Why You Don’t Need to Move to the Tropics

Tuesday Nov 15 | BY |
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Doesn't this image make you want to move to a tropical paradise? (Taken with my iPhone without editing!)

Doesn’t this image make you want to move to a tropical paradise? (Taken with my iPhone without editing!)

People often ask me, “How do you survive in the wintertime on your diet, given the limited availability of fruits and vegetables in Northern climes?”

I answer them that I get higher-quality fruits and vegetables in my city in the heart of the winter than I do in most tropical countries where these fruits grow. The trick is knowing where to shop.

I’ve also heard that it’s only possible to eat an all-raw diet in a tropical environment, and those cold climates in general make it difficult to eat a healthy diet.

For years, one of my biggest dreams was moving to the tropics: Hawaii, Costa Rica, French Polynesia! I just couldn’t give up this idea.

I entertained this fantasy for so long that I even made a radical move twice. I ended up coming back.

Now I know that you don’t need to live in a tropical country to follow a high-raw diet. So don’t sell your belongings just yet to move to Maui! (And if you’ve done so and are happy, I’m also happy for you!).

Here’s what I think of the fantasy of moving to the tropics to live a healthier life…

The Dream vs. Reality

What could be better than living in a country where your fruits can be picked fresh and ripe right off the tree? Sunshine year round, days spent swimming in the ocean and jumping in refreshing pools under waterfalls after running on the beach and making love under palm trees. This all sounds enticing.

Websites like International Living are convincing many retirees to stretch their paycheck by spending their retirement in a tropical paradise. They glamorize this lifestyle so much that you’d think there’s something seriously wrong with you if you don’t get the hell out of dodge and live for pennies on the dollar with a better quality of life in a place like Panama or Thailand.

Unfortunately, the reality is a little different. That’s what I found out by living in different tropical countries at different times throughout my extensive traveling around the world.

It’s not one-size fits all. It works for some people, while it doesn’t work for others, and I would dare say for most.

My Experience living in Costa Rica

I spent roughly two years of my life in Costa Rica. I enjoyed my time there, and I even considered moving there on two occasions, going to the extent of selling all my belongings at my home in Canada and relocating to Costa Rica.

But on both occasions, I ended up moving back. Why?

The endless empty beaches of Costa Rica

The endless empty beaches of Costa Rica

First, I have a lot of good things to say about the country. It’s true that there is a lot of fresh fruit available and that it’s much cheaper in North America. Of course, the weather is great, but what I enjoyed the most about the country are the unparalleled biodiversity and the wild nature. You can spend hours on a beach on the Pacific coast and only occasionally run into someone. Every day I saw Tucans, wild monkeys, anteaters, sloths, and so many beautiful creatures. I would spend months there and feel at times like I was in a Garden of Eden!

However, whenever I came back to my home in Montreal after a long trip, I was happy to be back.

First, I was always shocked by the variety and quality of fruits I had available to me in my hometown. Part of this is due to fruits in Costa Rica being very seasonal. You will find papayas and bananas year-round, but other fruits are fairly seasonal.

Vegetables such as kale or romaine lettuce just don’t grow well in the tropics, and you won’t find them as often. You’ll find things like cabbage and some lettuce, but nothing near the variety you’ll get in the organic stores everywhere in North America or Europe.

I also came to realize that there were lots of things I took for granted in my home country.

The first one: good and safe roads.

Throughout Central America and many other places (including many parts of Hawaii), roads are not adequately set up for walking, cycling or running.

In Costa Rica, the roads are outright dangerous. Combined with drunk driving and the fact that the concept of “driver’s license” is quite flexible, the country has the highest rate of accidental traffic deaths involving pedestrians in the world!

The crime problem in Central America is also worrisome and has been downplayed because most homicides don’t get reported to the police.

Also, you might think that organic food is widely popular in Costa Rica, but it’s not the case. Most of the beautiful fruits you see are grown with generous amounts of pesticides, and organic food is hard to come by unless you know people.

As for health food stores, they are non-existent. The closest thing they have to a health food store are these mini-stores called “Macrobiotic” stores (which have nothing to do with the macrobiotic diet) selling all kinds of medicinal herbs.

I could mention other factors, but I’m not going to expand too much on them, as I have covered them in my book “So, You Want to Move to Costa Rica?

There are profound cultural differences, even if you speak the language.

Most expats end up with drinking problems unless they stay involved in something productive, like starting a business. You also have various political problems, depending on the country you choose, as well as immigration issues.

You do get beautiful weather and a proper “tropical paradise,” but at a price.

