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:

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.

15 comments… add one
  • 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.

  • 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

      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!


  • 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….
    Steffen (currently Munich, Germany)

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