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5 Great Places to Retire in Central America

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Central America is an increasingly popular retirement destination. Retirees love it's proximity to the United States, lower cost of living, beautiful cities, amazing beaches, healthy lifestyle and friendly people.

Retiring Abroad - 5 Great Places to Retire in Central America

We don't claim to know the best places to retire as each individual has their own dream of where and how to retire. Some like cooler temperatures with some hustle and bustle while others prefer a low-key beach lifestyle. If you have found a great retirement destination in Central America, please submit it in the comments section below. Tell us about cost of living, climate, expat community (or not), attractions, crime, access to quality health care and why you love living there.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a great example of colonial architecture. "I recommend Antigua or one of the surrounding towns - it's more expensive, but you get what you pay for! Plus, Guatemala City is only an hour away when you feel the need to go to the mall or take your kid to the zoo," advised one expat.

"Outside of the touristy areas of Antigua it is truly authentic Guatemala. The villages surrounding Antigua offer you a genuine experience and you can reach these areas by foot or tuk tuk. If you want to live like a local and immerse yourself in Guatemalan culture, you can simply live on the outskirts of Antigua. When you have an urge to experience a cosmopolitan and international vibe you can walk right into town and dine at any of the 150+ restaurants serving a variety of ethnic cuisines from cheap to expensive and meet up with friends and neighbors from all over the world. There are 4 sushi restaurants and many high end bistros along with dozens of tipico food vendors to give you an idea of the vast selection of dining options. There are many art galleries, museums, cafes, bars and night clubs plus plenty of shopping at the mercado. You can go everywhere in Antigua by foot. When you get tired of that scene you can go back home to your authentic Guatemalan village away from the touristy area. The weather in Antigua is eternal spring with an average mean temperature of exactly room temperature, i.e. perfect. If you have a medical emergency that requires advanced treatment, Guatemala City is only 45 minutes away. Best of all you can rent a place just outside of town for cheaper than in town so living away from the touristy area works in your favor," explained another expat.

"These are AVERAGE prices, add 10 to 25% more or less depending on your taste. 2-bedroom modern apartment with living room and kitchen in a secure area for 2,000 Quetzales or US $250. US $36 dollars a month for internet access with limited downloading. Transportation in a tuk-tuk or 3-wheeled vehicle for US $2 a trip. Groceries: whole cooked chicken about US $7, vegetables and fruits local for half price of current North American prices," said one expat in Antigua, Guatemala.

Related Links:

UNESCO World Heritage Centre's Information about Antigua, Guatemala
Moon Travel Guide's Information about Antigua, Guatemala

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Although pricey, many expats enjoy retired life in Ambergris Caye. In her book, Moon Living Abroad in Belize, Victoria Day-Wilson describes Ambergris Caye, "25 miles long and its width varies from as narrow as a few hundred feet to as wide as 4 miles. The main town on the island, San Pedro, is about 1.5 miles long and 1 mile wide. A sandy beach lies along the ocean side of the island and mangroves stretch along the mainland side. Boca del Rio (Mouth of the River), which lies just before the channel that cuts the island in two. In 2006 a bridge was built to cross the divide, but prior to that a ferry was used. The northern part of the island is more sparsely populated, but closer to the bridge are several condo developments and expat residences, as well as resorts. In the far north, known as Basil Jones, lies the Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve. To the south of San Pedro lies San Pablo, also a popular area for resorts and homes. There are various supermarkets on Ambergris Caye. It pays to shop around and find the best deals, as some are more expensive than others. On the whole, everything on the island is more expensive due to logistics and tourism: Items cost an extra 25–60 percent more than on the mainland. There is a wide selection if you're willing to pay the price. Supermarkets range from enormous, gleaming stores with rows of goods to traditional, smaller, Belizean-type stores, usually run by Lebanese, East Indians, or Chinese. There are several banks, a post office, and a variety of cafés, bars, and restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes. Some of the venues are part of resorts or hotels. There are some interesting shops, including art and jewelry shops, which sell a variety of Belizean items. The artists and jewelers are a mix of expats and locals who live on the island. There are rental golf cart and bicycle services, an airstrip, and water taxis. The climate in the cayes is mild, like the rest of Belize, with average temperatures as high as 88°F in March–October and as low as 66°F in November–February."

