A flourishing expat community has evolved over the years as adventurous spirits from all over the globe set their wandering feet to rest, seduced by the charm and easy living in Antigua, Guatemala.
When my wife, Amy, and I decided to retire overseas in 2006, we were searching for a new lifestyle in a different culture, but in a country that wasn't radically different to our own. Since we opted for early retirement we also had to find somewhere that the cost of living was low enough that would allow us to continue living comfortably.
If you love colonial architecture, as I do, there’s a little city in Ecuador that will speak to you. Located in the heart of the Cuxibamba Valley, Loja, has two major universities, a law school, and assorted arts and technical institutes, it has a young, vibrant flavor. People are friendly. And they’re happy here.
By choosing to retire in one of the world’s best bang-for-your-buck destinations, Rob enjoys a lifestyle well beyond his reach if he had stayed in the U.S. Every day he can choose to relax on the beaches around his home in the town of Sihanoukville, on the Cambodian coast, dine on fresh French croissants…rent a sailboat or go fishing on an offshore charter…
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’ve never had a taxi driver refuse a fare before. But there we were, just arrived from Mexico City on the first-class bus (WiFi, reclining seats, air conditioning, etc. for $22) in the charming colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. And after telling the driver the address of the apartment my wife and I had rented, he shrugged his shoulders and said the roads were closed.
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.
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.
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.
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.