Beautiful, friendly, perfect climate, inexpensive. There…I’ve just told you why I think Ecuador is the best place on earth to retire. The mountains and Pacific coast are remarkably gorgeous. The people are about as easygoing as people get. Being on the equator, the weather changes with the altitude, so you can pick any climate you like. And the cost of living can be astoundingly low, especially when you take high utility bills and property taxes out of the budget equation.
“Rio de Janeiro.” The name alone conjures up images of broad beaches populated by impossibly beautiful people. But while everyone has heard of Rio, far fewer know that “The Marvelous City” lies in a state of the same name. Rio de Janeiro state, though small in size, is geographically quite diverse. Mountains parallel the coastline, sometimes veering down into the sea. Broad swaths of the original mata Atlântica (Atlantic forest)—one of the most biodiverse areas in the world—still blanket the hillsides. Scores of lakes and lagoons lie within sight of the shimmering South Atlantic. Majestic beaches stretch literally for miles; others lie sheltered in secluded coves, accessible only by boat. Tantalizing palm-studded islands, most uninhabited, await the more adventurous.
The expat community was much smaller when my wife Cynthia and I arrived in Cuenca in 2010. Back then, there were maybe only 500 or so, and a lot of those were old Peace Corps folks who had been here quite a while and faded into the landscape. As part of the first big wave of gringos to hit town, all of us were pioneers who truly needed each other for assistance and support in our new adventure. Cynthia and I would introduce ourselves to every North American we saw (on the street, in a restaurant—it didn’t matter) and exchange contact information. It was actually a good way to get to know people; problem was, we really had no place to get together.
My stomach is happily full after a delicious rice dish stuffed full of clams and chopped vegetables. As I sit sipping the last of my fresh lemonade under the umbrella-shaded outdoor table, a cool breeze whispers past. Families amble by, politely wishing me “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) while kayakers across the street load their gear into a shiny new pickup. All the while wild birds mingle their notes with the Latin rhythms spilling from the restaurant. Where am I? I’m in the Ecuadorean jungle town of Tena…and to be honest this is not at all how I had imagined the Amazon to be.
First, there’s the food… The supermarket produce sections in the U.S. are picture perfect: intensely orange oranges; big, shiny red apples; greens without a bit of brown. But, Nicaragua doesn’t paint, wax, and shine its produce, so I eat wonderfully sweet oranges with no beautifying chemicals added (for a fraction of what they cost in the U.S). I also eat fresh-caught (not frozen or farm-raised) fish twice or three times a week and real free-range chicken (that has been allowed to run free and is not injected with growth hormones.) The rest of my diet includes tropical fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.
Like so many baby boomers, Suzy Giles felt she was destined to continue working full-time in the U.S. She wasn’t working a bad gig—conducting wine tours in Napa Valley, California—but it didn’t leave much time to pursue her passion for painting. So she began to explore her options overseas for a location affordable enough to allow her to retire…and discovered Cuenca, Ecuador. After visiting the colonial city twice, Suzy took the leap. That was almost two years ago and the decision has proven to be a good one. “I wanted an adventure,” says Suzy. “I needed to stay out of life’s ruts and to get out of my comfort zone.”
In their 30 years of marriage, John and Vickie Kendall had often talked of living abroad. But their work as nurses in the Pacific Northwest kept them occupied and tied to the U.S. They began formulating a plan to retire and then move overseas in the summer of 2013. “We had been to Thailand and were looking at that as a possibility. And we were looking at Panama, Uruguay, and then Ecuador came up, so we were considering all different places,” says John. “But when we got down to it, we realized we wanted to be in the Western Hemisphere so that we weren’t too far away from home.”
I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Caribbean Sea in Belize—whether I was cruising around by boat, watching tiny islets fade into the distance…swinging in a hammock strung between two palms on the beach…or beating that tropical heat with a cold Belikin beer in the shade of a palm frond-roofed beach bar. Belize has a lot to offer those seeking a new life abroad. The low cost of living means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month. Established expat communities make for a ready supply of new friends, and it’s English-speaking, even if it’s the second or even third language for many locals. (I spoke only English during my time there and had no issues.)
