New correspondent Michael Paladin spent 10 years searching for Paradise. Finally, he settled in Antigua, Guatemala. As he explains:
“I considered Havana, Granada, Merida… Those places are great, but they’re not Antigua.
“I value old buildings, good infrastructure, access to a decent airport, great restaurants, and bookstores. Antigua has all those things, plus movies, concerts, salsa halls…and a wider assortment of restaurants than Sausalito or San Jose.
“I’m 40 minutes from a new airport via a four-lane freeway. If I need anything from Radio Shack or such, it’s in Guatemala City, population some three-million and counting.
“The architecture? Antigua was the original Spanish capital of the region, which, at the time, in the early 1600s, encompassed Honduras, part of Mexico, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. A series of devastating earthquakes in the early 1700s convinced the inhabitants to move the capital over the hill to Guatemala City, but a few hardy souls camped out (squatted) in the ruins of the 20-plus missions, convents, and government buildings, and, over time, the place resurrected itself.
“Today, Antigua is some 30,000 people living in a UNESCO-designated and -protected architectural masterpiece that is a tourist magnet for thousands of international visitors each year. The elite of Guatemala City live here or visit on the weekends, wandering down the cobblestone streets and admiring the chic jewelry and clothing stores. Mayan ladies offer their weavings, and horse-drawn carriages clatter down the stone streets. The city is protected by roving groups of Tourist Police, who are actually helpful. The living is easy…
“A few weeks ago, I looked at houses for rent. As a single person, I didn’t need a furnished three-bedroom place with a maid, a gardener, and parking. A place like that goes for US$850 a month.
“Instead, I settled on the first place I’d seen. In Antigua, there is a three-story height limit. I found a small one-bedroom third-story penthouse with panoramic views, quiet and clean, for US$350 a month. I have excellent Internet access, and I’m within walking distance of everything.
“Living downtown, you don’t need a car, and, in some ways, a car here is a liability. Parking is difficult after 9 a.m. There just aren’t enough spaces. Besides, this is a great walking town. Everywhere you go, you’re greeted by friendly faces, and everyone you pass wishes you ‘Buenos Dias.’ There are gourmet delis and, again, superb dining choices. The hotels are old converted private mansions or ex-monasteries, with good prices and excellent service.
“The weather? As with San Jose, Costa Rica, we’re at 4,500 feet, nestled in a wooded green valley surrounded by four volcanoes, one of which, Volcan Fuego, goes off regularly in the mornings. I watch it as I sit outside on the patio having my coffee. Nothing serious, just a few puffs of smoke rising in the clear blue sky. In all fairness, the village at the bottom of Fuego sees boulders and gravel from time to time, rumbling/tumbling down the mountainside, as a result of these regular outbursts.
“The locals call their home the Land of Eternal Spring. That sums it up for me. You need neither air conditioning nor heat. You can keep your windows open all the time; there’s no insect problem to speak of. Neither is there any humidity, and the afternoon breezes keep the midday sun from ever being too hot.
“Yes, there is a Burger King, a McDonalds, and a Subway, but they’re installed in converted antique casas. You only know a hamburger joint is hidden inside by the small sign on the exterior.
“Food is reasonably priced and fresh. A bottle of Stolichnaya is US$9. There is a department store that offers everything from refrigerators to rigatoni.
“What’s the catch? Well, yes, there are some. Parking, as I said, is a problem, and gasoline is as expensive as in the U.S. The streets are all cobblestone, so you need sturdy shoes and a flashlight if you walk around at night to avoid the uneven surfaces.
“And, yes, this is Latin America. Nothing ever gets done on time or exactly as promised. Take a deep breath and relax. Tomorrow is another day, and it will be as good as this one…”
P.S. Michael searched for 10 years before finding the overseas haven with his name on it. Don’t worry. We’re not suggesting you make your own search for Shangri-la a decade-long avocation. In fact, we’re committed to getting you on the fast track to your new life overseas.
To that end, as you read this, our editors around the globe are preparing editorial calendars, scheduling scouting missions, and laboring late into the night to meet copy deadlines. When you’re ready to make the move, you need more than we can provide in these dispatches…and more than you can come by surfing the Net. You need someone who knows what he (or she) is talking about to take you by the hand and walk you through the process of considering one place over another…comparing and contrasting…identifying pluses and minuses…advantages and pitfalls…
I don’t know where in the world you should retire. But I do know that my superstar team of editors, expats all themselves, can help you sift through the mountain of information circulating about where and how to live in retirement overseas…and help you land where you belong.
You could travel around the world in search of paradise…and that might be fun…but it’d also be time-consuming and costly. Why invest a decade searching for the right place to start your new life…when you could spend all those 10 years living it?
How do you get from here to there as quick as possible? That’s the objective of our new Overseas Retirement Letter. Editor-in-chief Lynn Mulvihill is putting the first issue to bed. Details soon on how you can get your hands on it.
More from new correspondent Michael Paladin:
“I read your Nicaragua article the other day, and it reflects my recent personal experience. The market in that country has been hit hard by the ripple effect from North America. Same in Costa Rica. All those gringos who bought second homes with their equity and 401(k)s are feeling the pressure to sell, dump, and get out from under.
“Antigua, Guatemala, though, seems to be recession-proof, mostly because its buyers are not North Americans but Guatematecos and Europeans.”
“I could not agree with you more about Merida,” writes correspondent Lucy Culpepper. “We spent a very unhappy month in Progreso to the north of Merida on the Yucatan coast. We rented a house for a month, thinking that we might settle in the area and put our children in a school in Merida.
“It was all based on what we had read, not any experience. Everything was wrong for us: the climate (very hot and humid), the topography (totally flat and boring), and the squalor/poverty. We kept asking ourselves, ‘Why do so many people come to retire here?’
“The only answer I have is, each to his own.
“Luckily, there are plenty of places around the world to choose from, or else we would all be settling in the same spot. My advice definitely follows yours, Kathleen: Rent a place for a month or so before you make a long-term commitment. In the Yucatan, there are plenty of long-term rentals.
“I can strongly recommend an apartment rental in Progreso owned by a Canadian couple: https://www.vacationrentals.com/. And there is a straightforward, frequent, and inexpensive (about $2 per person round trip) bus service from Progresso to Merida.
“Our rental didn’t have a pool (big mistake). The owners of Oasis Del Mar (the link above) invited us to use their pool, which was a godsend with two children; it was extremely hot in May, and a particularly nasty ‘red tide’ kept us out of the sea.
“We have a motto as a result of our Yucatan experience: Try, try, try before you buy!”