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Our 6 Years Living in Otavalo Ecuador: Meet Andra & Josh Carter (La Cosecha Cafe)

Posted in: Expats in Ecuador, Living in Ecuador, My Life in Ecuador

This is part of our Ecuador Expats Series.

Editors note: In addition to sharing detailed insight into their life in Ecuador, Andra shares the details of their top-rated cafe, La Cosecha – and their campaign launched today (July 1, 2017) to put the business in the hands of their employees. Here are the details about the funding campaign on Indiegogo.

Note: This is not a paid posting – this is part of our ongoing support of community-focused business in Ecuador.

Update (August 1, 2017): Our IndieGoGo campaign was not successful, despite all of our efforts! While we are disappointed, we have put a new General Manager in place which will allow us to proceed with our plans to move home without any concerns or added stress. We’re excited for the next chapter in our lives and look forward to visits. – Andra and Josh

A Taste of Ecuador Travel

Okay, now on to their story.

Our 6 Years Living in Otavalo Ecuador: Andra & Josh Carter 

Andra Josh Carter Ecuador

Where are your currently living?

My husband Josh and I are in Otavalo. We’ve been here for 6 years now!

living in Otavalo Ecuador Carters

Josh and I hiking Laguna Cuicocha, Ecuador

What’s your story?

Josh grew up in VT and I grew up in NJ. We met 9 years ago and realized we both wanted to explore living in a foreign country, even if only for a few months.

After we got married we made it a goal to move somewhere within 2 years. A year later we were in Costa Rica, where we spent 3 amazing months.

Totally enjoyed our time there, but realized that for a more permanent change, we’d want to be in a place with a more temperate climate.

We did some research online and Ecuador just kept popping up – mostly Cuenca and Cotacachi. Everything sounded amazing – the climate, the safety, the mountain views.

So we came down to check it out. Fell in love with the Cotacachi area, fell into a prime house-and-dog-sitting situation to begin with and have been here 6 years now.

Why did you decide to move Ecuador?

We wanted to move abroad primarily because we were kind of living the rat race, both working full time, I was commuting to NYC every day… we felt like we barely saw each other and didn’t have time for the more important things in life.

We wanted to simplify and move to a place where we could work less, be together more, and have more time for the more important things in life. Been here 6 years. And now gets to the interesting part 🙂

We are actually going to be moving back to the US in September. Our time here has come to an end, which brings me to the biggest reason we hope that you choose to feature us on your site.

La Cosecha cafe bakery otavalo

Window of La Cosecha Cafe, with Otavalo in the reflection

About 3 years ago we worked with a group of local Ecuadoreans who became both our employees and our friends to create a cafe here in Otavalo – La Cosecha Ecuador.

This collaboration has resulted in an incredible location that serves thousands of customers a year. We are Lonely Planet’s Top Pick for Otavalo and rated on #1 on TripAdvisor in both the city and the province.

Otavalo La Cosecha cafe

Inside La Cosecha cafe, Otavalo

Otavalo Ecuador cafe bakery

Area inside of La Cosecha Cafe in Otavalo Ecuador

These employees (and friends!) receive a sustainable wage, healthcare and a safe environment to work in from us. They describe the cafe as their second home, a place they’re proud to work in.

While we are the owners, we’re able to provide these benefits to our 7 employees, many of whom are supporting families.

La Cosecha Employees in Intag on Coffee Farm Ecuador

With employees of La Cosecha in Intag coffee farm

However after over 6 years the time has come for us to return to the US. We thought (and prayed) long and hard about what to do about the business and we have launched an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign today (July 1, 2017) so that the employees can raise the funds to be able to buy the business.

La Cosecha Employees Otavalo Ecuador

Another group shot of the employees at La Cosecha – this time in Otavalo

Our goal is to raise $100,000 to cover the costs of loan repayments and costs associated with turning over the cafe completely to our employees. They will become the sole owners of the business.

