There are two primary locations described below, both within short distances from the nearest town: Gualaquiza, Ecuador. The first objective is to arrive in Ecuador. It is important for all to research specific requirements regarding travel to Ecuador from their respective countries! Be certain to cover all aspects, such as providing proof of onward travel and booking appropriate flight or bus tickets out of Ecuador for this purpose. For example: most airlines allow 24 hours to cancel a flight, which you may book the day of your departure from home and then cancel upon arrival (also check out https://flyonward.com/en/); or you may choose a lower-risk option by purchasing a bus ticket to Peru or Colombia in advance. These examples open up your actual return/travel-on date options for a potential longer term stay. (see “Legal Stay in Ecuador” at the end of this page for more on visa terms).
We have included here some more specifics on what we have for food and shelter supplies for each of the respective locations. It is as detailed as it can be right now, but keep in mind that it is also ever evolving. Please read this thoroughly before contacting us with further questions, as perhaps some of the most frequently asked ones shall be answered for you.
The Terra Frutis flagship project in south-eastern Ecuador is located on 136 hectares (330+ acres) of land which slopes upward towards a mountainous western border, with the eastern border being the Zamora river and then two smaller streams along the north and south as general locations for the other respective borders. The elevation is 720 meters at the river. The majority of the land is between 730-900 meters, and the top of the mountain is about 1200 meters. The food forest project is located on land formerly used (some years ago) for “slash & burn” style agriculture practices, where the forest was radically rendered to a vast cow pasture (in other words: grass). Right now there are about 40 hectares of open pasture land that we are systematically clearing and re-planting with food forest pioneers. This land can/will be re-forested with trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs that provide food in a sustainable way, using agroforestry practices that work with and encourage local wildlife species. There are also bamboo forest sections, which can provide supplemental material for numerous residences and utility buildings.
Currently there is no direct road access and no internet at the Mount Frutis property. There is a road-to-be-built, which can be walked (though from time to time can be quite muddy). To get to/from the town of Gualaquiza involves a combination: one 15-minute boat ride (or a 1 h walk on the “road-to-be” in dry weather), and one approximate 30-minute vehicle ride (bus, taxi, or hitch-hiked). The boat ride is $1 per person to the property from the nearest small town, Proveeduria. The bus from/to there is less than $1, catching a return taxi from there can be $0.50-$1 per person, and of course hitching is always an option and usually free (though it is courteous to offer something, even if it typically gets declined by the driver).
You are welcome and encouraged to build an earth-bag house, bamboo hut, tree house, wood plank shack, “tiny house”, or similar domicile on the land; or set up a tent, pad, hammock, or other temporary accommodation on an existing platform or at our main cabin. There are currently three structures already built for accommodations, with space for up to about 10 people maximum in total. There is one main cabin with three rooms, a porch/deck, and a composting toilet bucket space. The second structure, the “Platform”, is that, a 3m-by-3m raised platform with a roof and no walls, which sleeps 1-2 easily. The third structure, called the “Palm House”, has a much higher raised platform design than the smaller Platform structure (at 3m above ground, with staircase), and may accommodate several folks on its larger layout. We do not charge for staying on/in these structures, but working around the land is preferred as long as you are able (when someone is not feeling well, is fasting or so, then we encourage rest and well-being wheresoever one feels most comfortable to do so).
