Santo Domingo: An Affordable Caribbean City for Retirement

Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the Americans, with more than 500 years of history. It’s also one of the region’s most affordable places to live or retire well.

Along the narrow cobblestone streets of the Colonial Zone, old men take siestas on street benches, women gossip, shouting to one another from their doorways, and domino players attract boisterous crowds for their matches. On the other side of the city, developers are erecting condo buildings, shopping malls and restaurant plazas. And along the edge of it all stretches more than 1,000 miles of azure Caribbean coastline.

[See: The Best Places to Retire in 2019.]

The capital of the Dominican Republic is both cosmopolitan and rustic, a city for business and for fun. New glass high-rises share the skyline with centuries-old stone cathedrals, and a legacy of European culture mixes with a typically Latin tradition of friendliness and flair.

Founded by Bartholomew Columbus, the brother of Christopher Columbus, colonial Santo Domingo could be described as dignified and more genteel than the cities built in other Spainish colonies in the decades to follow. The structures at the heart of this old town are classic Spanish colonial, but statelier and more refined than their counterparts across the region.

Calle Las Damas, the first street of the original city, is lined with 16th-century pale stone facades and runs into Plaza de España, the expansive open square at the harbor. The highlight here is the colonial city’s first palace, the private home of the first governor of the colony, Diego Columbus, Christopher’s son. It’s an exceptional example of classic Spanish colonial architecture.

[See: The 10 Best Places to Retire Overseas in 2018.]

The first thing that attracts most retirees and expats to the area is the low cost of living. Prices are a bargain relative to elsewhere in the region. You could buy an apartment in one of the city’s new high-rise towers for as little as $100,000. A reasonable budget for a couple enjoying a high-end quality of life can be as little as $1,000 per month if you own your home. Rent adds another $500 to $800 per month. At the upper end of this monthly budget you could rent a big three-bedroom, four-bath apartment with marble floors, crown molding, decorative woodwork and a balcony view of the Caribbean.

Santo Domingo is a walkable city, and public transportation and taxi services are readily available and affordable. Most expats live here without incurring the expense of a car.

Often, Caribbean living can mean compromising on comfort levels. That’s not the case in Santo Domingo. This is a modern city that offers a way of life that’s laid-back and seductive, while also being focused on economic growth. However, one concern related to living in the Dominican Republic can be safety. The country shares its island with Haiti.

The Dominican Republic’s economy has been growing rapidly, thanks largely to millions of tourism dollars from North American and European travelers flocking to the country’s sandy beaches and luxury resorts. Major international hotel chains have moved into the country, and recently opened big-name brands include a JW Marriott, an Embassy Suites by Hilton, an InterContinental and a Hard Rock Hotel. Carnival is bringing a ship a day to Santo Domingo’s cruise dock.

[See: 10 Affordable Places to Retire on the Water.]

The Dominican Republic’s infrastructure has improved dramatically in the last decade. New highways connect most of the resort and beach areas, and the colonial zone in Santo Domingo is enjoying a face-lift. New roads and sidewalks are being built, and utility cables are being buried underground. Recently upgraded airports and more flights from the United States mean greater accessibility. You can get to the Dominican Republic from the east coast of the U.S. in two hours.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.

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