This is the sixth addition to our series on Popular Nomad Destinations where we talk about cities from the perspective of someone who travels the world living and working remotely in a place for few months at a time. This article isn’t intended to sell you on a destination or steer you in any direction, but rather present one nomad’s viewpoint from their experience.
I arrived in Quito last year almost by chance. In October 2016, I had a plane ticket to Thailand. It had been over 10 years since I last stepped foot in the country and I was excited to go back and reconnect with some old friends who – if not for Facebook – would probably never have recognized me as I look quite different from when I did when I was 21.
But I never made it to Thailand. About a week before I was scheduled to fly to Bangkok (BKK), Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away at age 88. He was the longest-reigning monarch of our lifetime and the people of Thailand adored him. The King kept peace between the government and the people for many years and after his death, the country went into a period of mourning. The cabinet asked the public not to hold any “entertainment activities” for a month, but the mourning period itself lasted a year. I have tremendous love and respect for the people of Thailand and felt that it'd be inconsiderate to show up a week into their mourning, so I cancelled my ticket.
Meanwhile I was all set to leave the USA on my next work-adventure and now I had nowhere to go. Well, more accurately, I had EVERYWHERE to go. I consulted my imaginary bucket list and decided to head to South America for the first time. I'd start in either Colombia, Ecuador, or Peru and work my way down south (or so I thought at the time). Quito had always been on my list of places to see, but I wasn't exactly sure what attracted me to it–call it a gut feeling. I had heard about Quito's year round Spring-like weather, and I knew it was the second highest elevation capital city in South America, but other than that, I didn't know much about Quito or Ecuador in general. I'm a quick study though, and a few days later I flew to Quito Airport (UIO) on a one-way ticket and Instant Booked an Airbnb during my layover in Miami (MIA). And the adventure began…
I chose a central spot for the first few days to acquaint myself with the city. Then I rented a 2 bedroom condo in Centro Histórico ($600/month), a few minutes walk from the President's House on Garcia Monero. Over the course of my first three months in Quito, I lived in three different condos. My second condo was in the top of an office building on the southwestern side of Parque Carolina ($740/month) – but I only stayed a week because I was traveling most of that month. And my third condo ($465/month) was in a quadplex house in a neighborhood located between Parque Carolina y Parque Metropolitano.
I took time to travel while in Ecuador, especially during the month of December. A friend from USA came down for a portion of the time and stayed in my spare bedroom. We traveled to Mindo, a popular town to visit and hike, Baños, the outdoor adventure capital of Ecuador, which proved to be one of my favorite places in Ecuador, and to a few other small towns near Quito. When we eventually went our separate ways, she continued onward to the coast of Ecuador while I made my way down to Guayaquil, and then later to Salinas, Montañita, Puerto Lopez, Manta, Crucita, and a handful of beaches in between. I spent Christmas in Montañita with some other Jews at a hostel on the beach. We couldn't find any Chinese food in that town and there were no movie theaters, but we did the best we could to celebrate a Jewish Christmas with an ethnic meal and a night of complaining.
I enjoyed my visits to many of the cities and beaches in Ecuador (who doesn't enjoy a vacation, right?), but I continued to be drawn to Quito, so I returned to the city for month number three. Flash forward to January 2017 and my cell phone broke. The cost of replacing a cell phone in Ecuador is astronomical because the country has a 100% import tax on consumer electronics, so a $900 cell phone in USA would cost over $2000 in Ecuador. (Aside from the import taxes, electronics are more expensive in general in Ecuador.) Alternatively, if I ordered a phone from the USA, it'd take weeks to arrive, I'd have to pay close to $200 to insure the phone, probably pay import taxes on it anyway, and there's no guarantee it'd ever reach me. I don't have a lot of faith in foreign postage systems. So I decided to fly back to USA, visit my family for a couple weeks in North Carolina, and buy a new phone there. It was roughly the same cost to fly back and forth to North Carolina as it was to buy the phone in Ecuador, and I got to see my family for a couple weeks, so that was a win.