The food supply direct from the land at Mount Frutis is sometimes quite bountiful in terms of rough lemons, a couple of different cultivars of bananas and plantains, and to a lesser extent some papayas and the seasonal abiu/caimito fruit (March/April). We are constantly planting and have planted hundreds, if not already into the thousands, of fruit-bearing plants throughout the property including: durian, mangosteen, marang, jackfruit, mamey sapote, lots of biriba, papaya, papaya, papaya, salak (snake fruit), soursop (guanábana), more bananas and plantains, white sapote, sugar apple, atemoya, café falso, blackberry jam fruit, tree tomato, and much much more! We are also in the process of developing a couple of different vegetable (and vegetable-fruit) gardens so that we can grow our own tomatoes, lettuce, and other salad-ables, focusing on what yields well here; more garden spaces are encouraged to add to it all! However, there are still times at which the food supply can be quite low, even with respect to bananas, and depends on the amount of people out there to consume them. While we deal with what is available from the land, and constantly strive for the future of the fruit forest, it is quite common and encouraged for folks to bring a supplemental food supply to Mount Frutis. Duly note that anyone living on the land whom is helping out with planting, harvesting, and maintaining veggies or fruit-bearing plants is eligible for a budgeted food supply reimbursement while there. This only applies to those staying at the Mount Frutis location; those who share some time with a break at the “Tambo Office” are personally paying for any supplemental food that they need while there (see below for approximate local food prices; the currency used in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar).
Water is another important point to address here — we have running water from one of the streams coming down the slope that is usually decent for utilizing and drinking. On occasion it can be murky because of a heavy rainfall or other disturbances upstream that affect it, but this is a rare occurrence. We also are primitively collecting rainwater in containers right now, with an emphasis to be put on a more substantial and reliable rainwater collection system in the future. Any expertise/initiative regarding this type of system is welcomed and encouraged! There will also be those who prefer to have filtered or “purified” water, which can be purchased as a personal preference expense from town and brought out to Mount Frutis.
All that having been stated, the cost of living is as low as it possibly can be at Mount Frutis, for the basics of food, shelter, and water. However, for the first steps of this new project, some money is necessary to facilitate one’s health and motivation to optimally assist in the direction we’re headed. It is advisable to have money to buy fruit in town for supplement (see below for approximate local food prices).
We are fortunate to have an “Office” property near the town of Gualaquiza. There are two residence buildings (one smaller wood cabin and one larger brick house) with a separate kitchen on about 1 hectare of land. This property is river-front as well, bordering the south side of the Bomboiza river (which flows eastward towards the aforementioned Zamora river) and is 10 km or roughly 6.2 miles from Mount Frutis as the crow flies (in a straight line). This property serves as a convenient “home base” for developing the main project and its own small scale. It has electricity, running water (usually), and internet. Fruiting/productive on the property are many bananas, some papayas, ice cream beans, abiu/caimito, a soursop/guanábana tree, multiple noni trees, a few tomatoes, some citrus (mostly rough lemon), along with a small variety of other limited production edibles. Many other fruit trees, greens, and vegetables have been planted such as biriba, durian, marang, raspberry, sugar cane, katuk, and cranberry hibiscus (to name a few). Most of these planted items are growing quite well here, and many shall be producing soon! However, please note again: it is advisable to have money to buy fruit in town for supplement (see below for approximate local food prices).
The Tambo Office is primarily a transitional place to stay for a couple of days, and some current members stay there for slightly longer periods to ensure that one of us is always there. You may stay at the Office rent-free, but payment for electricity and internet are required, with the bills being split evenly according to the number of people staying there. It’s an overall very-low-cost living situation, but anticipate needing around $100/month in general, along with helping out in our shared goal of creating fruit forests and bountiful gardens. Tasks here include involvement in daily activities such as planting, clearing weeds, maintaining & watering the nursery, composting, mulching fruit trees, harvesting fruits, cleaning the houses and kitchen, and occasional small repairs/construction.
We use a composting toilet system much like that explained in the “Humanure Handbook” at both locations mentioned above. We use food scrap and humanure composting as it is very effective and requires very little labour compared to other methods. In the future we hope to experiment with a biodigester, which can create biogas for a number of purposes and also yields excellent compost.