This will provide 7 employees and their families with reliable, honest work and a business they can continue to grow. This will also indirectly help many independent businesses we source from locally.

La Cosecha Ecuador has become a place of meeting within the community and we work hard to source our products from local farmers and artisans who rely on our business.

I should warn you – this next video is going to make you crave chocolate and icing and syrup… (You’ve been warned…)

How’s your Spanish?

NOW our Spanish is quite good!

We knew nothing more than “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me” when we got off the plane 6 years ago. We both definitely feel like we hit a plateau about 3 years in, and could be doing more to improve (my past and future tense verb conjugations are really abysmal) but we can communicate really well with the locals.

We feel it is SUPER important to learn the language of the country you choose to live in. There are so many reasons we chose to live here vs in the US for the past 6 years, and I feel strongly that if you are choosing to be somewhere other than “home” you need to make this new place your home. How can you do that if you can’t communicate?

Granted it was not easy to learn, and it’s still very hard at times to express feelings, but we don’t feel lost and confused like we did the first year!

More reading: The Best Book to Learn Spanish (Reader’s Choice)

How do you make your living?

We work online. I was in a good position when we moved down here, already working online part time, so the transition was very easy. We had a nice stable income coming in.

How is the cost of living in Ecuador?

The cost of living is obviously less than in the US, but we feel that there is an over-exaggeration on the web in general. Yes you CAN live on $500 a month as most Ecuadoreans do, but that means living and eating like an Ecuadorean.

Basic necessities of life are cheap (propane gas, electricity, home phone, water, fuel for your car) but anything else is not (wine and beer, internet, a car itself, beauty products).

Personally I was not willing to give up certain luxuries like having hot water in the kitchen, having secure garage parking for our car, having a washer and dryer, etc, and those things mean that our rent is much higher than what an average Ecuadorean is paying. But I am happy 🙂

Working online and running web meetings and phone calls means we need good internet…. here in Otavalo that means paying for a fiber plan, which is not available in our area at the residential rate, which means our internet is shockingly more expensive than it would be at home for a fraction of the speed.

Other parts of Otavalo do now have fiber at the residential rate, but it’s not in our area yet… so that’s something to consider when choosing where you are going to live (situation would be different for us in Quito, or even Cuenca I’d imagine).

We also find that we spend the same amount on groceries here as we did when we lived in the US. We like to cook Indian and Thai food at home, and that requires things like coconut milk ($5 a can!). I like to have a bottle of wine in the house. If you have any sort of allergy (i.e. dairy) it’s going to be very expensive to buy alternative milks.

So if you want to just buy your veggies in the market and eat rice and beans, you can spend much less on groceries than we do.

Oh – I am also particular about where I buy my meat – I don’t feel comfortable buying it where the locals do (you’ll see what I mean when you see a pickup truck drive by with 100 whole chickens in the bed! I think you’ll opt for Mr. Pollo from the grocery store too!).

All that being said, we did come down for a visit first, and we spent a huge amount of time in the grocery store looking at what was available and how much it cost. So the cost of groceries wasn’t really a surprise for us once we moved down here.

We also go home for a visit once a year and stock up on certain things (a big bag of protein powder, a big thing of peanut butter and coconut oil, a year’s worth of mascara!) that are pricey or nonexistent here.

It’s all a balancing act. Everyone needs different things to be happy. At the end of the day, we love being here, but it is a foreign country and it is tiring being out and about all day speaking Spanish.

So we want to have a home that is comfortable. Our definition of “comfortable” will be different from yours. But figure out what that means to you!

You might enjoy learning more about Otavalo Market.

What do you love about Ecuador?

