GringosAbroad Ecuador

Why I’m Living in Coastal Ecuador: Santa Marianita (Inge Van den Herrewegen)

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Living in Coastal Ecuador

Why I’m Living in Coastal Ecuador (Santa Marianita)

Inge Van den Herrewegen
Website / Blog URL: puntalabarca.com

Sunset in Santa Marianita Ecuador

More reading: Buyers Guide to the Best Sun Protection Hats – specifically for travelers to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Where are your currently living?

We (my partner Juan, our two sons, and I) are living in Santa Marianita, Ecuador. I have lived here since 2012.

Santa Marianita, Ecuador

Santa Marianita, Ecuador

What’s Your Story?

I’m from a small town called Oudenaarde in the Flemish region of Belgium. I did my studies in biomedical engineering, and then worked for an orthopaedic company as a researcher. I worked for around 3 years as a researcher; life was comfortable, work was comfortable, I had routine. But it was missing something and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

So I quit my job and started travelling. I didn’t want a routine, I didn’t want plans, I didn’t want an end date. I wanted to live and be present – and kitesurf.

My journey began in Australia, with lots of expectations of an authentic and idealistic lifestyle – like most Europeans have. But I ended up leaving Australia disappointed, and most probably because of these expectations I had.

South America was the next destination, but flying was an expensive option, so I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to island-hop and kitesurf through the pacific. I did New Zealand, Fiji, French Polynesia, Easter Island, and then to mainland Chile. From Chile, I made my way up north to Peru and then I hit Ecuador. I had met a traveller who had mentioned a town, by the port-city of Manta, called Santa Marianita where there was perfect scene for kitesurfing and that it was it was not swarmed by tourists.

I arrived to this small fishing coastal town, and I loved it! As corny as it sounds, it was exactly that “authenticity” that I was looking for. It became my base for a while, splitting time between Santa Marianita and Bahía de Caráquez. For four days a week, I would be kitesurfing in Santa Marianita, and then three days in Bahía de Caráquez, working with a guy, who had a boat, in exchange for a place to stay and a free trip to to the Galapagos Islands. Spoiler alert: I never made it to the Galapagos Islands.

One day I was out on my board, and the line to my kite had snapped. Suddenly I was stranded in the water, and it was too far out from the shore to swim back. Luckily there were other kitesurfers around and they helped me back to shore. But during the struggle, in the distance, I see this young, handsome Ecuadorian guy just observing from the shoreline. That was Juan. He helped me out with my line later that day, but it didn’t matter – I knew I had the “catch”.

A romantic relationship was the last thing I was looking for, but within a week there we were. I had obviously been accustomed to life here already. We got to that part of a relationship, where we started to dream of a future together. We tossed around the idea of buying property and creating a hostel, a space where travellers like myself could find refuge in this piece of paradise. It seemed like an idealistic dream, and then by surprise I became pregnant – this actually became a catalyst for a lot of things.

Punta la Barca, Ecuador

Punta la Barca, Ecuador

We found and purchased a property on top of a hill in Santa Marianita (that was actually owned by Juan’s grandfather) and we started to build our dreams with our bare hands – literally. It took us almost a year to finish the cabañas and set up our business. By the end, we baptised it ‘Punta La Barca’, paying homage to the land it breathes and beats on. There’s something really beautiful and cathartic about seeing what we dreamt, form into life. The feeling is like when you catch the right wind and you just keep “surfing”.

Over time our family has expanded and we now have two ‘niñitos’. We have changed from being a backpackers’ hostel to more of a colive and cowork space for nomad travellers, remote workers, and kitesurfers. And now, there are still no routines in my life and I get to live life in the moment – and I get to kitesurf whenever I want.

How’s your Spanish?

I speak Spanish, Flemish, English, French fluently – but I speak Spanish here everyday. I didn’t know any Spanish before arriving to South America – I kind of guessed based on French. But I learnt on the road during my travels, and I took a week’s worth of class in Ecuador to just pat down the basics of grammar. When I arrived to Santa Marianita, no one spoke English – with the exception of retired foreigners living here, but I didn’t want to be part of that culture. You really do miss out on a lot if you don’t speak the native tongue. Language and culture are so interconnected, that you can’t fully understand the culture unless you know a little bit about the language at least.

Also Juan doesn’t speak English, so I had to learn it in order to communicate to him and his family. But the process of learning any language is like a rollercoaster. It was tough and I had a severe headache for two months, but the best way to learn is just to be immersed in it all.

Living on Ecuador's coast

How do you make your living?

In addition to our Punta La Barca, Juan works as a kitesurfing instructor here in Santa Marianita and I have my part-time remote job.

The remote job, that I earn most of my income from, is from the same Belgium I left when I left Europe to travel. Since I was still on very good terms with the management of the company, I asked them if there were any jobs that I could do remotely and they created a new position for me. This is one of the reasons that enabled me to stay in Ecuador. Internet is good here – we have fibre optic – so it all worked perfectly! At the moment for the company, I am working on an research-based orthopaedic project in collaboration with the orthopaedic faculty at the Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabí in Manta.

