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 one may book the day of one’s departure from home and then cancel upon arrival (an other options, some of us used, is BestOnwardTicket); or one may choose a lower-risk option by purchasing a (non-refundable) bus ticket to Peru or Colombia in advance. Another method for providing proof of onward travel is to print a “fake” return-flight ticket. This is something that every traveller must research for themselves shortly before their departure as airlines can and do change the design of their tickets without notice. These examples open up one’s actual return/travel-on date options for a potential longer-term stay, but note that travellers utilise any option at their own risk. In general, we recommend that each individual utilise whichever option is most comfortable for them while facilitating a quick and safe journey. (For information on Ecuadorean visa terms, see “Legal Stay in Ecuador” at the end of this page.)
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 food 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 a property closer to 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, some citrus, along with a small variety of other limited production edibles. Many other fruit trees have been planted such as biriba, durian, marang, 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 necessary to have money to buy food in town (see below for approximate local food prices).
This 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 rent-free, but payment for electricity and internet are required. 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 food forests and bountiful gardens. Tasks here include involvement in daily activities such as 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-$1/head
Seeds, Cuttings and Grafted Plants
We encourage you to bring exotic fruit genetics, as we are starting a biologically-diverse food 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). Overnight lows tend to range from 16°C to 20°C. We have rarely seen as low as 13°C.
The roads in the area are fairly conducive to biking around the Tambo location. It is common to see bicyclists between there and town. One can easily ride one’s bike 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 are Visa ATM in town. But 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 not required. No vaccines are mandatory for traveling to Ecuador. Yellow fever/malaria/leishmaniasis/etc are not problems in this area. There may be a small bit of chikungunya or dengue 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?
One can 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.
Visa and immigration
A three-month visa is extended free to foreigners from many countries, including USA. It can be extended to six-month for approximately $130. Please note that unlike, say, Costa Rica, 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 college degree you can get a professional permanent residency visa – no proof or work or income required, only the college degree and some other paperwork. The fee for this visa is $400. A police report/identity history/etc must be procured from your original area of residence, and this is valid for only 3 months. 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 attorney or immigration facilitator ($500 or more) to do it all for you.
See also: “Ecuador Immigration! How to stay legally” on our YouTube channel.