Here are five things I love about living in Ecuador:

  1. Love the climate!
  2. Love the mountains (for hiking and for looking at).
  3. Love that the people are happy with what they have, not looking for more (generally speaking).
  4. Love that family is super important and family time is highly valued.
  5. Love to talk to the locals and see their joy when we say “we love it here!” and they realize we chose to be here vs the country we were raised in.
Hiking Mojanda Ecuador

Hiking with friends, Mojanda Ecuador

Things that are still hard for me to handle after 6 years:

  • the disorganization and how everyone is just totally OK with it.
  • fireworks at 3am for 10 days in a row for no reason that I can seem to figure out! And when I ask people about it they say “es por las santas” (it’s for the saints). WHAT?! It wasn’t even a holiday week! But they don’t care!
  • the complete disregard for personal safety (not using the overpasses to cross the highway, having a whole family, 2 adults a baby and a child, on a motorcycle and no one but the driver is wearing a helmet).

I feel totally safe here in Otavalo BUT that being said, don’t fall into the trap of feeling safe. We don’t leave our cell phones out on the table, or our bags unattended.

I am discreet with my wallet when using the ATM or paying anywhere. We don’t leave the windows open in our house when we are not home. We try to be alert to our surroundings.

Only once in our entire time here did we ever almost get robbed, and it was during XMAS week when Otavalo was super full of people and I was stupid – I had my cell in an outer zipped pocket of my purse and some guy had his hand IN MY BAG.

Thankfully I realized it and was able to get away from him before he got my phone, but honestly that would have been on me if he had gotten it! And that’s the only time in 6 years.

So be careful, don’t get too comfortable. Think about how you would act if you were visiting any city in the US that you didn’t know…. or even that you DID know!

Housing depends SO much on the area. If you want to be out in the country it may be much harder or more expensive to find something nice vs if you want to be in a city like Cuenca or Quito.

Make a list of what things are important to you and what things are “nice to have” because chances are you won’t find it all. You may have to compromise so know in advance what you’re not willing to compromise on (i.e. car parking or hot water).

Two Ecuador Living Tips

  1. My #1 tip is: VISIT! Visit Visit Visit! Ideally for a few months! If you can only visit for a short time then I’d recommend finding a way (if possible) to make the first 6 to 9 months of your move not permanent… coming down on a tourist visa, maybe renting out your home in the US before selling it and maybe renting a furnished place here for a year. It is not cheap to set up an apartment here and you really need to be sure. 2 weeks it NOT enough time to be sure.
  2. My #2 tip is: learn the language. It will be hard, but even if it’s slow going the locals REALLY appreciate your efforts. And you will get so much more out of the country when you can communicate. You’ll meet some great people and hear some great stories.

We used tools like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo which are great, but we really came into the language when we took classes 2x a week. Our teacher kept us accountable and while I hated doing the homework, it really helped.

Andra and Josh Carter Mompiche Ecuador

Andra and Josh Carter

Author Bio
Andra and Josh have been living in Otavalo for 6 years now, and are actually going to be moving back to the US in September.

Hungry for more? Here are more  Ecuador expat interviews

Your Turn

Have a question for Andra and Josh – about living in Otavalo or La Cosecha? Join them in the comments!

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Check out our guides:

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 Travel.

25 comments… add one
  • Anthony Mar 27, 2019, 9:30 pm

    Hello my name Anthony im from New Jersey USA. Im a single male 53 by the time i retire prob b 56 i was wondering how is the single life for middle age men n if it’s possible on living on 2000 a month comfortably. Im not planning on doing any tpye of work just relying on my pension. My spanish is decent i speak n understand well reading not so good i come from cuban parents. Thank you in advance looking for adventure solo.

