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Our Life in Ecuador: Jacquie & Don Mackenzie Living in Vilcabamba Valley

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Our Life in Ecuador: Jacquie & Don Mackenzie

our life in Ecuador Jacquie Don MackenzieThe Expats: Jacquie and Don Mackenzie

Connect with Jacquie & Don

Where are you currently living?

We moved to S.E. Ecuador, Chaupi in the Vilcabamba Valley, two weeks ago after living 2.5 years on the most western coastal peninsula in Salinas, Ecuador, and almost 6 years in rural Guanajuato, Mexico.

We began volunteer teaching in Mexico in 2005; we lived right on the Arizona/Sonora border for 12 years.

More reading: Vilcabamba is located near the city of Loja. Read why Jesse Bayer moved to Loja, Ecuador

living in vilcabamba ecuador

What’s Your Story?

Don and I are both US Citizens. Don served in the USAF as did my father and my beloved uncle. Both my uncle and Don served in Vietnam; my dad served in WWII and the Korean War. As I was an instructor in private airplanes, both Don and I have seen a large percentage of the world.

We met in Florida, traveled the USA for two years while living in an RV, and then married in Arizona where we lived off the power grid.

Don’s single mother of two moved every few months most of her life. Later Don saw much of the world while in the military. After returning stateside after the war, he lived in Hawaii, Belize, and Mexico for years while also vacationing in Europe; by then, he was in the hospitality business.

Jacquie, as an only child, moved 22 times between 1st and 3rd grade due to her father’s military orders. She has lived in or visited 49 states, all of Canada, most of Mexico, and much of Europe. Jacquie was in food service for 22 years, has managed a non-profit since 1986, before she began teaching disabled Spanish speakers full time and earning her doctorate in that field.

When and where did you get the idea of living in Ecuador?

In August of 2013, seven Mexican medical doctors advised Don (due to Agent Orange exposure and resulting and reoccuring health issues) to leave the high altitude, dusty roads, and cold winters of the desert of Guanajuato, for a sea level altitude with clean, warm air year round.

As we wanted to continue to live near indigenous Latinos, we chose Ecuador; for low altitude, we chose coastal Salinas.

living in salinas ecuador

However, as we had always lived (safely) in rural mountainous areas, the high-rise beach life advised by other expats as a means to keep our possessions safe did not suit our personalities. We enjoyed renewing our wedding vows on the beach, but very soon tired of the “party life” of a continuous stream of up to 200K wealthy visitors.

We longed for ecologically-minded people, opportunities to buy organically raised food, conversations with other adults seeking solutions to environmental challenges, a more diverse collection of visitors, and a chance to live on and garden in fertile soil. In Vilcabamba, we have all those options.

We intend to stay until we die.

ecuador landscape

How’s your Spanish?

Both of us have studies Spanish for years, but at our age, the process is not without pitfalls. Fortunately, Spanish speakers are very forgiving.

An added bonus for us is that people from all over the world are drawn to Vilcabamba, so it is common to hear several languages on any trip to town. Most locals had adapted with a positive attitude to other various means of communicating.

More reading: 11 best tools for learning Spanish

How do you make your living?

We are both on Social Security; Don has VA Disability benefits. We have no assets.

In our opinion, retired expats on limited or fixed incomes can live elegantly in rentals in Vilcabamba, but not in Salinas. Our current home costs us 70% LESS a month than a physically smaller, older, and significantly less elegant home on the Salinas peninsula.

Many long-time expats or local Ecuadorians have told us that living on the beach are the highest prices. Not just renting or buying real estate, but also food and other household goods.

ecuador living

Everyone knows that imported items are expensive due to the outlandish tariffs, but if you like local foods and eat meat-free as we do, one can survive on just Social Security.

Also, medical care is inexpensive as is the government health insurance (covering 100% of hospital care, medications, eye exams, and dental care) that can be kept for life. One example, Jacquie paid $200USD for progressive, transition, glasses, and frames. Her total hip replacement was $6,200USD; that was just $1,800USD co-pay after her private health insurance payment.

What do you love about life in Ecuador?

Do not come if you are not adaptable to lots of change and really slowing down your life. This is a developing country. Most consumer items need to be replaced often, mail is hard to obtain and the tariffs are so high it is often better to just fly home and get what you think that you need.

treehouse living ecuador

We love the people first, then the climate, and then looking at the amazing landscapes in Ecuador.

Is it any wonder that people from all over the world call Ecuador a paradise?

Hungry for more? Here are another 15 My Life in Ecuador stories

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

15 comments… add one
  • Sherri Jan 16, 2017, 4:55 pm

    Greetings, Jacquie and Don,

    I am a single woman, 56, considering a move to Ecuador. I have traveled quite a bit and have made several trips to Central America but have never been farther south. I am not yet of retirement age, so I will be living/traveling with the modest equity in my home here in the US, and possibly teaching English. I’m also a massage therapist but don’t know if there would be opportunities for me to work in that field there. Is it possible for someone in my situation to live in a little bungalow near the water for a reasonable price, and would it be safe for me? Also, would you recommend renting over owning? Or vice versa. Any information would be helpful. Thanks so much!