My plan was to return to South America after that, this time to Colombia starting in Medellin. But like the Yiddish proverb says, “Make plans. God laughs.” And so a few weeks later I found myself on a plane to Makati Philippines (MNL). But that's a story for another day. (Read Jon Santangelo's post about Makati and my post on Boracay for more info about the Philippines.)
After almost three months in the Philippines I became fed up with the time difference between myself and my clients in the USA (12 hours) and aggravated with the world's slowest Internet, so I decided to return to this side of the world and was once again drawn to Quito, Ecuador, a city that had proven to be a productive place for me to live and work. All and all between two trips, I spent about five months in Ecuador during 2016/2017, most of which was spent in Quito, which has become one of my favorite cities in the world. And without further ado, here is my list of things I love / hate about living and working remotely in Quito, Ecuador.
Things I Love About Quito Ecuador
These are the things that I loved about living and working remotely in Quito. Keep in mind that I'm trying my best to write this from the perspective of a digital nomad and not someone vacationing in Ecuador. The things I look for in a city are different depending on whether I'm living or vacationing there.
#1) The Views in Quito Are Amazing
I call Quito Ecuador the City of Views because it doesn't matter where you stand in the city, you're always going to have a spectacular view. And for me, that's a huge plus to a city because beautiful views make me happy! (Don't they make you happy too?) Quito is surrounded by volcanoes and mostly sits within a valley. Whether you're in the valley looking up or standing atop a mountain looking down, you're bound to have a world class view from anywhere in the city. One of my favorite spots in Quito is Parque Itchimbia where on a clear day, you can see the entire city.
#2) There are many beautiful parks in Quito for a city its size
Quito is filled with beautiful parks at every corner of the city – it's got a lot of green space for a city of its size. I love cities that I can disappear into a park without having to travel very far. Sometimes I joke that I returned to Quito the second time just for the parks. It's only a half joke though – I loved living near Parque Carolina which is located in the center of Quito and spans over 100 square city blocks. I exercised most days at the Cross Fit Zone in Carolina, and other days I hiked through Parque Metropolitano, a huge wooded park in the northeast part of the city. And about once a week, I urban hiked from my house to Itchimbia, the park I was telling you about that overlooks the entire city. It was about 7km to the park from my home and ended in a 400 stair climb. But the hike and the incline are worth it as the views on a clear day are spectacular.
#3) Quito's got big city amenities and infrastructure
The Quito Metropolitan Area is home to more than 2.5 million Ecuadorians and therefore has all the amenities that you'd expect of a city that size including hospitals, shopping malls, theaters, nightlife, and plenty of places to stay. I once took a short video of the walk from my house to the park to show my parents the city and they were definitely surprised at how modern parts of Quito are. I enjoy the culture and availability of events that comes with living in a bigger city and Quito has plenty to offer. For example, Les Miserables was playing at El Teatro Nacional Sucre when I first arrived in Ecuador (but the tickets were unfortunately already sold out so I couldn't go). One of the coolest things I did in Quito was attend a Spanish orchestra concert in a 1950's abandoned pool. It was a spooky event!
#4) The Internet in Quito is rated: Good
I always include Internet in my nomad posts because it's one of the first questions a digital nomad asks about a city before committing to a visit (as it probably should be). And the Internet in Quito makes it to the pros list this time. The Internet at my first condo averaged about 6Mbs and exceeded 50Mbs at my second condo. My third condo averaged about 9-10Mbs. Most coffee shops are minimum 2-3Mbs and the majority are faster. Overall, the Internet has never been a problem for me in terms of making VoIP calls or running my Internet companies. You may require faster speeds, but for me it's been fine, especially in comparison to the Philippines where the Internet was a nightmare and exceeding 2Mbs was a luxury most places.
#5) Healthy food is accessible throughout the city
Some cities are harder than others to find healthy food options but I never had to branch out too far in Quito to find a good meal. The area of town I lived in during the latter half of my stay is called Inaquito and can be described as the more modern part of Quito. On this side of town, I had a wider, but more expensive, variety of restaurants and grocery chains to choose from. In Old Town, where I first stayed, the restaurants were mostly traditional Ecuadorian locally owned places where you walk in and eat whatever they've got available for lunch that day (as opposed to ordering off a menu). In Old Town, it was very common to eat a hardy lunch for between $1.50 and $3.00 that included soup, salad, an entree, and usually a fresh juice of the day.
