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It’s that time of year again—the birds are singing, love is in the air, and hopeless husbands are trawling gas stations for that last bunch of flowers. It must be Valentine’s Day—that special day when you spoil the one you love, devote your attention to one another, and escape momentarily from the humdrum of everyday routine. It can be a wonderful time, no matter where you are, but it’s undeniable that some locations have a certain je ne sais quoi that adds that something special to the occasion.
When my husband Dave and I first visited Belize we were blown away by the island lifestyle and culture. We loved seeing swaying palm trees and white-sand beaches everywhere we looked. We loved seeing people actually enjoying their day, walking to get their groceries, the lack of materialism, and the fact that we could be outside 12 months a year.
“Our day begins early, the local birds love to greet the sun and wake us up so we enjoy the sunrise over the water, too,” says Lynn Lawson. “Add a cup of fresh coffee and warm breezes, and we are totally relaxed. We take morning walks, greeting our neighbors and their pets.”
My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I do a lot of traveling. So we often find ourselves on the way to places. We find ourselves in airports. In taxis and shuttles. In planes and buses. In snow-bound cities and towns for holidays and family functions.
“Pereira is a small city with just about everything you could want from a large city—an airport, theaters, more shopping than you could ever need,” says Mollee Thermos. “But it’s still not as developed as Colombia’s bigger and more well-known cities of Medellin or Bogota and I like it because of that.”
Sitting on my balcony just off the living room, I’m completely surrounded by 100-foot-tall, 200-year-old trees. Sipping my coffee early in the morning, there is one tree that always holds my attention as it’s surrounded by fireflies. I’d never seen them before moving here and they’re quite magical.
With 912 miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica has plenty of beaches. And you get a wide variety of looks, too. Some of these beaches are all natural, Robison Crusoe-style tropical escapes that you’ll have all to yourself. You can sit in the shade as you watch clear water lap against the shore on a lazy afternoon. Others are places to enjoy a cold drink in hand, toes in the sand, listening to music and people-watching. There are even large resorts and bustling beach towns with plenty of nightlife.
At least once a week, I receive an email with the words “you’re so brave.” I chuckle to myself because everyone back in the States thinks my husband, Mark, and I are so courageous. In reality, I think exactly the opposite… What’s brave about retiring at age 55 to one of the world’s top retirement destinations—Cuenca, Ecuador—with spring-like temperatures all year long (lows in the 50’s and high 70’s) and not having to work unless I absolutely want to (I’m a freelance writer).
I’m looking out over the deep blue Pacific. Fisherman with nets wade out into the shallows, flinging them periodically to catch bait fish. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the water, with the high midday sun, glitters with light.
After nearly 10 years of marriage, my husband and I decided it was time for a change. We’d lived in a Minneapolis high-rise apartment with spectacular views of the Mississippi River and downtown for seven years, and while we loved our apartment, we didn’t love the weather (for six months of the year anyway). And I didn’t love my high-stress job or the fact that our cost of living seemed to be getting higher.
Would you become healthier if you lived in France? Maybe.
France is one of the healthiest nations on earth, if average life expectancy is any indication. According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization (2013), France comes in at #9, with an average age life expectancy of 81.6 years. This puts the country well ahead the United States, which ranked #34, with a life expectancy of 79.
In the right places beyond our borders today, you’ll find you have more good choices than ever for a comfortable—even a pampered—retirement. In International Living’s 2016 Global Retirement Index, three countries stand out from the top 23 retirement locations featured in the Index, as having the lowest cost of living in the world:
A few years ago, my wife Diane and I packed our lives into six suitcases, Diane tucked our beloved Chihuahua, Carmine, under her arm and we set off to build a new life in a small coastal village on Ecuador’s northern coast, a country we had never visited.
As healthcare costs in the U.S. continue to spiral upward, one of the main questions any aspiring expat asks is, “Can I get great healthcare when I move overseas?” The simple answer is yes…and without breaking the bank, either.
Imagine a place where sunshine is ubiquitous, a high-quality lifestyle won’t cost the earth, and as a retiree, you’re treated like a VIP…you’ll get a red-carpet welcome and be rewarded for your age and experience. Places like this exist…and they have claimed the top spots in the “Benefits and Discounts” category in International Living’s 2016 Global Retirement Index. In many countries all over the world you can live better for less.
