When I was young, just out of college, my life goal was to see as much of the world as I could. I wanted to find out what made other cultures tick; what they ate…how they celebrated their rites of passage…a little about their languages…and their overall philosophy and world views.
To that end, I took a masters in applied linguistics so I could teach at universities anywhere that I fancied; and consequently, I’ve had the pleasure of living in 12 countries and vacationed in another 25. Along the way, I was also on a subconscious quest for the ideal place to call home when the time came to retire. For me, the winner was Popayan, Colombia.
I believe that where we retire should be a matter of choice, not simply surviving in whichever place destiny has planted us. Popayan is my retirement choice.
Located 350 miles south of the capital of Bogota, Popayan boasts remarkable colonial architecture. All of the buildings in the historic district (about four blocks by eight blocks) are painted white, by law…thus earning it the nickname “the White City.”
It’s a university city and also has a dozen other educational institutions which gives it a lively cultural community, with theater, visual arts, and music and dance of all genres.
The climate here is possibly the best in the world, with temperatures ranging between 70 F and 80 F every day, all year round. Some seasons are rainier than others, but without the rains, we wouldn’t have such beautiful mountainscapes, national parks, and clean lakes and rivers.
Another reason I love living here is Popayan’s affordability. I rent a large, tranquil house in a forest just outside the downtown district for $500 a month. I know that a similar house in the U.S. would cost three to four times as much. You can also find two-bedroom apartments in nice locations to rent for $240 a month.
On average, my electric bills are about $18 a month, water is $13, and internet about $15 a month. Fresh veggies and tropical fruit are available all year long at open-air markets, at amazingly low prices. Tasty, dark green avocados are three for 75 cents. There are lots of restaurants at reasonable prices, my favorite being Carpe Diem, housed in one of Popayan’s lovely, oversized, 200-year-old homes. The lunches are a joy to the palate, and they cost about $3.
Because Popayan has a highly acclaimed medical school, finding a doctor is easy and affordable. Most doctor’s visits cost between $25 and $30. You can also find a good, hour-long massage for $10 and a full hour of completely professional chiropractic for about $25. I pay about $25 a month for health insurance; admittedly sometimes I have to wait longer than I might like for an appointment, but with such low costs you always have the option of paying for medical visits out of pocket.
Popayan is an easy place to get around and most of the expats I know who live in town don’t have cars. Almost everything is within walking distance, and for the places that are too far to walk, there is a large flotilla of taxis, all of which charge a set fee—$1.35—to go from anywhere in the city center. And speaking of walking, there is a cobbler named Wilson who will make you a pair of customized leather sandals with thick cushioned soles that make a huge difference to your bones and joints for $12. So far, I have commissioned Wilson to make six pairs of sandals for me.
This part of Colombia also has a lot to offer and living in Popayan it’s easy to take advantage of some of the many interesting places to see in the area. You can climb a volcano, feed wild condors, bicycle along the mountain roads, go to the thermal bathes in Coconuco, visit the underground tombs of Tierra Adentro, or go to the indigenous village of Silvia, to name a few.
One of my favorite things about living in Popayan is the cordial and welcoming community and according to the annual WIN/Gallup International Survey, they are among the happiest people in the world…and living here, it’s not hard to see why.
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