My journey to Cuenca, Ecuador began with a discussion with friends in their home by the beach in Panama. We were all disenchanted with the U.S.—the regulations, the taxes… We concluded that there’s no American dream anymore.
The sun glistens down the six-mile stretch of white-sand beach. This is the heart of my hometown of La Misión, on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.Sitting just 90 minutes south of San Diego, La Misión is a beautiful and quaint village (it has a population of just under 1,000) that has yet to be discovered by the masses of tourists who visit the better-known destinations of Rosarito and Ensenada.
The famous white powdery sands that stretch around the islands of Phuket and Kho Phi Phi in southern Thailand have attracted international tourists for decades. But on the Gulf coast, just four hours from Bangkok is where you’ll find my favorite Thai beach town…Hua Hin.
Coming from Los Angeles, a bustling city that moves at breakneck speed, to a cave house in a village with less than 1,500 people in Spain’s southeastern region of Andalusia was quite a shock. I traded in being kept awake at night by police helicopters shining spotlights arbitrarily into my windows and the smoggy skyline of downtown L.A., for a much slower pace of life and clear views of the peaceful Sagra mountain range that surrounds my new hometown of Galera.
From our balcony, aided only by a pair of binoculars, my husband and I sit and watch whales breach, roll, and spout all day long. Before I lived here, I figured that you’d have to hire a boat and go out for miles to see whales—but not here. For some reason—perhaps the famously deep water that makes Manta, Ecuador a major fishing port—the whales come to us. And not only whales. Everything from quaint fishing boats to gigantic cruise ships to old-world “Tall Ships” pass by, providing constant novelty from the comfort of our balcony.
A recent trip to Brazil’s Northeast coast was where I fell in love with this country. Culture…food…music…art…dance…beautiful weather, and beautiful people—it has it all. And I discovered two of my favorite Brazilian towns—Pôrto De Galinhas and Olinda. The towns are a 90-minute drive from one another, with the city of Recife (the capital of the state of Pernambuco) nestled between the two.
I’m up a bit after sunrise for my daily ritual. It starts with a long leisurely walk on the beach. Something about the sound of crashing waves, watching anchored boats bob on the horizon, and the cool weather before the heat of the day hits…it just puts me in the right mood. I live in Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast. It’s a small town, popular with tourists, where life revolves around the beach. Surfing, which put Tamarindo on the map in the 1990s, is still huge here.
After living here in Cancún over a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Cancún is not so much a traditional Mexican city as it is an international city with strong Mexican overtones. Though it retains its Mexican flavor, the influx of tourists and the city’s young age have seen it develop into a vibrant, modern, and sophisticated city with a lively nightlife.
The Italian city of Monza isn’t usually on any tourist or expat must-see list…but it should be. It has all the charm of Italy, beautiful architecture, and great food. When I moved to Italy from the Midwest of the United States, I wanted a place that was charming, but that also had the amenities I’d need and wouldn’t put a strain on my finances. Luckily for me, Monza ticked all the boxes.
Dawn and Phil first came to Malaysia for a four-month break to recharge their batteries. Nothing had been planned and they liked the idea of just winging it, but they did visit the island of Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. However, George Town in Penang, with its colonial heritage, was where they spent most of their time.
“Every day is a new experience,” says Kate Dixon. “We live a 10-minute walk from one of the best food streets. For less than $10, we can both have a delicious Thai meal with a couple of beers. We rarely cook at home anymore, and go out on average once a week to a Western restaurant. Even then, we rarely pay more than $15 for the two of us.
Each morning, from the wraparound porch of her tropical beachside home Bonnie Birker watches the waves caress the soft sand as she enjoys her cup of freshly brewed coffee. But this isn’t the retirement she had planned for herself… Bonnie originally decided to retire to her father’s farmhouse in Iowa. After all, it’s where she grew up, and after traveling the world she was ready to settle down near family. But the reality didn’t live up to expectations.
The island destination in Panama I’m asked about the most is Bocas del Toro—and with good reason. A trickle of adventurous visitors and a tight-knit expat community have transformed insular Bocas del Toro from a sleepy archipelago to a bustling outpost. But if you’re considering island life, you’ll be interested to know that Bocas is not the only exciting option available.
For affordable European living, it’s hard to beat Spain these days. It’s always been one of my favorite countries—a place I return to over and over, thanks to its enjoyable, laidback lifestyle; the great food; warm, sunny weather; beautiful beaches; and rich culture. Whether I’m looking to sit at a seaside cafe enjoying a meal and a drink, stroll a historic city by night, or relish a world-class museum, Spain delivers.
