The Realities Of Living In The Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Craving for an eternal summer, white-sand beaches and turquoise waters lined by palms? We might have just the place for you.

Living in the Yucatan
Tulum beach in the Riviera Maya

Located in southeast Mexico, between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, the Yucatán Peninsula is one of the most popular destinations for snowbirds wishing to escape harsh winters and expats looking for a permanent home in the sun.

The peninsula includes the Mexican states of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán and, in the south, large parts of Belize and Guatemala. In this guide, we will be talking only about the Mexican part of the Yucatan peninsula.

Our guide will help you to discover why the region is so popular with expats and what living in the Yucatán is really like. 

Is the Yucatán Peninsular a good place to live?

The short answer is Yes, the Yucatán Peninsula is a great place to live if you are looking for great weather, lower cost of living, good healthcare and friendly easy-going people. 

Living in the Yucatan
Flamingos at Celestun about an hour and a half drive from Merida.

It boasts excellent weather all year round. There’s no winter at all, all you will have is one wet humid season and one dry season.

During the dry season, it’s hot by day, and cooler at night. The average yearly temperature in January is around 74F (23.5C), and 82F (28C) in July. 

Transport wise the Yucatán is well-connected and is well served with long-distance buses as well as local taxis, ‘collectivos’ and ‘camiones’.

There is an airport in Merida, the capital, which serves Mexico, Cuba, and parts of the U.S.A. About an hour away is the international airport at Cancun where you can get both local and international flights. 

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Affordability and modern amenities are two key factors that attract retirees.

Lower cost of living than in the U.S, excellent healthcare facilities, plentiful shopping malls, commercial, and cultural facilities and all modern-day conveniences ensure that living in the Yucatán Peninsula is as comfortable as possible. 

The ultimate beach lifestyle 

For beach lovers, the coastal towns of the Yucatán Peninsula are the ultimate destinations.

Living in the Yucatan
Akumal Bay – a white-sand beach in the Riviera Maya.

Nothing can beat a day out on a beach. Beaches are what attracts tourists and expats to this region. Some prefer the Gulf of Mexico shores while others choose the emerald waters of the Caribbean Sea.

You might find that the Riviera Maya beaches are a bit too popular with tourists for your liking. Then join those who head to the Gulf of Mexico.

The beaches here are quieter than the popular Caribbean locations such as Playa del Carmen, Cancun or Tulum.

Some of them like Celestun are cosy and secluded backed by thatched-roof restaurants and cafes.

There’s Ria Celestun biosphere reserve near Celestun beach which is home to many species of birds especially flamingos.

El Cuyo beach is particularly popular with kite surfers and is also rated as one of the best beaches in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Chelem beach and the neighbouring town of Chuburna Puerto has a large expatriate community.

Off the beaten track are San Benito, San Bruno and Uaymitun: there you can find beach mansions and upscale beach clubs.

You will always find something to do in Yucatán. 

There is a lot to discover: ‘cenotes’ which are underground limestone sinkholes with cool fresh water are popular for swimming and snorkelling; colonial buildings, haciendas, and tropical rainforests.

There are many opportunities for bird watching, scuba diving, swimming in cenotes and exploring nature reserves.

Expats in the Yucatán Peninsula

As the region is popular with expats, a result, there are various support networks.

The Yucatán Times and Yucatán Living websites is a great resource of information about events, news, facilities, hospitals in the region etc.

There are quite a few expat Facebook groups focusing on the Yucatán Peninsula.  This is where you can get the latest information, meet new friends, sell or buy stuff, get help, advice and learn about upcoming events. 

Is the Yucatán Peninsua expensive?

The Yucatán region offers a lower cost of living compared to the U.S, Europe or even Mexico City. Housing costs are affordable here, except when purchasing and renovating a colonial house or hacienda. 

Living in the Yucatan
A cenote near Tulum. These natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock are a big attraction for fresh water swimmers.

Merida is one of the most expensive locations on the peninsula. And yet even there you can have a really good life on a budget of $1,800 a month. 

To rent a 2-bed apartment in Merida will cost you around £750 depending on the location. Add to this £75 for various utilities, £350-400 for groceries, $40 for public transport, £100 for healthcare and about £70 for internet, and you will have over $350 left for entertainment. 

Believe us, £350 in Yucatán can stretch much further than you can imagine. 

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Buying a property is also quite an inexpensive affair, although it’s possible to find amazing villas with stunning views that will cost you a significant amount of money. 

Some expats find it attractive to transform and refurbish colonial homes in Merida. Prices in the historical quarter are higher than in the suburbs so you have to pay more if you want to buy an old colonial renovation project in a good location.

If, however, you are after a less ambitious home, the prices will pleasantly surprise you. You can buy, for example, a 2-bed retirement casa in Progreso close to the beach for $90,000. 

A 2-bed condo in the north of Merida where expats prefer to settle down will cost you about $85,000.

In Chelem, a fishing village and a very popular retirement location for expats, a 2-bed house starts from around $115,000 and a 1-bed luxury condo with an ocean view can be purchased at about $170,000.

