Now that work has been completed, and, today, Santa Marta is a different place. The rejuvenated downtown features an attractive seafront park, as well as small cafes, bars, coffee shops, boutique hotels, excellent seafood restaurants, and even a cruise-ship port. The long-rumored 256-slip marina is completed and operational, and tasteful condo projects have sprouted up around the area. As you might guess, all these improvements have pushed up property prices; however, the current strength of the U.S. dollar rolls back the clock a few years. The Santa Marta metro area extends 13 miles from Taganga in the north to the airport in the south. This stretch of Caribbean coast is home to an impressive diversity of beachside destinations: Santa Marta city proper contains the original historic center and the cruise-ship port. This is the area that has benefited most from the recent investment in restoration. Santa Marta also includes a number of inland neighborhoods, including Bavaria, that would be great for full-time living away from any tourist traffic. If you're willing to be a block off the beach, you could own in Santa Marta's refurbished downtown for less than US$100,000. Taganga is a small village surrounded by tall mountains and situated on an expansive, deep-blue bay. The beach is long and unspoiled and bordered by a new boardwalk. Taganga's bay is great for diving and snorkeling. This is not the cheapest neighborhood in Santa Marta, but it's certainly affordable. Here you could own an ocean-view condo for less than US$100,000. El Rodadero lies about 10 minutes south of Santa Marta. Historically, this was the main draw in the area, as people sought to avoid the once-seedy historic center. The beaches are far longer, wider, and better-kept than Santa Marta's, creating a giant crescent-shaped shoreline that's several miles long. El Rodadero offers a small-town feel that you won't find in the city. This is unpretentious Caribbean with a friendly, laidback feel. It's also a very safe neighborhood. Santa Marta's southern sector consists of neighborhoods Rodadero Sur, Playa Salguero, Pozos Colorados, and Bello Horizonte. It lies south of Santa Marta and El Rodadero but before the airport. These areas feature quiet, well-tended, and more-exclusive beaches than in Santa Marta or El Rodadero. This southern sector is the current direction of expansion for the region, where most of the new construction is taking place. The condo projects here are generally higher end, bigger, better finished, and offering more and nicer amenities than elsewhere. The southern sector is also long on natural beauty. Bello Horizonte has the widest beach in the area, and most of the beaches along this stretch are frequented only by neighboring residents. There's little to no tourism, making this a quiet, peaceful choice. Perhaps the most affordable choice in Santa Marta is El Prado, where a two-bedroom third-floor penthouse was recently offered for 95 million Colombian pesos. At the current rate of exchange, that's about US$46,000. Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Colombia is one of the 11 markets of current opportunity that will be featured during our second annual Global Property Summit, taking place in Cancun, Mexico, in March 2015. In addition, we'll be using our 2015 Global Property Summit as a forum to introduce three new markets of opportunity that we've been tracking and vetting, markets that you've probably not yet considered but should. We'll be opening registration for this, the only property event on next year's calendar, within the next 10 days. Meantime, go here now to get your name on the Hot List for special discounts and VIP perks.