There’s a small city in Ecuador that you might never have heard of. But if you’re looking for a retirement destination, it’s got a lot to offer. Called Ibarra, it’s Ecuador’s northernmost mountain city. You’re not alone if it’s unfamiliar to you. Though I, and several hundred other expats, live just 30 minutes away in the small town of Cotacachi, Ibarra gets too little attention considering how attractive it is as an expat destination. Why doesn’t it get the recognition it deserves, you ask? Well, it’s partly because Ibarra lost much of its original colonial architecture to an earthquake over 100 years ago. Not that you’d notice much—the buildings that replaced the wrecked ones are a pretty good replica of colonial style.
I’ve mentioned before how Ecuador made me a huge fan of mountain living. But it’s more than just the mountains that did it for me. After all, there are mountains running the entire length of the Americas, from the far north of Alaska and Canada to the very tip of South America. Almost any mountain range you choose in North, Central, or South America is in some way majestic and breathtakingly beautiful. But—and this is the crucial thing that makes Ecuador’s mountains different for me—none of these mountains are directly on the equator. In nearly every other mountain location in the Americas, seasonal changes make living up at a high altitude a part-time thing, at least for a guy who dislikes snow and cold as much as I do.
I’m often asked about life in Ecuador and what it might be like to live or retire here. And I’m not shy about sharing my opinion on that topic. I’ve lived in Ecuador off and on for 13 years now. We spent a year in Quito beginning in 2001 and returned here in 2008. So yes, I think Ecuador is one of the best places on the planet to live.The people are wonderful. For the most part, they love foreigners and will go out of their way to help us discover how to fit into their culture and life here. (And they do it all with a warm smile.) The weather is superb. I’m from Nebraska so I am used to frigid temperatures in the winter and steamy hot summers. Here in the Andes Mountains where I live, temperatures hover around 75 F every single day of the year. I don’t need heat or air conditioning, keeping my monthly utility bill at about $24 every month total.
Costa Rica is a small country, about the size of West Virginia. Overall, you’ll find a low cost of living (many retired expat couples I meet live well on around $2,000 a month)…top-notch, low-cost medical care…friendly people—the national motto is Pura Vida, which translates to “life is good”…and bargain real estate—you can rent from $300 a month and up and find North America-style homes for $150,000 or less. But tiny Costa Rica has a tremendous variety of climates, lifestyles, and landscapes within its borders: bustling beach resorts, quiet fishing villages, high mountain towns, vast farmlands, looming volcanoes, lush rainforests, isolated rural areas…
Recently, I was talking to some IL readers. They’d heard about Panama’s mountainous Chiriquí Province and had a lot of great questions for me. One, in particular, gave me pause. “If you had to pick the one best place to live in all of Chiriquí, where would it be?” asked a retired gentleman from Saskatchewan. “Well,” I mused, “for me it would be about halfway between David and Boquete, because it’s just right.” Take the climate: Boquete, an area that is particularly popular with expats, rests on the slope of the Baru Volcano at about 4,000 feet elevation.
This postcard is a special delivery, direct from Belize’s Placencia Peninsula. I’m on an editorial assignment in the Stann Creek District and I have to admit, life seldom is sweeter than this! After spending the better part of Monday flying and driving, I arrived at my destination—near Maya Beach—anxious to settle in and check out our friends’ beach home. Also prominent in my mind was which of the many recommended restaurants we’d pick for that night’s meal. But we’ll return to that topic later… The next day, after a solid night’s sleep, I walked out onto our bedroom veranda to behold a cloudless, brillian t blue sky, the sun’s rays reflecting off a sea surface as smooth as glass. In other words, the perfect day to explore the beach…
When Harry and Barbara Jones were planning their retirement abroad, they had several countries in mind based on their research: Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, and Ecuador. They scouted Costa Rica first because they had been years ago on a cruise and were impressed with the country. After that first trip, they never made it anywhere else. The warm and friendly people, the low cost of living, and the natural beauty sold them. The couple, from Charlotte, North Carolina, at first looked at property on the beach but weren’t fans of the heat and humidity. So they headed inland and up into the mountains of the Central Valley, specifically the town of Grecia.
