Loja, Ecuador, is the object of my most remarkable failed prediction.
In fact, of two failed predictions.
Loja is one of my favorite cities in Ecuador. In fact, if I were returning to Ecuador today, this small Andean city in the south of the country is probably where I’d settle.
The city of Cuenca is far more popular than Loja. In fact, it’s one of the most popular expat destinations in the Americas, with beautiful colonial architecture and loads of amenities.
By contrast, Loja is a city for Ecuadorians. Aside from a handful of exchange students, you’ll see few foreigners here.
About 10 years ago—when the expat population of Cuenca exploded—I predicted that Loja would be next. It was loaded with opportunity for the entrepreneur, had lots of inexpensive real estate, and was still in its original, pre-expat state.
But that didn’t happen.
I went back to Loja in 2011, and it looked exactly the same as when I’d sold my house nearly six years earlier. But I knew the expat wave was just around the corner.
Wrong again. This city is still virtually untouched by expats. I’m making no further predictions.
But, to me, this is good news. While both Cuenca and Loja’s neighboring Vilcabamba have markedly different characters than they used to, Loja has maintained the pleasant, small-city character that struck me during my first visit here in 1998.
Loja Is A Pleasant, Clean, And Friendly City That’s Off The Gringo Trail
Loja lies in what’s known as Ecuador’s southern sierra, a beautiful and natural part of the country featuring high Andean peaks and lush green valleys. Cuenca sits 3 hours to the north by bus, and the famous Valley of Longevity—Vilcabamba—is just 40 minutes to the south. The airport lies to the west, in the town of Catamayo.
The average high temperature in Loja is 73°F (23°C), with a seasonal variation of only 1°F. Nights are always cool, with an average low of 45°F (7°C). So you don’t need heat or air conditioning, and you can retire your winter clothes and your snow shovel.
The city has a number of attractive parks and plazas, a pleasant historic center, and lots of country properties in the surrounding green hills.
A Disorganized Real Estate Market… Offering Great Deals
Although it’s a city of 185,000, finding real estate in Loja is a challenge. English-speaking real estate agents may exist, but I’ve been unable to find one. I walked into one real estate agent’s office, and, when I asked what he had for sale, he looked up from his magazine and politely told me, “Lo siento… no tengo nada” (sorry, I have nothing).
But soon I found an agency that actually did have an inventory, as evidenced by the sandwich board out front displaying beautiful property photos and great prices. Unfortunately, none of the properties I wanted to see were still for sale (I found this at a few places). Apparently, they never take the nice ones down, as long as they’re still bringing customers in the door.
They did however, have a number of good properties that were for sale… so I made, confirmed, and re-confirmed an appointment.
Of course the agent never showed up. But his innovative secretary found a friend of the real estate agent who was willing to show me around. She served coffee while I waited. It was a day well spent, despite the two-hour delay in getting started.
I saw some terrific properties, of all types. But you can’t go about property shopping in the way you might expect. In my experience, it’s better to walk the downtown, while looking at “for sale” signs and jotting down phone numbers. Then afterwards, give the list to an agent, or call them yourself.
And it’s worth it. Properties here are less expensive than their equivalents in Cuenca, and the cost of living in Loja is less than in either Cuenca or Vilcabamba.
Here’s A Sampler Of The Loja Market
The market here starts at about US$60,000 for a small apartment that’s downtown, but outside the historic center, in a middle-class Lojano neighborhood. The following properties are upscale by Loja standards, but should meet the needs of most North American expats.
- I found a second-floor, 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment on the market, with high-quality finishing materials, central gas, storage room, security system, and garage parking. Built in 2015, the apartment was located near Parque Jipiro, close to nature and public transportation. The asking price was US$85,000.
- In the quiet neighborhood of Las Palmeras, there was a brand-new home available, with 140 square meters of living area, including 4 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, with an upstairs family room central to the bedroom area. (In Ecuador, this area is common, and called an estar.) The asking price was US$112,000.
- North of town, in a quiet residential neighborhood close to everything and with great views, there was a spacious 300-square-meter home on the market, with 4 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, a 2-car garage, and a front patio/garden area all enclosed by a perimeter wall. The asking price was US$168,000.
- Just a few blocks from downtown, on a low-traffic side street adjacent to 24 de Mayo, I found a 2-story 250-square-meters house with 8 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a large courtyard, an office, and spacious living areas. The asking price was US$275,000.
Is Loja For You?
Loja is definitely off the well-worn gringo trail. So if you want to live among hundreds or thousands other expats—or you aren’t up for learning any Spanish—then there are far better choices in Ecuador… places like Cuenca, Vilcabamba, or Cotacachi.
Expats who settle in Loja will need to become a part of the local community, which is why I find it attractive.
In Loja, you’ll experience life in the real Ecuador. You can enjoy a night at the symphony or appreciate the art and culture that have made Loja unique in the country. Also, here in the southern Andes, you’ll be at home in a dramatic and beautiful province.
So if you’re ready to leave the beaten path for a fascinating lifestyle among warm and welcoming people, then Loja could well be for you.
This article was first published in 2018 and has been recently updated.