Narrow, cobblestone streets lined by centuries-old homes with brightly colored façades; quaint plazas and leafy parks alongside soaring churches and cathedrals…
It’s these flourishes that have long attracted people to Latin America’s colonial towns and cities. Often, discerning expats live in restored historic homes. Think interior courtyards, often with vaulted wood-beam ceilings, vivid tilework, and other decorative touches. In other cases, a colonial building maintains its original façade, but the interior is completely modern, sometimes split into several homes or apartments.
These “inner city” historic districts were once neglected, as local people with means decamped to modern suburbs. But many expats prefer historic centers and have led revitalization efforts alongside well-heeled locals.
And although you are surrounded by history, you now have modern conveniences like high-speed internet, not to mention other centuries-old structures nearby that have been repurposed into little shops, restaurants, cafés, art galleries, and boutique hotels.
Two-bedroom restored colonial for $139,000
A sizeable, busy city of a half-million, Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s, if not Latin America’s, top expat hot spots—especially for North American retirees. The outskirts and suburbs are modern. But at its heart, Cuenca is a classic colonial city, with a UNESCO World Heritage designated center boasting many picturesque 16th and 17th-century buildings.
Expats are attracted by the quality of life: the temperate climate, the low costs on everything from food to medical care, the active arts scene, and the low-stress existence in a picturesque setting with views of the Andes Mountains. As a bonus, the country’s currency is the U.S. dollar.
The expat community is very active, but the vibrant local culture still very much shines through.
A renovated 125-year-old colonial home in central Cuenca, with two bedrooms, is listed at $139,000. You have the original hardwood and fieldstone floors, wood beams, and, of course, thick adobe walls—but a new kitchen. The 258-square-foot rooftop terrace offers views of the famous blue domes of Cuenca’s cathedral.
Three-bedroom home for $95,000
Set on Lake Nicaragua, the world’s 19th-largest, Granada was an important trading port in colonial times thanks to the lake’s connection to the Caribbean via the San Juan River. That also made this wealthy city a target. Pirate Henry Morgan sacked Granada in 1665 and made off with a fortune in silver that has never been recovered.
There is another type of treasure to be had in the town these days. Consider the renovated colonial buildings with decorated façades, intricate floor tile work, and interior courtyards. You can find these homes, with interior gardens, fountains, and pools, throughout the historic district. The warm weather here means that, often, kitchens and living areas are open-air; natural extensions of the courtyards. It’s the best of indoor/outdoor living.
These days, many have been refashioned into restaurants, cafés, shops, and private homes. Granada’s historic center radiates out from the central park. La Calzada, a pedestrian avenue that is the “main drag,” is in the midst of a decades-long revitalization effort spearheaded by expats and locals.
A recently remodeled three-bedroom home six blocks from the park is listed for $95,000. (Political instability has created great value in Nicaragua.) The second-floor balcony has views of terracotta barrel tile rooftops, the lake, and the Mombacho volcano. There is a small pool, too.
Six-bedroom home for 5 million Mexican pesos ($251,612)
Set in a narrow valley, the heart of Guanajuato’s colonial center is at its lowest point, with hills rising steeply all around, and row upon row of brightly colored homes rising to the top. In the picturesque plazas of the centro, you’ll find strolling mariachis serenading families out for dinner at sidewalk restaurants. Guanajuato also has a world-class symphony orchestra. The Cervantino, a three-day celebration of arts and culture named for Spanish writer Cervantes (author of the famous novel Don Quixote de la Mancha) takes place every fall in venues across the city. It’s the best of the modern and traditional.
One thing that makes the lifestyle in this mountainous and high-elevation area of Mexico so appealing is the ideal temperatures much of the year—no air conditioning needed. Nearly year-round, temperatures are in the 70s F during the day, cooling off into the 60s and 50s at night.
Just five minutes’ walk from the main market, Mercado Hidalgo, and on a hillside overlooking centro, is a home that has been renovated into four apartments, with a total of six bedrooms. You could live in one and rent the others out to local expats, snowbirds, or travelers. The rooftop terrace offers panoramic views.
Note: Unless I say otherwise, I haven’t seen the properties mentioned above in person nor have I conducted any due diligence. As always, it’s critical you do your own due diligence on any real estate.
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