by AJ – (West Coast)
I have been following this great website for years and had a question for the group regarding retiring in a snorkeling destination. I would imagine that some people who visit this website are retired (or have done similar research on the subject) and will be able to provide input.
I am an avid snorkeler and have snorkeled all over the world. My spouse and I will retire in a few years (no kids) and are debating on living on the mainland (west coast) and vacationing to snorkel or just living in a place where we can shore snorkel everyday like Hawaii or maybe St Thomas, USVI (taking the ferry to St. John on occasion).
Hawaii is considerably more expensive to live in than the mainland with housing costs and state income taxes. St. John is way too expensive for housing but St. Thomas may be a possibility. Most other islands in the Caribbean have very high taxes on U.S. citizens. I am not interested in Florida since there is minimal shore snorkeling.
Does anyone live in a location where they can snorkel everyday? What are the positives and negatives? Does it ever get boring snorkeling the same location every day? Do you get island fever and want to go back to the mainland? Is it worth the additional cost to live in the snorkeling location and snorkel everyday vs. living a lower cost lifestyle on the mainland and vacationing on occasion at a snorkeling destination?
I have always had this dream of retiring and snorkeling everyday but now that I have seriously looked into the logistics and costs, I am more on the fence.
Any help/advice would be appreciated.
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John – Oct 22, 2016 – Retirement in a Snorkeling Destination
I live on Oahu and have had similar thoughts on a retirement snorkeling destination. The Big Island of Hawaii has far better snorkeling and is a lot more affordable. I guess a lot depends on your definition of affordable, and that’s probably where we should start. Are you looking to rent or own and what’s the respective range you’d accept?
Jim in KY – Oct 22, 2016 – Retirement Snorkeler
Hi AJ, we are avid life-long snorkelers and have retired recently. If we didn’t have obligations with the family farm, we would be following the course you have chosen. Here a few tips.
We have snorkeled about 30 countries, mostly in the Caribbean and Central America, but also Hawaii. I agree with your assessment that Hawaii is prohibitively expensive, quite isolated also, but not so much for west coasters. I’m assuming you’ve been earning inflated (compared to the Midwest or South) west coast incomes? If so, your cost of living may not be that much lower than Hawaii, particularly Molokai or the Big Island.
There are two places I’d love to live for superb shore snorkeling, each radically different: St. John and Roatan. You’ve mentioned the high cost of property on St. John, but I’m aware of some modest rustic properties on the East End that are in the $500K range, probably two bedrooms with no pools and not beachfront (usually high on the mountain with sea views).
If you want to stay in a US Territory, you should consider St. Croix instead of St. Thomas, where housing costs are MUCH lower than St. John. There’s very good shore snorkeling along much of the north shore.
Alternatively, you could look at the Spanish Virgin Islands, part of Puerto Rico: Culebra and Vieques (and a half dozen or so smaller cayes). We have extensively snorkeled Culebra and there are many shore snorkels. Housing prices there are certainly lower than the USVI, and you could also look at mainland Puerto Rico somewhere near Fajardo where there are some good shore snorkels and where the ferry to Culebra/Vieques is located. Sort of outlier but perhaps doable for west coast residents, American Samoa may be worth looking at.
Finally, Roatan might well be the best shore dive island in the western hemisphere, even better than Bonaire. There are many dozens of sites all around this fringing reef encircled 40 mile long island. From the amazing variety of sites to the overall health of the reef to the numbers and variety of fish, Roatan is hard to beat.
While many on the island speak Spanish, English is widely spoken due to its history as a British colony (part of British Honduras in the 19th century). There are also hundreds of American, Canadian, and British ex-pats living there and I’ve been told that property and tax laws are favorable. You can find lots of affordable listings there and it is far less expensive to eat out or buy clothes and groceries than in the USVI.
There is a superb American-style super market mid-island (French Harbor) and quite a few attractions for tourists and residents. We have vacationed there three times and keep finding new snorkels. And if you don’t mind getting on a boat from time to time, there are dozens more sites around Roatan, as well as the adjacent Utila, Guanaja, and Cayos Cochinos (a national park). Also Belize and the Riviera Maya are not far away.
Good luck with your search ask any more questions you might have.