I was tired of working 40, sometimes 50 hours a week as a designer for an international furniture manufacturer. Working on commission only, I often worked on my days off to facilitate clients, and meeting my required goals had become increasingly difficult. Continually declining markets, escalating real estate taxes, and the rising cost of electricity and heating oil were other factors that made me decide it was time for a change.
Although living in Cuenca, Ecuador, seems like a year-round vacation for me, it’s still nice to get away for a few days to explore other parts of this beautiful country. And one spot that’s well worth a visit is the small coastal village of Puerto López.
It’s that time of year again…International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index is hitting the presses. And in the top spot: Panama. I should say: Panama again. Because this tiny powerhouse has topped this index more times than any other country. (International Living’s first Annual Global Retirement Index was published in 1992.)
In a place where even the picket fences sprout leaves, you just know the soil has to be good. Known as Panama’s fertile valley, the tiny town of El Valle is a world of green. Lushly carpeted mountains surround the flat crater town. The green is punctuated here and there with bright bursts of crepe-like bougainvillea. The tropical reds and oranges almost seem odd in a place this cool and breezy. Thanks to an elevation of about 2,000 feet, El Valle is typically a comfortable 70 F to 80 F, with noontime temperatures rarely above 85 F.
Ecuador’s colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca have captured the hearts of many expats looking for a more relaxed style of life. But I’ve discovered a city, often overlooked, that is one of Ecuador’s hidden gems and is perfect for my active lifestyle. Guayaquil is a port and the country’s largest city. It’s got a reputation for business and industry…but that’s not the place that I have come to know and love over the past few years.
I live a block away from a gorgeous, 200-year-old park in the colonial city of Querétaro in the colonial highlands of Mexico. My apartment is located in the city’s centro historico, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the site of some of the most beautiful Spanish colonial architecture to be found anywhere, including a recently restored aqueduct from the early 1700s, made of pink quarry stone. The street plan in the center is basically the same as it was 400 years ago.
Leon is one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua and second-largest city in the country after the capital of Managua. It has a warm climate with average highs in the high 80s F and average lows in the 70s F and also has terrific colonial architecture to recommend it. Leon is great place to live if you want to be close to the beaches…you can enjoy all the conveniences of a big city, amid beautiful surroundings, and still be only 11 miles from Nicaragua’s stunning ocean beaches.
Cycling a beautiful, well-loved path along the Loire River in France’s famous castle-dotted Loire Valley, it was just as stunning as everyone said…full of quiet stretches of river, beautiful stone towns, arched bridges, river birds, happy cycling families, and a surplus of castles. On this particular day, as I was cycling through a small, forested area, it started pouring down rain—and so I stopped to wait out the rain in the next town I reached: the beautiful waterfront city of Beaugency.
I’m enjoying a cappuccino at a sidewalk cafe. The tree providing shade is a century old, the church across the way much older. The neighborhood is historic, with restored buildings lining narrow streets for a dozen blocks in any direction. I’m in Merida, Mexico, the third-largest Spanish colonial district in the world, after Havana and Mexico City, surrounded by centuries-old colonial homes, churches, and grand buildings.
Getting the best of both country and big-city life is a tall order. But in the valleys that surround Ecuador’s capital, Quito, you can have a country setting with green mountains in view at every turn, little brick houses tucked in amid lush gardens…and friendly neighbors who greet you with a smile.
My daily life has improved immensely since moving to the charming “City of Flowers” in Colombia. I feel calm and peaceful, unlike many of my friends living in U.S. cities. Every morning I wake up to the cheerful sound of birds. From my balcony I can hear the gentle trickle of the stream running past my apartment. I love to take these quiet mornings to practice yoga at a nearby studio and then head to my favorite coffee shop, Pergamino. It’s pleasantly quiet in the mornings when I go to read a book or write in my journal while I sip the best coffee in town for less than $1.
Boasting an epic display of over 30 million lights, it is no surprise that Medellin, Colombia has been rated by National Geographic as one of the top 10 places to view Christmas lights in the world. The festive season in Medellin officially starts on November 30 at midnight, with an elaborate firework celebration. It’s called La Alborada and marks the night when EPM (the city’s public utilities company) who designs and sponsors the lights, turns on the extravagant displays and the locals chime in to celebrate with an incredible spectacle of homemade fireworks seen (and heard) throughout the whole valley of Medellin until dawn.