#6) There are a growing number of expats & nomads in Quito
Since Quito is the main international airport hub for Ecuador, there are plenty of tourists, expats, and nomads passing through on the daily or setting up home in the city. I met a lot of foreigners, especially those working for NGOs in Quito and throughout the rest of Ecuador. I actually watched the 45th US Presidential Election in November 2016 at a bar called Finn McCools in Plaza Foch. All the Americans and Europeans came down that night to watch the election on the big screen, and it was like watching a soccer game. Every time a candidate won a State, the crowded room would either erupt in cheers or boos. I met a nice group of expats that night that I occasionally did group tourist activities with.
#7) Quito has many outdoor activities nearby
Aside from the parks in Quito which I mentioned that I loved, there are a lot of outdoor activities to occupy your time near Quito, and the weather is often perfect for being outside. Every Sunday, what feels like the entire population of Quito fills the parks with picnics, parades, festivities, and family events. And volcanoes, craters, and natural hot springs are within an hour's drive of the city. Here are a few things to do near Quito that you won't want to miss:
Volcan Pichincha – Hike to the top of this 15,696 foot volcano. The last 500 feet are practically an uphill climb and is one of the hardest hikes I've ever completed. Be sure to adjust to the elevation first in Quito before attempting to hike this volcano.
Termas de Papallacta – Spend the day visiting Quito's closest natural hot springs. You can go to the free public hot springs or spend $7 for the day and visit them via a hotel.
El Panecillo – Take an afternoon hike up to Quito's famous Virgin Mary statue and enjoy a view of the entire city. You can climb to the top of the statue for a spectacular photo opp.
Cuidad Mitad Del Mundo – About an hour from the city, you can stand on the center of the equator line and visit a monument built to commemorate the equator that the country was named after. It's a nice afternoon and fun place to visit, even though it's been proven that this landmark location is actually 240 meters south of the actual equator!
Carondelet Palace – Take a free tour of the President's House located in the Independence Square of Centro Historico. The former President didn't' actually live in the house and so he opened it up to the public. I'm not sure if the new President lives there or not now.
There are certainly more things to do in or near Quito that I could list here, but those are some highlights. The country is relatively small so you can get anywhere in a day's drive or bus ride.
#)8 Ecuador offers a 90 day tourist visa for US Citizens
I love when countries offer tourist visas that are longer than 30 days. For me, one month is barely enough time to get settled in a new place and I feel like I'm always up against the clock with short visas. So a 90 day tourist visa is a big plus. One thing to note about Ecuador though is that you can only stay for 90 days a year, meaning a consecutive 365 day period. I originally thought that the rule was that I could spend 90 days in a calendar year, so I spent the end of 2016 and then came back for a few months during 2017. But it turns out I was wrong and overstayed my visa. However there was no fine or punishment and I can come back without a problem after April 2018. Keep in mind that I'm only referring to tourist visas and that Ecuador offers other types of visas that you can obtain to stay longer than 90 days.
#9) There a noticeable amount of police presence in the city (in a good way)
There were police officers all around the city, especially in the touristy areas, which made it feel safe. In the historic district during the daytime, there was a police officer on almost every corner. They also have a huge presence in the party areas like Plaza Foch on the weekends. And aside from their presence, I found them to be quite helpful and respectful of tourists and citizens. If you travel internationally, you understand why this is such a breath of fresh air in a city.
A few quick police officer stories… 1) A fight broke out one night in Plaza Foch between two drunk locals over a girl. The police broke it up within seconds and de-escalated the situation. No-one was arrested. 2) Another time I witnessed a city bus smash into the side of a small car. It was entirely the bus's fault so I stuck around the scene to be a witness for the driver of the car if they needed. But they did not need me because it turns out there was also a cop on the intersection (as there often are on intersections) who witnessed the whole thing and handled it from there. 3) One last story was when I was in El Ejido Park and saw three teenagers hanging out sitting in the grass. Next thing I know, two cops ride up on motorcycles and start searching their pockets and book bags. The cops find a small bag of weed, a pipe, and a lighter. They ask the kids if they were selling weed and the kids said no and that they just had that small bag from earlier and that they weren't smoking in the park. The cops give the kids back their weed, pipe, and lighter and everyone continued on with their day. (I have no idea if marijuana is legal in Ecuador by the way. I'm just telling you a story of what I saw.) In terms of cops I've encountered around the world, A++ in Quito Ecuador.
