Cuenca V. Granada—Two Of The World’s Cheapest (And Best) Places To Retire Overseas Compared
Earlier this month I explained that this New Year 2012 we’ll be investing a lot of virtual ink in the direct comparisons of the world’s top retirement, living, and investment locations, each to the others, in an effort to help you work through and understand your best options in the context of your own circumstances.
That same evening, I got an e-mail from Latin America Correspondent Lee Harrison, offering to compare two of his favorite cities, both on our 2012 list of world’s best “super-cheap” retirement choices: Cuenca, Ecuador, and Granada, Nicaragua.
Lee is a big fan of both cities and recommends both highly…but for different reasons.
I’ll let Lee take it from here:
“Comparing different retirement or investment destinations head-to-head is not only necessary, but fun and interesting, as well. It’s the key to narrowing down your preferences among all of the world’s choices. Both seasoned overseas buyers and novices benefit from this exercise.
“When I looked over our recently published top picks for 2012, two cities jumped out at me immediately from the Super Cheap category: Cuenca, Ecuador, and Granada, Nicaragua.
“I lived in Cuenca for years, own property in Granada, and have been to both of these cities in the past year. Throughout my visits to each, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons. These cities line up naturally with one another, so, when comparing them, it’s easiest to begin by looking at their similarities.
“Both Cuenca and Granada are beautiful and authentic Spanish-colonial cities, founded in the 1500s. In both cases the cost of living is about as low as you’ll find anywhere. You can get by frugally on less than US$1,000 per month or live a comfortable lifestyle by North American standards for around US$1,500 a month or so.
“Real estate in both cities is well under the magic US$1,000 per square meter mark (US$93 per square foot), putting both these cities in ‘bargain basement’ territory. Transaction costs in both are low, as well.
“Both cities are in Third World countries, with all of the attendant institutional inefficiencies, corruption, and less-than-perfect infrastructure maintenance. But they also have low levels of government intrusion, low taxes, and few rules and regulations.
“Both Cuenca and Granada are home to sizeable, thriving expat communities of North Americans. There are far more expats in Cuenca than in smaller Granada, but I’d guess that the ratio of expats to locals is about the same in both places.
“Access to the United States is not bad from either city. Cuenca has a convenient international airport right in town, but virtually all flights to the United States connect through Quito or Guayaquil. Both these cities offer good connections to U.S. hubs, and flight time to Miami is just under four hours.
“Granada is served by the Managua airport, about one hour away, which also has good U.S. connections. Flight time from Managua to Miami is about two hours.
“Finally, residency is easy to establish in both countries, with low income and investment requirements.
“But that’s where the similarities end.
“Cuenca is a large city of more than 400,000 people; more than four times the size of Granada. So Cuenca has the edge for big-city amenities, like theater, nightlife, and restaurants. It also has a new, upscale shopping mall and lots of modern health care facilities.
“Granada, by comparison, has more of a small-town, close-knit feel, where everyone seems to know everyone.
“Cuenca is located high in the Andes, at 8,200 feet above sea level (2,500 meters). So it offers spring-like weather, with highs rarely above the mid-70s and little seasonal variation. In five years of living in Cuenca, I can recall seeing 90° only once…and that spike broke a long-standing record. Granada, on the other hand, is warm all the time, with highs in the 80s to low 90s year-round.
“Granada is on the shores of one of the world’s largest lakes, meaning swimming and boating opportunities close at hand. You can even purchase your own private lake island. Nicaragua’s Pacific beaches are less than two hours away.
“In Cuenca, the nearest beaches are almost three hours away, in Machala, and the nearest nice beach is over four hours away in Playas or Salinas.
“Shopping for real estate is a pleasure in both Cuenca and Granada, with lots of terrific homes available at reasonable prices. However, in my experience, each has its strengths when it comes to real estate.
“Granada is best for its amazing inventory of low-cost Spanish colonial homes. Their center courtyards are typically open-air and often contain swimming pools, something very unusual in Latin America. Also, the colonials in Granada tend to be fairly small, so they’re great for one or two people, or a small family. To me, there’s no better place to shop for this type of property.
“Cuenca has colonials, too, but they tend to be larger and expensive. Many are old homes for large families, 700 square meters or more…a lot for a retired single or couple to take on. On the other hand, Cuenca excels with its newer construction, offering a huge selection of modern condos at reasonable prices. So you can enjoy the Old World character of the historic center but live in a modern house or condo in First World comfort as near as a few blocks away.
“Comparing Cuenca and Granada, there’s really no winner, as is the case with many city-pairs. The key is to understand your own priorities.
“I’d favor Granada to enjoy a traditional Spanish colonial home, in a smaller town with warm weather. I’d head to Cuenca for big-city amenities, cool, spring-like weather, and hundreds of modern housing choices.
“Either way, you’re enjoying one of the finest colonial cities that Spanish America has to offer.”
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