Retirement destination: Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala is a small colonial town nestled between three volcanoes, one of them still active, 25 miles from Guatemala City. Its mild climate, beautiful town center (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and laid-back atmosphere make it a perfect destination to live year round.

Being so close to Guatemala City and its international airport, Antigua Guatemala is a 4 hour flight away from most US cities. Flights can be as cheap as $200 round trip, with low cost airline Spirit, flying to Miami, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas or Washington DC.

Many people are afraid of living in Guatemala for safety reasons. The truth is, it is not so bad, and Antigua is a pretty safe town. As long as you dress simply, do not attract attention by flashing your smartphone or expensive camera around, and avoid walking alone at night, you should be just fine. I have lived in Antigua for three years and met many expats who did not have anything to report.

Antigua Guatemala has a population of 35000, and what I like most about it is that you can walk everywhere, feeling like you live in a village, yet it has all the conveniences of a big town, due to a great amount of foreign residents and visitors. You can find a supermarket stocked with wine, cheese and foreign grocery brands, a hospital, and even bilingual schools. And in half an hour, you can reach Guatemala City should you need anything else.

Antigua Guatemala is one of the most expensive places to live in Guatemala. Nevertheless, it is still very affordable by North American standards. You can rent a small, two bedroom house or condo for $800 in the casco, the colonial center of town, fully furnished with tasteful colonial details and all bills included but electricity. I personally rented a one bed house overlooking the volcanoes for $600, complete with fireplace and roof terrace. The rent included a landscaping service, monthly deep cleaning of the house and wireless internet. Everything was provided, with a well equipped kitchen, washer, and dryer. My neighbors were American expats who spent the winter there every year.

On top of your rent, you will have to budget for food, about $200 per month for two should you wish to cook at home. Small restaurants in the center serve lunch for $2 or $3 and can be a good option if you prefer to go without a maid. Maids cost $200 per month for five days of work per week, a bit more if you require that they live in and work six days a week.

As Antigua Guatemala is a pretty small town, you can walk everywhere, or hop in a tuk tuk, a colorful motorized tricycle that will take you anywhere in town for $2. Car rentals start at $25 per day for your weekend excursions. And there is a lot to see! From Antigua, the Pacific coast (a swordfish fishing mecca) is one hour away, the stunning volcanic lake Atitlán two hours away, and the Caribbean four hours away.

There is a lot to do in and around Antigua as well. A vibrant art scene, lots of small cafes with beautiful colonial patios, several museums and cultural center always programming festivals and events… And around Antigua, many small villages are still very traditional. Typical costumes are beautiful, and each town is a show by itself on market days. You can visit coffee, macadamia and avocado farms, hike a volcano, or immerse yourself in the hot waters of thermal baths in less than half an hour around Antigua.

You do not have to speak Spanish to live in Antigua Guatemala. Most locals are used to dealing with tourists and expats, and will speak a very basic English. But if you visit other areas of Guatemala, you will have a hard time. In Antigua, Spanish schools abound, and you can learn Spanish for as low as $150 per week, with a private tutor for 20 hours.

Should you need health care, most doctors will speak a little bit of English, or you can visit a doctor in the capital city, where most of them have studied medicine in the US and the level of care is excellent. Guatemala is a great destination to get dental care or simple but expensive procedures. The costs are about half what you would pay in the US, for the most expensive practices.

For general information about taxes, setting up a bank account and immigration law, please refer to the general article about Guatemala.

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