Loja (pronounced LOH-ha), Ecuador, has been largely overlooked by the fast-growing numbers of Americans retiring to this country. However, as one expat retiree, Lee Harrison, who retired to Cuenca, Ecuador, puts it, "If I were to plan my retirement to this country today, Loja is where I'd live." All things considered, Loja, in Ecuador's Southern Sierra region and with a population of about 185,000 people, is a perfect choice for retirement.
First, the weather is ideal, at least for most folks. The average high temperature in Loja is 73 degrees, with a seasonal variation of only 1 degree. Nights are always cool, with an average low of 45 degrees. So you don't need heat, you don't need air conditioning and you can retire your winter clothes and your snow shovel for good.
The people of Loja are friendly and welcoming, and it's easy to become a part of the community. The town has virtually no expat community, meaning that the foreign retiree here is accepted into the local community on his or her own merits, rather than being stereotyped as part of the American enclave.
Of course, this can be a plus or a minus. The lack of a large expat community is a deterrent for some retirees, while it will be a blessing for others. It depends on the lifestyle and level of cultural immersion that you're looking for.
Loja is a safe city, with less crime than you'll find in Ecuador's bigger cities of Quito, Guayaquil or Cuenca. You can walk the streets at all hours of the night downtown without worrying about running into trouble.
The countryside surrounding Loja is dramatic and beautiful, with green mountain peaks, idyllic valleys and rushing rivers. There are a number of attractive areas for owning a larger tract of land or a farm. The nearby towns of Malacatos and Vilcabamba are popular vacation spots, with warm climates, charming villages and a pleasant rural atmosphere.
Yet the city of Loja itself is completely walkable, and anyone who can walk a couple of blocks will not need a car for day-to-day life. When you need a taxi, you'll find them plentiful and cheap. Most rides around town cost but a dollar.
For longer-distance travel, including travel among Ecuador's provinces, the public transportation system is excellent. Living here you'd have access to a modern bus system, jet transport to other major cities and a fleet of inexpensive taxis to every corner of Ecuador.
Loja is built around a number of attractive town squares, which serve as the classic city social centers that the Spanish intended them to be. They're great places to relax, people-watch, have your shoes shined, have a coffee or meet friends.
Music is a big part of the Lojano culture, and, in fact, Loja is the undisputed music capital of Ecuador. Many of the country's best musicians and composers came from Loja, and the city currently boasts two orchestras and a noted music conservatory.
Loja is also a good place to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Ecuador's year-round growing season means that fresh tropical fruits and vegetables are always available in the markets at very low prices. And the fresh squeezed fruit juices are so rich and wholesome that you'll never again be happy with the canned or bottled juices you find almost everywhere else. In addition, there are dozens of well-equipped gyms and aerobics centers all over the city, at prices that even the tightest budget can afford.
Though undiscovered and overlooked, Loja is no backwater. It's modern, convenient and offers full-city services, while, at the same time, offering a cultural richness that makes it unique in Ecuador and in the world.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.