#10) The weather in Quito is amazing (during the day)
The weather all over Ecuador is pretty nice in my opinion, but Quito especially has great weather because of the combination of its elevation and proximity to the equator. It's extremely high elevation should mean that it's freezing cold, and its proximity to the equator should mean that it's extremely hot, but the combination of the two balance each other out and make for some amazing Spring-like weather throughout much of the year. The weather was perfect in November and December during my first visit, which may have been partially due to luck though from what I heard. But when I returned in May, I caught the tailend of the rainy season and the first few weeks were cold, wet, and pretty miserable. However then the skies opened up for summer. June, July, and August are optimal times to be there because it stays between 70 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit with very little rainfall.
#11) Quito's easy to navigate and get around.
The city is very narrow and express buses run from North to South, which you can hop on and off and then connect with different buses. There are also a few bigger bus terminals throughout the city to take you to and from the airport or on longer trips outside the city. Like any city, traffic gets bad, but it helps that the buses have their own lanes. Although like any third world country, the buses get super crowded before and after work. I'm a walker and regularly walked 5+ miles a day. It wasn't a big deal for me to walk from one side of the city to the other. Navigating was easy because I could orient myself based on the volcanoes around me.
#12) Quito is an affordable place to live
If you're okay with eating and drinking like a local, which you should be if you live abroad, then the cost of living is reasonable depending on what part of the city you choose to live and what type of amenities you're looking for in a home. Cost of living is always a tough subject to tackle because everyone's got their own idea of what “affordable” means. Personally, I'm not a budget traveler who's mission is to see as much of the world as possible while spending next to nothing. But I'm also not a luxury traveler. I'm somewhere in between and consider myself a frugal traveler who has certain amenities I'm willing to pay for and others that I can live without. To give you an idea of the cost of living in Quito, I stayed at a few different monthly furnished rentals which ranged in price from $435/mo to $740/month and they all had high speed Internet and a washer and dryer. If you're looking to stay there longer or just rent a room, you can certainly find cheaper. And if you're looking for penthouse living, you can certainly find more expensive. Since I work from home, I prefer to rent apartments or houses with at least 1 bedroom (versus studios) with laundry facilities and in a walkable area close to grocery stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. Aside from rent, you can eat for about $1-3/meal if you dine at small local restaurants, or you can spend as much as you would in America on a meal at nicer restaurants. Alcohol is somewhere in between 3rd world prices and American prices, although I only drank a handful of times when I was there so I can't speak to that very well.
Things I Hated About Living in Quito Ecuador
I could go on writing what I love about Quito because I'm truly fond of the city, but that should give you a solid idea of how I feel. So now I'm going to tell you the things I did not like.
#1) The taxi drivers are very exploitative at night
This comes with a little bit of bias because I have an ongoing feud with taxi drivers around the world, but the taxi drivers exploit the shit out of you at night here. In the daytime, they all use meters and it costs like $2 to go anywhere in the city. It's super cheap to get around. However, at night they turn the meters off and that same $2 trip costs $7-10. And if you try to negotiate with them on price before you get in the cab (which you should always do), they'll just tell you to find another cab. This drives me crazy as a businessman because I'm looking at a long line of empty taxis whose drivers would rather sit there all night with no passengers than take me a few kilometers away for $3 instead of $7 during a time of day with no traffic. If I were a taxi driver, my main priority would be to remain in motion and have a paying customer in my cab at all times, but they don't see it that way. I walked most places anyway, so this didn't turn out to be a huge deal for me but there were many times at night when I'd be coming home from across town and would get quoted some astronomical price for a cab ride so I'd just walk or jog home a few kilometers instead (so long as it felt safe). Towards the end of my stay in Quito, I learned about an app called Cabify which is popular down there, which is like an Uber but for taxis instead. The app determines the rates based on your distance and time of day, and it was always cheaper to use the app at night than personally flag down a taxi. The taxi drivers who were part of Cabify had to abide by their pricing structure and rules or they wouldn't be able to drive for them anymore. Even after I learned about the app though, I barely ever used it and just walked everywhere.
