11 Great Small Retirement Towns—Internationalliving.com

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For many retirees, living in a small town is the ideal—made attractive by the appeal of friendly neighbors, safe streets, the values of cooperation and simplicity—and in many places abroad, small-town life is still the norm. The editors at International Living have just released a list of 11 good-value, small-town communities around the world worth considering (plus 5 bonus secondary cities where neighborhoods offer a small-town vibe but there’s plenty of access to bigger city amenities).

Yal-Ku Lagoon Akumal Mexico

Yal-Ku Lagoon Akumal Mexico

"We love the small-town lifestyle. We didn’t move abroad to get stuck in traffic, fight crowds at stores and malls, or breath bad air."

“My wife and I have lived abroad since 2001, and most of that time has been spent in small towns,” says Dan Prescher, a senior editor with International Living.

“That was very intentional. We love the small-town lifestyle. We didn’t move abroad to get stuck in traffic, fight crowds at stores and malls, or breath bad air. We thrive in towns that we can walk across in 20 minutes, where we know the shopkeepers by name, where we can walk down the street at night without looking over our shoulders, where kids still played in the town square until bedtime. Those towns aren’t hard to find…they’re all over the world, and expats are living in them and loving them.

“For some folks, admittedly, a small town might feel too small. So we’ve also included on our International Living list a bonus handful of secondary cities our editors recommend, where a bigger footprint and population come with more cosmopolitan offerings, but where neighborhoods still provide a good measure of ‘small-town’ appeal.”

11 livable small towns, which offer a lifestyle reminiscent of a kinder, gentler time:

Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Despite a surge of growth, Tamarindo still offers that “place where everybody knows your name,” small-town vibe. Historically, this Pacific coastal town nestled along the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica’s northern Guanacaste region, was a quiet fishing town. Not until the 1970s did some curious surfers stumble upon this otherwise undiscovered beach town and recognize the incredible surf break that exists just offshore. Shortly after, in 1974, Coopeguanacaste (the electric cooperative servicing the Nicoya Peninsula) brought electricity to Tamarindo–while the arrival of landline phones was still far ahead, not arriving until 1996.

The hot, dry climate here offers sunshine nearly year-round in Tamarindo. A mix of locals, retirees, digital nomads, and surfers from around the world makes this an easy place to fit in. And it’s convenient. About 45 minutes away in Liberia is an international airport, which makes getting in and out easy, and lots of amenities—like a good hospital, fast food joints, and shopping (including Walmart). A couple can live comfortably in Tamarindo on a budget of $2,000-$3,000 a month.

Akumal, Mexico
Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya stretches from Cancun in the north, 80 miles south to Tulúm. Akumal (Mayan for Land of the Turtles) rests between Playa del Carmen and Tulúm. Famously known for its spectacular clear bay filled with sea turtles, Akumal has matured from a secretive dive destination to a growing tourist attraction and has become a relevant investment opportunity. The bay is a strong draw with easy access to the beach and nearby reef from several points. Akumal now attracts a growing number of day-trippers who come to dive and snorkel in the clear waters hoping to swim alongside some of the abundant and gentle sea turtles. New beach bars and restaurants seem to be popping up daily, making this an increasingly convenient place to live part- or full-time. And with Cancun nearby, it’s easy and affordable to get in and out. A couple can be comfortable here on a budget of $2,240 a month.

Nosara, Costa Rica
Nosara is an idyllic Pacific beach town located on the Nicoya Peninsula in northwestern Costa Rica. As the saying goes in Nosara: no shoes, no shirt, no problem—it’s a laidback place to live. The Nicoya Peninsula is one of only five Blue Zones in the world, and Nosara is included in this. As defined by National Geographic, a Blue Zone is a region of the world where people live much longer than average—these areas have more centenarians than anywhere else. Living longer here is attributed to natural eating habits, physical lifestyles, strong familial bonds, and good friendships. Yoga, meditation, and wellness centers are a huge part of the relaxed Blue Zone vibe here.

Nosara town has grocery stores, pharmacies, a post office, a police station, a clinic, and a small airport. As one of the last beach destinations in Costa Rica with unpaved roads leading to it, it has traditionally been kept a hidden gem as tourists tend to flock to the more accessible Gold Coast to the north. The local economy here offers well-paying jobs in the tourism and crafts industry and crime is almost non-existent. Nosara is also a perfect place for expats who want to escape the brutal winters of North America, with average tropical temperatures of 75 F to 90 F. A couple could live comfortably here for $3,775 a month.

Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas del Toro may well be the best-kept secret in the Caribbean, and that makes it a rare off-the-radar gem, indeed. Part-mainland and part-archipelago, Bocas is one of Panama’s two western-most provinces, right on the busy border with neighboring Costa Rica. It has hundreds of islands and smaller islets—bursting with lush rainforest growth—and many are completely uninhabited, making visitors feel like they have stepped back into prehistoric times. Others form part of the autonomous reserve lands of the Ngäbe-Buglé, one of Panama’s largest indigenous tribes. The myriad beaches of Bocas are quintessential Caribbean…turquoise waters and white sands, coconuts growing from a fringe of bright green palms.

Expats living here tend to be drawn to water activities like snorkeling and paddleboarding and very involved in island life. Many of them volunteer for local organizations or start charitable initiatives of their own. Much good has come of this growth, with the community working to protect the flora and fauna, find innovative uses for recyclable plastic, and more. Note that a lot of the land you’ll see advertised for sale in Bocas, however, is untitled or Right of Possession (ROP). For this reason, it’s best to rent here rather than buy…at least until you’re familiar with the landscape and well aware of the risks. A couple could live comfortably here from $1,095-$2,200 a month.

Placencia, Belize
Placencia is a charming little seaside town found at the tip of a peninsula off the coast of mainland Belize. It’s fast becoming Belize‘s most desirable location as it fronts the gorgeous Caribbean Sea to the east and a resplendent freshwater lagoon, full of wildlife and with a view of the gorgeous Maya mountain chain, to the west. The Placencia Peninsula, a 16-mile spit of land that parallels the mainland, offers scenery of vivid blue waters and pure white sandy beaches. Often referred to as the “caye you can drive to,” Placencia is equipped with the same beauty and activity of the other Belize islands at a more relaxed pace. The palm tree-lined beaches are nothing less than exquisite.

A couple can live well here, including rent for a two-bedroom apartment and utilities, for just $1,760 per month.

Ambergris Caye, Belize
Ambergris Caye is Belize’s most popular tourist and expat haven. It is commonly referred to as the “Isla Bonita,” this term of endearment becoming popular after 1987 when Madonna released a song about the island. Stunning turquoise seascapes surround this Caribbean island. Frothy white waves break on the offshore Mesoamerican barrier reef, a home to exotic, colorful sea creatures, coral, and sponges. If white sands and aquamarine waters are what you’re seeking on an island paradise, then look no further. Divers, snorkelers, fishermen, and sailors won’t be disappointed with Ambergris Caye.

Only one of three villages on the entire peninsula, Placencia is still largely seen as a vacation spot, but has all you would need to build a life, including supermarkets, brightly painted restaurants, a small domestic airport, and a medical clinic. A couple could live comfortably here for $1,760 a month.

Lagos, Portugal
Lagos in Portugal’s Algarve, is blessed with a year-round moderate climate, with average temperatures ranging from 52 F in winter to 75 F in the summertime, when the normal average population of 22,000 swells with visitors from Europe and elsewhere. While landlubbers enjoy golfing, tennis, horseback riding, and hiking, the ocean offers the best of conditions for kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, kite surfing, windsurfing and more in the area’s tourist-based economy. It’s easy to get around Lagos on foot.

Much of Lagos is fairly flat, especially around the lovely marina, which makes for easy walking. Though the town is built up into the hills, buses and taxis are readily available to help residents get around, and trains provide transport to other regions of the Algarve and even up to Lisbon and beyond. Lagos offers good shopping, lots of restaurants, and a well-established expat community. All these ingredients—a pleasant climate, natural surroundings, dining and party venues, and easily available transportation—make Lagos an ideal choice for retirement. And a couple could live comfortably here for $2,080 a month.

Nazaré, Portugal
Nazaré , situated along Portugal’s central Atlantic—the Silver Coast, as it’s called—enjoys a temperate climate, with highs reaching toward 85 F in summer, dipping to averages around 50 F in January, the coldest month. It might not suit those who are looking for year-round sun, but even in November, for example, rainfall averages only three-and-a-half inches compared to the five inches the capital, Lisbon, receives. Just 32 square miles in area, Nazaré is a livable place, especially with available bus and taxi service, although it’s delightful to explore on foot. There’s a local market in town as well as supermarkets, more than 100 restaurants and cafés, and other amenities. There’s already an established expat presence here, although the city is not overrun, as some more popular places in the Algarve are.

Known best for its big waves—some of the largest found anywhere in the world—it's a surfer’s haven (particularly from October through March). Perhaps the most attractive part of Nazaré is not Praia, the beach zone, but Sítio, the primarily residential area old town.

Perched high on a cliff above the coast and town, this suburb offers magnificent views and can be reached by walking (for hearty souls), driving, or taking the funicular from below.

There are small markets up here, as well as shops and stalls, a lovely square, a lighthouse, and a church which draws tourists. A couple could live comfortably in Nazaré for $1,845 a month.