Susan B – Oct 22, 2016 – Been There
My husband and I went through the same dilemma two years ago. We spent several months on St. Thomas, then did the same thing on St. Croix. We wanted a location where we could just walk down to good snorkeling right from our residence.
We love Hawaii and lived there in our youth but knew from experience that we could never afford to live close enough to the beach to do what we wanted. We also spent time on Culebra, Puerto Rico, Maya Riviera, and the Bahamas. We’ve made several trips to Bonaire, Aruba, and Curacao which were wonderful but residency requirements are prohibitive.
My advice to you is that whatever location you decide upon, spend at least 3-4 months there renting and leading the lifestyle you plan on after retirement. We were sure we wanted to buy a condo on St. Thomas in Red Hook near the ferry to St. John. There is great snorkeling at Sapphire Beach and we could hop over to St. John whenever we wanted.
The reality for us was that after three months, we were done. It was great to snorkel everyday but it eventually became repetitive even with the five great sites right off our beach. We did St. John a couple of times a month but found that it was really crowded during season. Many times we couldn’t find parking at the beaches. The people we met were mainly tourists, there for a week or two. Driving was frightening and dangerous most of the time.
Our next foray was several months on St. Croix. This one was harder to leave as we met some wonderful people and still think about life there. We stayed at several different places around the island, but the north shore was idyllic. The downsides were the crime, the politics, and condition of places we were interested in buying. Also, snorkeling everyday seems wonderful but does get repetitive.
We ended up staying in Florida. We have a condo on the east coast by some decent snorkeling when the ocean and weather cooperate and we have a home on the west coast of Florida. If we really need a snorkeling fix – good hard and soft corals, lots of fish, we can run down to Looe Key or any of the other destinations in the Florida Keys.
We found that although snorkeling is a big part of our lives, we needed more of a balance so now we snorkel when the conditions are good, sometimes everyday, sometimes a few times a month. Other considerations – good biking, gardening, access to other amenities – entertainment, shopping, food choices, etc., all needed to be given consideration.
Hope this helps.
AJ -West Coast – Dec 2, 2016 – Retiring in a Snorkeling Destination – Update
Thank you all for your wonderful comments and insight; especially, Jim and Susan. Your advice really got us thinking about not only the snorkeling but what else we are trying to get out of life and the standard of living we are willing to have.
For anyone who may be reading this years down the line, here is what we ultimately decided. Snorkeling is very important to us and we want to live in a location where we can snorkel everyday. However, we also realized that after decades of snorkel trips to third world countries, we really like the standard of living available in the US and/or US territories.
On Jim’s advice, we looked a lot harder into Puerto Rico and liked what we saw from a tax standpoint and cost of living on Culebra and Vieques. Therefore, we are going to try and live in the USVI and Puerto Rico in the first few years of retirement. Taxes are very good in both places as they do not have a state income tax and USVI does not have sales tax.
We are a little concerned about the standard of living for the price in these locations, especially Puerto Rico, but it still seems worth the risk to try. However, we are only going to rent in these locations until we are 100% sure that we would stay for the rest of our lives.
If these two locations turn out to be fun for a while but not a long term solution, similar to what Susan had described, then we have decided we will move to Hawaii, either Big Island or Maui. State taxes in Hawaii are very high, but property taxes are low which helps to make up for it. The other thing that will help to afford Hawaii is that we will not be paying state income tax for a few years while living in a US territory which will help our retirement savings go farther.
I think it will also be nice in Hawaii to have things like a Costco, higher quality vehicles, consistent home utilities such as electricity that does not go out very often, etc. Also, it is a very easy flight back to the west coast to visit family or flight from Honolulu to almost any island in the South Pacific, our favorite snorkel region anywhere in the world.
Therefore, I think we will be in a US territory for two to three years and have a great time. Then once we start to miss the conveniences of one of the 50 states, we will likely live in Hawaii for the rest of our lives.
Thank you very much to everyone who posted as it really helped us a lot in making this decision and I hope this conversation will help someone in the future looking to retire in a snorkeling destination.
Susan Sims – Dec 20, 2016 – Thank You
Thank you AJ for asking those questions and to all who responded. We’ve been thinking about the same thing when we retire (which is not too long in the future) and you answered a lot of those questions. I love Maui but would be quite content on the Big Island as well. I thought about the other places but didn’t have a clue about logistics on any of them. So, I guess I need to thank Galen and Nicole also for such a great website. I’ve been off the charts for the past year due to an injury but am up and about again. So, happy snorkeling and Merry Christmas.