    • Esperanza Bevill Jun 21, 2017, 3:01 pm

      I’ve always considered living in South America but up untill now I didn’t know where I would go to. Here’s my question. Can one get a teaching position in Ecuador without certification? What is the average rent for a small house/ bungalow in costal area of Eucador? Thank you.

  • Robin Tomblinson Jul 18, 2016, 7:03 am

    My husband and I have been in contact with the real estate company “Abundant Living” out of Loja. The personal phone calls have been very informative and seemingly honest. I know we are told to be weary of real estate agents so I am asking if anyone else has worked with them or heard about the company. Any feedback?

    Thanks,
    Robin

    • Fred Glaser Sep 4, 2016, 5:22 pm

      There is no MLS here. Every agency has different listings. It is important to visit all of them, to make sure you have seen all that’s for sale. There are several in Vilcabamba.

  • Susan Phariss Jun 19, 2016, 11:40 am

    Great article, Bryan! We are considering a move to Ecuador and availability of organic produce is a high priority. My question: Is good meat readily available and affordable in Vilcabamba or Loja? We are both meat eaters, so we want to be sure all our bases are covered.

    • Fred Glaser Sep 4, 2016, 5:33 pm

      Chicken costs $1.80, beef $3.50 a pound. I think the beef is grass fed, since there are no feed lots around, only lots of pastures. They have pork, too.

  • Edward Jun 9, 2016, 5:13 am

    Awesome Views. Thank you for posting images. I want to get there. How much it will cost?

  • Bonnie Wood May 21, 2016, 9:19 am

    One of these days I will be living there….. Thanks for sharing….. In my research I found Vilcabamba to be the highest probability of permanent living in Ecuador…. Looks a whole lot like where I live now in the States…… Good to see your names when I open my email ! Yours is always the first one opened !!

  • Bill Howe May 20, 2016, 5:22 pm

    Loja looks like the best fit for me so far. I like the small town feel of it. I expect that renting a small place while getting to know the area is what I would like to do. I now live in the White mountains of New Hampshire with lots of out door space. I don’t think city life is for me. A small garden sounds great, or better something out in the country would be the best yet!

    As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru in the 1960’s my Spanish needs a lot of work. I was in Quito last July for ten days and I got by but need to start working on it before I head back to Ecuador some time this year to find a place to settle in. Having been self employed all my working life staying busy is important to me. I enjoy the arts and crafts of woodworking, pottery, stained glass ect. I wonder if there is any material supplies for that sort of thing in Loja? I have been active with Habitat for Humanity here in New Hampshire, so volunteering is always good for me. Any advice would help me in my pre-planning.
    Many thanks,
    Bill Howe: bill.howe40@gmail.com

    • Fred Glaser Sep 4, 2016, 5:40 pm

      Vilcabamba has the most pleasant climate, Loja does not, and is a very noisy city (poeple honk all the time). I hate going to Loja like the plague. It is also rainy and chilly there. It sits in a cramped, overpopulated mountain valley higher than Vilcabamba.
      You can’t beat Vilcabamba. Lots of hiking opportunities, no excessive rains, always pleasant temperature. You can join the facebook group “Vilcapeople” to see what’s going on here.

  • david May 20, 2016, 2:25 pm

    What are the prices in rent for 1 bedroom furnished rental.Can it be rented by the month?What other options are there for housing?How do you handle transportation within the area and outside to the rest of the country?Earthquake concerns in this area?Gracias.David

    • Fred Glaser Sep 4, 2016, 5:45 pm

      Earthquakes are not a problem here. Rents are cheap, starting at $300 per month. By the month? Usually not, but depends on the owner. At RumiWilco you can rent a small adobe cabin for $7 a night. (no tv) Taxis and buses are cheap. But watch out for thieves on buses and in cities.

  • Andrew Estes May 20, 2016, 9:19 am

    I have my sights set on Loja, but I am having a tough time finding any ex-pat’s e-mail address, to answer particularly local questions for me. any help there?

    • Andrew Estes May 20, 2016, 1:03 pm

      I had researched life in Salinas, known as the “Miami of Ecuador” but I don’t like the Miami of Florida either, so I knew that was not for me. Manta continues to crumble with constant following quakes in the 6.7-8 range. No longer for me. Some ex-pats are still holding on there, because they have heavily invested in their houses. I have revised my thinking about owning property, almost anywhere. If the going gets rough I can get going (away). I survived Hurricane Hugo in St Croix, but that was enough for me, and post disaster heroics are my history, not future. Any intel on Loja?

      • Fred Glaser Sep 4, 2016, 5:50 pm

        Vilcabamba is great, Loja awful. Loja is rainy, often chilly, and very noisy (honking). In Vilcabamba you can rent a nice house starting around $400 a month. The residents of Loja come to Vilcabamba on the weekends to recuperate. They would like to stay here if their work was here.

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