Perception is key to where we all start in evaluating the big question of – Where would I choose to live in Mexico.
Lets break it down, most of us have taken vacations to Mexico during college or on winter vacations trying to escape the cold and snow up north. Your first thoughts or memory’s probably are of the popular places like Cancun, Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta or maybe Mazatlan. Drinking to excess especially with some friends goading you on to do tequila shooters which you swore you’d never do that again the next day. There’s a really big difference between college vacations and family vacations as your ideas about what’s fun changes dramatically as you age too.
When you begin to think about Mexico as a retirement or 2nd home option your lifestyle choices start to shape your thinking. Weather should be a major factor unless you only care about the prime winter months as a get away location from the cold.
Do you really want to live on or near the beach? Golf course or gated community, condo or single family home? The whole question of living on the ocean should take on many different aspects to consider. Mountains or desert or colonial highlands like Lake Chapala or San Miguel de Allende. Mexico is a very large and diverse country and you can choose whatever climate or lifestyle that fits your objectives or wish list.
Baja – Pacific or Sea of Cortez. Southern Baja or northern Baja you mean you didn’t know there was a northern Baja with wonderful wine growing regions and seafood to die for. The best oysters, clams and scallops you ever tasted plus all of the normal seafood we all love.
The Cabo area has experienced incredible growth over the last 10 years with many high-end developments that span both sides of the highway. The airport is doubled in size and they built a new toll road to bring you out just above Cabo San Jose on the new highway. What ever your price-point is they have built it there in spades. Beautiful golf courses but they are very expensive, I moved to Todos Santos from Hawaii and the prices blew me away. Todos Santos is about 45 miles up the Pacific coast on the new highway. It has become the Taos, New Mexico artist community south for all of the artist who call it home like Charles Stewart. It is a beautiful little town that seems to be waiting for something to awaken it from it’s slumber. further north you come to LaPaz which is a wonderful mid-size town of 200,000 that is becoming a expat hotspot. The Sea of Cortez is sublime and must be scene to be appreciated, Jacques Cousteau called it the most special body of water in the world for its diversity of marine life. further north you come to Loreto and Mulege two very special towns that will take your breath away with their mix of desert mountains and the many islands in the Sea of Cortez where the water is so still it looks like a lake. Crossing over the desert you start up the northern Baja coastline nearest to San Diego with the Ensenada to Rosarita Beach that has many folks moving to because they can still drive into California within a 1-2 hours or less. This is also where Mexico’s fine wine growing region is. They are making true Gold Metal award winning wines here that are top notch.
Mayan Riviera - Caribbean Ocean. This area of the Quintana Roo we all know ranges from Cancun and Playa del Carmen to Tulum. It has the best beaches in the world with incredible diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fly-fishing, 7,000 fresh water cenotes, jungle, Mayan ruins and so much more.
Cancun has become a tale of 2 cities, Cancun proper is almost one million and growing it has all the big box stores from the US and chain restaurants. It truly has a lot to offer for shopping and getting out on the town. The tourist island is where most people think of as Cancun being. it has one large hotel or condo complex after another. frankly the beaches are not so good but most people are hanging around the pools anyway. Of course the nightlife is why they come here and it doesn’t dis-appoint either. If you came to party your in luck.
Playa del Carmen 25 miles to the south seems a like a world away, the beaches start becoming very nice and the hotels range from the famous all inclusive 4 & 5 Star resorts to the thatch-roof bungalows. golf course are excellent and priced about what you’s expect. $80-160 for 18 holes.
Go another 20 miles south on highway 307 on a fairly new 4 lane divided highway and you come to Tulum the new hot spot in Mexico. Their ready to build a new international airport here as the Mexican tourist authority thinks they will see 17 million visitors coming by 2025.
Tulum has by far the best beaches in the world! Tulum has miles and miles of unspoiled powder white sand beaches with gin clear caribbean ocean and the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world just offshore within snorkeling or kayaking range. The famous beach resorts are famous for their off the grid eco friendly resorts. You do not have to give up any amenities or comfort though. Tulum is considered by the so called experts as the next IT place to invest. The population is around 18,000 but expected to grow to over 100,000 within 10-15 years or less.
Pacific – Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta. This area has a very diverse coastline with 2 large cities but with solid established expat community’s in place. Mazatlan is where the water temps warm up and it become nice for swimming. Both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta have all of the usual big box US stores and shopping with nice airports also. There is a stretch of bays and little town south of Mazatlan that have become favorites of the in the know expat crowd starting with San Blas, Rincon de Guayabitos and Sayulita and higher end areas of Punta Mita. Each of these areas is quiet small towns which feel real nice if you looking for un-crowded beaches with great local feel. It is one of my favorite place in Mexico. Prices go up of course in the winter months but most folks you meet have been coming here for years and you soon see why. I won’t go into much detail here foe purely selfish reasons.
Lake Chapala, Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende – Colonail highlands. Many folks are surprised to learn that these areas have the highest concentrations of expats in Mexico. Beaches aren’t the best draw after all. My wife and I decided to re-locate from Tulum to Ajijic this month for many reasons. The weather was a huge factor in our decision making process. It’s hot and humid in Tulum for 7 months out of the year. It’s a beautiful place and we loved living here very much but we found ourselves not going to the beach as we thought we would not sure why that is, we lived in Hawaii for 15 years so we understand beach living and it was very important to us to be near the water.
Ajijic sits on Lake Chapala at 5,000 feet on Mexico’s largest lake at over 50 miles long and 25 miles wide surrounded by the green mountains and foothills. National Geographic said it has the 2nd best weather on earth. you really don’t need either AC or heating. It cools down every night and warms up in the daytime and with such a huge lake it reminds me a little of living on the Big island of Hawaii. Ajijic is about 3 1/2 hours away from the Pacific so we can drive over for weekends or vacations easily. Ajijic itself is 400-500 years old with cobblestone streets and plenty of history and culture it’s an all around pleasant place to live. Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city about 45 minutes away with a modern international airport and all of the big box stores and malls you could ever want. There a 2 Costco’s and 5 WalMarts.
San Miguel de Allende is another colonial highland hotspot. One strange complaint you hear about this beautiful city is they speak more English than Spanish and the gringos have driven prices to high? It has plenty of culture and wonderful architecture to see everywhere. It is a must see if your wanting to discover old Mexico and see some truly historic churches, local shops and and artisan selling their work in the markets.
My takeaway’s – Consider spending 3-6 months at 2 or more places after you narrow your choices down to the areas your think will fit best. Rent is usually cheap $500-800 a month fo ra fully furnished home or condo and you can get a true sense of daily life not a weeks vacation.