"It has always impressed me that in Belize there is so much diversity, but in general people get along so well. I have never felt that I am resented as an expat. But it is very important to treat people here with respect. Those visitors and expats who don't treat Belizeans with respect can have a different experience," advised an expat in Amgergris Caye.

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro is a province on the Caribbean side of Panama. The Bocas del Toro Archipelago is a group of six islands that are popular with tourists, but also great for expat retirees. "Our housing costs are about a third of what we spend in the US. You can get a nice simple apartment for 300 and up or a home for 500 and up. We live on an island so you are never far from the ocean," said one expat in Bocas del Toro. To meet people, one expat recommended, "besides the bars and restaurants, there are fitness classes, Spanish classes, dive lessons, Catamaran tours, Live music venues, the beaches, volunteer opportunities and just meeting people walking down the street."

Related Links:

Lonely Planet Bocas del Toro
Trip Advisor Bocas del Toro

Granada, Nicaragua

"Live like a Nica on $500 a month or buy your expansive colonial home and entertain lavishly. We find we can live on around $1500 a month but emergencies do happen and that does not include flights back home. The world is different now with many things being fairly expensive now like gas, flights overseas, rising food costs, etc. We do have concerns on the falling dollar. One of the most modern hospitals in Central America is 45 minutes away. We do not have health insurance which will shock many people but the USA is one of very few countries without universal health care. We love our doctor who we feel is better than any doctor we have had in the states. He speaks English and we trust him completely. The office visit is $15. Medical costs are low enough to pay as you go. Our prescriptions are less than the co-pay amount was in the states. How can that be? They are the same drugs. The expat commmunity is just starting to formalize groups and organizations though many expats work with the various non-profits to help Nicaragua and its people. Here in Granada we have Amigos de la Policia (to improve the rapport with the local police), Care Granada (works with city and mayor for improvement projects), Calzada Centro de Arte (people learn to paint or paint with other artists), Book Club (the usual monthly group to discuss books) and monthly luncheons to just get together." explained one retired expat in Granada.

Related Links:

Nicaragua Guide - The Nicas Sagas
Granada, Nicaragua Website

La Ceiba, Honduras

"La Ceiba, Honduras has the beach, mountains, rivers, islands and so much to please the eye never mind La Ceiba has everything you will ever need in a rustic becoming modern city on The Caribbean Coast of La Ceiba Honduras. Average temps about 82 fretted is an added advantage. The islands and international travel are easy with The Goloson international airport only minutes from La Ceiba Beach Club where you can find beach homes and bungalows for rent and for sale in a quiet tropical location. There's modern malls and hospitals along with American quality restaurants only 10-12 minutes away. Healthcare is only pennies vs The USA. You own your property here receiving fully registered title. Expats are very much welcomed by locals. You can live a simple life for as little as $600.00 USD per month. Why not check it out for yourself and see why so many Americans Ns Canadians are investing and retiring in this small country in Central America," described one member in La Ceiba.

Another expat in La Ceiba did warn those contemplating retirement there, "This is a city in a third world country, don't consider moving here until you can accept the many differences in lifestyle from a developed country like the US. Many of the everyday services that you have don't exist here. The pace is much slower, service in many businesses is poor or non-existent and you will only increase your own blood pressure trying to demand better service. Utilities that you expect to receive are sometimes non-existent or of poor quality, so make sure if you rent or buy that these are already in place, promises to install them in most cases will only lead to your frustration. You can live very well here on much less than you can imagine, and this is an ideal location for retirees on limited budgets and its relatively easy to obtain a resident Visa. Explore the area and have or learn basic conversational Spanish before making a final decision to live here."

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Comments about this Article

Apr 8, 2013 10:00

I just checked on line and the cheapest place I could find was 1400 US dollars a month...I think that article need s to be revised........