Our daughter in New Jersey hasn’t seen her yard for months because it’s covered with snow. Our son in North Carolina finished raking leaves a while back just in time to get out the overcoats in preparation for the frigid weather ahead. My wife Cynthia and I, we’re weather junkies, who, like Goldilocks, want our weather “just right”…not too hot and not too cold…
“I was a workaholic,” Bob Coleman says. “Then one day I thought of all the places I hadn’t seen and I decided right there and then that something had to change.” At age 55, Bob started his international travels by taking vacations to popular destinations in Southeast Asia, including Penang, Malaysia and the Thai capital, Bangkok. “After a few trips I realized retirement could set me free; that I didn’t have to limit myself to one location for the rest of my life.”
“From our porch we can see down to the river, where we have our own little private beach and swimming hole,” says Albuquerque native Bob Caragol of his and his wife Irma’s new home. “We just fell in love with the area. There’s no crime and no pollution, and my asthma symptoms improved immediately.”
When I’m corresponding with one of my International Living editors on Friday’s, he always ends his emails with “Have a great weekend!” I invariably chuckle at this because for me as an expat in Cuenca, Ecuador, every day is the weekend. Not by usual time measurements, of course. Expats don’t have special calendars filled with only Saturday’s and Sunday’s. It just feels that way.
“Where else could we find this life?” says expat Monica Sedgwick of the one she and her husband James have created in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. “We’re living in paradise, paying $200 a month for a three-bedroom apartment with a super view of the bay.” Stroll through San Juan del Sur and you’ll see colorful buildings of all different sizes flanking the ocean. They house surf shops, bakeries, beach clothing stores, hotels, and hostels, from basic to top-dollar. Buy hand-made jewelry from artists from every continent.
Justin and Sarah Fahey did everything the way you are “supposed to” in the U.S. They focused on their educations, both finally getting Master’s degrees at Boston universities. They got married. Justin landed a sales job for a large research company and Sarah worked as a counselor in a private Massachusetts school. The road to the American Dream stretched out before them. Everything was perfect. Or was it?
Expats have taken the lead in the renovation and refurbishment of Merída’s colonial heritage, turning once-crumbling colonial structures into boutique hotels, restaurants…and private homes. But many buyers prefer to buy turnkey properties instead of dealing with construction.
Imagine if you could snap your fingers and instantly cut your monthly expenses in half. You’d effectively double the value of the money you budget for monthly expenses. It would mean the cash you once used for monthly bills would be available for other uses. There are hundreds of beautiful retirement locations around the world where this is possible. For the past 15 years, my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have lived in many of them.
Life here is busy, but it’s a good kind of busy. We have less driving and commuting than when we lived in Ohio…and we don’t miss traffic jams, shoveling snow, and de-icing the car in the morning, which used to take up so much time. Here, grocery shopping or paying bills involves a bike ride or a walk in sunny weather, where you can hear birds and see the beach.
One of the best-known places to enjoy colonial living is San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. Even among colonial towns, San Miguel is famous. It’s been dubbed ”the most beautiful town in Mexico,” and it may just be. Colorful, well-preserved colonial buildings line its streets, and fountains tinkle in quiet squares. Brightly painted doorways open onto shops that overflow with colored textiles, hanging stars, and lamps of hammered tin, and pottery or sculptures. Walk down cool stone passageways to open-air patio restaurants or to upstairs terraces where the city opens out below you.
“I think you’re brilliant,” a friend said to me on a visit to the States last summer. Believe me, it’s the first time I’ve been described that way. “You know what you want and you figure out how to make it happen. You’re not afraid of failure. You really are brilliant in that way.” Hmmm…wasn’t this the same person who thought I was slightly off kilter…far on the other side of crazy…15 years ago when I mentioned I was going to quit my job and move overseas?
Have you ever wondered what life in the jungle would be like? If you’re like me, it could be your own personal paradise. The funny thing is, I never set out to live in the jungle. I’ve lived in several places, including Patagonia, Chile, where I worked for five months as an English teacher before I returned back “home” to Kentucky. But I missed Latin American culture, so I found a job as the marketing manager for Outward Bound Costa Rica, an adventure school based in the mountains of Tres Rios.
A warm, clear blue-green sea lapping long, sandy beaches… Families eating and laughing together over slow, relaxed dinners with lashings of good food and even better wine… If you’ve ever watched a movie set in the Mediterranean, you might believe the region is solely a playground for the rich—the romping ground of Hollywood starlets like Brigitte Bardot. Scratch the surface and you’ll discover that is definitely not the case—an adventure in the Mediterranean could be yours for less than you might think.
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