Local Fruit Prices
As we have a lot of planting to do before the property can support a reasonable number of people in terms of fruit production, here is an idea of local fruit prices. The prices change due to what’s in season, availability, and so forth, and thus a range of prices is shown:
- Avocados: 2-3 for $1
- Papayas: 1 for $0.75-$1.50
- Pineapples: 1 for $1.50-$2
- Regular bananas: 20-25 for $1
- Oritos (small bananas): 50 for $1
- Oranges: 6-10 for $1
- Passionfruit: 6-10 for $1
- Mangos: 2-3 for $1
- Watermelons: 1 for $3-$6
- Lettuce: $.50/head
What should I bring?
Important: “no-see-um” (super fine) bug netting, and bedding materials are highly recommended, depending on preferences: sleeping and/or yoga mat (we have a few cheap foam pads here, but they are most folks’ last choice for comfort), tent with fly/tarp, hammock with bug netting and/or tarp, sleeping bag and/or a blanket or two, sheets, some warmer clothing (it’s slightly cooler at night sometimes).
Bring long-sleeved shirts and pants for work. Please note that polyester and other synthetic fibre clothing often does not do well in this climate; being less breathable, it’s prone to mildew and subsequent mildew stains. Comfortable, natural fibre clothing (cotton, linen, hemp, jute, banana…) performs very well.
Work boots are recommended. We typically have a few pairs here that get bought and left behind (most of which are under size 41 Euro/8-9 US), but most sizes are easily purchased in town (for about $8-$10) if we don’t have what you need. Dudes! If you require larger than size 43 Euro (~10 US), it’s advisable to bring a pair of Wellington-style calf-height rubber work boots (a.k.a.”wellies”) with you, as the hardware stores here do not sell them in higher sizes. Also note that it’s highly recommended to flip, whack, and shake one’s footwear before each use, as spiders and other potentially-venomous creatures have been known to (rarely) colonise our boots.
Running shoes, sandals, quality knee-high socks, shorts, and a general hygiene kit (including preferred soaps, shampoos, and so on) are things to consider, as vegan and environmental products are not commonly sold here.
If you are looking to make any purchases of electronics, do it before coming here. There is a hefty import tax on electronics here, and as a result they are often 35-100 % more than they would be in many other countries. Examples include cell phones, tablets, headphones to not disturb others, laptop computers, etc.
A raincoat or umbrella helps if you get stuck in the occasional heavier rain.
A wide-brimmed hat is very helpful for working in the direct equatorial sun.
A Spanish-English dictionary or other helpful materials (common phrase book, book on verb conjugations) will help with your Spanish language studies.
A bottle of Dr. Christopher’s Echinacea Angustifolia Extract (in glycerine) is a good idea if you are going to any tropical area, as it is proven effective in scientific studies to boost the immune system in case of snake or spider bite.
If you are picky with water you may want to bring a backpacking water filter, but it is not necessary.
Bring money in smaller values: $1 bills or coins, and $5s, and $10s. $20s are okay but harder to break unless you are making a large purchase, and bringing $50s or $100s is ill-advised, as they are most difficult to change out.
If you are flying from the U.S. (or other country) there may be items that we wish to ship to you and have you bring. For example, personal items that would be too expensive to ship down, or tools that are easier to find in the U.S. or Europe. If you have any luggage space for small items, please let us know, as we always have at least some small list of things that are useful to bring along!
Seeds! Cuttings! Grafted Plants!
We strongly encourage you to bring exotic fruit genetics, as we are starting a biologically-diverse fruit forest which requires lots of fruit trees that we can’t source locally. Please check out our Plant Gift List.
Temperature is fairly steady throughout the year. The warmest month of the year is November with an average temperature of 23.8°C (73.84°F). The “coolest” month is July, when the average temperature is 22.1°C (71.78°F). At night, the lower temps we typically see is around 20°C (68°F). We have very rarely seen only as low as 17°C (62.6°F) (and only two times at most in the last two years).
The roads in the area are fairly conducive to biking around the Office location. It is common to see bicyclists between there and town. One can easily ride one’s bike from the Office to town in about 20 minutes.