In Cancun, another expensive location on the Caribbean side of the peninsula, you can rent a 3-bed detached house in a good location for about $650 a month.

There are townhouses and apartments that can be rented for as little as $200 if you are willing to compromise on the location.

In Campeche, the third Mexican state in the peninsula, it’s possible to buy a charming colonial home for as low as $60,000.

As you can see the property prices vary widely depending on the location and the state of the property, however, on average, property is very affordable in the region.

Another important thing to budget for is the healthcare. Healthcare facilities in the region are very good and, crucially, inexpensive. Read more about your options and costs in our guide: Healthcare Options & Health Insurance For US Retirees In Mexico

Where can I retire in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico?

Whatever type of lifestyle you are looking for you are sure to find it in the Yucatán Peninsula as it offers everything: urban living, beaches, towns, and more remote villages.

Merida

The capital city of the Yucatan State and largest city within it was voted in 2019 as the second safest city in all the Americas.

Living in the Yucatan
Central Avenue Paseo de Montejo in Merida where you will find local museums, restaurants, monuments and tourist attractions.

Known as the ‘Cuidad Blanca’, the White City, Merida is a vibrant and attractive place full of life, culture and beautiful colonial buildings. 

It is located inland so the nearest beach is about thirty miles away in Progreso and yet so many expats love living in Merida and don’t mind driving for a nice day out on a beach.

Retired expats are fascinated by Merida’s colonial past and are known to purchase and refurbish colonial homes restoring them to their original splendour, as well as taking advantage of all the amenities that the city has to offer.

There is a spectacular English library in Merida with thousands of English books that serves as a meeting point for expats to mix and mingle as well as organise events and functions.

Merida’s central ‘colonias‘ (neighbourhoods) of Santa Ana and Santiago contain a high concentration of expatriates.

However, many expats prefer the North Merida area. It’s nice and very safe with many stores and restaurants. 

Many expats will say how easy it is to adjust to a new life in Merida and that the adjustment is gradual and somewhat pleasant.

General advice, however, is to visit Merida before moving during the hot, dry season: April, May, June. What many consider the best weather can be intolerable to some as it is very hot and humid here.

Progreso

Located thirty minutes away from Merida, Progreso is a city and a port on the Gulf of Mexico.

Living in the Yucatan
The coastline in Progreso

It is known for its oceanfront promenade, the Malecón, lined with beaches and thatch-roofed restaurants. 

Progreso is definitely not your picture-perfect location, but it has all the amenities you need for a comfortable life plus great beaches. Living near beaches during the hot and dry season can be very pleasant. 

There is a close-knit expat community that offers various activities, meetings, art classes and other events. 

Progreso is ideal if you are looking to retire to Mexico on a limited budget and in a quieter spot.

Progreso is a 40-minute drive from Merida’s airport and is convenient for travelling and shopping in Merida. 

Green waters of the Gulf of Mexico provide breezes that cool down the tropical heat. You can enjoy long walks along the Malecon, a great socialising spot in Progreso where residents usually meet up for a cup of coffee, a drink, or a full-blown night out.

In short, Progreso is an affordable real Mexican fishing and beach community, not so pretty and a bit rustic but convenient and definitely worth consideration. 

As it is not such a popular tourist spot like the neighbouring Riviera Maya -Tulum – there are many bargains such as lots of land for as low as $10,000 USD and houses for sale for around $100,000. 

Izamal 

Nicknamed the ‘Cuidad amarilla’ due to the yellow colour of the buildings Izamal is designated by the Mexican government as a ‘Pueblo Magico’, a magic town.

Only cities and towns displaying a combination of natural beauty, cultural richness and historical significance are awarded this title.

Living in the Yucatan
Izamal – the yellow city.

If you have never been to Izamal before, you will be stunned by how unusual and pretty the town looks.

Indeed,  multiple rows of cobbled streets lined with charming, flat-roofed houses all painted in the same shade of rich yellow,  with white framed windows and doorways never fail to astonish the visitors.

Izamal is known for its craftwork markets and as a place to find pyramids dotted around. 

Expats are drawn here due to the mixture of cultures – the history of the ancient Mayan people mixed with the Spanish colonial history and today’s modern population.

It’s a pure unspoiled place as traditions and architecture are maintained and valued.

Merida is 45 minutes away if you need more extensive shopping and a taste of city life. The town is generally quiet, there’s not a lot of traffic and the local residents are very friendly.

Just like Merida, Izamal is not a beach town, it’s actually even further inland, so it can get very hot during the dry season. 

Only a few expats are dotted around, but the general feeling about living in Izamal is very positive. Expats say it’s a small friendly community with absolutely no crime. 

The town is perfect if you are looking for a quiet, tranquil and attractive place to live. 

Cholul 

Cholul is a small town on the outskirts of Merida and is considered Merida’s remote neighbourhood.

It is ideally located to access Merida’s city amenities.

Living in Cholul means you can enjoy a quieter town living while having all the facilities of Merida on your doorstep.

Another advantage is that the houses here are much cheaper than in Merida’s neighbourhoods closer to the centre.

The town has largely grown in popularity for newcomers, but it still retains its small-town vibe, traditions and customs.