View from Punta la Barca, Ecuador

View from Punta la Barca, Ecuador

What do you love about Ecuador?

I can only speak for this part of Ecuador. People are very “authentic” (here goes that word again) here, very family-orientated, welcoming, and super curious. If you put the effort to speak Spanish to them, they will converse back with you and perhaps tell you their life story. And if you’re considering moving to Ecuador, stay in a place for a while and feel it out.

Ecuador Positives:

  • The weather (here in Santa Marianita) is great and very pleasant – I live on 7km of deserted beaches. It’s extremely safe here, day and night, but that’s not always true for other parts of Ecuador.
  • Living here is cheap – local food, travel, accommodation, etc.
  • Nature – Ecuador has a variety of beautiful nature and all within close reach. It has a variety of coastal regions, the Amazon rainforest, tropical dry forests, cloud forests, and mountain ranges (Andes).

Ecuador Negatives:

  • It’s hard to find good bread.
  • Imported goods are expensive.
  • Some parts of the culture – like organisation, punctuality, responsibility

Living in Santa Marianita Ecuador


Your Turn

Have a question for Inge about why she moved to Santa Marianita, Ecuador? Or what it’s like for her family in Ecuador? Join her in the comments.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

20 comments… add one
  • Janis Amberman Feb 11, 2019, 5:36 pm

    Congrats on living the dream
    I’m very interested in coming to Ecuador & your place sounds like a great place to start. I am on a fixed income so the US has priced me out. Is it reasonable to think I could have a decent life if yo vivo en Ecuador? Yo estudio Espanol. Yo tengo dos nietos son Mexican y Puerto Rican. Quiero una vida mas tranquila con un presupuesta.
    Thanks in advance for your help.
    Janis

    • Jeffrey Feb 12, 2019, 10:46 am

      This is for Janis Amberman. The real truth is that the coast of Ecuador is poorly planned. Manta, the closest city to Santa Marianita is one example. It is all concrete, no parks and mountains of litter in each gully leading to the ocean, where all street runoff also goes, and I am afraid a lot of the septic goes. Further south in Puerto Lopez, the beach is nice, but the town is squalid and muddy. Same for Machala. Jambelí, an island available by ferry from the Puerto Bolivar jetty close to Machala, is supposed to have some relaxed charm. Guayaquil is dangerous and too big. North is Esmeraldas dominated by petroleum. San Lorenzo dangerous as well. Salinas to the south is expensive. The only turquoise waters are around the Galapagos, and they are expensive. You are far better off in the Sierra. Much less litter, Cuenca is one choice, a little too large for me. Good mix of natives and gringos. Vilcabamba is dominated by gringos. Loja is a nice sort of mini-Cuenca, safe, cheap, and few gringos, but many conveniences, and the best gym in Ecuador (Total Flex gym). Just an hour from the Oriente, or the edge of the Amazon. About 4 hours from the coast (Machala) if you want some heat and ocean. Quito is cheap, but also noisy and polluted. Tena to the east of Quito is in the Oriente and is nice, quite warm but not super hot. Numerous rivers in town and to the east provide for raft and kayak trips. If you want warmth,stay to the east. Quito, Baños, Riobamba, Cuenca, are all around 9000 feet, and thus are cool, and January to April is the rainy season, with rain or drizzle every other day. Loja is at 7000 feet, and is a little warmer, but still has the drizzle in the winter months.

      Keep on your Spanish! The most English speakers are in Cuenca and Vilcabamba, but the gringo mix in Vilcabamba for some reason is towards heavy drinkers and arrogance, and they have driven up expenses, especially real estate. If you want a little farm or ranch, the slopes and valleys of the southern Sierra is the place.Places like Gonzanamá, Catamayo, etc. If you just want to rent an apartment, Cuenca or Loja or Tena is the place.

      Do like I did, spend the first 4-6 weeks traveling by bus and staying in cheaper hostals before deciding. Use the Lonely Planet guide. I will have some recommendations there for you if you are interested. Start in Quito, not Guayaquil. Cheaper to fly to, and gives you more range right off.

      Best of luck,

      Jeffrey

  • Tim Ruth Feb 11, 2019, 1:30 am

    Congrats for following your dreams and I am jealous :-). Can you possibly point me to the best places to look for land to purchase on the coast there? I think Ecuador may be the place for me. Thanks

  • Fanny Feb 2, 2019, 12:38 pm

    Hi Inge. Me facina toda tu historia dende que te fuiste de tu pais y toda la travecia que pasaste y que estas muy feliz disfrutando de lo que te gusta. Al final de tu historia encontraste el amor y ahora tines una linda familia. Tu historia me hispira para seguir mis suenos de viajar y conoser lugares que simpre he querido visistar. Ahora mismo estoy planeando visitar mi lindo Ecuador. Ahora mismo vivo en San Francisco California, con mi familia, mas simpre mi corazo. Esta en mi tierra bella. Gracias por compartir , los mejores deseos para ti y tu familia.
    Att.
    Fanny v.