The road out to Mount Frutis is not biker-friendly, and there is currently no place for riding around the area once there. Walking, running/jogging, or taking the boat are the best options for the large project location’s surrounding area.
ATMs, banks and money
There is a Visa ATM in town. The nearest MasterCard ATM is in a different town two hours south with regular bus service. You can potentially also start an account at the local Bank of Loja and transfer some money there (again, the currency used here is the U.S. dollar).
Hospital Misereor in Gualaquiza is a very modern and well-equipped hospital. They have a natural birthing room. Most healthcare/treatment is free there. Purchasing travel health insurance is probably not necessary. No vaccines are mandatory for travelling to Ecuador. Yellow fever/malaria/leishmaniasis/etc are not problems in this area. There may be a small bit of chikungunya or dengue but it is rare in this area and if you do get it, you’d recover fairly quickly on a fruitarian or even raw-till-4-style vegan diet (unless you have a severely compromised immune system).
How can I make money? / Is it possible to make money there?
We offer several opportunities to those interested. One can make small amounts of money via commission from either harvesting and selling coconuts and other farmed or foraged products or helping with the nursery (profits generated via plant sales). One can also make money through a valuable artistic and creative endeavour or even manual labour. One can make an online income. Also, there are some English teaching opportunities in the area, but only for those who are skilled at speaking Spanish, and the most money comes from private lessons. If you wish to make money here, it is necessary to study Spanish seriously and to have an entrepreneurial spirit. Cost of living is cheap here, and $1200/year is all you need if you are frugal and resourceful. If you are tempted to splurge, visit town often, source electronics locally, buy expensive foods from market, and the like, then you will probably need a lot more.
Legal Stay in Ecuador
A three-month visa is extended free to foreigners from many countries, including USA. A six-month visa can be purchased for approximately $450-$500 (total cost). Please note that unlike, say, Costa Rica and Peru, Ecuador does not have a “perpetual tourism” option wherein you can continually renew a standard tourist visa and legally live there indefinitely.
If you have a four-year college degree from an accredited college or university you can, after purchasing the six-month visa, get a professional permanent residency visa – no proof or work or income required, only the college degree and some other paperwork. This is an additional $550 fee in addition to background checks, travel fees, translation, notary, apostille, etc. A police report/identity history/etc must be procured from your original area of residence, and this is valid for only 3 months so it is a good idea to get this right before you travel if this is your plan. An apostilled copy of your degree/transcript/etc are other requirements – you can do a google search to find the exact process, or contact an immigration attorney.
Another option is to invest $25k in a CD or business in Ecuador, or $30k in a piece of land/real estate. Keep in mind the $30k value of the property must be tax-appraised, not market rate. A property might sell for $30k but only be tax-appraised at $15k so this would not qualify you for residency. You’d have to build a house on it to raise the value to over $30k.
A couple (non-residential okay) can have a baby in the country, and then both parents can apply for permanent residency based on their relationship to the child who will be a naturalized Ecuadorean citizen. Or, one can marry a Ecuadorean citizen.
All of these options require paperwork to be completed perfectly, and many long bus rides to the capital, delays, red tape, etc. It is often easier to pay an immigration attorney a few hundred dollars to do it all for you.
It appears that there is no monetary fine for overstaying a visa in Ecuador. The only consequence seems to be a 9-month ban from entering Ecuador in the future, although after this one can enter as usual and even apply for residency with no issue. However, laws can be interpreted in different ways, and none of this should be taken as legal advice. If “la policia” asks you for your “papeles” and you do not have them, you may be asked to pay a fine. Or, you also may be taken to an immigration office, where you may be deported to your home country if you cannot sort out the visa. Sometimes, people who overstay the three-month T-3 visa are given the option to pay to extend it to the standard six-month tourist visa.
(See also: “Ecuador Immigration! How to stay legally” on Terra Frutis YouTube channel)