The sky is blue with just a few clouds on the horizon, and the sun is high above me. But the constant sea breeze keeps things comfortable. This section of the Caribbean island of Roatán is all jungle-covered hills dotted with houses, sloping down to vivid turquoise water. Just offshore you can see the whitewater of the reef that protects the beaches from wave action.
“Living on Roatán, I love outdoor activity…swimming, diving, boating—it’s great that way,” says expat Martina Leitch, who runs a B&B with panoramic sea views. “And out here, it’s blissfully quiet.”
Roatán is not choked with big-name resorts, condo towers, or large-scale commercial development. This isn’t a place of jet-set luxury. This is the best of Caribbean island life…for less. Daily life, lived well, is affordable on Roatán—a budget of $2,000 to $2,500 a month, all in, for an average retired couple. Cost of living always depends on lifestyle, and products imported from the U.S. are comparable to U.S. prices. But with pineapples for $2, good wine from Chile for $6 to $8 a bottle, grass-fed ground beef for $4 a pound, and $5 for a plate of grilled chicken, salad, plantains, rice, and beans at a local seaside restaurant, you can’t help but save money.
“The cost of living is amazing,” says Martina, a Canadian who has called this island home for 12 years. The first six years, she spent her winters in the busy West End. The last six she’s lived fulltime off the grid far on the east side, near Port Royal, in a hilltop home—her B&B/restaurant—with panoramic ocean views. She often takes her skiff into town for supplies; it’s a common mode of transportation on the isolated east side.
The vibrant expat community on Roatán means you’ll never be short of friends or things to do. Boating trips to nearby cays…parties, cookouts, potlucks, and other celebrations…beach barbecues (celebrating nothing other than living in paradise)…dinners out… The social life is great. And there are plenty of beach bars and restaurants. There’s even a coed softball league that supports a local kids’ charity. And golf, too: Pristine Bay is home to an 18-hole, championship course with Caribbean Sea views from almost every hole (you can play the full course after 1.p.m. for $49). Of course, being out on the water is a major draw.
“We go on the boat almost every day. We go fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving,” says Paul Saunders, 64. Like many folks from the northern U.S. and Canada, he and his wife, Charlene, 69, live part-time on Roatán. Paul works as a commercial salmon fisherman, and when his boat puts into port for the winter, the two have headed south for the last 13 years.
Their home, on a half-acre lot, is right on a bight (the local word for bay) on the island’s east side—a place called Punta Blanca. Property taxes last year were around $300. They seldom use air conditioning, as the sea breeze keeps the temperature comfortable. As a result, their electric bill is affordable.
Their favorite spot is a palapa (traditional hut style) bar on the beach at the end of a dock in the tiny village of Camp Bay. It’s called La Sirena—“The Mermaid,” in Spanish.
“We go there just about every Sunday. They make a great rum punch, and on the menu they have lionfish, lobster, chicken wings…,” says Paul.
La Sirena is typical of the informal places expats frequent here. Roatán is a flip-flops-and-beach-bar type of place. But no worries. You may be living on island time, but you’re not roughing it. Highspeed internet is readily available, and just last year, a brand-new, 20,000-square-foot elective surgery and treatment center (with facilities for pediatrics, radiology, and general medicine) opened to take care of residents’ medical needs.
“It’s an easy island to live on, and getting easier all the time,” says Martina.
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