  • Patty Feb 26, 2019, 8:53 am

    Hola Andrea, lloro de felicidad al leer tu artìculo. Muchas gracias por tus experiencias y maravilloso tiempo en mi amado paìs. Yo soy de Guayaquil y vivo en Nova Scotia, Canada. Muyyyyyyy frio en el invierno. Yo vivì en Otavalo year ago. Es mi Ciudad preferida de todo Ecuador despues de las playas en la Costa!.
    Siempre he pensando en volver a Ecuador pero como tù dijiste la inseguridad e instabilidad plus mucha corrupciòn del gobierno me stop me. I am here because of my children, my husband’s Canadian and he loved Ecuador and same like you guys he missed Ecuador every day like me. It’s very hard make a decision like you guys did we have been here is not easy.
    Wish you all the best and many blessings to you and your husband.
    Thank you for everything you guys did in Otavalo.
    Sincerely, Patty

  • Angelique Dec 19, 2018, 6:18 pm

    Hi! What is the last status of La Cosecha now? Been in Otavalo 4 times the last 5 years and going back in January. My love was born and raised in Otavalo and we try to visit our family as many times as possible (which isn’t easy as it is a 12-hour flight…). Our family lives just around the corner of La Cosecha and I’m always looking forward to go for a nice coffee and sandwich when in Otavalo. This time my parents and our 1-year old daughter will join us and I told them all about La Cosecha 😉 I truly hope I still have the chance to show them my most favorite spot in Ecuador!

  • David Oct 6, 2017, 4:07 pm

    Hi Andra. My wife and I are planing our next trip to Otavalo, Cotacachi next March / April for four to six weeks. With the intent of exploring the area, culture and living realities, for a more possiable permanent part time residence. I have made one contact, for now, with Rut Tellechea in Cotacachi for assistance regarding house rental, legal advise, translation and language training. Can you recommend a second backup contact should Rut not be available when we need her services?
    It is outstanding your successful business is transferable to your local employees cementing their future endeavours and high regards to you and Josh. We hope your return to the US brings you both closer to whatever expectations you have going forward in life.
    My wife and I are in our mid sixties and hope to find a more comfortable life style with new challenges and horizons to explore. A small quaint coffee shop with board games and comfort food sounds rather interesting, as something to occupy our time when not travelling, worth exploring?

  • Stefanie Brown Jul 25, 2017, 11:27 am

    Hi there! My family and I live in a valley near Quito, and love visiting La Cosecha when taking tourists and in town. We have a lot of mutual friends, but didn’t get to meet you guys. Glad you had such great experiences here, and hope all goes well on your next adventure.

    My question is more decor related, hehe. We are slowly accumulating our own purchases here on furniture and decor. I LOVE the furniture and especially the map art you have in your store. Did you acquire it here with a local or bring in from the US?


  • Jon Sharp Jul 9, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Hello Josh and Andra,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story and telling us more about La Cosecha Ecuador, and the reason for selling.
    My wife and I have been living in Tabacundo since March and have been visiting your coffee shop regularly. Our adult kids live here also which makes living in Ecuador that much more enjoyable. Your shop is our daughter’s favorite place to hang out and write her own blogs on her days off.
    We wish you the best in your happiness back in the states and thank you for your contributions here in Ecuador.
    Jon & LeAndra Sharp

  • Andrew Estes Jul 3, 2017, 1:48 pm

    I misunderstood your earlier post saying you were giving the business to the employees, but as it turns out you are actually selling it to them, with our money? Just drop the price by $100 as my contribution. After 6 years in Paradise, why are you leaving?

    • Andra Carter Jul 3, 2017, 3:42 pm

      Hi Andrew,

      The purpose of the campaign is to raise the funds in the name of the employees so that they can purchase the business from us. As we mentioned, we feel that them being the owners is the best decision for their futures, and for the future of the business.

      We are unfortunately not in a financial situation to just give the business to the employees. This amount will just allow us to pay off loans and cover the costs associated with the transfer of ownership.

      We will not be making a profit. The goal of this campaign is to secure the future of our employees and the business. We are very proud of what we’ve created and want to see it continue to grow. We felt this was the best way to make that happen.

      As for why we are leaving Paradise, there are a lot of personal reasons that went into this decision, many of which we do not feel we need to publicize. At the end of the day, it’s time for us to go home and be nearer to our families. It was an extremely hard decision to make.