Colette – Mar 18, 2018 – Kona Snorkeling
I spent three months in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, snorkeling. I had thought about retiring here and changed my mind. The snorkeling is great in many places. The cost of living is very high. The average cost of a home within 15 minutes of snorkeling, with an ocean view, starts at $400,000. The condos have very high monthly fees which inflates the cost of living.
I appreciated your feedback on your snorkeling adventures.
Anonymous – Aug 30, 2018 – Fabulous Info
I really enjoyed reading these comments. I am 43 living in Maryland and many years from retirement but I grew up in Miami and feel like a part of me is missing being away from the ocean. I’d love to move to a great snorkeling location now, however realistically, we’ll make the move in 11 years when I can hold onto health insurance with my school district. Your comments were all so interesting.
Anonymous – Jun 7, 2019 – Hawaii
I have visited Hawaii nine times for a couple weeks each time. The Big Island is more affordable if you are on the leeward side as it rains a lot. Pahoa and Volcano (close to the volcano) are very affordable due to lava risks, as is Captain Cook. But if you don’t mind the vog a 200-300k home can be yours.
Kailua Kona and Waikoloa are tourist destinations and expensive. Costco is in Kailua Kona so that helps. Fuel is expensive and driving to obtain goods at Costco takes time as the island is big. Hilo is becoming a mecca for homeless folks who wander into restaurants for handouts.
Kauai is small and the road that circumnavigates the island is one long police speed trap and the cops don’t like tourists. The road from Hanelei floods often.
Maui is very touristy much of the time. Great beaches.
Oahu is a giant shopping mecca and traffic runs at a stand still in and out most the day.
I have heard but not been to:
– Molokai has water issues.
– Lanai is too small and has limited land ownership opportunities.
I believe the main issue folks have is that family rarely visit owing to the flight times and expense and boredom. Island fever is real and sets in after a couple years.
Also there are some prejudice issues. But, Hawaii has high longevity due to the aloha spirit. Beauty is everywhere. It is a low stress lifestyle and there are great restaurants. Scuba and fishing are great. The waters can be very dangerous in the channels between islands.
If strikes happen and they do often, get ready to hoard. You are on an island and if supplies get low, there is competition and the locals are usually ahead of the power curve.
On Kauai, dogs and horses are not well treated. Dogs are used as guards not like pets. Horses are tied by the road to mow the grass. Also on Kauai, you better like the sound of roosters crowing all day long. Everywhere. All the time! They are crossbred nuisances. Since they taste bad they have no human predators to keep population down. I won’t retire on Kauai due to this noise.
Carmen – Jan 2, 2020 – Loving This Topic!
I so appreciate everyone’s comments on this topic! My husband and I would love to retire to St. John but even if we could afford it, the tourism crowds and small island living could get old. We have a young child we will probably home school. We haven’t been but plan to check out snorkeling and reliving options in Panama. Please keep this conversation going! Thanks everyone!
Paula – Oct 4, 2020 – Balance
Hi Everyone, this is becoming more and more interesting as we face travel restrictions. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate these insights, as we are also avid snorkelers and love the lifestyle of being able to walk to a pristine beach and calm ocean!
The conundrum we look to solve includes: children and potential grandkids on both coasts of USA, island fever concerns, ease of travel/safety, medical facilities and cost of a beautiful home. I’m a home designer/builder so we don’t want to give up on the architecture of our home when we retire. Would love to find a place that has land or property to renovate and rent partially as a vacation rental.
Thank you again everyone for your insights!
Although we are far from avid snorkelers, we do enjoy it, and, like many of you, have been looking for that perfect place to retire.
We have cruised the Caribbean, and have fallen in love with most of the islands, but we have yet to spend more than a few hours anywhere. It’s a great way to visit a lot of places, but not a good way to judge retirement potential.
So we have decided upon retirement, to spend at least a month in a place to see what it’s like: traffic, locals, food, beaches, reefs, etc. Only then will we know what that place is like.
Thank you all for your comments and insights, Erin and I hope to see you out snorkeling one day!