Most people don’t realize that the reason why the cost of living is higher in first-world countries is that governments can raise more taxes and invest in infrastructures that improve safety and quality of life of their citizens.

Wanting to live somewhere with half to a third of the cost with the same level of safety and comfort of a first world country is wanting to have your cake and eat it too!

Finally, there’s the fact that we are attached to our homeland more than we think.

Relocating to a tropical paradise means cutting off your most significant ties to your friends and community. You have to be pretty sure that you can recreate healthy friendships. Otherwise it can lead to deep feelings of isolation and depression, made worse by the fact that you’ve now made it financially difficult to go back home. I’ve seen this over and over again in expats!


Hawaii offers a beautiful array of landscapes and microclimates, and I find myself wanting to move here every time I visit. I love the Aloha spirit, the people, I love the water, and I love the islands.

Most of my readers are American, so for them moving to Hawaii is feasible from an immigration standpoint. Even though Hawaii is technically part of the United States, it is worlds apart concerning culture.

Many Americans move to Hawaii after dreaming about it for years, but end up coming back disillusioned! Just ask any expat, and you’ll hear a ton of stories! Many you can share them in the comment section.

As most people know, the cost of living in Hawaii is much higher than in other parts of the country.

For someone living on a standard American diet, you could probably get by shopping at Costco, going to the farmer’s markets, and growing some of your food. For most people, however, if you’re going to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, it’s going to get expensive.

Surprisingly, the variety isn’t all that great either. The last time I was on Maui, I made a few runs to Costco for pineapple, as it’s the only place I could find it for a decent price! The fruits I was eating were: pineapples, bananas, papayas, and apples.

Rare but hard-to-find exotic fruits in Hawaii

Rare but hard-to-find exotic fruits in Hawaii

The only exotic thing I was able to get was freshly picked starfruit, which was delicious, but in short supply.

You can find great tropical fruits in Hawaii, but you have to know people. The first time I visited, I remember Jeremy Safron, a long-time Maui resident, and raw food advocate, roaming the island to find exotic and rare fruits, like canistel. They are not otherwise readily available.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’ll be the last one to bash Hawaii!

I love it so much that I often spend over a month there. But I go for the Aloha spirit, the weather and the ocean.

Other Tropical Countries

I’ve visited the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Thailand, Fiji, the Philippines, Panama, and many other countries.

The places that I would say that are most appropriate for the raw food lifestyle would be Thailand and Southeast Asia.

duriansThe variety and amount of fruits available there is just astounding. There aren’t as many greens, but it’s the place to go for fruit.

However, it’s impossible not to feel like an outsider. Even if you make a passable attempt at speaking the language, you’ll never be accepted in the culture. The same goes for the rest of Southeast Asia.

As for the South Pacific, this is the part of the world that I find the most beautiful.

Surprisingly, although these islands are more remote and less accessible, I found a better variety of fruit in French Polynesia than I did in Hawaii. Although Hawaii has more shopping available, they seem to grow more local produce in the South Pacific.

But, as much as I love it there, it’s outrageously expensive, and immigration is not possible for most people. The weather is also not as paradise-like, and you’d imagine, with a rainy season lasting a few months with unbearable heat and humidity and rains that could last weeks on end.

The Produce Where I Live

I live next to a great market: the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal. I shop at small Italian produce stores, and the stuff I can get there beats what I can find in most tropical “paradises.”

So for me, tropical countries don’t offer better foods. And if you live in or near a big city in North America or Europe, it’s probably the same for you. You just have discovered the best shopping spots in your town.

Conclusion: The Grass Is Always Greener….

So whenever I come back to my cold city of Montreal, which has great weather for parts of the year, but not-so-great for the most of the year, I always feel happy because I know I live in a great city.

It’s not a tropical paradise, but I do have better access to produce than almost anywhere else I’ve been. It’s also a great place to live a healthy lifestyle.

We have lots of safe bike trails, places to run and exercise and a temperate climate that isn’t conducive to the spread of many tropical diseases.

I would also say that I find quality of life in Montreal hard to beat.

There are a lot of great advantages to living in more Northern latitudes. A lot of people complain about cold weather, but overall, a temperate climate is healthier than a truly tropical climate for most people. Anyone who has lived in the tropics can tell you that tropical life is not without major disadvantages.

As for tropical weather and tropical beaches, well, as much as I enjoy it, I don’t need them year round. I also enjoy going to concerts what a city has to offer, as well as hiking in forests or jump in refreshing lakes.

Yes, it can be truly difficult to get through four to six months of winter.