      • Andrew Estes Jul 3, 2017, 4:08 pm

        Good explanations. I misunderstood your first posting.

        • Andra Carter Jul 3, 2017, 4:10 pm

          Thanks Andrew, glad we were able to clarify!

  • Reuben Jul 3, 2017, 5:52 am

    Hi Andra & Josh, Thanks for your nice blog about Ecuador. I seem not to see any comments about earthquakes in Ecuador? You mentioned about Costa Rica. Sure it may be a little bit more expensive but you mentioned about the weather/climate? Did you have a chance to at “least” visit a day or two Atenas and Grecia? Surely, a LOT of expats (who actually visited the place) confirm the “all year round” comfort of the weather on these 2 places. And you have not mentioned Panama too. A very popular blogger (U.S. citizen) retired Nurse have been living long time in David, Panama have over the years candid of the benefits of living in Panama (other expats prefer the cooler Boquete). Anyway, it’s enjoyable reading your blog. Best of luck !

    • Andra Carter Jul 3, 2017, 3:44 pm

      Thanks Reuben! You’re right, there are earthquakes here, but there are earthquakes in a lot of other places too 🙂 We are living in the mountains and have been fortunate to not have been personally affected by any quakes, especially the larger one that occurred on the coast last year. We did some research on Panama and other areas of Costa Rica before settling here, but to be honest, after visiting here for 2 weeks we just really loved it and didn’t feel the need to check out any other countries at the time. We hope to be able to visit many other places in the future.

  • Gary Fraley Jul 2, 2017, 5:38 am

    What happened that made you decide to come back to the US? I am seriously looking at moving down to Cuenca from Sacramento CA. I am 65 and my wife is 62. I am looking to get the real picture, good or bad. So it is important for me to know if you are leaving Ecuador, why? It may tell me more about what we want to consider before moving there. Thanks

    –Gary Fraley

    • Andra Carter Jul 3, 2017, 3:47 pm

      Hi Gary – great question. Absolutely nothing against Ecuador. Personal circumstances have changed and we feel it’s now time for us to return to the US and be closer to our families. It was a very hard decision, and we hope to come back for a few months each year for a visit during the winters.

      We do strongly recommend making a long(ish) visit down here before 100% settling. We would recommend that no matter where you were thinking of moving. A 2-week visit is very different from a 3-month visit where you are grocery shopping, paying the water bill, living in the altitude, maybe driving or taking public transport.

      That being said, we LOVE Cuenca and I am sure you guys will to.

  • Gordon Crossman Jul 1, 2017, 6:19 pm

    I am having a real hard time trying to phone La Costa Golf Club in Guayaquil, Bell has given me numbers but they are disconnected. I have a cell phone only no land line and any numbers that are on google are disconnected too. Can you help, Thanks.

  • David Jul 1, 2017, 5:22 pm

    Sounds like you had a great stay and best of luck with the business transfer. It does sound like you never really acclimated to Ecuador, even after 6 years. Not if you have to bring in a ton of stuff every year, and couldn’t ‘really’ go without so many things. I do congrats you with the fact you really tried to learn Spanish… And I mean really tried. That is the biggest mistake “almost all” Americans make here, they don’t ‘really try’ to learn the language. Oh, they say they do, but they don’t. Best of luck with your new adventures.

    • Andra Carter Jul 3, 2017, 3:58 pm

      You are definitely right, David, there are lots of people who acclimate better than I did! But everyone is different and I wanted to give a true picture of my experience so that people who are thinking of coming down would take into consideration things that they maybe haven’t thought about yet…. like that fact that you may not be able to get spices to cook your favorite foods, or that a mascara will cost $20 vs the $6 it normally costs at home. We found that many of the blogs online talk about how cheap things are and how amazing life is (which is all true!) but without addressing the challenges, and thus many come down here ill prepared for the more difficult parts of adjusting.