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#8: Abruzzo, Italy It's hard to think of a lovelier corner of Italy than the Abruzzo. The beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. There are mountains, too, meaning that, living here, you'd have both skiing and beach-combing on your doorstep, depending on the season. This region is one of Italy's secret treasures. No overcrowding, no heavy industry, only castles, vineyards, and villages made of stone. Life in the Abruzzo hasn't changed much over the years, and exploring here is like wandering into a gentler, kinder yesterday. This region of Italy is also one of Europe's best bargains. A couple could retire here on as little as US$2,000 per month or less, including rent. #7: Medellin, Colombia Medellin is a city of parks and flowers, pretty, tidy, and, despite its checkered past, safe. It's also architecturally consistent and pleasing. Most every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles. The overall effect is delightful. Medellin is both an industrial, economic, and financial center for this country and a literary and artistic one. Newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, an annual book fair, and, back in 1971, Colombia's answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon, all have chosen Medellin as their base. Thanks to its mountain setting, Medellin is another of a handful of cities around the world that bills themselves as lands of eternal springtime. The cost of living is affordable, though not super-cheap. The medical care is excellent, with 5 of the 35 best hospitals in Latin America located here. The European undertones in Medellin are strong, from the way the women dress to the way people greet you in passing on the street. This is South America, not Central America, and the differences between the two regions can be striking. Medellin was named 2013's World's Most Innovative City and is finally beginning to shed its bad-boy image from Pablo Escobar days and to become appreciated for the romantic city it is, with good wines, great coffee, outdoor cafes, and open-air music venues. #6: Pau, France The city of Pau, also known as the "Green City" and the "Garden City," has one of the highest ratios of greenery per square meter per person of any European city. Further, Pau's greenery is tremendously diverse and includes trees and plants from Japan, the Caribbean, Mexico, Lebanon, the Mediterranean, Chile, and California, this huge variety in part thanks to the English settlers who came here after the Napoleonic wars and brought with them their love of gardening and parks. Pau's is a landscape of accessible woodlands, the steep slopes of Jurançon wine country, the history-packed Plaine de Nay and its main town of Nay, and the pretty rolling countryside and ancient towns of the Gaves de Béarn. Pau is a university town, with close to 12,000 university students living on and off campus, helping to keep it lively. The retiree who has dreamt of France but who can't afford Paris should consider Pau. A couple could retire here on as little as US$2,000 per month. #5: Dumaguete, Philippines In addition to its welcoming, friendly, English-speaking people, Dumaguete boasts a warm, tropical climate and lots of opportunity for outdoor adventures, including world-class diving and snorkeling and whale and dolphin watching. Dumaguete sits right along the ocean, with attractive beaches to the north and south of town. This is also a university city, meaning an abundance of inexpensive restaurants that cater to "starving" college students. Foreigners have the opportunity to make friends with educated professors and aspiring students, take classes, and enjoy cultural opportunities not typically found elsewhere in the Philippines, including theater, ballet, art shows, and libraries. Medical and dental care are good, with a new hospital under construction and international-standard health care available in nearby Cebu. More than 5,000 retirees, including many Americans, have decided to make Dumaguete their permanent home. The primary appeal for the would-be retiree is a super-low cost of living; a couple could retire here on as little as US$1,000 per month. #4: Chiang Mai, Thailand Chiang Mai has been luring expats from the West for many years with its low cost of living and great weather. The high-quality health care and health-related services are also big pluses for foreign retirees. Chiang Mai boasts modern infrastructure and an abundance of Western amenities. It's also a place where it can be possible for foreign retirees to find work if they're interested in supplementing their retirement nest eggs or simply looking to become involved in their new community; many Westerners are employed in Chiang Mai in language schools, universities, medical facilities, and tourist-related industries. #3: George Town, Malaysia George Town is a busy, thriving city with a large expat community that has managed to retain its colonial charm (it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The city is affordable, with a tropical climate, an intriguing culture, and gorgeous white-sand beaches. George Town's total population is about 740,000, small enough that it's easy to make friends and meet people, yet big enough to mean health care that meets international standards and easy availability to goods and services most retirees are looking for. Year-round sunshine, First World infrastructure, turn-key permanent residency, and English-speaking locals make the living here easy. This is a paradise for food lovers and, all things considered, one of the most livable cities in Southeast Asia. #2: Cuenca, Ecuador Cuenca is a charming, walkable colonial city in the highlands of Ecuador, meaning the climate year-round is spring-like. The cost of living is low (though rising) and the cost of real estate is near rock bottom for Latin America. The health care is high quality, honest, and inexpensive. Cuenca's large and growing expat community is one of Latin America's most established and well integrated with the local community. Ecuador offers user-friendly retiree residency options, and the country uses the U.S. dollar, meaning no exchange-rate risk for American retirees. Thanks to the big and growing expat community based here, downtown Cuenca boasts cafes, restaurants, bars, and bookshops alongside the traditional butchers, tailors, repair shops, and bakeries. Cuenca is also the country's center of art and literature; you can attend the orchestra or a play, enjoy a tango show or an art opening, all often free. #1: Algarve, Portugal Portugal's Algarve is the best place in the world to retire in 2014. This Atlantic coastal region is already home to more than 100,000 resident expat retirees and offers the best of the Old World, from medieval towns and fishing villages to open-air markets and local wine, plus some of Europe's best beaches. The Algarve also boasts great weather, enjoying 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, more than most anywhere else in Europe. Portugal ranks as the 17th safest country in the world. The infrastructure is good and improving, and the health care is international-standard. Medical tourism is a growing industry. The cost of living in Portugal is among the lowest in Western Europe. A retired couple could live here comfortably on a budget of as little as US$1,500 per month. And the country's new Non-Habitual Resident and Golden Visa programs mean it is easier than it's ever been for a foreign retiree to arrange legal residency. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Our 2014 Retire Overseas Index, which rates and ranks the world's top 21 retirement havens, is featured in full in this month's issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter. If you're not yet an ORL subscriber, become one now to receive this bumper special annual edition, hot-off-the-virtual-presses. Or you can purchase a copy of the Index on its own here.
