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My wife, Suzan, and I rarely know too far in advance where we’ll be for the holidays. We haven’t lived in the U.S. for a dozen years now, but around about September or October we start making the decisions about what to do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year…whose family back in the States we’ll spend which holidays with…and which holidays, if any, we’ll spend by ourselves at home, wherever home happens to be at the time.
It’s impossible to escape the geese in Sarlat-le-Caneda. Images of these plump birds adorn shop windows, and products of all kinds are decorated with the likeness of the animals that have been adopted as the unofficial mascot of the area. Often known simply as Sarlat, this town with a population of about 11,000 is in the center of the Dordogne region of southern France. Sarlat offers big-city convenience and activities packaged in a small-town setting that make it a delightful location to visit…
While my wife and I were on our daily walk the other day, 400 feet from the deserted Bejuco beach, we were stopped short by a white-faced capuchin monkey who raced gracefully across the bridge, then launched himself into a tree on the other side of the water. His family trailed close behind. Looking around me, I can’t help but think how lucky we are to have so much nature in our everyday lives.
I’m a small town girl. I grew up in the village of Mahomet, Illinois, and though I moved away, I’ve brought the love of simpler living with me. After becoming a dental hygienist—something I worked as for 33 years—I lived in the Florida Keys, before moving to the Bahamas. Both places were nice—but they didn’t offer that quiet, peaceful, simpler way of life and cheaper cost of living I was always looking for. So my husband Bob and I began to look further afield for such a lifestyle, including in Costa Rica and Panama
It is Christmas morning, and my wife Cynthia and I are celebrating the joyous occasion with our daughter’s family in New Jersey. Tomorrow we fly to North Carolina to do it all over again in the home of our son. When we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador three and a half years ago we had no grandchildren. In the space of 19 short months we experienced our own private “baby boom” and today we have three (and counting?).
Back when my husband and I started to have children, a dear friend began giving us beautiful Christmas village houses every year to collect and someday pass on to our children. Every year, as we unpacked the village, one building at a time, we would imagine what it would be like in a place like it. We would place the china characters carefully, connect the cobblestone paths, and talk about what the crunch of the snow sounded like on Christmas Eve. When it was set up perfectly, we would turn out the lights and the amber glow would pour from the windows and lanterns casting an ethereal radiance befitting the holiday season.
The ocean breeze blows in through the open door as I sit in my rocking chair—a surprisingly favorite Nicaraguan furnishing. Sunlight glitters on the ocean, almond and coconut trees sway in the wind. This is my office for today, a four-bedroom house right on the beach that we rent for $350 a month. Previously we spent time on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, beneath the shadow of three majestic volcanoes…swimming in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, shopping in the local markets, and interacting with the indigenous people who still wear their traditional clothing and speak Spanish as their second language.
Alfredo and Yvonne Villoria were just another fast-paced, career-minded couple in Los Angeles. But money-making wasn’t enough. “We felt that something was missing,” says Yvonne. “In 1976, we decided that 1980 was the cut-off year. In 1980, we would leave the United States. All we were doing was chasing the dollar. We wanted more. We thought there had to be more to life than just working and owning things.
Crucita is about 40 minutes north of Manta, Ecuador’s largest coastal city. But while Manta is big and busy and full of shopping and social opportunities, Crucita is the opposite. It’s a little fishing village with a produce market, a fish market, but no supermarket… You can get eggs, bread, beer, toilet paper, soap and other necessities of life at some of the local mom-and-pop shops, but for anything more exotic than that, you’ll need to go to Manta or the closer town of Portoviejo.
I’m typing this from the comfort of a lawn chair on the patio of my house in Quito. It’s early December and even though Quito is moving into winter, today is warm and sunny. Quito, Ecuador’s capital (a UNESCO World Heritage site), sits on the spine of the Andes nestled between two mountain ranges and several ice-capped volcanoes. The climate is mild, with high temperatures in the 70s and lows of around 50.
You might not “get” Coronado, Panama’s fastest growing beach town, immediately. There’s no main square or plaza, and at a glance it looks rambling and unremarkable. But trundle down its mansion-lined lanes, and you’ll find there are many hidden gems.
“So why did you move to Cuenca, Ecuador?” Even after three and a half years I’m often asked this question, and there are many answers—the low cost of living, temperate climate, proximity of the U.S., excellent medical care, and the wonderful mix of historic architecture plus modern conveniences.
It’s easy to see why Penny Barrett was so enamored with Boquete when she visited in 2003. Located in the highlands of Panama, near the border of Costa Rica, this town is a shock of color and natural growth: rich green mountains and valleys, bougainvillea and other flowers growing wild, and plantations and farms growing everything from coffee to bananas and pineapples.
