior in college at this time and for Spring Break I went with 10 friends to Tamarindo where we rented a brand new beachfront 5 bedroom house with a pool for what I believe was about $200 a night. I couldn't believe the luxury we were living in for what basically came out to $25 per night per person. I was also drawn to the simplicity of the town, dirt roads, a number of outdoor bamboo cafes and bars with book exchanges, a surf shop on every corner, a couple dial up internet cafes, tiendas selling ice cream, fruits and veges, and one chain hotel (The Best Western). I felt like I had everything I needed. It was also at this point where I caught the surf bug as well and knew no matter where I ended up after college surfing was going to play a big part.
In 2002 the consulting company I was working for had been clobbered by the tech bubble and I had literally been "on the beach" (consultant speak for between engagements but literal for me b/c I lived in LA and just surfed all day) for 6 months. I knew my days were numbered and wasn't ready for another desk job so my best friend and I got the crazy (likely inebriated) idea to drive to Chile. The next day we got out a map to start plotting our course when we saw Colombia in our path and decided we better just aim for Panama as Colombia hadn't turn the corner just yet.
Over the next 2 months while I waited for my pink slip and subsequent severane package that was going to fund our trip we looked for a car to drive and found it in Mr. Bernardy. Mr. Bernardy was a 1978 Green Volkswagon Van that we bought for $750 in the OC. We heard they were easy to fix and bought a dummies guide to repairing your VW bus and were on our way severance package in hand. The story of that trip is for another entry but we spent 6 months in every surf destination between LA and Panama. Our trip highlights were the East Cape of Cabo , Mainland Mexico Sayulita, Punta Mita, Troncones, Escondido, Barra (Huatulco), Nexpa, Ticla, the Ranch, El Salvador East and West, Nicaragua Popoyo, Colorados, San Juan Del Sur, Mahagua, Costa Rica Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, Dominical, Manuel Antonio, Pavones.
3 years later after a similiar corporate foray I spent 6 weeks between jobs in Peru and Ecuador surfing where I stumbled onto Montanita in 2006 and had a blast.
I suppose the point of this brief history is to show that I feel like I'm as close to an expert on surf towns in Central and South America as they come and have seen a number of these towns grow up over the last 14 years as I took every chance I had to visit over and over again my favorite spots.
So having finally had a couple successful years in Corporate America I was able to save enough money to make the leap I started planning my exit. My criteria were as follow:
- Consistent uncrowded Surf (this ruled out places like the Carribean, Belize and Honduras and put Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua high on the list)
- Warm Water (ruled out Peru and south)
- Cost of Living (by 2006 when I visited Costa it had already gotten expensive and today the prices are not much different than the US, no on costa and no on Panama b/c of the amount of money flooding into the country due to the canal. There's a Trump tower there now....)
- Proximity to the US (while I was ready to leave the US I like being close to family and friends, so Asia was just too far, I had visited Indo, Thailand, China, and India on other trips at other times)
- Town (this is where Montanita won out over El Salvador and Nicaragua as Montanita is the best little surf town you will ever visit in terms of vibe, locals and fun)
- Property Rights (as an investor here now this is important but was lower on my criteria b/c I didn't know what I was going to do when I moved, this always made me rule out Mexico b/c of the long history of Californians losing property)
- Safety (having been to as many places as I've been, I've learned this is primarily under your own control, there are bad apples everywhere you just need to be smart to avoid the places they hang out the best you can, however the problems in Mexico and the petty crime in Costa Rica really turned me off to both places)
- Investment (Ecuador has ranked highly with IL and its driving a lot of retiree traffic versus other locations that do not get the coverage or have already run up)
In the end for me Montanita was the perfect balance of my criteria:
- Surf - Warm uncrowded, consistent surf year round.
- Cost of Living - Ecuador really is inexpensive. Once you take out housing out of the equation our expenses are 10% of what they were in the US and from what I've heard probably about 60% less than a Costa Rica these days.
- Proximity to the US - While I rarely head back or miss the US, Holly visits 2-4x per year mainly to see family, eat some good meals and shop.....
- Town - Montanita has become our home and we love our little pueblo and its people. We look forward to spending many more years here and Maddox to grow old with the local children. There are a few thousand people that live in the area and its one of those towns where you can walk through and every 10 yards you are saying hi to friends. There is also a heavy tourism/backpacker culture so there are always new people, personalities fueling a lively bar, restaurant, party scene that keeps the town feeling new
- Property Rights - Since I've been here I've never met or heard of someone that has lost a property. There are intricacies to the Ecuadorian law that you need to understand in order to buy the right properties that wont have problems but once you understand the law my experience has been good
- Safety - We didn't lock our doors for the first 1.5 years here and the only reason that changed is b/c we finally got a new door. We also leave towels, flip flops on the beach and car doors unlocked and have never been robbed. In other locations i've been to its felt like you are being watched and they break into your car as soon as you walk away... Costa Rica
- Investment - Ecuador is booming right now and investing is cheap and low risk.
Whether you are buying a property or starting a restaurant the start up costs are low and the foot traffic in the right locations is high. If you can provide a quality product or good value for a service you can make a stress free living in Ecuador, have a comfortable house and a 4 wheel drive truck, make your own hours, surf every day, eat fresh seafood and drink a cold beer with friends whenever you feel like it and most importantly spend time with your family
That's what we are doing, whats your criteria?