How to Live Like Royalty in a Tropical Paradise (Ecuador) — on $50 a Day

Beautiful Lacy on Manglaralto beach

We wander, but that doesn’t mean we’re lost.

You’ve seen the numbers. We retain money like a broken slot machine. On average, the millennial is $45,000 in debt, and our overall income has dropped by 8% since the recession.

The result?

84% of us are drowning in debt that threatens our freedom.

But that doesn’t keep us down. Millennials are web-savvy and resourceful. We thrive by adapting, evolving — in fact, we drown in boredom without moving forward from adventure to adventure, creating our own reality as we go.

For most of us, travel represents a solid slice of the best things life has to offer. The variety of nature and history, the depth of culture, and the general connection to the vast world around us is nothing short of glorious. Wanderlust doesn’t even begin to summarize our burning passion to explore the world, but it’s not easy. We can barely squeeze out a nest egg, let alone $20,000 for a proper vacation/mini-retirement in paradise.

Until we adapt.

We wander not because we’re lost, but because we want to get lost in a glorious adventure, unrestrained by societal norms, expectations, and the hollow shell of a past generation’s materialism.

It didn’t take long for me to evolve into a Wanderer.

Nomadic Wanderings

As an aspiring nomad, I wanted to sail the seven seas like Sinbad, conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro like Hemingway, ride elephants in India like Mowgli — and then wake up from that lovely dream, tanned on a white Roatan beach with an icy mojito in my hand.

And now I can. It costs $800 per day for a trip for two in Hawaii. That’s over $20,000 for a single week. But I’ve found a variety of tropical paradises, complete with private beaches, lobster, crab and sushi dinners, and even personal maids and cooks, for not $800 per day, but $50-$100.

My favorite so far is a tiny country called Ecuador, where I swim in the blue ocean, climb the cloud forest mountains, dine like a king surrounded by Spanish cathedrals and architecture, and trek through the lush tropical jungles — in a single day. It’s the most biodiverse ecosystem in the world, and it has a culture and history to match. I spent 3 months of adventure in this tropical paradise for less than $4,000. Total. That includes all expenses — flight, food, fun and frivolous stay.

digital nomad Josh Rueff in Ecuador

I’m proud to be a part of the generous, adventurous, tech-savvy, green and adaptable Millennial generation. We crave challenges, adventure and freedom. I’m happy to share my story of travel in Ecuador, where I lived like humble royalty.

The loopholes below are to fast-track you to wandering freedom. And this adventure won’t break your budget. It wasn’t an overwhelmingly fast process, collecting these opportunities, but it will be for you.

So let’s get to it.


The flight to Ecuador was an easy travel loophole. I actually hated the idea from the start and wouldn’t have tried it. Thankfully, my wife Lace has a sixth sense for quality loopholes, and stuck to her guns on it. We used sign up bonuses from the Chase Sapphire and SW Airlines credit cards.

Without paying any extra fees or interest (we pay our cards off early every month, like clockwork) we bought our flight tickets for for $125 each, round trip. These are far from the only credit cards to offer outstanding travel deals. We’ve already gained $1,100 in travel fare from two other cards and we practically just got back!


We didn’t waste money on taxis or flights (except in the cities, where taxis are pretty much the only way to travel other than bicycling). Traveling through Ecuador is done with quarters, dimes and dollar bills. It cost us roughly a $1 per hour for bus travel.

It’s a diverse but tiny country, so the most we ever spent was $20 for both of us to take a 10 hour bus ride. Because the cost of living is low, buses are the primary mode of transportation, so you can catch one at virtually any time of the day. For example — a bus came by once every 15 minutes for the main bus stop in Montanita.



Breakfast costed $4 for a giant “Americano” breakfast of an omelet, ham, fresh baked bread, just-squeezed juice and a tall glass of frozen coffee. Most people there eat a traditional $1.50 breakfast of eggs, tripe (cow guts), bread with butter and jam, and coffee, or an even smaller (and cheaper) meal.


Almuerzo (lunch) costed $2.50 for a two-course meal of soup, meat, rice, plantains, salad and juice. This is traditionally the biggest meal of the day, but we couldn’t help heaping on the delicious American sized dinners to finish a good day’s work.


I’ll never forget the $5 meal of the best ceviche in the world. Thanks to a miniature cost of living, eating a high-end lobster and steak supper, (or ceviche, or sushi) costed less than eating at McDonald’s.


Our stays ranged between $10 (in Banos, Ecuador) to $20 (in Mindo, Ecuador) a night. We spent $18 per night to rent a two story beachfront house in Manglaralto, Ecuador.

Beautiful Lacy on Manglaralto beach

We took in the full range of lodging experiences, from a clay, cavish, sauna-like room, to tree houses in the jungles of Mindo, and finally settling into a mini-mansion (relatively speaking) overlooking a secluded beach in Manglaralto. We never spent over $20 a night.


Activities are plentiful and muy barato (super-cheap). We soared through the sky like the local Frigate Birds (these little pterodactyls have 7-foot wingspans!) on ziplines whipping over 200 foot drops to the jungle below. Whisking through 10 different ziplines stretched from the corners of the cloud forest cost us a whopping $15.

Our all-day guided jungle tour was $30 each — very steep, but it included drinking traditional brews of the jungle tribes (which tasted like burning mud mixed with spittle), shooting darts through blowguns, swimming in waterfalls, hiking through the jungle and experiencing the beauty of the wildlife; then finally sleeping like a drunken log on the trip back home.


It was a haggler’s paradise we found ourselves thrown into, as we wandered through one of the biggest street markets in South America, Otavalo. It was free other than the stuff we bought of course. (Jewellery ranged from 50 cents to $15 for the most part, and I bought an authentic Panama hat for $15 that would cost $100 in the States).

Swimming, fishing, diving and snorkeling in the beautiful Pacific (and the warm-current part to boot) was all free. We climbed to the top of Basílica del Voto Nacional for $2, and enjoyed a breath-holding view.

The Teleferico tram to the top of the Mount Pichincha Volcano (Quito, Ecuador) was only $8. There we sat in amazed silence at… the silence. The overwhelmingly lovely silence was shattered from time to time; sometimes by a beautiful songbird in a nearby tree, and sometimes by us — it’s hard to not whisper about the beauty of the billowing clouds that seem to pass right through you, appearing softly then vanishing into a mist. A frosty mountain brook bubbled somewhere in the distance, and colorful Quito bustled silently below.

Josh and Lace on the Pichincha Volcano


Like every Ecuador tourist and their mother’s dog, we visited the Equatorial Monument for $3, to get our “middle of the world” photograph (the real middle of the world is actually a bit of a hike from the advertised equator).

It was an outstanding, nomad sort of a staycation. Exactly how we like it. It’s pretty great how far the dollar stretches, especially in the most beautiful places in the world.

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