Our tumble from a very nice, safe, and secure middle-class life began when my second heart attack struck in 2009—right in the middle of a global financial crisis. I lost my upper-level management position and the health insurance that came with it. Try as I might, I was unable to find a good job for the first time in my life. I was unemployed, uninsured, and recovering from a serious heart attack with ongoing medical expenses every week. I did what work I could find, but my earnings combined with those from my wife Diane’s job barely managed to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.
After living in fast-paced, high-pressure California and working in the aerospace industry, moving to Ajijic was exactly what the couple needed. “Life here is like it was in the U.S. in the 1950s—simple and laidback. The significantly slower pace of life is probably the biggest benefit of daily life here,” says Walter. “We eat better, we get more exercise, and our health has improved. “Most people can live here on their Social Security alone. We only dip into our savings to travel to see our family. Our home cost us less than 25% of the cost of a similar home in the Bay Area of California. Our property taxes are about $150 per year.
Costa Rica is one of the most popular and well-known vacation, second-home, and retirement destinations for North Americans. Though a small country, Costa Rica’s regions offer a wide variety of climate, lifestyle, and landscape. And renting in Costa Rica is a great way to experience day-to-day life while looking for your own place under the tropical sun. Much of Costa Rica’s lush tropical forests and sun-splashed shoreline has been designated as national parkland or reserve. Costa Rica is rapidly approaching carbon-neutral status in energy production and emissions, and its health care system is one of the most affordable and highly rated in the world.
Happily, the best of the “old” Málaga remains, as well. The sun still shines, there are miles of seaside, winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January), and sea breezes still blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hot summer days. And Málaga is still cheerful and vibrant, oozing its trademark Andalusian charm. Best of all, it remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. So if you enjoy big-city life with laidback charm and a side of seashore, give Málaga a whirl. You can even get by in English.
A tour of Chiriquí Province will take you from Panama’s highest point, 11,440 feet at the peak of Baru Volcano, to sea level and sandy beaches along the Gulf of Chiriquí. You’ll find 20,000-plus expats living throughout the province. Whether you prefer the beach or the mountains, living in town or out in the country, bright sunshine or cool cloud cover, Chiriquí offers you a choice… For instance,the near-perfect climate is one of the main reasons as many as 12,000 expats now call the town and district of Boquete home. Its elevation of 3,940 feet on the eastern slope of Baru Volcano means normally cool temperatures around 80 F in the daytime and 60 F at night, with frequent misty rain called bajareque.
While most people in Canada are bundling up against the cold right now…and preparing for or enduring heavy snowfall and treacherous ice…Canadians Brian and Janette Sullivan are enjoying the temperate, weather of Cotacachi, Ecuador. A little village located between two volcanoes in the Andes, Cotacachi has such a moderate climate that it enjoys year-round average daily temperatures of 70 F and 50 F at night. That’s just one of the ways that life is easier in Cotacachi…and Janette and Brian are taking advantage of all it has to offer.
Born in snowy but beautiful New Hampshire, as a child I spent many cold and unpleasant winters in northern New England. Like most other kids from the area, I spent a lot of time stuck indoors, watching TV during those long winters… Hardly surprising that, by the age of 18, the palm trees of Hollywood started looking good to me. But in reality, it wasn’t the place for me; the Pacific Ocean in Southern California and neighboring Baja was still a tad too cool for my tastes. Eventually the tropics beckoned me further south. After exploring the magnificent mountains of Colombia, and both coasts, I was hooked on Central and South America.
