A Shangri-La with less culture shock

Oct 30, 2016 | 5 comments

Images of paradise often include white sand beaches, palms, breezes, and aqua blue waters. Perhaps not for those finding Shangri-La in the cool altitudes of Cuenca. Yet it’s certainly, what expats settling Salinas, Olon andchl-fernando other coastal gringo-magnets imagine when coming to Ecuador.

For them, there’s an alternative much closer to home.

St. Croix

The draw of Ecuador’s coastal region comes with the cost of real estate — the warm, tropical weather with affordable beach-front property. And it comes with a few challenges, dark brown sands, litter, pushy peddlers, and adjusting to a new culture. Right now, St. Croix offers a clean, safe, Caribbean paradise with housing prices like Salinas. Cheaper booze than Costco ($24 for a 750 ml of Hendricks gin), a varied geography, from rain forest to deserts, ant topography form mountains toagricultural plains, and, of course, white, coral sand and warm cobalt waters.

The waterfront at Christensted.

The waterfront at Christiansted.

Best of all, St. Croix is a constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory of the United States. The easternmost point in the U.S, Crucians (as they call themselves) use dollars, speak English, have FDIC banking safeguards, title insurance, professional real estate agents, no visa requirements or customs (when traveling from the United States), and enjoy the services of the U.S. Postal Service.

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Plenty of restful relaxation.

Plenty of restful relaxation.

The only drawback my wife and I found is learning to drive on the left side of the road — although all the automobiles on the island have left-side steering columns, which makes it even more confusing. Driving to our condo from the airport on the wrong side of the road provoked mild queasiness, but despite a couple of close calls, the island traffic is slow and polite, so one gets used to it rather quickly.

The islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, which make up the U.S Virgin Islands, were owned by the Danish West India Company until 1916, when the United States purchased them. Hence many Danish traditions remain, including Danish food and the left-hand traffic patterns.

Fleeting opportunity

 the farmers market at Christiansted.


the farmers market at Christiansted.

We’re spending ten days here in St. Croix, looking for developable land to build a beachfront community. Right now, sales in the local real estate market have begun picking up as people around the world have come to know the deals available. Until recently, you could purchase a small condo in downtown Christiansted for $39,000. You can still find very nice beachfront condos for about $100,000, nice single family homes within a short walk from the beach for under $200,000, and $10-million dollar palaces (U.S. prices) for under $1-million.

The island economy was punished by the triple blow of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which wiped out the economic engine of major beachfront resorts, followed by the Great Recession, which forced into foreclosure many second homes, and reduced tourism, and then a nearly fatal blow, four years ago, with the closing of HOVENSA, one of the world’s largest oil refineries and the island’s biggest employer.

A variety of local fish.

A variety of local fish.

A refinery owned by the U.S.-based Hess Corporation and Petroleos de Venezuela, SA, the national oil company of Venezuela, HOVENSA, collapsed under the crippling pressure of the worldwide oil glut, falling oil prices, and the Venezuelan, post-Chavez political and economic debacle.Unemployment soared in St. Croix, real estate prices tumbled, and for a while, the island suffered a recession comparable to what the U.S. mainland and Europe experienced in 2008.

A great beach for walking.

A great beach for walking.

Nowadays the business community expresses optimism, a buyer has materialized for the refinery, tourism has increased, and real estate sales have improved. Opportunity for value-buying remains strong, and we found some great deals — difficult to choose from — but the sale of paradise real estate may not last forever.

The place is too pretty.

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