The lack of the sunshine, the shorter days, and the cold are factors that do add up and make residing in these Northern climates a little less enticing and make living a high-raw diet and lifestyle more difficult.

What’s the solution?

Being active and exercising is one.

I need some of this too!

Having the option to travel to a “tropical paradise” to get your fill of sunshine during the winter also helps.

Whenever I go to a “tropical paradise,” and I get tempted to live there full time, I know that this feeling is an illusion. It’s like the honeymoon phase of a relationship: it doesn’t last. You have to face the fact that in order to get something different, you have to give up something as well.

The dream of relocating full-time to a tropical paradise is most often a pipe dream for most people. We tend to overlook important factors such as cultural differences, friends and community, language, and the attachment to one’s homeland.

I love many places of the world besides where I live… but only to visit a few weeks or months at a time.

I also know people who have successfully relocated abroad and after years, have no desire coming back. So everyone is different in that regard.



Now what about you? Do you dream of moving to the tropics? Have you tried it? Share your stories below! 

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Eric O. says:

    Merci Frédéric pour ce très intéressant exposé. J’aime bien ta façon de penser dans tes derniers bulletins qui “challenge” les idées préconçues et m’emmène à voir de nouvelles perspectives (c’est mon genre de toujours vouloir développer plus de façon de voir une même chose!).

    J’ai mis vitaera.com comme site web, mais c’est vraiment celui de mon épouse et sa partenaire qui viennent d’ouvrir une clinique de santé alternative à Sherbrooke. Je suis leur bénévole site web et médias sociaux pour l’instant 😉

    Merci encore et Salut!
    Eric O.

  2. But Fred, how about Australia and Spain? What do you think of those? Some raw food movement leaders live in Australia and Europeans always seem to value Spain.

    • I have known people who have started raw food communities in Spain or moved to Spain, but often they ended up moving back because of the problems with commune living or cultural differences in Spain, which are also huge. But of course if someone is happy there and has a great life, I’m all for that. As for Australia, it’s seems easier to adapt when coming from another Commonwealth country, like the UK.

  3. Jessy says:

    I really enjoyed the entire article. I commend you for your honesty in telling us why you keep coming back from those tropical paradises.

    I do have to disagree with the saying that you don’t need to live in a tropical climate to live high raw year round. Your personal experience as someone in their 30s is not really valid because when one is young, the body can tolerate a lot of abuse.

    Most if not all the high raw gurus that are older (50s, 60s and 70s) live in tropical climates. I don’t know of any who live in a cold climate and look and feel healthy.

    • Hi Jessy, are you saying the living in a cold climate constitutes “abuse” on the body because of the cold itself or some other reason related to raw food diets? I’m not sure I understand your point.

      • Jessy says:

        Frederic, when I used the word “abuse”, I was thinking about all the stuff young people can do to their bodies and still look and feel great because they are young. Things like taking recreational drugs, getting drunk, smoking cigarettes, drinking 5 cups of coffee a day, not getting enough sleep, etc…

        I am not equating raw foods to drugging, smoking, etc. All I am trying to say is that just because your young body seems to do fine on a raw diet while you live in a cold climate year round does not mean that ultimately, years down the line, this diet will prove to be ideal for you or for most people.

        The natural health field is being crowded with young people making all sort of health pronouncements based on how their (young) bodies experience. While I respect their opinions, I have learned to take a lot of them with a grain of salt. I want to see what the 50s, 60s and 70 year old people have to say on how a diet is working for them before I form a definitive judgement on its ultimate health benefits.. At that age, the body does not lie. It gives you back whatever you have put in.

        • Hi Jessy. I get your point. I have 10 more years to go before entering that age group (50) and we’ll see then! That being said, I don’t actually eat an all raw diet in a cold climate. I eat much more raw foods during the summer and I reduce somewhat during the winter, for body temperature maintenance, but also because I prefer a mix of both.

          • Jessy says:

            That makes a lot of sense, Frederic. Adapting your diet to the seasons is very wise. We adapt our clothing to the season, we should also adapt our diet.

            another factor to consider is one’s genetic/ethnic heritage. For instance, someone of African descent, whose ancestors thrived under a hot climate for countless generations, would have a harder time thriving in a cold climate on a 100% raw foods. Versus someone of Nordic heritage, whose body is primed to thrive in cold conditions.

            and yet another factor is the amount of adipose tissue one carries.

            There is just so much to say on the subject of raw foods in cold climate. Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion and share my thoughts without feeling attacked. You are one of the most open minded health gurus out there.

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