I know I made the right decision to move to Belize when I start my day with a warm first light and song birds…instead of a buzzing alarm clock and an icy wind rattling the window.At first light, the dog and I are strolling along Laguna Seca. The village has yet to start its day, so we share the lagoon with the coots, ibis, and flocks of parakeets. As the sun peeks over the horizon it splashes my pre-dawn world with tropical color and a sparkling lagoon.
I have discovered my favorite way to view a property for sale. First, you get an hour-long massage costing just $45. Then you eat your fill of fresh-off-the-boat tuna for just $8. And finally, you take a five-minute walk through the streets of Pedasi, Panama and take a look at this house on the left. For sale for $80,000, it’s a two-bedroom, 743-square-foot home currently renting for $600 a month unfurnished.
When my husband first proposed the idea of retiring early outside of the U.S., I thought he was being unrealistic. Could we really afford to retire in our 50s if we found a place where we could live on less? I was skeptical…but I’m happy to report that we’ve been living that dream in Panama for over two years now and have never looked back. Here we could actually afford to retire, live comfortably and even travel. The little country of Panama is fast becoming a haven for retirees.
Low cost of living…stunning natural beauty…warm, friendly people…and the best retiree discount in the world. There are so many good reasons to live in Panama that it’s easy to see why Americans are choosing this country as their retirement haven. It’s a country that has something for everyone. Want to live by a white-sand beach, gazing out at miles of clear-blue Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea? You can here. More of a quiet mountain town kind of guy or gal? You’re in luck. Panama has a range of little mountain towns to choose from.
“Don’t worry, you won’t have a problem finding a place to stay,” said my friend as we drove into General Villamil Playas (commonly just called “Playas”), the closest beach town to Guayaquil. “The hotels here never fill up.” He should know. He owns a condo in Playas and drives there easily in just over an hour from his home in Guayaquil to spend weekends and holidays at this beach town on Ecuador’s southern coast, named by some as the “sunniest beach” in the country.
After doing some research online, which included International Living, I moved to Cuenca at age 54. I planned to travel throughout South America, but I just loved it here, feeling no need to go farther south. Then, six months later, at age 55, my teacher’s retirement kicked in, so I could qualify for a pensionado visa, living off my retirement income.
Home to 420,000 people, Florianopolis is often referred to by its residents as “the other Brazil.” For one thing, there is the evident prosperity, from brand-name jeans to the latest-model cars. The streets and sidewalks are clean. Unemployment is low, as is the crime rate. There are parks and pedestrian plazas. And the city is large enough to offer most services that you might need, without the problems of a bigger metropolis.
Cut down coconut bunch with machete. Put one or two coconuts in the fridge to get cold. Cut a hole in the top of the coconut. Insert straw…This routine is part of my daily life on the north central coast of Ecuador. My husband Ron and I live in the small fishing village of El Matal near the town of Jama and drink fresh coconut water daily—from our very own coconut trees. El Matal happens to be the setting for the award-winning film Pescador by Sebastian Cordero, but to us it’s just home.
Have you found the saying, “life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect” to be true? My husband and I have definitely found that to be the case. We’ve also realized that when life takes you down different paths it isn’t necessarily a bad thing! As we contemplated the future we found that we had an undiscovered sense of adventure. Rather than looking to a “normal” retirement in Canada, we investigated the possibility…
I was asked again the other day what I love most about Ecuador, and as I answered it occurred to me how retired I sounded. I’m not retired, of course, but as I was going over my three big pluses for this country…the weather, the cost of living, and the variety…I realized that all three of these qualities appealed directly to my Inner Retiree.
There are a lot of practical advantages to living in Costa Rica that I’ve discovered during my two years here. A big one for my family is the savings on medical care. When my son was born in June of 2012, we paid just $3,000 for the birth at a private hospital, including all the doctors’ fees and an overnight hospital stay. That’s cash, no insurance. We would have paid $15,000 to $20,000 in the U.S. When, at six months, the baby developed some health issues, testing and treatment was cheap too.
The small, pretty town of Chantilly is less than 30 minutes from Paris by train, but when you arrive at the station and take a lungful of fresh air, the big city couldn’t feel farther away. Chantilly (pronounced shahn-tee-yee) lies in the Oise department of France, 24 miles north-northeast of Paris. It is both the name of a town of 11,000 people, and of a larger commune that comprises several other towns and villages, bringing the total population to 36,000.
If there were ever two towns that complement one another perfectly, they would be Montañita and Olòn on the coast of Ecuador. About an hour north along the coast from Salinas—one of Ecuador’s best-known and most popular beach destinations—these two beach towns each offer a very different vibe. Montañita is named for the “little hill” that sits at its north end and separates its picture-perfect golden-sand beach from Olòn’s picture-perfect golden-sand beach. It’s less than a five-minute drive from one to the other, and a taxi ride will cost you just $2.
“Sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief that we actually own a home right on the beach in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen,” Paula Irvin says. “It’s absolutely amazing!” Hummingbirds zip around the bright-red feeder hanging from the balcony. “They always come at this time—just as the sun begins to dip into the ocean and the other birds start calling to each other a goodnight song,” says Paula. Paula and her husband Randy blissfully watch this evening routine…
The very thought of moving abroad seems like such an adventure, doesn’t it? The world is full of so many intriguing locations. Which country would you choose? Which city? If you actually pull the trigger and relocate, then the adventure truly begins. Everything is new, exciting, interesting, frustrating, and exhausting all at once. You’re meeting new friends—maybe learning a different language—adapting to a foreign culture, and exploring surrounding areas.
There’s no other retirement destination quite like Panama. Whatever you’re looking for in a retirement, you’ll find it here. Do you prefer living by the ocean? In the mountains? In ranching country? Big city? Small town? Would you prefer the mainland or a nearby island paradise? Well, Panama has it all so the choice is yours.
Sometimes all it takes to make your dream come true is to take that first step toward it. My husband and I wanted to change our reality from your average suburban life in the States—mortgages, car payments, and credit card debt included—to a fresh life in a place where coconuts grow and the sun always shines.
It was Christmas vacation 2009. I turned on my computer and clicked on Yahoo where a headline caught my attention: “The Top 10 Places in the World to Retire.” I had never heard of the number one city listed, Cuenca, Ecuador. But as I perused the other nine cities, I found something wrong with each of them. They were too hot or too cold, or hot in the summer and cold in the winter, which was just what I wanted to leave behind in Chicago; or they were too far from the U.S.
The two best things about mornings in Volcancito are the coffee and the view. I’m at the heart of Panama’s coffee-growing highlands—there’s even a bush of red “cherries” in my garden. (They’re surprisingly sweet when you suck one.) And for $600 a month, including all utilities you get a stunning view of the town of Boquete, Panama.
Think you can’t afford to retire in the South of France? Think again. While it’s true that unless you’re fairly wealthy, you should cross places like Cannes, St. Tropez, and most of the pretty medieval villages of Provence off your list, there are still a number of south of France towns, villages and cities, particularly in the Languedoc-Rousillon region (my favorite), that offer a highly enjoyable lifestyle for a reasonable price.
With the divisive and toxic nature of U.S. politics these days and the associated economic impact, I understand those who might wonder about our motivation for packing a few suitcases and moving to Ecuador’s coast nearly 18 months ago. While politics and the economy had definitely impacted our lives, our reasons for seeking a life outside the United States had nothing to do with political disagreement.
You have the full sweep of the city’s coastline below you, from the high-rises of Punta Paitilla to the church steeples and colonial mansions of the historic Casco Viejo district. Walk back downhill a little and you’ll find a viewing platform from where you can see the goings on in the port of Balboa on the Panama Canal.
In Ecuador, there’s something for everyone…from the die-hard adventurer who wants to follow the path of British mountaineer Edward Whymper up the slopes of 20,702-foot Mount Chimborazo to those who want to learn firsthand why Charles Darwin’s 1835 voyage to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands is called “the most famous few weeks in the history of science.”
“There was a hole there. There was no place to get good bacon and eggs,” says Andrew, who explains that there are many other opportunities in León for quick-thinking entrepreneurs. “There’s still very little here. So anybody who has a big idea— it’ll work.” His investment of $5,000 got things off the ground. And although there were some struggles in the beginning—he had no previous restaurant experience and the local bureaucracy proved tough to navigate until he hired a local accountant—his business has taken off.
Ireland is the land of literary giants James Joyce and W.B. Yeats. It is the land of U2 and the Undertones, of Dublin, Cork and Belfast, of top-notch restaurants, party-on pubs and a foot-stomping live music scene. It is a land of powerful politics and astonishing history—from countless medieval castles and early Christian monasteries to the largest concentrations of prehistoric monuments in Europe. It is also a land of real beauty—lakes, mountains, sea, sky, and its lonely, windlashed wilderness coastline—and, of course, the marvelous Irish people themselves.
If you are working an average job in the U.S., you might be just like I was a few years ago. I was working a 9-to-5 desk job at a bank, spending what little daylight hours I had running errands, cooking and cleaning up, and preparing for it all to start over again. Like most people, I had a yearning for adventure deep in the pit of my stomach, and didn’t know how to “fix” it.
My profession has taken me all across the world, experiencing unique journeys…attending world famous events…and meeting fascinating people. And I got paid to do it. I have rung in the New Year at Hogmanay in Edinburgh, danced up a storm at Seville’s April Fair, and was awed by the beauty of Buddha’s birthday celebrations in South Korea. I have ridden camels through the Sahara desert, liberated baby sea turtles in Mexico and swam with sharks in Belize.
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