An argument with a girlfriend was how I ended up in Spain. Having set sail on a cruise ship from Genoa, Italy, and following a tour of the Canary Islands, we were on our way home, and docked in Spain’s southern port city of Malaga. In a moment of stubbornness, and after being told there was no other berth for me to move in to, I packed up all my worldly belongings and walked off the boat. My Spanish life had begun…and it was probably the best decision of my life.
Boquete is the premier expat and retiree destination in the highlands of Panama. The name applies to both the small hamlet resting in an ancient volcanic formation and to the larger surrounding district, home to about 25,000 residents. It’s located in Chiriquí Province in western Panama, not far from the border with Costa Rica, on the eastern-facing side of Volcan Baru, Panama’s highest peak (11,400 feet) and only volcano.
Since my husband Clyde and I retired to Panama four years ago, a typical day is anything but that. We awaken each day to the sound of birds singing, roosters crowing, and geckos’ chirping as our peaceful little neighborhood comes to life…wondering what the new day will bring
Stockholm has a well-developed café culture, and there’s no shortage of great eateries to choose from. After checking out the museums, I stopped off at Ersta Terrass on Fjällgatan, a cliff-top street from which you get great views of the city. Seated at my balcony table as the sun set on the shimmering waterfront, I marveled at one of the finest views of Stockholm. I had my fill of homemade bread, herrings, and capers, washed down with a generous glass or two (well, let’s call it three) of excellent wine.
Avocados…strawberries…lemons…blueberries…raspberries…fruits I’ve never seen before and can’t name. On any given day of the week, I walk past people selling these things before I ever get to a grocery store or mercado. They sell their wares from wheelbarrows, woven baskets, car trunks and the beds of pickup trucks, huge plastic pickle buckets, and on blankets spread on the sidewalk.
When I think of country living in Panama, I think of Volcán in Chiriquí Province. It’s one of my favorite places in Panama and offers the ideal blend of rural lifestyle in a small-town setting. Barú Volcano, which gives the town its name, looms to the east and Cerro Punta, where most of Panama’s produce is grown, rises to the north. The town rests at about 4,600 feet in a sloping valley facing toward the Costa Rica border. The open sky is clear blue this time of year. Blooming bougainvillea bushes of bright magenta and deep purple add a splash of color amid the pine trees.
One of the most diverse regions on Earth, Southeast Asia is home to a myriad of different religions and cultures, many of which trace back thousands of years. And every year, the unique cultures of the Far East manifest themselves in a variety of colorful festivals, all free of charge, the likes of which you will find nowhere else on the planet. Add to this some of the world’s best beaches and street food, and you have every reason to stop by this neck of the woods.
Since I moved to Panama 10 years ago, the islands of Bocas del Toro have become one of my favorite vacation spots of all time. It’s just an hour-long flight from Panama City…though I’ve also driven the scenic seven hours or so to the launch point of Almirante, where you can get a 30-minute water taxi to the main island. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean…St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Martinique…you name it, I’ve probably been there. But for me, none of them can hold a candle to Bocas del Toro.
When I decided to get away from the cold winters of Colorado, Panama attracted me with its warmer climate, low cost of living, and first-rate infrastructure. That alone was worth moving for…but as a retiree here, it gets even better. One of the national laws of Panama can make the already low cost of living even lower. Law #6 entitles any resident of the country who is a female over 55 or male over 60 to receive a discount on specific services.
Island time, Penang time. It’s very different from time anywhere else. I have a smartphone but it works differently for me here in Malaysia. Before I moved here, it was a hip thing to have, and if I didn’t answer emails a nanosecond after receiving them I would get a call asking me why. Here, my phone is a device that connects me to people.
When my husband Mark said, “Let’s go to the Galapagos for your birthday,” I couldn’t help but laugh. The Galapagos Islands, after all, are one of the ecological treasures of the world—and have a price tag to match…or so I thought. But when we used my 58th birthday as an excuse for a five-day, four-night trip there I found out otherwise. The bill? $1,037 for the two of us, including airfare.
From the cool allure of the Avenue Matignon boutiques to the glittering elegance of the Opera house, Paris is a city that makes you crave the best of everything. It’s a city that thrives on its glamorous reputation…and is known for its high prices. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: […]
When my husband Clyde was working as a firefighter and paramedic in Corpus Christi, Texas he had top-notch health insurance. While he was still working, the city paid a portion of our premium but after he decided to call it quits we’d be responsible for the full amount. With a monthly premium of over $1,200 how could we afford to retire, let alone retire early?