      And I could not agree more on the language. You HAVE to learn it! The locals are all really patient too, we found that even in the beginning when our Spanish was very minimal, people really appreciated that we were trying and they made a real effort to communicate with us. To talk slower, to try to make sure we understood. If you don’t learn it, you’ll never feel comfortable here. At least, that’s how I feel.

      • David Jul 3, 2017, 7:57 pm

        WOW… I am so glad I don’t wear makeup. 😉 And you are correct, that many articles don’t tell you the ‘real’ cost of smaller, more personal choice items, So, now I hope people understand, it’s not free to live in Ecuador, that if you want to stay with export products, it is expensive. Sorry to hear that you are leaving because of personal things, and that you still love Ecuador. That encourages me in that I will like it also. I am leaving for a 3 month trial in three weeks. But I am also applying for my two year visa (Pension Visa) at the same time. This way, if I like it, my paperwork is already in and I can apply for my permanent visa in two years. If I don’t like it, I’ve only lost about $900 in paperwork (much less than a long trial visit), well worth the time saved by going back and forth. 🙂

        Best of luck to you both, and I hope all those personal things work out with time. Also. I too looked into Panama, Belize, Costa Rico, Colombia, Peru, and Thailand. Nothing worked out better all round then Ecuador.

        Take care. David 🙂

        • Andra Carter Jul 4, 2017, 11:21 am

          Sounds like you have a great plan, David! I’m sure you’re going to really love it here, and if you don’t at least you know you tried 🙂 LOL!

          Thanks for your encouraging words!

  • Amy Frevert Jul 1, 2017, 4:05 pm

    Question: where did you take your language classes?

    Thanks in advance!


    • Andra Carter Jul 3, 2017, 3:59 pm

      We were really lucky and had a friend who lived nearby who was Ecuadorean but spoke fluent English as well. She gave us lessons for 3 months. Unfortunately she’s in Quito now, but there are lots of great options locally. We have a friend who’s taking classes in Otavalo right now!

      • Sasha Castellino Jul 11, 2017, 11:45 am

        Thanks for your article. This has been very informative. I’m from Oregon and am going to be staying in Otavalo Sept – Dec this year. If you have any specific language tutor or class recommendations that would be really helpful.

        Another thing I’m wondering about. I’m an avid hiker and am used to hitting the trails on my own. Are there issues with women hiking solo regarding personal safety?

        I’ll be sure to check out the shop while I’m there!

        Thanks 🙂

        • Andra Carter Jul 11, 2017, 4:04 pm

          Hi Sasha,

          We took private lessons through a bi-lingual friend who no longer lives locally. But I asked another friend who has taken lessons in town and they recommended The Instituto Superior de Español de Otavalo.

          About hiking and safety…. I think it depends where and when you are going. We’ve hiked a lot in Mojanda, which is about 45 minutes out of town and a bit isolated and often never run into another person the whole day. Then there are other days when you run into lots of people. We’ve never felt like “oh, that could have been a bad situation”… generally the hikers we do see are tourists or travelers and generally everyone is really nice.

          I will be honest with you: I did have a friend who was on some trails very close to town actually get attacked and almost robbed but she screamed like crazy and ran, and the guy ran away, but in all the years I’ve been here, that is the only occasion I’ve ever personally heard of.

          I think, like anywhere, you need to be smart and be aware. Typically this is not an unsafe area, but during certain times of year, if there are fiestas and holidays and people are drinking… it can be a different story. That’s probably not super helpful (sorry). You may want to join the Ecuador Expats and Quito Expats and Cotacachi Expats Facebook groups as they’ll be full of lots of information!

          We hope your visit is fantastic!

          • Sasha Castellino Jul 12, 2017, 10:22 am

            Gracias! This is very helpful. Thank you for taking the time.

            • andra carter Jul 12, 2017, 10:37 am

              NO problem! H0pe your visit is amazing.

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