Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rent in This Vibrant, Colonial Town From $350 a Month


Rent in This Vibrant, Colonial Town From $350 a Month
By Kirsten Raccuia
From the air as your plane descends, you see banana trees of every shade of green stretching as far as the eye can see, flanked by cobalt-blue waters dotted with fishing boats.
Lots of foreigners have landed before me in this quaint ocean-side town of about 120,000 locals and 4,500 expats. It's famed for its energy and vibrance, thanks to seven universities and colleges. But the biggest draw for expats is a seriously affordable cost of living.
In the local language, the name of the town means "to snatch." Legend has it that pirates used to raid the area and abscond not just with the treasures of the land, but also with all the beautiful, unwed ladies.
Thankfully, there are no more pirates today, but that doesn't mean this place has lost its Old World feel. In some ways it still feels like a Spanish town, with its wide, tree-lined promenade, old churches, and bell tower. You'll find old colonial-era buildings around town, too.
Of course, a lot has changed since the Spanish ruled here. Not the weather, though. This has always been a tropical island; summer highs average around 91 F, and even in winter temperatures rarely fall below 73 F.
It's an easy town to explore by foot; there's no need for a car or scooter. But you can hail a tricycle, or scooter with a sidecar, to take you around for a nominal fee—you can negotiate, but it never costs more than a few dollars.
At the heart of town is a wide, waterfront promenade and beautiful old trees arching toward the ocean. The old, white lampposts light it up at night, perfect for a stroll along the water or to just sit and watch the boats come in. It's the kind of place where you mosey, you meander, but you don't hurry. There is just no need.
Many expats meet in the restaurants and bars along the boulevard. It's the best place to take advantage of the cool ocean breezes. This is where you'll find some of the town's best restaurants for local and international food. For example, if you feel like Mexican food, there's a place that serves tacos and burritos from $2.50 to $3.90 a plate, and a local beer will cost about 90 cents.
This town also has a bustling public market with over 900 stalls. You can find anything here. All the locals, as well as most expats, shop here. It's the center of life for shopping and daily socializing. You can get your hair cut at the barber for 90 cents or get an old-fashioned shave with a straight razor for 78 cents.
After getting your manicure, pedicure, and your hair colored, you can go shopping at the very next stall to get your garlic for dinner for less than $1 a pound. If you are looking for fresh, local fruits and vegetables, there is no better place to buy them than at this market. There are so many competing vendors that you can—and even should—haggle for a better price on everything. For chicken or fish, go to the local Robinsons grocery store, where you can buy chicken breast for $1.64 a pound or snapper for $4.50 a pound.
Rent will be your largest expense when living here. You can easily rent a three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the heart of town for as little as $100 to $350 a month, although the quality and furnishings may vary. The most expensive—but by far the nicest—places I saw were beautiful, new townhouses just north of town. They had four bedrooms and three bathrooms, with about 2,000 square feet of space. They came unfurnished for $560, but they are well worth the money if you need a large space and want something modern.
And almost everything else is extremely affordable. A cleaning lady is $3 to $4 a day, and a gardener for that nice beach house will only be about $4 to $5 a day. With all that left-over money, it would be a shame not to indulge in a massage or a facial at the spa for $5.50 and $4.50, respectively. And for $56 a night you can get a private room in the best private hospital in town.