I start each day with a freshly brewed cup of local coffee…and think about how lucky I am to live where I do, the beautiful city of Alajuela, in Costa Rica’s expat favorite of the Central Valley. It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad and now I can say that it’s a dream come true. Back in Seattle I worked in nursing, specifically Alzheimer’s care, a career I’d had since graduating high school.
As night begins to fall, strings of lights twinkle above my head. The temperature drops 10 degrees to about 78 F…absolutely perfect. The open rooftop terrace of Panama City’s Tantalo Hotel is a fantastic place to enjoy the cool evening breeze. Not to mention the colonial architecture of Casco Viejo, one of Panama’s oldest (and most romantic) quarters.
I was enjoying a stroll down the beach in Tamarindo the other day—it’s just a 10-minute walk from my house—when a couple, visitors from the Midwest, asked me to take their picture. We chatted, and I mentioned that I lived in town.
Fed up with the harsh Midwest winters and tired of working too much to pay for a life we didn’t have time to enjoy, my husband, Junior, and I decided we weren’t willing to wait for retirement to see the world and enjoy life. Just before Christmas last year, we started researching our overseas options. We sold all of our belongings after New Year and at the start of April this year, we landed in Costa Rica…without ever having been here before.
With the coming of fall, my family and friends in the States find themselves thinking of the long, cold winter approaching. It’s not just the ice and snow they have to cope with, but the enormous heating bills, and not being able to enjoy the outdoors. But not me…living in Panama I don’t ever have a heating bill and I haven’t seen snow in years. The great outdoors is my playground all year round here in the Chiriqui province of western Panama. And that includes being able to go to the beach anytime I want.
I’m fortunate to live in Chiriqui province in a small, quiet Panamanian neighborhood near the tiny town of Dolega. We are centered between our province’s two main urban centers…both of which I love for different reasons. David is the larger of the two and is a 50-minute drive from my house. Although much smaller than Panama City, it’s a busy and bustling place. David provides everything we need—banks, supermarkets, repair shops, insurance agencies, car dealerships, and modern shopping malls.
Morning is my favorite part of the day…it’s cool and the day is new. My wife, Luz, and I sit on our patio, coffee in hand, and watch birds splashing about in the birdbath I made from stained glass shards. When I first moved to Panama five years ago, I lived in the city of David. But after exploring the country I decided to make Las Tablas, on the Azuero peninsula, home. It’s a charming town with a tranquil public park and the locals are a friendly bunch.
Mitchell McCardle’s day begins with an early trip to the market. Riding through the early morning light on his motorbike, he sees the locals start their day. Fishermen casting lines out, women shelling corn on the side of the street, and children walking hand in hand to school. Five years ago, with very little money in his pocket, Mitchell threw up his hands and said, “That’s it—I’m moving to the Philippines.”
Dick Walton, 53, and his wife, Dawn, 47, have always loved to travel. And they knew for a long time that they wanted to retire to English-speaking Belize…the tiny Central American country on the Caribbean Sea. But when Dawn had an aneurysm in 2009, the couple pushed up that timetable to escape the stress and fast pace of life in their hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“We love the weather, the beach, the people. Nobody cares what your last name is or your backstory. It’s very casual,” say Vicki Lyall of her home in Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Vicki and her husband Scot had been visiting this Caribbean paradise for many years. And it was on a trip nine years ago they happened to stroll by a real estate office.
In 2012, Dani Leis quit her job and left Portland, Oregon for Thailand with nothing but a single duffel bag and a dream to start a new life. She fell in love with the northern city of Chiang Mai. “The people here are friendly, kind, and open-hearted,” says Dani “They enjoy a culture centered on sanuk, meaning to take pleasure in what you are doing.
Weekends, Rita Sosa tends to spend at her beach house, just over an hour’s drive from Panama City. “Our house is literally on the beach,” says Rita. “When I go up there, I just go to relax and swim. I’m very happy to sit and read a book outside and not do a whole lot of anything. It’s so great to have beach weather 12 months a year, and I love the tropical greenery.
From our new home town of Pedasi every beach seems to offer its own playground. From a launching point for Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, to waves fit for championship surfers and beginners alike. Located on the Azuero peninsula on Panama’s Pacific coast, Pedasi is an ocean-lovers dream. Driving out of town towards the popular beach of Playa Venao offers picturesque views of rolling hills on one side and stunning Pacific views on the other.