2 top coastal retirement choices in South America

Kathleen Peddicord


Uruguay's Punta del Este and Chile's Viña del Mar are perhaps the two most famous beach resorts in South America. People from around the world and especially across the region travel here for vacations.

SEE ALSO: 11 critical things to consider when choosing where to retire

Both are located in economically and politically stable countries with first world infrastructure, including well maintained roads and drinkable water. And both can make for great coastal living in retirement, either full or part time. In many ways, Punta Del Este and Viña Del Mar are very similar. Both offer high quality lifestyles for relatively bargain costs.

[See: 50 Affordable Places to Buy a Retirement Home in 2016.]

Here's how these two appealing retirement options compare in categories of importance to retirees overseas:

Dining and diversion. Both cities boast a wealth of fine restaurants, cafés and nightlife. Punta del Este has a far higher density of offerings, but you'll have no trouble filling your evenings out in either town.

Walkability. Punta del Este and Viña del Mar are both walkable cities. Base yourself in Punta del Este's Peninsula region or Viña del Mar's downtown, and you could easily do without a car.

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Climate. Both cities have four mild seasons, and neither has ice or snow. Punta del Este is a few degrees warmer in the summer with an average high of about 77 degrees. Punta is also a few degrees cooler in the winter with an average high in July of 58 degrees. Overall, the climates are too similar to make any real difference in your choice.

Expat community. Neither city has a large, organized expat community. There are expats in both who get together on occasion, but otherwise are blended into the community. If you want to live among North Americans and speak mostly English, you have better beach resort choices.

Access. Both of these coastal cities get poor marks on this score. For Uruguay, you'd fly to Montevideo. The nearest major airport in Chile is in Santiago. Both those flights are about nine and a half hours from Miami. Then, from the international airport, you'd travel two hours by car to reach your destination.

[See: 10 Retirement Hot Spots in the U.S.]

Crime and safety. Punta del Este and Viña del Mar are both safe cities in countries with honest cultures. I'd give Punta del Este the edge here, because it's small and wealthy, but without enough of an edge to be a deal breaker.

While these two top choices for coastal resort retirement living are similar in many ways, there are several important ways that they're different:

Image. Punta del Este is better known and more prestigious than Viña del Mar. It attracts famous people. This tends to inflate the prices, so unless it's important that you see Michael Caine on the beach or bump into Shakira in the grocery store, Punta's notoriety isn't an advantage and could be a negative.

City services. Viña del Mar is more of a full-service city, with a population of more than 300,000. Punta del Este is more of a tourist destination. Only when considered together with the adjacent city of Maldonado (population 62,000) can Punta del Este be considered to provide a full complement of services for day-to-day living.

Punta del Este has a full-time population of around 10,000, but receives 500,000 summertime visitors from around the world, so the seasonal change is far greater than in Viña del Mar. And while Viña del Mar is open all year, life in Punta del Este slows down considerably during the winter months of June through September, with some businesses closed. Some retirees living here might love it when the tourists go home, while others will find it overly quiet.

Beaches. The beaches are world class in both cities and a big part of the appeal in each case. However, the beaches are arguably better in Punta, and there are more of them. In addition, in Punta, you'll almost definitely be living within close walking distance of a beach. In Viña del Mar, the beaches are one aspect of a large, multi-faceted city.

Language. Thanks to the booming tourist industry, more people speak English in Punta than in Viña del Mar. That said, you'll need to learn at least some Spanish to enjoy either of these cities to its fullest.

Health care. Health care services are available in both cities. However, because Viña del Mar is a bigger city, it boasts more and bigger health care facilities. Living in Punta del Este, you'd travel to Montevideo, two hours away, for major care.

Residency. While the process is straightforward in both countries, it is easier to obtain residency in Chile than in Uruguay. Both countries offer a residency option with a path to citizenship, if that is of interest to you.

Remember, establishing legal residency is only necessary if you want to live in a country beyond the term allowed to a tourist. If you reside in Uruguay or Chile only part time, you don't have to worry about becoming a legal resident.

Cost of living. The cost of living is lower in Viña del Mar than in Punta del Este, especially at today's exchange rates. Your day-to-day costs will be about 25 percent cheaper in Viña del Mar overall.

[See: 10 Places to Retire on a Social Security Budget.]

Cost of real estate. Housing also costs less in Viña Del Mar. In addition, the property market in Viña is more diverse and includes a bigger percentage of homes suitable for full-time living. However, Punta del Este offers a greater inventory of beach properties and can be a more liquid market. This means it would be easier to find a buyer for your property if and when you decide to sell.

Punta del Este has three major beach areas: the Peninsula, Playa Mansa and Playa Brava. The beaches are better on the Playa Brava side of the Peninsula, and the waves are bigger. On the Playa Mansa side, the beaches aren't as nice, but the water is calmer. If you're looking for a house for full-time or long-term living, Mansa could be the better choice.

A waterfront apartment in this part of Punta sold recently for $7.5 million after being on the market for a week. However, you have much more affordable options. You could buy a two-bedroom ocean-view apartment of about 800 square feet for as little as $200,000.

In Viña del Mar, the place to be is the city itself or Reñaca and Concón to the north or Recreo to the south. In Viña, you could buy a two-bedroom ocean-view apartment of about 800 square feet for as little as $125,000 at today's exchange rate.

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

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report