#2) It got really cold at night!
As soon as the sun went down, especially during the rainy season, it got really cold some nights! I had to get a space heater for one of my apartments because it would get so cold that it was hard to work because my fingers were too frozen to type. Other times I'd be out all day and far away from the house in shorts and a t-shirt, and the sun would go down and I'd be freezing. That was the other half of the reason why I'd often jog home at night. I'm not a fan of cold weather as you can probably tell.
#3) Some things were crazy expensive
In general, the cost of living in Ecuador was very affordable, but some items in particular, like imported name brand items and electronics, were very expensive due to import taxes. I told you earlier about how expensive Samsung phones cost, and another example was the cost of name brand shoes. A pair of Adidas running shoes that would probably cost $60-85 in USA went for $250. A pair of name brand jeans that would go for $50-60 in America cost twice that. My particular brand of contact lenses that I buy for $30/box in USA cost $90/box and had to be ordered. This is customary in many countries though – imported name brands often cost more so plan ahead and bring what you need or buy non-imported brands.
Other Things To Know Before You Get to Quito Ecuador
I wanted to tell you a few more things about Quito that I didn't necessarily love or hate but are important to know about the city.
#1) The elevation is really really high!
Quito sits high in the Andean foothills at an elevation of around 9,350 feet (2,850 meters). The extreme altitude takes some getting used to and was especially noticeable when I exercised or jogged. I adjusted to it after a couple weeks, but even after I was “used to it” there was still a noticeable difference in my physical performance in Quito versus other parts of Ecuador at lower elevations. My friend who visited me in Ecuador came with us when we hiked Volcan Pichincha on her second day in town, but she could only make it about halfway (and she's in pretty good shape) because she hadn't yet adjusted to the elevation. I didn't experience this, but other people have written about getting altitude sickness in Quito. Personally I wouldn't concern yourself with it, but be mindful of your own physical condition.
#2) It's a challenging city to walk
I love walking and when I was in Quito, I was also in ultra-workout mode, so I personally loved how hilly the city is because it helped me get in shape, but I feel ‘inclined' to warn you of how steep some of the hills and stairs are. Be mindful of where you rent if you choose a place from Airbnb before you arrive because although your rental may say that it's only 1 kilometer from the city center, it could be 1 kilometer STRAIGHT UP HILL! It's not uncommon to have a 200-400 stair climb from the road to your house since every direction you go is either an incline or decline. I remember when my friend first arrived and we were walking to my apartment for the first time. She stopped midway up the extremely steep road, looked up at the amount or road and incline we had left, and completely out of breath asked, “Seriously??”
#3) Not very many people speak English
In some countries, you can get by and barely ever speak the local language, but I didn't find very many Ecuadorians who spoke English. I did make friends with many foreigners who did, so that was nice, but most of the locals don't. I speak a decent amount of Spanish and would like to become fluent in my lifetime, so I was able to get by without a problem and also enjoyed the practice. But if you don't speak Spanish, don't expect to find English-speakers everywhere you go like in some countries.
And that's all I can think to share with you about my experience in Quito right now. As you can tell, I'm a big fan of the city and I recommend it to other digital nomads for the reasons I outlined above. If you have any questions, drop me a comment and I'll do my best to help you out! Otherwise, share this post with your wandering friends who may be considering moving to Quito for a while – and let them know it rocks!
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Read more from our series on Popular Nomad Destinations:
- 20 Things I Loved / Hated About Medellín Colombia as a Digital Nomad
- 7 Pros & 6 Cons to Living and Working Remotely in Makati Manila Philippines
- 9 Pros & 4 Cons to Living and Working Remotely in Medellin, Colombia
- 5 Pros & 5 Cons To Living and Working Remotely In Hanoi, Vietnam
- 9 Pros & 7 Cons to Living and Working Remotely in Vodice, Croatia
- 8 Pros & 11 Cons To Living and Working Remotely In Boracay, Philippines