Little Loja, nestled in what's known as the Ecuador's southern sierra -- a beautiful part of the country featuring high Andean peaks, green valleys, and great weather year-round -- is perhaps this country's best-kept retirement secret.
Cuenca is four hours to the north by bus, and Vilcabamba, the famous Valley of Longevity, is just 40 minutes to the south. Both of these are much better-known and more established expat-retiree choices. This has pluses and minuses. More foreign retirees-in-residence means ready-made, English-speaking support, friendship, and companionship for new retiree arrivals. It also means, over time, a less authentic Ecuador experience.
"One of the best things about Loja," says one expat retiree, "is that not much has changed since I first visited the city almost 15 years ago. While both Cuenca and Vilcabamba have markedly different characters than they did, say, a decade ago," this retiree continues, "Loja has maintained the pleasant, small-city character that struck me way back then."
Loja is not Ecuador's biggest city. It's not the most modern or the town with the most amenities. But, for the foreign retiree, it's the perfect fit in a lot of ways.
First, the weather is ideal, at least according to most folks' idea of ideal weather. The average high temperature in Loja is 73 degrees Fahrenheit, 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, living here, you could 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. Expats I know who've chosen to settle here say that the warm welcome they received upon arrival is one big reason they decided to stick around.
Loja is a safe city, with less crime than you'll find in the bigger cities of Quito, Guayaquil, or Cuenca. You can walk the streets of downtown at all hours of the night without worrying about running into trouble.
The countryside surrounding Loja is dramatic and beautiful, with green mountain peaks, idyllic valleys, and rushing rivers, an ideal place to own 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 have to invest in a car for day-to-day life. Taxis, when you need them, are plentiful and cheap. Most rides around town are only a dollar.
For travel farther afield, including interprovincial travel, the public transportation is excellent. You'll enjoy a modern bus system, jet transport to other the major cities, and a fleet of inexpensive taxis to every corner of Ecuador.
Loja has 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, get a shoe shine, have a coffee, or meet friends.
Music is a big part of the Lojano culture, Loja is considered the music capital of Ecuador. Many of the country's best musicians and composers came from Loja, and the city boasts two orchestras and a noted music conservatory.
Loja is also a healthy place to live. Ecuador's year-round growing season means that fresh tropical fruits and vegetables are always available in the markets at low prices. And the fresh, squeezed-at-the-moment fruit juices are so rich and wholesome that you'll never again be happy with the canned or bottled juices you find most anywhere else.
In addition, in Loja you'll find dozens of well-equipped gyms and aerobics centers all over the city, at prices that even the tightest budget can afford.
Which brings us to perhaps the biggest pluses of Loja for the foreign retiree--namely, the low cost of living overall and, as well, the low cost of buying a home here. Loja is a place where a retired couple could live comfortably on a budget of as little as $1,000 or $1,100 per month, including rent. If you prefer to own your own home, you'll find a large selection of appealing properties for less than $100,000.
If you do want to buy, I'd recommend starting your search for a home of your own in Loja in the historic center, say within eight blocks of the town square. You can find nice neighborhoods outside this area, but, outside the city's core, you'll also find areas that are relatively new yet have a desolate feel to them. Also, living in the outlying suburbs you'd likely need to invest in a car, which would be a big additional budget item.
The bottom line is that charming little Loja is no backwater. It's modern and convenient and offers full-city services, all at a remarkably low price. Yet, at the same time, Loja retains a cultural richness that makes it unique in Ecuador and an exceedingly pleasant place to be.