However, in recent years, Cholul has become known for its new private residential developments.

New houses, apartments and townhouses have been sprouting all over making it one of the areas with the highest growth. Its also rapidly becoming the preferred place to invest in property by locals and foreigners.

Cholul is just 5-minutes away from Plaza Altabriza – a big shopping mall that caters for all your shopping and entertainment needs. 

There’s also the San Pedro Cholul cenote, a beautiful semi-open natural pool that allows you to swim in its cool waters, practice snorkelling and dive in its depths of up to ten metres. You will appreciate it greatly in the heat of the dry season. 

The Riviera Maya

Talking about retirement hotspots in the Yucatán Peninsula, it’s impossible not to mention the Riviera Maya.

Living in the Yucatan
Playa del Carmen beach in the Riviera Maya

This stretch of the Caribbean coastline in the northeast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Quintana Roo State is one of the most stunning coastline locations in Mexico. 

The Riviera Maya, a coastline area that starts off the south of Cancun and runs all the way to Tulum, also encompasses such popular locations as Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, Akumal and others. 

It’s a well-developed area with all the amenities you need for a comfortable and active retirement.

The government pours money into Cancun and the Riviera Maya to make it more attractive to visitors and private businesses. As a result, the area boasts high-quality infrastructure that expats and locals can benefit from. 

For travelling within the country and abroad Cancun International Airport with its extensive list of international and domestic flights is the best option.

Healthcare standards are high, so much so that the Riviera Maya is now a medical tourism hotspot. Expats living in the area have access to sophisticated and well-staffed clinics and hospitals. 

Despite it being very popular with tourists and expats alike, the Riviera Maya still keeps its authentic Mexican flavour with the food, music, arts, and entertainment all routed in the local culture. 

High standards of living with lower costs, amazing food scene, no winter, great golf courses, palm tree lined beaches and thriving and friendly communities, – what’s not to like? 

Cancun

If you dream of vast turquoise beaches, eternal summer, endless entertainment and a vibrant city lifestyle, Cancun should definitely be on your list. 

Living in the Yucatan
The hotel zone in Cancun.

Cancun has everything a big city has to offer: entertainment, amenities, services, shopping and more. It lacks culture and history, so if you really want to live in a pretty colonial town, Cancun might be the wrong choice. For day-to-day comforts, however, Cancun is unbeatable. 

Life in Cancun can be characterised by just one word – easy. And this is why:

  • The international airport is on your doorstep. 
  • Public transport is well developed, there are buses and taxes, so it’s pretty easy to live in Cancun without a car. 
  • English is spoken everywhere.
  • It’s sunny and warm all year round. 
  • Top-class healthcare facilities provide excellent medical care which you’ll find much more affordable than in the USA or Canada. 
  • Shopping options are abundant from open markets to small family-owned shops to big shopping malls. 
  • Plenty of restaurants and cafes with all kinds of cuisine on offer to excite your tastebuds. 
  • Water-based activities are endless: fishing, diving, boating, snorkelling, swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, wakeboarding and more, – all is available and affordable. 

In short, Cancun is an easy option when you choose where to live in the Yucatan Peninsula. No wonder so many expats love living here.

Campeche

Out of the three Mexican states on the Yucatán Peninsula Campeche is the one least preferred by expats. The only reason for it is that the state is further away from the international airports.

Living in the Yucatan
The Independence Plaza in Campeche.

However, if you are looking for a coastal location with a true Mexican feel and colonial charm not overrun by tourists, you should consider the state’s capital Campeche (yes, the same name).

You will find Campeche very affordable. It’s possible to rent a 1-bed apartment in the centre for about $170. Add on top about $70 for basic utilities and $45 for internet.

Campeche has a beautiful malecón which is the best spot for strolling and enjoying the sea views in the city. You will also find that the city is quite walkable and it’s also easy to get around by bike.

it’s a true undiscovered gem. Yes, it’s not as well connected and easy to travel to, however, being not very popular with tourists means the everyday prices are low, the culture is authentic, the lifestyle is unrushed and the beaches are spectacular, unspoiled and almost deserted.

Final thoughts on living in the Yucatan Peninsula

If you are considering moving to Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsular is worth consideration.

It’s a diverse country and choosing the best place to live in Mexico is no doubt challenging. But there are some substantial pros to living in the Yucatan peninsula that should put this location firmly on your top 10 list.

Living in the Yucatan Peninsula offers all amenities, a tropical climate, as well as colonial and historical architecture. 

Yucatan is rich in history, languages and traditions with a cultural mix of Mexican Spanish and Mayan languages that are still spoken today. Yucatan Spanish is unique to Mexican Spanish spoken in the rest of Mexico and you can find a mixture of the two dialects.

Expat communities are plentiful and locals are very friendly. In short, there is a sense of safety and security together with a good quality of life at a lower cost than to the north of the border.

Jasmina Nevada

A self-published author of the Mexican Duena, content planner and content writer for various publications, Jasmina is a passionate traveller and has lived as an expat in several locations in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the USA. She is planning to relocate back to a tropical location in Latin America again as an expat very soon.

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