  • Joni Nuthals Jan 19, 2019, 9:52 pm

    I am wondering how to mail a letter or card to someone there. Any suggestions how? It is to be a surprise for my sister. I believe she is in Santa Marianita, or close to Manta. Thanks for any help.
    Joni Nuthals

  • Lawrence Oct 30, 2018, 5:53 pm

    Hi Inge!
    I love Santa Marianita and would live there in a heartbeat. Despite even experiencing a moderate earthquake in the middle of the night, it was an amazing time. But I noticed you said it’s hard to find bread. If you have time to do a day trip (maybe a weekend trip), head over to Ambato. They make ‘Pan de Ambato’ that’s incredible. It isn’t like hearty loaves of European bread by any means, they’re actually smaller and use yuca flower.
    But they’re fresh, they’re light, they’re slightly sweet and they really help when you’re craving the real stuff 🙂

  • Jeffrey Walker Oct 29, 2018, 12:36 am

    Pues, es que estoy pensando en pasar por lo menos tres meses del invierno allá en Encuador, meses como diciembre, enero, febrero, que son meses de verano allá claro. Vivo en Joseph, Oregon, un lugar extremamente hermoso, con montañas, lagos hermosos etc. Pero los inviernos pueden ser duros y largos. Soy un médico jubilado, especialista en urgencias, pero con muchas otras pericias, incluyendo la soldadura, carpinteria, fontanería, poder solar, mecánico, etc. Y preferería trabajar allá durante esos meses. Si tienen uds algunas sugerencias, apreciaría su consejo. Estoy en muy buena forma física. Y como es evidente, hablo español bien.

  • Rutheduthie Oct 17, 2018, 12:04 am

    Hi there. I purchased land in larinconada in 2011. I still haven’t built yet but am also dreaming of the bungalos and rentals. I’m taking care of my mom here in California and my best friend is here 8 months from Oosteende gium. Is it easy to rent out rooms there?

  • Melissa Conley Sep 15, 2018, 1:07 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your adventure. I’m an older (66) single woman who’s always been drawn to central and south america. I’ve heard some great things and some not so great things about Ecuador. I am very interested in spending some time there to see if it would be a fit for me to live there. I really like the sound of your town. Do you think it would be safe for me? I’m not interested in night life, just a nice beach to sit on and walk on. Is there somewhere or someone you would recommend I contact? You mentioned an expat population, do they have a website?
    Thanks for any info

    • Suzan Colley Sep 30, 2018, 8:22 pm

      I also am a 66-year-old single woman who has been researching moving to central/South America. The fact that it would be a safe place really appeals to me. Could I ask that you forward to me any contact info you may have received? Maybe I could come to stay awhile at Punta La Barca??
      Thank you for your time and attention.
      Suzan

  • RH Aug 19, 2018, 8:32 am

    What a great story. Which town and beach would you suggest to live for the safest daily swimming and vegan-friendly food?

  • Anil Varghses Jul 27, 2018, 5:10 am

    loved it. congrats for the new partner and business.

  • Dean Jul 6, 2018, 9:41 pm

    I’m so proud of you living your dream. That’s my dream but not my partners…. Enjoy!!!

  • Wendy Jul 6, 2018, 4:56 pm

    Congratulations on finding love and building a business together. When you find thebright person, you kist know! My husband and I would like to relocate to Ecuador have not figured out the part of this dream yet.

  • Rob Jul 6, 2018, 1:07 pm

    What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing!

  • Glenn Miller Jul 6, 2018, 9:57 am

    Are there any surfing beaches nearby?

  • John Thomas McCormick Jul 6, 2018, 8:21 am

    I was considering driving my 1996 Fleetwood RV from Texas to Ecuador. I have been told that the road was terrible and that I would be robbed. Please advise

    • Tammy Jul 25, 2018, 6:23 pm

      The research that I have done says you will likely be robbed by the Police in Mexico long before you ever make it to South America.

    • Gary Nov 11, 2018, 8:02 pm

      John,
      There is a section between Panama and Colombia called the Darien Gap that for the most part is impassable. You would need to ship your RV from Panama to Colombia or to Ecuador then continue. I have had friend ship a VW Vanogon (sp) and they said it was pretty expensive. Best of luck to you and your adventure!

      G

  • Steffen Thiemeier Jul 5, 2018, 4:14 am

    Hi Inge,
    it is nice to read of you and your family such good things. You might not remember me. We talked shortly on the plane from Quito to Amsterdam in spring 2016, when you where going back shortly for family visit in Belgium. I am following gringosabroad quite regularily for reasurance and impressions.

    I am moving to Ecuador with my family (in total 7) next month, also to the cost so maybe we pop by for a weekend.
    Good winds for you and your family….
    LG
    Steffen (currently Munich, Germany)

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