The famous Cathedral Basilica in the town square; Cusco, Peru.
Bill Bachmann—Getty Images/Science Source
By Paul Schrodt
November 14, 2018

It’s hard to deny the itch to flee expensive cities in the U.S. for retirement abroad. The perks are obvious: Your savings can go a lot farther in many places overseas, especially when the exchange rate is favorable. You can live somewhere cosmopolitan and tropical for a lot less than you can in, say, Miami. And you can fulfill all the international travel dreams you’ve harbored since you were young—except you can journey indefinitely.

If that’s your goal, it’s surprisingly attainable. There are many options that don’t require being a one-percenter. In fact, you can find serenity on a middle-class budget.

“In the right spots abroad, expats find not only that their dollars stretch, but that they can enjoy a quality of life that’s so much richer than what they could afford at home,” says Jennifer Stevens, the executive editor of International Living, a magazine dedicated to retirees going outside of the country. “Often it’s in an almost fairy-tale setting. It might come with an ocean view or with garden walls where mounds of purple bougainvillea tumble over. It might be in a well-preserved colonial town with cobbled roads and Old World street lamps or set amid dramatic mountain peaks. And while we’re used to paying a premium for those beautiful surroundings, beyond our borders, you don’t have to—you can enjoy a remarkably comfortable life for as little as $24,000 a year.”

But one spot rises above the rest, at least in its ability to deliver maximum picturesque value with a low price tag. International Living provided data and information to MONEY showing that Cusco, Peru, is a scenic steal worth checking out for anyone considering an overseas move. What’s more, Peru offers qualifying international residents a retirement visa that’s relatively easy to maintain.

Cusco may not be as well-known as Lima, Peru’s capital, and it’s certainly a lot smaller, with a population of about 350,000 to Lima’s nearly 10 million. And there are plenty of other South American destinations with more glittering attractions for Americans, along with the global residents and expensive lifestyles that go with them.

But Cusco is, well, gorgeous. The historic city is one of the oldest continually inhabited areas in the entire Western Hemisphere, according to Britannica, and was once the capital of the massive Inca Empire that flourished in the 15th century. Following its Inca roots, Cusco was a prosperous Spanish colonial center. In 1983, the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As a result, it’s not lacking in curb appeal. “This 500-year-old colonial gem has ample domed churches and ancient, pedestrian-only cobblestone streets,” International Living says, making it an ideal permanent getaway for anyone looking for a quieter life marked by its beauty.

That extends to the lush natural environment. Cusco sits at an altitude of 11,200 feet in the Andes, and it has perfectly clear days with lots of sun, and frost is rare even in winter.

Plus, just outside the city, paths lead to the Sacred Valley, “unfolding under snow-capped mountains that cradle traditional villages as well as a score of pre-Columbian ruins, including Machu Picchu,” International Living adds. Machu Picchu is widely regarded as the natural tourist attraction of Peru.

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Fortunately, you don’t have to forego more modern pleasures. “The core of the city features restored historic structures—neighborhoods of white-washed homes with red barrel tile roofs, grand civic buildings, and ornate cathedrals and churches, crisscrossed by narrow cobblestone streets and walkways,” International Living says. “The colonial structures have been turned into hip restaurants, shops, and even homes. And this historic centro is surrounded by a vibrant, modern city.” One such old building, originally a convent, has been turned into a majestic five-star Marriott hotel.

No skipping lavish meals or hot showers is necessary. Peru’s food scene is celebrated across Latin America and the world. Dining options in Cusco include bright, acidic ceviche and heavy steak meals; health-conscious dishes relying on native superfoods like quinoa, chia seeds, and maca are inexpensive and plentiful.

But the best part is the overall cost of moving to Cusco: A retired couple could enjoy a pleasant life there on $1,700 a month, expats report, according to International Living. Look elsewhere for a cushy two-bedroom home ensconced in verdant vistas, ruins, ancient history, and a real city at that price, and you’ll almost certainly come up short.

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