Lucca, Italy
Sometimes overlooked by tourists to Tuscany, the ancient city of Lucca is well worth attention. It is strategically located less than an hour west of Florence and a half-an-hour east of Tuscany’s best beaches. This Tuscan city is special because it boasts not one, or two, but four circles of walls which are, in many cases, intact. Lucca is preserved without being sterile and visited without being trite.

Birthplace of Giacomo Puccini (La Bohéme, Madam Butterfly), Lucca hosts an Opera Festival in July/August. The annual Lucca Summer Festival held in the Piazza Napoleone has seen such artists as Eric Clapton, Elton John, Santana, Tracy Chapman, and more. And the town hosts Europe’s largest Comic Book and Gaming festival each October. With many restaurants and cafes, squares lined with bakeries and shops, it’s an easy place to live and a couple can enjoy a comfortable life in Tuscany for $1,800-$2,100 a month.

Canggu, Bali
Canggu, pronounced “changoo,” is a village located only 9 miles north of the more well-known party resort, Kuta. The western coastal stretch spans about 5 miles, running from Berawa beach to the village of Cemagi. It was once a hidden corner of the island, only known by a select few, but today is one of Bali’s up-and-coming hotspots. Driving into the region of Canggu evokes a country feel. The traffic thins, the crazed pace of the southern tourist areas is left behind and there’s a definite change to the urban sprawl. Fields of rice, banana plantations, and old-style warungs (small local eateries) line the roadsides. Local homes are dotted among the new villas and boutique hotels that are popping up. Despite the changing scenery, Canggu retains an undiscovered surfing town sort of feel.

As a potential retirement location, Canggu offers a laidback lifestyle, close enough to the bigger town amenities without the hustle and bustle. The international airport is only a one-hour drive away and popular Seminyak only 15 minutes. A couple could live comfortably here for $1,266 a month.

Langkawi, Malaysia
Langkawi is actually the name of a group of 99 islands. Pulau Langkawi is the largest island in the group and one of only a handful of the islands that is inhabited. This extraordinarily gorgeous hideaway in the Straits of Malacca is just a stone’s throw from Thailand, and many of its residents head to Thailand on the weekends for shopping or just for a break from island life. Sprinkled with tiny exotic seashells, the sands in Langkawi really are talcum powder white. On the horizon, jungle-clad limestone formations look like a scroll painting. The expats who live here like a quieter, slower pace of life, untroubled by traffic jams and the glitzy shopping malls of Penang and Kuala Lumpur. The majority of them run their own businesses such as boutique hotels and yacht charters. (One IL contributor makes beef jerky and exports it to Penang and Kuala Lumpur.)

Langkawi is a 90-minute flight from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, or a 40-minute flight from Penang. Alternatively, you can come via ferry (30 minutes from the mainland or a little over two hours from Penang Island, which now allows cars). The cost of living here is incredibly good-value with a couple living comfortably for as little as $900 a month.

BONUS: 5 secondary cities with friendly neighborhoods that offer that small-town feel but provide more amenities and options:

Cozumel, Mexico
Just 12 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen, along Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya, Cozumel is a well-established, world class vacation destination. Especially known for its warm, tropical water, snorkelers and scuba divers from across the globe enjoy exploring the island’s reef, teeming with aquatic life. At 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, Cozumel is just the right size to get around on a bicycle or motor scooter, but taxis are abundant too. The island’s largest town is San Miguel. With some 100,000 permanent residents, San Miguel is a lively tourist town. With hundreds of small gift stores, restaurants, night clubs, and bars attending to millions of tourists each year, San Miguel serves its purpose flawlessly.

In addition to unlimited water-born recreational opportunities such as boating, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and kayaking, Cozumel also provides modern infrastructure with a stable electrical grid and high-speed internet. A couple could live comfortably here from $1,890 a month.

Lecce, Italy
Lecce, the grand dame of Puglia in Italy’s “heel,” is a dazzling city all dolled up in baroque embellishments. The buildings of the city are built in local limestone, lathered with joyous ornate carvings and adornments done with such exuberance that it gives the place a sense of gaiety. Lecce is extravagant, even flamboyant. It is the cultural capital of Puglia, with so many monuments, churches, palaces, and museums that it has been given the nickname, “The Florence of the South.” With its elegant city center and vibrant feel, it’s impossible not to love Lecce. This city serves up an exotic blend of Greek, Byzantine, and European elements, all soaked in sunshine and topped with genuine hospitality.

Museums by the dozen provide cultural and historical displays, especially great on those rainy days, while schools and associations offer classes from Italian language, cookery, and even wine making or craft beer. Lecce has plentiful restaurants serving locally-grown produce and fresh seafood, prepared in ways that burst with flavor. Puglia is known among Italians for its quality cuisine and wines, as well as its good olive oil. A couple could live comfortably here for $1,398 a month.