Ron and Debbie Goehring consider every single aspect of their lives better in Nicaragua than in their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We eat home-grown food, exercise, volunteer in our local community, and live a simple and fulfilling life immersed in the local culture. We have never regretted our decision to retire in Nicaragua.” Both teachers, they were travelers from the start. “Throughout our married life, we explored the U.S. and traveled abroad extensively. When it was time to retire, we wanted something quirky, inexpensive, and adventurous, with a simplified lifestyle—abroad. Nicaragua fit the bill.”
Although my wife and I have spent 13 weeks of 2013 in Ecuador, and this Sunday celebrated our tenth month as full-time residents of the beachfront town of Salinas, we still from time to time experience “pinch me” moments where we can’t believe this is our life. Take, for example, last evening when we took a stroll down the brick walkway along the beach. It was about 6 p.m., so the sun was not quite down yet and there was a red glow to the western skies. Although it is November and back on the eastern seaboard in the States it was windy and cold, here in Salinas it was just under 74 F with a cool ocean breeze.
When you’re moving to Mexico, it helps to get the scoop on your new home city from expats who live there. They’ve already figured out which plumber is most reliable, which carpenter does the best work, and which market has the best produce and prices. They may also become your first friends in your new home. But where do you find the expats? There are lots of ways to seek them out. For instance, a useful first step is to search online before you ever leave for Mexico.
Before my wife, Cynthia, and I relocated to Cuenca, Ecuador from the U.S, we made an exploratory trip. Even though only a few years previously, we had never even heard of Cuenca, we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. The city more than lived up to its UNESCO World Heritage designation with carefully preserved colonial architecture throughout the historic district. Plus while there we were thrilled to attend a free outdoor symphony concert. That’s right—free!
I’ve never seen so much green…and in so many shades and variations. The tall, jungle-covered mountains of Costa Rica’s Southern Zone dominate the landscape. And many locals and long-time expats say they enjoy these mountain views even more than the ocean, thanks to the lush vegetation that covers them. This region, on the southern Pacific coast, is a land of empty beaches, wild Pacific waters, those tall mountains dropping to brief lowlands before turning to a strip of sand, and then blue ocean.
Italy is home to the Cittaslow movement which combines “Slow Food” with the art of leisurely good living. As delectable dining is one of the great joys of Italy, make time to discover at least one or two of the network’s 70 small towns. Most Cittaslow communities come with historic treasures, but the big attraction is their strong sense of identity and spirit of place. To be accredited, they must have less than 50,000 inhabitants. With an emphasis on regional recipes, traditional agricultural practices and seasonal local produce, it’s an authentic taste of Italy guaranteed to make your tastebuds zing. Here are four inland and coastal gems to whet your appetite.
In the middle of Corozal, Belize, you’ll find a lively square where people meet to eat and talk in the shade of coconut palms and almond trees, or on benches under the clock tower. I like to spend time there and Sundays is when Corozal is most alive with people. Many have the day off and the park is full of a diverse mix of people—a multitude of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds live in harmony. The people are friendly and outgoing. Most wave or say hello to you as you walk by.
I sit on our deck and gaze out toward the Belize Barrier Reef, not 300 yards away, in the Caribbean Sea. The postcard-perfect, white sand and the green palm trees quickly give way to shimmering strips of blue and green—colors of the sea determined by a brilliant sun, azure sky, and sea grass and sand on the ocean floor. There is one other color that catches my eye: the dry gray mud that spackles my legs and feet. “Here I am, at 64 years old,” I think, “and every day I get to pedal my bicycle through mud puddles.” I can’t begin to tell you how happy that makes me feel.
When it comes to the ideal beach lifestyle abroad, many expats look to Koh Samui in Thailand where the palm-lined beaches, azure ocean, year-round tropical weather, and affordable costs make for ultra-easy living. Just an hour-and-a-half flight from the Thai capital of Bangkok, this popular spot offers something for everyone, whether you dream of a tranquil seaside retreat or prefer frequent nights out on the town. You can access quality health care, where a basic doctor’s visit costs as little as $20, and there’s plenty to keep you busy—from yoga and Pilates to salsa dancing and bridge club—when you’re not soaking up the sun on one of the island’s many beaches.
