For David Scott Bowers, 55, a little farm on the side of a mountain with a river running behind it, complete with a swimming hole for refreshing dips is home. A small village is nearby and a larger town a little farther down the road. There’s a nature preserve within walking distance. With the elevation at just over 2,900 feet, the climate is temperate and you can enjoy the outdoors year-round despite the tropical latitude.
I was hurtling down a mountain, on a narrow two-lane road, surrounded by jungle…while avoiding the deadly scratches of a terrified animal. How did I get here? Let’s go back to the beginning. I had traveled to Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast to check out the expat communities there.
Set in Mexico's famed Colonial Highlands is San Miguel de Allende, which many consider to be the most charming town in this region. It's certainly one of the most popular with expats. They've been drawn here since right after World War II by the artsy and bohemian vibe, the full calendar of cultural events, indigenous festivals, an ideal climate, and low cost of living.
For Steve and Nancy Riley…it’s paradise. They live on a little over 12 acres of land on a hillside, with panoramic views of the surrounding forest and farmland thanks to the elevation of 4,300 feet. A former coffee plantation, they’ve transformed their property into a botanical garden with walking trails and thousands of tropical plants like heliconias, bromeliads, 550 different species of orchids, and more. It’s Nancy’s vision and passion, and with a helper, she works hours a day in the garden.
As they conquered and colonized Latin America, the Spanish conquistadors—and later settlers—certainly left their mark. Using the old cities of Spain as a model, they built imposing cathedrals, well-tended public squares, large homes, and other structures. Throughout the region, from Mexico to Argentina, and everywhere in between, you can find these historic districts often covering dozens of city blocks, full of ornate buildings.
Located in the southern part of Peru, Arequipa is the country’s second largest city with 1 million inhabitants. It’s a bustling metropolis with a large and vibrant Spanish colonial quarter at its heart. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to this beautiful architecture and the city’s efforts at preserving these links to the past. The historic buildings are made of a white-colored local volcanic rock called sillar, giving the city its nickname: the White City. Arequipa has a lot going for it and as a result it’s becoming an increasingly popular destination for travelers. Many head to the nearby Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest, to see endangered condors; others go to experience authentic indigenous culture and the natural splendor of Lake Titicaca.
Development is coming to Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast, also known as the Southern Zone. But this region, known for its vast rain forests, jungle-covered mountains, and untamed beaches, remains unspoiled and full of natural beauty and wildlife. While a trip to the Southern Zone used to mean a long and cautious drive along a bone-jarring, potholed, dirt road, thanks to the Caldera Highway the Southern Pacific coastal areas are now more accessible than ever before.
As you walk the narrow streets of Cusco, Peru’s San Blas neighborhood you are touching history. A stone wall might be of Incan origin…or built by the Spanish after the conquest. Old colonial homes are now restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels. Hip college kids texting friends with the latest smartphone walk side-by-side with indigenous women garbed in brightly-colored traditional dress. For South African Idelette Aucamp, it’s just the latest stop on her journey through Latin America. So far, she has spent three months in Colombia and a stretch in Bolivia…traversed the Atacama Desert with a friend…traveled throughout Chile…hitchhiked all the way to Patagonia…and headed into Argentina.
As I slowly swam forward I could just make out a dark shape on the seabed about 40 feet ahead. Getting closer, a green sea turtle came into focus. It’s shell alone was five feet long. It paid me no attention, intent on munching sea grass until it got its fill, taking periodic breaks to gracefully rise to the surface and take a breath.
“It reminds me of the small town I grew up in. The people are friendly and pleasant,” says Mel Rosiechuk, 70, of his new home in Costa Rica. Like many northerners, Mel, who came to Costa Rica in 2008 from his native Edmonton, Canada, was motivated to move here because of the weather…and soon discovered other benefits as well.