One thing I know. I cannot live on Social Security in the US, so a couple of years back I decided to see what the rest of the world had to offer. I went to England, France, Germany, Amsterdam, The Bahamas, Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. Expense-wise, they are right up there with the US. Costa Rica, Canada, and Mexico did not fit for me.
I was stumped until, one day, I got an e-mail from my buddy Scott. Turns out he, too, had been looking for the perfect place and ended up on Margarita Island, off the coast of Venezuela.
To make a long story short, Scott sold everything back home and moved to Margarita Island for good. He raved about this wonderful island with beautiful beaches, great restaurants, casinos, its temperate year-round climate, and location outside the hurricane corridor. Beer, 40 cents a bottle. Dinner for two, with wine, $20. A 3-bed/3-bath house, $40,000. A high-rise condo, $25,000.
Now Scott is from Texas and y'all know a Texan can stretch a tale. He claimed he filled the gas tank on his Toyota Land Cruiser for $2. I had to yell, "Horse apples Scotty! There ain't no such thing as gasoline at 9 cents a gallon."
Then he tells me I can have a full time maid for $4 a day.
"I'll be there on Friday!" I said, sure that I'd prove him full of hot Texas air.
Traveling with my buddy, Leo, I landed on Margarita Island (via a 35-minute flight from Caracas Venezuela, US$56). Scott picked us up in his Land Cruiser and drove us about 10 km to a hotel in Polamar, a cosmopolitan city of 200,000 with lots of high-rise condos and hotels.
The island is about 65x95 km with hundreds of white sand beaches, turquoise water, big green mountains, and scattered with villages and towns.
Hotel Marbellamar was very nice, with open-air lobby, swimming pool, restaurant and bar, concierge, a travel agency, even parrots. The front desk clerk said a room was 70,000 bolivars a night. What! My hand started shaking as I reached for some money. Not being familiar with exchange rates, it took a minute to realize 70,000 bolivars was only about US$31.
We spent 3 days at this hotel then decided to try another. The Katarama Hotel had a nicer pool and bar, a larger room with bathroom, kitchen, living room, and American TV for 60,000 bolivars (US$27) a night with breakfast.
Scott took us to El Yaque, a beautiful sandy beach known for wind-surfing, great restaurants, and girls wearing dental floss for bathing suits. We stopped for a cold one – 1,000 Bs (40 cents) for a beer.
The official Venezuelan currency exchange rate was around 1,920 bolivars to the dollar, but you can exchange almost anywhere 2,200 to the dollar. Scott was getting 2,500 to the dollar. A tank of gas cost us 2,483 bolivars – about 99 cents!
One night, after a wonderful Italian dinner with a bottle of wine for $16, I decided to go to Senor Frog's. One thing I noticed is Margarita Island is very family oriented. I have never seen so many men out entertaining their daughters! I am really too old for Senor Frogs.
If you like loud disco music that's the place. Right next door there were two wonderful, outdoor restaurants more my style – very cosmopolitan.
By the way, nightlife really starts at midnight and goes until the wee hours.
Coming from Las Vegas, the town that never sleeps, I decided to go to the Hilton Casino. While smaller, it was very similar to US casinos. The fun part was playing blackjack with 10,000 bills ($4).
Several times we ate lunch ($8) at some small beach side restaurant by one of the marinas. We met people from around the world there. Most of them live on boats that they had sailed from London, Florida, Georgia, and other Caribbean islands. What an extremely interesting group.
Scott took us to Sambil, a local mall, or should I say MEGAMALL! It was huge: hundreds of stores, restaurants, and a food court to satisfy all your cravings for McDonald's or Pizza Hut as well as world cuisine. There is even a version of Home Depot, and nicely stocked with almost everything you would need to build or remodel a house. We also found clinics and pharmacies with similar prices to Canada or Mexico for prescription drugs.
We decided to look at property, so Scott took us to La Asuncion, a small, clean town where we looked at a 3-bed, 3-bath house (1,300 sq ft) on a quarter acre, with a roofed patio complete with a log table, hammock, TV, and outdoor kitchen area.
The house had a beam ceiling, living room, Spanish tile floors, kitchen, washer, dryer, satellite (Direct TV) phone. It was great! US$32,000.
In Polamar we looked at a brand new high-rise condo with underground parking, gated, high-security community with beautiful grounds and pools(s), weight room, sauna, party room, etc. The price for a 2-bed, 2-bath unit (1,300 sq ft), with appliances, central air, cable, phone, and a view of the ocean and pool(s) from a monster-curved deck? US$85,000. In Vegas this condo would be US$400,000 easy.
Asking price for an older, two-story penthouse, 3-bed, 3-bath, was US$32,000. The kitchen needed about $2,000 worth of tile work done, but still – unbelievable property for unbelievable prices.
Maybe you don't want to buy? You can rent a nice apartment for US$100 a month, or a very nice security-gated high-rise apartment for US$200, and for US$300 you will have the penthouse.
I am still trying to find a downside to Margarita Island. One thing I do know is that I can live comfortably in Venezuela. Scott was right!
>> From Nancy Laleau: Is there a reef for snorkeling/scuba diving? Everything else sounds magnificent to me; just wonder about the water life.
Editor: An Internet search will turn up local Margarita Island companies that provide snorkeling and diving trips to the nearby islands of Los Frailles, Isla Cubagua, and Isla Coche. TripAdvisor.com has a useful forum on Maragrita Island.