Gary Clark

Turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, dancing palm trees: Who wouldn't swoon over a tropical milieu? Anyone who's vacationed in Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Mexico likely has fantasized about a move there. Here are a few relocation points
to ponder.

Setting:

The Hawaiian Islands lie some 2,400 miles off the coast ofCalifornia, making them the most geographically isolated populationcenter on Earth. The most heavily populated islands are Hawaii,Oahu, Kauai, and Maui, though 137 isles compose the state. WestCoast dwellers vacation here for the islands' distinctpersonalities―from the worldly streets of Honolulu, Oahu, tothe rugged roads of Hana, Maui. Yet each island shares a commontheme: heart-stopping land- and seascapes.

Just south of the borders of Texas and California, Mexico offersa warm-weather retreat. The country's west coast features laudedresort towns such as Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Zihuatanejo.Baja California Sur, the southern half of the Mexican peninsulaextending south from California, enjoys Pacific beaches on the westand the Gulf of California on the east. Cabo San Lucas, on Baja'ssouthern tip, remains a popular place, but smaller seaside villagessuch as Todos Santos and East Cape have recently received favorableattention. The Caribbean side of Mexico claims spring break hotspot Cancun, though more desirable destinations, such as Playa delCarmen, Tulum, and Akumal, sit farther south on the YucatanPeninsula.

The Caribbean islands arc around the Caribbean Sea. The Bahamas,an independent member of the British Commonwealth, hover in theAtlantic southeast of Florida, while the Cayman Islands and Jamaicalie south of Cuba. International destinations such as theNetherlands Antilles, British Virgin Islands, and French WestIndies draw cosmopolitan crowds; the U.S. Virgin Islands appeal tothose for whom U.S. soil is a prerequisite. The Grenadines remain aprivate playground for the rich and famous.

Attractions:

The tropics inspire adventure, from surfing the waves thatstroke the Hawaiian islands to snorkeling the Caribbean'sspectacular coral reefs.

Among the Hawaiian islands, nightlife and five-star restaurantskeep city lovers happy on Oahu. Those seeking solitude may bebetter suited for the west side of Kauai, in Waimea. The Big Islandclaims some of Hawaii's most scenic, wide-open spaces, along withmany charming communities, while Maui, popular with worldtravelers, also boasts livable, if expensive, seaside towns such asLahaina and Kapalua.

Mexico welcomes snowbirds during winter months―the heightof the Mexican travel season. Aside from the steamy days of summer,temperatures stay around 80 degrees and sunshine reigns. Though thewest coast's surf can be a bit rough for swimming, the Caribbeanshores welcome water lovers. Baja is home to deserts, mountains,semitropical and tropical regions, and miles of untouchedcoastline.

The Caribbean islands match every personality, from jet-setterswho romp around Mustique to the Jimmy Buffett-loving crowd drinkingpiña coladas in the Caymans. Jamaica offers a variety ofdining, shopping, and nightlife options, while Anguilla's serenityappeals to those who'll pay top dollar for privacy. Common to allthe islands is the beauty of the beaches. Whether deep-sea fishingoff St. Lucia or wind-surfing off Aruba, you'll find the watershypnotizing.

Drawbacks:

Accessibility can be a problem. Small aircraft serve manyislands, and flights tend to be expensive. Some islands areaccessible only via ferry or private boat.

Transplants to Hawaii often confess to "rock fever," ahomesickness for the mainland. Tsunamis are a threat, as arehurricanes, whose season lasts June through November.

Strict coastal land purchase restrictions and language barriersmake property in Mexico―while often more affordable thanproperty in Hawaii and the Caribbean―more of a challenge tobuy.

The Caribbean islands are favorite stomping grounds for tropicalstorms and hurricanes. High building costs steer many people in thedirection of previously owned homes or condos.

Housing Options:

Architecturally, structures differ from Hawaii (where the hotbuy is a historic plantation cottage) and the Caribbean islands(where utilitarian condominiums remain popular and affordable) toMexico (where stucco-walled villas are all the rage). Purchasingland is an expensive option. Prices tend to be lower inless-developed areas. Buying a home in any tropical location ispricey, but it involves less hassle than construction. Developmentsthroughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii are becoming morepopular with those who like the look of new, homogenous, gatedcommunities. Resort developments attract the pamper-me set.

What It Costs:

Basic Hawaiian condominiums away from the water begin at around$250,000; oceanfront condos sometimes cost upward of $1 million.Single-family dwellings away from the water begin at $200,000 forsmall fixer-uppers and reach $20 million for top-shape real estate.Americans get a lot of bang for their buck in Mexico, where thedollar performs well against the peso and labor is less expensive.Condos range from $120,000 (Acapulco) to $400,000 (Cabo San Lucasor Cancun). In Baja's Todos Santos, oceanfront lots average$200,000, while property in Akumal, a resort community on the eastcoast, sells for closer to $300,000.

The cost of Caribbean apartments and condominiums varies islandto island. In the Dominican Republic, they start at around $75,000.In more developed, or more exclusive, islands (say, Turks andCaicos), they begin at $200,000. Nice homes begin at $300,000 (forthe Bahamas) and climb into the multimillion-dollar range, sometopping $15 million.

Your Next-door Neighbors:

In Hawaii, you'll be in good company―perhaps Glenn Frey(of Eagles fame), Bette Midler, or a less famous surfer, quilter,masseuse, waiter, or painter.

Join the growing list of Hollywood celebrities who've headedsouth of the border and built dream homes. Their new Mexicanneighbors range from politicians and teachers to those who keep thetourist trade alive.

The Caribbean's quirky cast of characters includes genial localsand those lucky enough to relocate here: doctors, writers,designers, singers, hotel managers, golfers. You might bump intoMick Jagger in Mustique, or reggae master Bankie Banx inAnguilla.

How You'd Spend Your Free Time:

People move to the tropics to soak up the sun, wade in thewater, play golf, and sip frozen drinks. Whether you're snorkelingin the Caribbean, celebrating fiestas with fresh-picked limes foryour margaritas in Mexico, or enjoying authentic Hawaiian luaus,you'll have no shortage of activities.

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