Cordoba, Spain
Located halfway between Seville and Granada, Cordoba is a stunningly attractive city in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. Many visitors are surprised to learn that back in the 10th Century, Cordoba was the largest city in Western Europe, surpassing Rome and Paris in artistic, architectural, and academic achievements. Being away from the coast, Cordoba doesn’t get the same level of attention from potential expats as hotspots like Valencia, Barcelona, Alicante, and Marbella—but it has a lot to offer visitors and longer-term residents: an endearing medieval atmosphere, superb gastronomic adventures, impressive art, friendly, family-oriented locals, and a traditional Spanish lifestyle that oozes relaxed charm. All the major sights and attractions are reachable on foot. Strolling the cobblestoned streets —especially in the evenings—is a way of life for Cordoba locals, who can often be seen eating dinner in the city at 11 p.m. —after the tourists have all gone home to bed.

Cordoba makes a handy base for exploring other parts of Spain. It’s less than two hours from Madrid by high-speed (AVE) train and just over an hour from Malaga and the legendary Costa del Sol. Seville is an hour and forty minutes away by car. The nearest international airports are at Granada, Seville, Jerez, and Malaga—all less than three hours away. A couple could live comfortably here for just over $2,000 a month.

Santa Marta, Colombia
Pressed between the Caribbean Sea and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain lies Santa Marta, Colombia—South America’s oldest surviving city. With a population of 500,000 residents, Santa Marta is half the size of the more well-known city of Cartagena. But Santa Marta is quickly becoming a sought-after destination for both tourists and retirees. A few blocks between the beach and the historic district is Parque de los Novios (Lover’s Park), the heart of Santa Marta’s entertainment area. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and bakeries surround the plaza. But Santa Marta has more than just beachside living. Some of the more popular cultural events are the International Theatre Festival held in September, the Sea Festival and beauty pageant held in July, and the Cumbia folklore dance presentations that happen all year long.

Banks, pharmacies, grocery store chains, air-conditioned shopping malls, medical care, and beauty shops are scattered around the city and easy to get to either by walking or via public bus system or taxi. For a retirement that includes staying active, eating well, enjoying cultural events, and soaking up natural beauty, Santa Marta is ideal. Lots of folks walk and ride bikes around the city’s flat streets and spend time in the area’s eco-parks for the fresh air and the scenery. Fresh seafood, caught right off the beaches, is a staple of coastal living. Buy it directly from the fishermen off the dock, or in any of the mercados (markets) and bring it home to whip up a quick, healthy meal. A couple could live comfortably here for $1,190-$1,790 a month.

Cascais, Portugal
Cascais—on the coast 20 miles west of Lisbon—has not forgotten its origins as a fishing village. Seasoned fisherman still leave from shore in the early morning, returning with their catch of sardines, crabs, mussels, robalo, dorado, and octopus. At lunchtime, the men share stories as they sit at long wooden tables on the dock, enjoying local wines and simmering fish soup ladled from huge stockpots.It’s not only the arresting beauty of the bay that charms locals and visitors alike. Cascais is known for its manicured parks, shops offering traditional items like pottery and lace, and upscale clothing boutiques like Max Mara and Hugo Boss. A multitude of restaurants and cafés provide outdoor seating, and culture thrives here as well, at locations like the Paula Rego House of Stories and other museums.

The town is blessed with a year-round moderate climate, with temperatures ranging from 55 F to 77 F. Golfing is nearby, and favorable sun and wind conditions make sailing, kite surfing, and windsurfing—in addition to traditional surfing—popular activities in this region whose economy hinges on tourism. Cascais is one of wealthiest municipalities in all of Portugal but, fortunately, that does not translate to “too expensive.” On the contrary, what it means is, the city is marvelously maintained. Streets are spotless. Red, yellow, and purple blooms burst from streetlamp baskets, and roundabouts are decorated with intricately designed flower arrangements. A couple could live comfortably here from $2,465 a month.

Much more information on these destinations, including housing and cost of living details and interviews with expats who live there, is available at the links provided for each town.

Editor's Note: Members of the media have permission to republish the article linked above once credit is given to Internationalliving.com.

Further information, as well as interviews with expert authors for radio, TV or print, is available on request. Photos are also available.

For information about InternationalLiving.com content republishing, source material or to book an interview with one of our experts, contact PR Managing Editor, Marita Kelly, +001 667 312 3532, mkelly@internationalliving.com.

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About International Living
Since 1979, Internationaliving.com has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities. Through its monthly magazine and related e-letters, extensive website, podcasts, online bookstore, and events held around the world, InternationalLiving.com provides information and services to help its readers live better, travel farther, have more fun, save more money, and find better business opportunities when they expand their world beyond their own shores. InternationalLiving.com has more than 200 correspondents traveling the globe, investigating the best opportunities for travel, retirement, real estate, and investment.

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