I left my heart in San Francisco… Ecuador that is.

by | Mar 28, 2001 | Archives

Cayo Tambo (in Quichua, a place to rest), is a huge shark’s tooth peak that bites at the powder blue sky. White waters of the Paute River dash over giant river rock smoother than marble as they rush to the valley floor below the brand new road.

I was amazed at the progress that Ecuador has made as Merri & I spent a month touring the entire country looking at real estate and business opportunities there. The depression over the last two years has been hit Ecuador hard and I expected it to damage the country more. Yet we saw progress and new roads everywhere! I found incredible opportunity as well.

The last two years in this tiny mountain nation have been rough, banks closed, unemployment reached perhaps 60% and politicians acted crazy. Seeing this as an opportunity, I have been buying land and bringing investors by the thousands. This was right, is seems. The banks are back, business is rising and land values are up nicely.

Yet during the past two years I have been concentrating in Quito, the capital, and Manta, a city on the coast, where the installation of a U.S. military base almost guaranteed rising property prices.

It has been two years since we visited this tile roofed, colonial city which sits in a broad valley surrounded by a rump of mountainous green. I wanted to check again on opportunity in Cuenca.

I really like what I found as I prepared for the upcoming International Living real estate tour which will visit Cuenca for the first time.

First I was reminded that Cuenca is easily Ecuador’s (and perhaps all of South America’s) most beautiful city. This is an aristocratic town with hard workers and a solid middle class. The down town area is really clean, built around a huge golden cathedral with brilliant ceramic domes. There is a sense of order in the narrow cobblestone streets. The markets are filled with color and exotic design, and there is no sense of crime, or poverty found here.

Tall willows weep into the Tomebamba river that cuts through the middle of town. Red tiles on white stucco sparkling in the brilliant sun is the common scene.

Cuenca has perhaps the largest North American population in Ecuador though it is a much smaller city (350,000) than Quito (or Guayaquil) which have millions.

The beautiful sites and uncongested new roads were not the only joys Merri and I experienced in Cuenca. Property prices were startlingly low. “They will fall even more,” we were told by real estate broker Eduardo Quito. “Prices remain confused because of dollarization. Property owners had a keen sense of value for their currency the sucre, just as U.S. investors do for the U.S. dollar. But when the dollar became our currency after an enormous sucre devaluation, this left property owners confused. They are not sure what a dollar is really worth. This will take time. In the meantime, some prices are higher than they should be,” he explained to us.

Yet asking prices seemed like bargains to me. For example brand new apartments just down the road from the luxury Oro Verde Hotel were offered at just $25,000. Across the Tomebamba there is an exquisite, clean suburb filled with amazingly nice houses. Here there is a new development of townhouses with asking prices as low as $45,000 for 1,000 square foot 2 bedroom, two bathroom condo townhouses, facing a green parkland backed with eucalyptus trees on the rushing river.

We viewed superb country homes on a large (an acre or more) lots in an area between the San Juaquin and Saya Usi areas . Here houses sit above the city on gentle slopes with commanding views offering tile, hardwoods and marble, plus exquisite workmanship not found in the U.S….yet prices were as low as $45,000.

In the country we found perhaps the best buys. One beautiful farm in the Tarqui area with five acres, a rustic hacienda farm house in really good shape and an incredible garden that overlooked a gorgeous green valley, was priced at a low $40,000. A fully operational, successful trout farm with nearly 40 acres and a wonderful old house was asking $100,000.

A little further out in the valley of Jungilla we saw so many small farms of 5 to 20 acres in the $10,000 to $40,000 range we could not visit them all. Jungilla is one of the most beautiful valleys in the world, like a Swiss mountain valley covered in Irish emerald green! Explosions of white pampas grass line the road and paisley swaths of forest and cotton wool clouds cover the broad valley floor. Huge waterfalls spring from the hillsides like gigantic white snakes crashing hundreds of feet. There, one 30 acre farm with a brand new, three bedroom house had an asking price of only $25,000. Another with a tractor, central patio style house of three bedrooms was $30,000.

Further on we saw Hacienda San Francisco. We walked an entrance lined with sugar cane, bananas, mango, papaya, mango, naranjilla, babaco, orange, lemon, lime, yucca, coffee plants, bread fruit, guavas, achote, grapefruit, coconuts and all the vegetables you could eat. Avocado, bamboo, corn , potatoes, tomatoes, this veritable garden led to a rustic old farm house with eleven rooms and two workers houses. The land goes on forever (about 1,250 acres) and a huge waterfall cascading through the middle of this green paradise graces the picture perfectly. There are birds of every type, humming birds, toucan, choco, bromeliad fly catchers, tanagers, finches and animals include agouti, tapir, fox and deer.

The land comes with four horses, five saddles, ten cows and pigs, numerous dogs, chickens and a lot of furniture. Plus San Francisco has it own .7 kilowatt hydro electric turbine and sugar cane crusher and distillery where they have traditional distilled 50,000 liters of schnapps a year. The San Francisco river, a broad cascading mountain stream bounds the land and the smaller Sarayunga river runs through it.

The price? Well it doesn’t matter because I’m trying to buy this one already. The good news is that Merri & I will be looking for twenty others to join us in a club like atmosphere with their own brand new superb house (which they can use six months a year) with maid, chauffeur, and gardeners for as little as $29,000.

I believe that many who have visited Ecuador to look at property will like Cuenca best when we visit this area May 8th through 11th this year.

Yet I am not sure that Cuenca even with these low prices offers the best value. Everyone says that Quito costs even less and just blocks form the American Ambassador’s residence, I viewed a three bedroom, three bathroom condo with one of the most majestic views in the world. This incredible scenery has an asking price of only $52,000 and this is the best area in town.

Also along the coast (the real estate coastal extension runs from May 12th to 15th) there is a brand new super highway running south from Manta to Puerto Lopez. This highway reminds me of Highway 101 along the U.S. Pacific coast, with wide views that go forever into the ocean’s horizon. There is a brand new road and the property owners between the highway and the sea don’t yet know what they have on this one and a half hour drive . I walked one piece of land, 38 acres, almost a half mile of broad Pacific beach with an asking price of only $15,000! This is an area that almost cannot lose. The road begins at Manta where we have been taking investors now for several years. Prices for better land have risen four times in this period in Manta but have not reached yet down the beach. This new road also opens up Puerto Lopez and the Machalilla National Park which is rich with eco tourism potential. This area offers whale watching, diving, surfing, horse riding, hiking, superb fishing and just plain beach bumming, yet is unbelievably inexpensive. On this trip Merri and I stayed at a wonderful eight room, rustic hostel, with an outstanding chef and hammocks massaged by a gentle ocean breeze. The price was only eight dollars a night. If you love an empty Pacific beach seeing this is a must!

Whatever your choice, the beach, a huge mountain city or a charming colonial town, you will learn how to own a piece at really bargain prices during the next upcoming International Living real estate tour. Merri and I will conduct the Quito and Cuenca tour from May 3 to 11 and our daughter Francesca will be on the coastal extension May 12 through 15. We hope to see you there!