Ibarra is a little bit of heaven in the mountains of Ecuador. The mild temperature (70-80’s F) every day is just perfect for the many Americans and Canadians who have immigrated. Most homes and apartments have fireplaces when the weather gets chilly at night. Those who retire in Ibarra, Ecuador will find the weather a bit warmer than in Cotacachi. Ibarra sits at 7,300 feet elevation.
Ibarra is about 70 miles north of the capital of Quito and not far north from Cotacachi along the Pan American Highway, which has just been expanded to six lanes south to the city of Otavalo.
One of Ecuador’s “White Cities” named for its many colonial white buildings. We heard an interesting story that the city experienced a plague in the late 1800’s and the resident’s believed if they whitewashed the buildings in a lime solution, the disease would not enter their households. Many of the buildings are kept white out of respect for the lives lost during that terrible time. About 150,000 people live in this town, mostly locals with about 10% expats.
Getting to Ibarra is easy from Quito or Cotacachi. You can ride a bus from Quito for $2.50. A taxi is about $10. If you live in town or on the outskirts, you do not need a car. The biggest airport is in Quito.
Ibarra has a brand new hospital with 50 doctors in town specializing in all manner of things. There are pharmacies, dentists, chiropractors, health spas, and several hotels have mineral hot springs.
Ibarra has a beautiful town center, a nice little museum and several treed parks including our favorite, Parque Victor Manuel Penaherrera. There is an open market on Saturdays where you can buy the freshest vegetables and fruits – completely organic. The market also has local arts and crafts, furniture, clothing and all kinds of things. There is usually music and this is where the people come together for a bit of shopping and gossip. On Thursday, fresh seafood is brought up from the coast.
Ibarra is the simple quiet life. While there are bars and shopping in town with some truly exceptional restaurants – this is a peaceful, clean oasis in the mountains. The town is famous for blackberry syrup and nogadas candy made from local walnuts. Stop by the ice cream shop to see them make helado de paila, a 100 year old recipe. The concoction is made by stirring ingredients quickly by hand in a large metal bowl until frozen.
In addition to several really nice hotels in town at very reasonable rates, you can find apartments, condo’s and homes for sale and rent quite easily. A number of expats have purchased homes in the area and rent them out seasonally. We found one such newer home in a gated community with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a nice yard with a hot tub for $400 a month. You can rent apartments for $200-$300 away from the city center. A two-bedroom home was recently for sale a few blocks off the main plaza for $72,000. There are dozens of expats living here on their Social Security alone.
The mountains in this area are known for amazing hiking trails and there is a para-gliding club in town. The area is also famous for birdwatching and the colorful birds are just everywhere.
Another interesting thing is the “train” that goes to Primer Paso, about 30 miles away. Mainly a tourist train, this route goes through 20 tunnels – and people can ride on top of the train cars for a better view! (No OSHA in Ecuador!) There is a real train that will take you to the beaches of Salinas, about an hour away down the mountain with some spectacular scenery. The train depot in Ibarra is a festive place with dancers and musicians greeting tourist groups.
We really liked Ibarra. Quiet country living, in a beautiful mountain valley with clean air and really nice people.