After years of working hard, I’ve traded Michigan’s four seasons for Belize’s two (wet & dry)…and I’m loving it. Now, I’m enjoying Belize’s year-round greenness, the chance to be by the water all the time, and the joy I’ve found in simplifying my life. In Michigan, I worked for 20 years as a consultant for our state’s educational department. Before that, I worked for Michigan State University. When I left, I gave away a closet-full of suits and I’m reveling in the freedom of wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops for nearly every occasion. No more ironing, no more dry cleaning, and no more bundling up for me!
It isn’t hard to understand the love affair expats have with the little island that I’m happy to call home: the blue skies and turquoise seas, the endless sunshine, and lush, jungle-covered hills. It’s a love affair that continues to suck more North Americans and Europeans into its vortex. Those expats who live on the island of Roatán will tell you they couldn’t stand another harsh winter, or another day in their fluorescently lit office, or yet another advertisement telling them what else is missing in their lives. Roatán offers an escape from all that.
It’s another languid, relaxing Sunday on Belize’s Caribbean coast. Settling in a at Estel’s Diner on the beach, we order our favorite breakfast—huevos rancheros with homemade salsa. Then it’s back to a blissful reverie, gazing out over the mesmerizing Caribbean Sea. Sitting here, I wiggle my toes into the diner’s soft, warm, sand floor—no shoes needed… The scene outside is idyllic. Rays of sunlight skitter off the sparkling surface of the calm sea…
The colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador, draws vacationers from all over the world…and it has a tendency to turn visitors into permanent residents. That’s what happened to me four years ago. My three-month visit turned into a six-month stay…Then a year passed and I still hadn’t left. Cuenca has become home. I’ve been to some great places in the world and have loved them—places like Spain, Italy, or even Argentina. So why do I stay in Cuenca when there are so many other great places I could be living? Well, there are three big reasons I keep staying (and staying and staying).
Like many other folks thinking about moving abroad, my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I thought we knew what we wanted. A tropical beach, of course. During our lives we’d spent incredible days of vacation swinging in hammocks on palm-studded beaches, basking in the sun, and listening to the waves breaking out on some reef.
“How much does it cost to live in Ecuador?” That’s a question I hear a lot from readers. From masses of anecdotal evidence and my own experience of living here, I can safely say that a typical couple will most likely spend somewhere between $1,600 and $2,400 a month to live in Ecuador. But what you will spend depends very much on your own needs and wants.
There are many reasons why people choose to move from the U.S. to sunnier climes abroad. Often, it’s for health reasons…sometimes for pure economic necessity—stretching retirement dollars as far as possible. But my wife Ann and I are fortunate enough that we are here in Salinas, Ecuador just because we want to be. We met in 2009…and quickly knew we wanted a new adventure overseas. Both widowed and with our adult children all married and raising their own children we figured life is precious; why not try to do something a little different?
Culture takes in far more than the arts, the architecture and the history of places. Sure, Rome is outstanding for antiquities and churches and Paris has the Louvre. But whether it’s watching an afternoon cricket match on an English village green, going naked in a German sauna, or riding a bike through the Dutch tulip fields, Europe has a multitude of fascinating cultural experiences. And when you can combine city thrills with good food, so much the better. For a different take on “culture” as well as delectable taste sensations, add these five cities to your European wish list.
Before settling in David in western Panama in 2009, I lived aboard my sailboat, Carina, for 16 years. My husband and I sailed the western Caribbean and we still have many friends among the cruising community. Although Panama has miles of coastline, it has few marine facilities for small boats. If you’re looking for a safe harbor to dock your boat in Panama, here are the stand-out marinas to visit.