More Americans have retired abroad in Mexico than any other country. The low cost of living, sunshine, accessibility, established expat communities and diversity of lifestyle options draw many retirees south of the border.
Here are the 10 best places to retire in Mexico in 2021:
— Ajijic, Lake Chapala.
— Playa del Carmen.
— Puerto Vallarta.
From relaxing beach towns to cosmopolitan cities, the challenge is deciding where to retire in Mexico. Consider these potential retirement spots in Mexico where you can seek adventure overseas but don’t have to give up all the comforts of home.
Ajijic, Lake Chapala
The Mexican government estimates that nearly 20,000 expats reside full time in the state of Jalisco. The area around Lake Chapala is home to an organized and developed expat retiree community. The Lake Chapala Society reports about 4,000 American and Canadian residents. Moving here, you could set up a lifestyle that isn’t dramatically different from the life you left behind in the U.S. You don’t have to worry about learning the local language if you don’t want to, because this is an entire community of non-locals. Retiring to Ajijic, you could make a comfortable life for yourself in a place that’s beautiful, safe, affordable and also exotic. The cost of living is 40% to 50% less in Ajijic than it is in most U.S. cities. Over the past four decades, Ajijic has attracted such a volume of foreign retirees that it’s become very friendly to foreign residents.
This small colonial town of fewer than 25,000 is nestled in an inland valley surrounded on all sides by mountains and wild countryside. Álamos was founded in the late 17th century after silver was discovered in the area. The huge wealth generated by the mines allowed residents to build dozens of colonial mansions and hundreds of colonial homes throughout downtown. The city is walkable and safe, and there are many opportunities for volunteering. The expat community is cohesive, active, welcoming and artistic. Newcomers stay in touch with each other, hang out together and support one another when they need it. This is an affordable destination for most American retirees.
Durango is not an expat destination but a large, sophisticated Mexican city with great weather and a high standard of living. Nestled in a valley high in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre range, the city’s surroundings look like what we think of as the Old West, and many Hollywood movies have been filmed in the surrounding mountains, valleys and deserts. The city boasts clean, safe streets, good infrastructure, a thriving central market and architecture reminiscent of Europe. The almost complete absence of foreigners means no tourist pricing and a low cost of living. However, you’ll find almost no expat community and few English speakers. Spanish lessons should be a priority for anyone planning to relocate to Durango.
Huatulco is situated on Mexico’s Pacific coast at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. It’s about an hour south of Mexico City by plane. This master-planned community has a total area of about 50,000 acres, with 90% protected for ecological conservation and the remaining 10% used for tourist and residential development. Compared with other Mexican hotspots such as Cancún and Los Cabos, Huatulco has a more small town feel and offers a more authentic experience. Life here comes at a lower cost than most places in North America, though there are options for a luxury-level lifestyle. The area boasts 36 white sand beaches that span 20 miles of Mexico’s Pacific coastline. Just inland from the beach areas is La Crucecita, Huatulco’s main town, where you find grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants. Huatulco has been awarded the Green Globe certification as a sustainable tourist area. Much of Huatulco’s energy is wind-driven, and hotels, restaurants and nightclubs operate using renewable energy.
Mazatlán is one of the few places in the world where you can walk for miles on an uncrowded beach within the city limits. Mazatlán has beautiful beaches and a walkable colonial center that manages to be both a popular expat choice and an authentic Mexican resort town. Located midway along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Mazatlán’s historic center has undergone an impressive facelift. Life in Mazatlán is affordable for everything from meals out in the city’s best restaurants to frontline properties on the beachfront. It’s the type of place where you can enjoy a better quality of life at a lower cost. Mazatlán lies about 720 miles south of the Arizona border, making it a 13-hour drive down highway 15D. What a luxury to be able to throw everything you need in the car and drive to your new life overseas.
Built in the 16th century, Morelia was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. When you see it, you’ll wonder what took them so long. Adding to its architectural charm, Morelia’s beautiful Spanish Renaissance buildings are all colored the region’s trademark warm pink, thanks to the locally quarried cantera stone. This is a center of music and home to the oldest music conservatory in the Americas. This picturesque town is the capital of the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Few foreign tourists visit Morelia, but Mexicans are frequent visitors. The few expats and foreign retirees who have discovered Morelia try to keep the secret to themselves. The quality of life available in this city of over 600,000 is special and unique. The average Social Security payment is enough for a comfortable lifestyle in Morelia.
Oaxaca is Mexico’s art and culture mecca. The area around its main square is bustling with markets selling colorful handicrafts and food stalls turning out fresh and delicious local treats. Abundant Spanish colonial architecture makes for picturesque views at every turn. The city is situated at 5,100 feet above sea level in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca Mountain Range, meaning a cool climate by Mexico’s standards. Just outside the city are peaks and valleys sheathed in pine forest, providing opportunities for nature lovers to hike, seek out waterfalls and explore Zapotec ruins. Oaxaca is one of the most affordable expat destinations in Mexico, with low-cost food, lodging and transportation. It’s more budget-friendly than other top Latin American highland retirement options like Boquete, Panama, and Medellín, Colombia.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is a little beach town an hour south of Cancún on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Once a sleepy fishing village, the port was inadvertently put on the map by Jacques Cousteau in 1954 when he filmed an underwater documentary on the Great Maya Reef just offshore. Today Playa is home to more than 10,000 foreigners, including young couples, families with small children and retired folks. At the center of it all is La Quinta Avenida, the pedestrian street that runs parallel to the beach. All along 5th Avenue, music rolls out of the open storefronts, including Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Buffett, salsa and Latin ballads. A high-end environment close to tourist zone Cancún, the cost of living in Playa is higher than most places in Mexico.
Until the 1950s, Puerto Vallarta was a small fishing village along a spectacular bay on the Pacific that was modestly popular among Mexicans as a beach resort. Then, in 1963, John Huston filmed “The Night of the Iguana” in Mismaloya, a seaside village just south of Puerto Vallarta. The film’s star, Richard Burton, was involved with actress Elizabeth Taylor at the time, and the paparazzi tracked them both. Suddenly, Puerto Vallarta was in the American newspapers. Around the same time, the Mexican government began to invest heavily in infrastructure in the area, including highways, roads and public utilities, which made Puerto Vallarta a more accessible and attractive destination. Puerto Vallarta is now one of the most sophisticated resorts in Mexico. You will find cosmopolitan cultural activities including plays, films, jazz and classical concerts, gourmet restaurant festivals and gallery openings. Despite its jet-set reputation from the 60s, today Puerto Vallarta is affordable for retirees, expats and travelers.
Just 45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, Tulum feels a world away. This tranquil area is home to about 18,000 people. The location of important ancient sites and natural attractions, the focus in Tulum is more on preservation than development. The path of progress is rolling down this coast, just a bit more conscientiously in Tulum. Thanks to the long-standing tourism industry, English is commonly spoken. This part of Mexico is decidedly first world. As such, it’s not one of the low-cost standouts for expat living. Depending on where you’re coming from, you could find your cost of living in Tulum to be roughly the same as it was in the U.S. The infrastructure is as good as the best of the United States. If you’re not up for immersing yourself in another culture, the Riviera Maya could make for a welcoming place to retire.
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Update 01/29/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.