Puerto Vallarta - photo by Courtney Zimmerman
With its profoundly rich Indian and Spanish culture, its spectacular beaches and charming colonial hill towns, its real estate bargains and its proximity to the United States, Mexico is the undisputed number one destination for American retirees. It boasts thriving expat communities in Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara; San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato; Baja California; and Cancún, in the Yucatan. They all have their attractions, including a low-cost, laid-back lifestyle, but our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Nayarit. Its combination of first-class urban amenities and charming palm-fringed villages have made it an appealing retiree draw as well as a popular tourist destination, without the serious crime that blights some other parts of the country.
(A quick word about crime and safety in Mexico: Yes, it's extremely dangerous in the cities bordering the United States and a few places elsewhere. Mexico, however, is also nearly three times the size of Texas, and most of the country is reasonably safe and secure, especially resort areas and tourist destinations.)
Puerto Vallarta's handsome beachfront promenade can be overcrowded with tourists, but venture a few blocks back from the bars and curio shops, and the town's Mexican charms are on display—whitewashed houses bedecked with flowers, and plazas where locals and expats alike greet, eat, and seat themselves on benches to watch the passing parade. In Nuevo Vallarta, the newer luxury area, you’ll find U.S.-style condo complexes and even a mall. You’d think you're back in the States, but at a steep discount.
Forty minutes north of PV, the seaside village of Sayulita is a lively place, with a colorful mix of tourists, retirees, and surfer dudes that keeps things hopping. Rollie Dick, 70, and his wife, Jeanne, 65, both former teachers from California, own and operate the town’s most popular restaurant—Rollie’s—known for its delicious quesadillas and a chef who dances his guests around the tables. "We love the plaza life," Dick says. "It reminds me of the States in the ’50s."
The one thing expats most appreciate about life here: the traditional Mexican friendliness. Peter Glass, 65, a former Procter & Gamble executive, lives with his wife, Charlotte, in a charming small house in Sayulita. An African American from Washington, D.C., he says that "Mexico is the only country I’ve experienced where I haven’t felt that I was being judged one way or the other by the color of my skin. It is a breath of the proverbial fresh air."
Practicalities - from Golson's AARP article:
Climate: Winters--sunny, pleasantly warm; summers--rainy, humid, hot.
Expat community: Estimated at 50,000, including a good number of Canadians.
Cost of living: According to one recent survey, almost half os U.S. expats on the Pacific Coast report living "comfortably" on less than $1,000 a month. (In PV region, $2,000 a month is more like it.) Dinner out $30 for two.
Housing costs: Mid-price range for condos and houses: $200,000, but bargains can be found for as little as $90,000. Three-bedroom beachfront villas: $300,000 and up. Rentals: year-round rents start at $800 monthly.
Health care: PV has good hospitals (you'll find good-to-excellent hospitals in or near large cities throughout Mexico), and the hospitals in Guadalajara, three hours away, are highly regarded. Basic-care clinics abound.
Culture and leisure: Fiestas, surfing, jungle tours. There's also an impressive arts scene in PV.
Access to the U.S.: Excellent, with nonstops from Puerto Vallarta to the U.S. East and West coasts.