Aug. 26, 2
Rainfall is great in Medellin (66 inches versus 35 inches in Cuenca), but the average sunny day is just a bit higher in Medellin. The city with the "perfect weather" for you will be a matter of your own taste.Establishing residency is fairly easy in both Colombia and Ecuador, with low thresholds for visa qualification in both countries. In Colombia, the pensioner's visa requires an income of a little less than US$1,000 per month, while in Ecuador the level is even lower, at US$800 monthly. For an investor-type visa, Colombia's options start at around US$34,000 for a one-year temporary visa, while Ecuador requires US$25,000 for full, permanent residency.So Ecuador has lower thresholds for permanent residency, both for the investor and the retiree.Colombia's visa, however, is quicker and easier to obtain, with fewer required documents. Also, Ecuador imposes restrictions on being out of the country during your first two years of residency, while Colombia has no such restrictions. The cultural scene in Medellin is remarkably similar to that in Cuenca. This is surprising because Cuenca has around 600,000 people in its metro area, while Medellin has about 4 million. In both cities, you can enjoy orchestra, theater, art openings, museums, and a generally sophisticated cultural scene. You'll pay a fee for most of these in Medellin, while in Cuenca they're usually free. The infrastructure is good in both cities. You'll enjoy drinkable water, reliable broadband Internet, and dependable electricity, water, and phone service. Also, both cities are very walkable, and both have excellent and cheap public transit systems. If you decide to drive, you'll find traffic jams equally maddening in both cities. Real estate costs are cheap in both cities by Latin American standards. I prepared a survey recently that compared costs in Medellin, Montevideo (Uruguay), Fortaleza (Brazil), and Panama City. For comparable properties and areas, prices in Medellin's El Poblado are the lowest on a per-square-meter basis.But Cuenca's prices are lower. A nice, two-bedroom apartment in Cuenca might cost around US$80,000...while that same apartment in a comparable neighborhood of Medellin would cost more than US$120,000. You can find Cuenca-style pricing in Medellin but not in the best neighborhoods. For the lifestyle you'll enjoy in Medellin, the real estate is a tremendous bargain. And the same is true in Cuenca; for the lifestyle it offers, it, too, is a tremendous bargain.But the lifestyle in one is nothing like the lifestyle in the other, which brings us to the ways these cities differ. (As Medellin is such a large and diverse city, I'll focus on its El Poblado neighborhood for my comparisons.)Medellin's El Poblado offers a modern, upscale ambiance. It has elegant shopping, spotless infrastructure, glistening new buildings, and more fine-dining that you can imagine. New luxury brick high-rises look down from lush, wooded hillsides. Tall trees line the well-maintained streets. And El Poblado is only one of many desirable areas in this city.On the other hand, Cuenca is one of the Americas' premier Spanish-colonial cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old cathedral was built in 1557, the historic architecture is well preserved, and the streets are cobblestoned. You'll even see evidence of the Inca occupation from the early 1500s. Yet just outside the historic center, Cuenca also offers new, modern high-rises. So you could live in a modern home, yet have the historic center within walking distance. El Poblado is a First World environment; you'll be hard-pressed to find a U.S. city that can beat it. Cuenca is part of a developing country with some Third World characteristics like poor sidewalk and building maintenance. Access to the States is easier from Medellin than from Cuenca. Medellin has daily nonstops to Miami, while you'll need to connect (and possibly spend the night) in Guayaquil or Quito when traveling to and from Cuenca. This adds a day to the trip, as well as the cost of lodging and taxis. The expat community is far smaller in Medellin than in Cuenca. I can find expats in Medellin—at a local coffee shop or the Irish pub—if I look for them, and a couple of Americans are signed up at my gym. Otherwise, I don't see them around.In Cuenca, the expat community is big, estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 people. These folks are making a cultural imprint on the city. I'd say that impact is positive. Since the infusion of North Americans to this city, there's been an explosion in the number of nice cafes, restaurants, and book shops, as well as other expat-owned services and businesses. Today in Cuenca, you can find most anything you might be looking for and, normally, an English-speaker to deal with in the process.But whether an expat community of that size is a positive or a negative for you is a matter of choice. The cost of living is higher in El Poblado than in Cuenca, due in part to the exchange rates. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so dollar-holders don't feel the pinch of a weakening currency. Colombia has a strengthening Colombian peso. The basics in Medellin (food, entertainment, utilities, public transit, taxes, and HOA fees) cost me about US$1,850 per month. I believe in Cuenca the total cost would be about US$1,250 for the same lifestyle. Many people live for less than that in Cuenca, but I'm using an apples-to-apples comparison from my own experience.Bottom line, neither city is expensive, but Cuenca is definitely less expensive than Medellin. Which is the better retire-overseas choice?Impossible to say. Manhattan is not inherently better or worse than New Orleans, after all...but it's a lot different. And the same goes for Medellin and Cuenca.I see Ecuador as a cultural adventure where life is as different as you can get from the United States or Canada, short of moving to Asia. When I retired to Cuenca at age 49, I shunned places like Medellin, Chile, and Uruguay, because they were too much like the States. I wanted something as different, enriching, and exciting as I could get, and Cuenca fit the bill. Today, I think of Medellin as a way to reward myself. It's a treat to be here. Medellin is a way to enjoy perfect weather and an elegant lifestyle that I couldn't afford in the United States. When I bought my place in Medellin 10 years after I'd left the States, at the age of 59, it was exactly what I was looking for at that stage. I wanted an elegant, luxury lifestyle at an affordable price, and Medellin fit the bill. And that's the real reason that Medellin is now my "ideal retirement spot"...when it used to be Cuenca. You've heard a dozen times that the "perfect retirement location" is different for everyone. But there's more to it than that. Your "perfect spot" can also change with your taste, your age, and your experience living abroad. And that's really part of the fun.This living overseas thing is an adventure and a journey of discovery that need never stop.Lee HarrisonP.S. Could Cuenca, Ecuador, be your dream retirement destination? The only way to find out is to come see for yourself. We're preparing for the launch of our September Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Put your name on the list for VIP attendee perks and discounts here.
May 26, 2014
"Kathleen, excellent piece on the elections under way in Colombia. Having lived in Colombia in various cities as a Peace Corps volunteer and staff...married a beautiful Colombian and our son was born there...Colombia is my "patria chica" (homeland), as they say. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance in this beautiful country with the best Spanish spoken in the interior...the best in Latin America!"--Bob A., ColombiaNo presidential candidate received the required 50% or more of the vote in yesterday's elections in Colombia, meaning the two candidates who received the most votes (Zuluaga and Santos) will now compete in a runoff election to take place June 15. We'll keep you posted.
May 21, 2014
"Kathleen, really enjoyed your writing 'Confessions Of A Developing-World Developer' and applaud both you and Lief for having the vision to develop Los Islotes. "We purchased property there sight-unseen last year, and I visited with the group in January. During that visit, not only was I taken by the beauty of the area but connected with several other land owners. We have kept in touch, and I enjoy hearing of their plans and progress as we exchange emails and phone calls. "You spoke of the community you envision. I want to tell you that community is already happening as we land owners share our dreams and progress with each other. "We will be back out in January next year and hopefully have our timeline in place so we can begin a new phase in our life within Los Islotes. "Post more pictures as they are available so we can see all the exciting progress!" --Amy T., United States
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
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