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.
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.
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.
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 face lift. 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.
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. Over the past four decades, Ajijic has attracted such a volume of foreign retirees that it's become very friendly to foreign residents.
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 restaurants and gallery openings.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is both the geographic and cultural heart of Mexico. About equidistant from Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Ocean and Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, San Miguel is also just a day's drive from the Texas border. At an altitude of 6,200 feet, it's warm and dry during the day and cool at night. Founded by the Spanish nearly 500 years ago, San Miguel was an important town on the route for transporting Mexican silver. Wealthy businessmen and ranchers built beautiful Spanish-colonial homes on the cobblestone streets of this picturesque hillside town. This well-preserved Spanish-colonial city is now home to one of the biggest communities of foreign retirees in Mexico.
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 the 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.
Built in the 16th century, Morelia was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. When you've seen 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 600,000 is special and unique.
Just 20 minutes south of Playa, 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. 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.
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, Hualtulco has a more small-town feel and offers a more authentic experience. 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. Hualtulco has been awarded the Green Globe certification as a sustainable tourist area. Much of Huatulco's energy is wind-driven, and hotels, restaurants & nightclubs operate on renewable energy.
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 those planning to relocate to Durango.Kathleen Peddicord began writing for U.S. News & World Report in 2010, covering the retire overseas beat. Peddicord has reported on opportunities for Americans to live, retire and do business overseas for more than 30 years and is considered the world's foremost authority on these subjects.