A Place to Live, Work, and Play
by Greg Farrell
For the past 10 years, we’ve been looking in Europe, Central, and South America for that ideal retirement community. At first we bought new construction properties in France, thinking the quality of life with food, wine, entertainment, and the arts would be what we wanted. What we learned during the first five years was that the cost outweighed the benefit of being able to retire comfortably there. During this time, we also purchased land in Argentina, both in a gated marina community, and in a ranch setting along the Rio Parana. The thought was that we would develop both properties, sell the ranch property, and possibly live in the Marina property. If you’ve been following Argentina’s peso, you’ll find out that the currency is unstable. The once 3 to one ratio of peso to dollar is now 12 to one on the black market. In addition to that, the crime rate is high.
We then started to follow the International Living Magazine only to find the places mentioned in the magazine were not being accurately depicted. We looked at properties in Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia. While the roads in Ecuador were being improved, we felt the infrastructure for the rest of the country was poor. Uruguay was only nice along the coastline, but again, the infrastructure was poor throughout the country. Chile had impressive properties at low costs and Santiago was wonderfully developed, but the distance to travel anywhere in the world was far. Also, the medical facilities were only good in Santiago. We didn’t want to live in a city. Our goal was to retire into a countryside setting. Costa Rica hadn’t changed since the 70s. The new hotels were nice, but the living conditions and availability of goods were poor. Housing wasn’t cheap, either, and the security conditions were questionable. Panama appeared better on paper than in person. Within Panama City, the noise was unbearable, even at 15 floors above the main street running in front of the Intercontinental hotel. We put money down on a 51st floor penthouse apartment only to find six months later that the plans had changed, and our penthouse deposit now only bought us an apartment on the 15th floor of a 31 floor structure. Panama City wasn’t like other cities, it was small and manageable. Almost like a city in the country. We opted out. The Dominican Republic was a big disappointment. Unless the international traveler wants to live a hotel community, it was less than desirable among all the countries in which we looked. If you would have asked us five years ago about Colombia, the news of the cartel and the crime rates would have been the main reasons it wouldn’t have been on our radar.
Our first visit to Colombia in the fall of 2012, piqued our interest. We stayed in the City of Medellin while traveling to the countryside to look at properties. We were impressed with clean water, electricity and gas, and other utilities that were much more dependable than all the other countries in Central or South America. Medellin was too big of a city for us, so we decided to look at the countryside around the international airport. What we found amazed us. There were homes of many types and sizes: multimillion dollar range, million dollar range, under a million, hundreds of thousands, and under a hundred thousand. As we didn’t want to put all our money into one home, we bought a home on a hectare for around $310K, just outside of El Retiro. The home has six bathrooms, four bedrooms, including two master bedrooms, unlimited free water supply – we only pay about $30 every three months for the water system maintenance – several trees of avocado, orange, lemon, tangerine, banana, and other – guest house with two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and living room. The views are incredible, and the temperature is spring-like all year round.
Besides being located within 35 minutes south of Colombia’s José María Córdova International Airport, El Retiro was the right choice for us for several reasons: The areas around El Retiro are used for farming and agriculture, including products such as avocados, beef, chickens, eggs, flowers, and citrus. The roads going in and out of the farm areas, often accessed via dirt roads have many horse trainers. Besides dogs and cats roaming the farms, there are many beautiful birds, and occasional roosters which frequent the properties.
Initially we wanted to farm some type of agricultural product such as avocados, but have re-visioned our future by starting out with chickens, and slowly introducing new citrus trees as time and money permits. We’re also building a horse stable to house four horses so we can ride them in the areas around our property.
The quality of life is one of the main reasons we moved to El Retiro. After looking and buying properties in other European, and South American countries, we weren’t comfortable with living permanently in those areas because of health care, infrastructure, high prices, and educational facilities. In Argentina, we were promised a new highway would be built within the year by the government allowing easier access to where we purchased property. That was six years ago.
In El Retiro, what you see is what you get and as good as it is now, there is more to come. Recent improvements within the six months that we’ve lived here include: New bus stop plaza at the entry of town, new street lighting and sidewalks from the entry of town, to the newly built entertainment plaza, and newly constructed reinforced concrete walls along the river, where a park currently exists. The park runs about a kilometer along the river with picnic tables and round covered structures within. It’s well maintained and is free to anyone. Within this same park, the city has built a waterfall fountain structure which takes water from the river, pumps it into a fountain pound with spraying water, and returns it back to the river. All these structures were built within the past six months.
Within the town there are three good butchers, banks, mail service, hardware stores, feed stores, furniture stores, restaurants, notaries, health clinics, schools, and shopping for both high-end and low-end customers. There is even a motorcycle shop where we purchased a motorcycle that was the same price as other bigger cities. There is something for everyone within the El Retiro community.
Being on the outskirts of the town is an added bonus as there are very few people who travel the road out to our farm. The road to our farm is used for bicycle racers, horse-back riding adventures, and hikers.
There is also a swimming hole where the river is backed up with rocks so people from the area can come and swim if they desire. Within 20 minutes by foot from this same area, is a waterfall with different types of tropical birds hovering over the falling water.
The view from our finca is amazing. We can see the entire town of El Retiro lit up in the evening. At times, a mist decends on the town making it invisible, and within minutes lifts. Lightning and thunder is a common scene in the evenings as is a continual supply of rain water. We don’t have any installed irrigation pumps as the rain provides for all the water our citrus trees need.
View from our Veranda of El Retiro
We added a few dogs to our habitat. Initially we purchased two great-dane pups, but then added another two-year-old great-dane as a rescue dog from another owner. The dogs are a wonderful treat to have in a farming environment. We have dog kennels on the property, but keep the dogs at the house 24/7. They are great watch dogs, and we have never had to close our doors at night.
All your furniture can be made in El Retiro, it is a woodworking town
We recently had a king-size bed made in the town as El Retiro is a woodworking town. We showed a picture of the bed we wanted out of a magazine, and one of the woodworking manufacturer reproduced the bed at a cost of $500. After the carpenter set it up, we decided we wanted it higher. Another carpenter in town added a 4 inch professionally made box spring, handmade four corner posts for the footing of the bed, and reinforced the center with four inch round cylinder-type wooden posts. We then showed a picture of the bed to another carpenter in town, and had two nightstands made to match the design and pattern of the bed. Both for less than $300.
The internet service we have is currently DSL, but we hope to have a cable modem service in the near future. For now, the DSL service provides us with everything we need including streaming movies.
Another great thing about the farming community just outside of El Retiro is the friendly people. Everyone greats one another, even strangers, and the pace of life is slower than most cities.
For working, if you can do work by the internet, this is an ideal location.
For playing, there are sports facilities at the beginning of the road to our farm. Besides a full-size soccer field, there are basketball nets, handball, indoor soccer, and other fields that include astroturf.
Life as an expatriate is a wonderful life as long as you do your due diligence in finding a living situation where you have basic utilities, food, clothing, housing, supplies, and security. Anything more than these items is a benefit. From our experience, it usually takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years before one can accurately describe a location from many perspectives. As we’ve currently lived in the countryside of El Retiro for six months, we are thankful for every day in El Retiro. It is a unique town, in a unique country with friendly and helpful people. We have no regrets.