Apr 8, 2013 16:25

The State of Quintana Roo in Mexico borders Guatemala (southwest) and Belize(southeast). This state even though in Mexico feels more like the Caribbean. Climate : hot with temperatures reaching the 80s Farenheit but with excellent access to the beaches. Cost of living : 250 dollars for a furnished one-bedroom apt with air-conditioning(a necessity during the day) right in the city of Chetumal, the capital city., taxi fare 1.50 - 1.75 U.S. Healthcare : plenty of polyclinics and dental offices . Get a porcelain dental crown for only 150 dollars; Expat community : not yet visible in Chetumal but Chetumal middle class is accommodating to foreigners. Attractions: Museum of the Mayan culture, the Bay of 2-mile long for seaside walk in the evening with plenty of bars and restaurants and live music. Why I love Chetumal : less touristy compared to Cancun, low cost of living, clean city streets,

Apr 17, 2013 11:28

Playa San Diego, El Salvador, I bought a 'Rancho' here, just off the beach, 2 1/2 yrs ago & love it. 6 months of summer (dry season Nov-Apr) with temps in low 90's low humidity, 6 months winter (rainy season May-Oct) a couple hrs rain in the afternoon or night with temps around 90. Costs including maid, caretaker & pool maintenance $600/mo Free clinic in town so health insurance not required, car insurance not necessary nor is a car with the excellent chicken bus service (25 cents to La Libertad). Very small expat community that I tend to stay from due to the drama :( Downtown San Salvador 1 hr away but most everything can be purchased in La Libertad. Residency a bitch to get for Canadians (tit for tat for Canada's treatment of Salvadorans), still working on it. Best of all, in my area NO property taxes as we do not have garbage service which is no biggie.

Apr 19, 2013 14:25

Altos del Maria Panama

Apr 23, 2013 01:20

I read articles extolling the virtues of Panama and got the chance to spend 2 weeks there in March. In all, I enjoyed the experience, but felt the country was more expensive than I believed it to be. Gasoline was running $4.19 per gallon for unleaded and up to $4. 59 for premium unleaded. Food in Panama City was basically the same as in Los Angeles and the cost of housing was still rather high. We traveled to Coronado and wanted to hang out at the beach, but the reality is that many of these ex-pat communities separate themselves from the surrounding communities with gates, and guards. If I had not read about the Picasso restaurant and bar, i would have likely been denied access into Coronado beach area. Once in the community, most of the beach areas were part of the condo, hotel or resort properties. One would be hard pressed to find a "public" beach. We went on to spend several days at Playa La Barqueta, outside of David and again, it seemed there is no "public" beach areas in Panama. We stayed at Las Olas Beach resort, which was great, but it seemed that you had to be a guest of the hotel to use the beach. We spent 4 days in Boquete and while it was a great mountain town, I found it rather expensive for my expectations of Panama. Nice 3 bedroom homes with 2 baths and maybe 1800 square feet were selling for $300K and up. All in all, Panama is a fine country, definitely worth a visit and possibly a great place to start a business, but not a cheap as one would expect. The Panamanian people are great and go out of their way to help. We also met a number of American and Canadian expats in the David area, who had come over from Costa Rica to see if the living was cheaper in Panama. And in comparison, all said it was! And also that Costa Rica is now revoking retiree incentives for Americans and Canadians.

Jun 4, 2013 12:17

We are considering retiring in La Paz, Baja Sur California, Mexico. Anxious to get more first-hand information and hope this Exchange has some members in Baja.

Jan 20, 2014 15:00

I would like more real up to date info on the cost of living in Belize? Cost of rent 2 or 3 bdrm Cost of Food Cost of Dining out That all important Maid

Jul 10, 2015 18:16

When I'm 60, which is about 21/2 years from now I'll retire on $3000.00 a month. I definitely want to leave the US but don't know where to exactly retire. I'm retired from the military so I've traveled extensively. Considered the Philippines and Central America. I'm single with no children and I'm a non smoker-drinker. I'm open minded on different places.

Jul 2, 2016 12:00

It would be very nice if these articles were dated and even updated at times - who knows what the $250 rent is in today's terms and when was this written?

Jan 25, 2017 19:25

I've lived in Granada, Nicaragua for a year back in 2001. It's a beautiful town architecturally. People are wonderful. Spectacular Nature. Caveat: One still needs to be smart & careful at night. (like in any city) Boco del Toro in Panama is extremely dangerous for expats now because the locals are angry that the waterfront is owned by foreigners. There have been murders of young women as well.

Nov 8, 2017 12:30

Area surrounding Antigua, Guatemala, or mountain towns in Honduras, above 3400 feet. Weather is great and it's coffee country. Lots of cheap fresh produce. Laid-back living.

First Published: Apr 03, 2013

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