Mexico is a vast country of many contrasts and a wealth of opportunities for an individualistic way of life. While this has its benefits, it may pose a dilemma when seeking that perfect place to live.
There are countless options to suit your desired lifestyle, and hopefully, the tips below will help to narrow down your choices.
The most popular areas with expats are the Caribbean, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and inner mountainous towns. They all have varied climates and a host of amenities and leisure activities.
Small islands such as Isla Mujeres, Cozumel are better for exploring. Another bonus for explorers is an easy route to neighbouring Belize, Guatemala, and down to Panama via the famous Pan American highway.
1. Playa del Carmen – laid back vibe and relaxed beachside living
Also known as Playa, this is a resort town in the Mexican Caribbean, Yucatan’s Rivera sandy beach coastline. It’s known for its coral reef and ‘cenotes’ (natural swimming caves), nightspots and restaurants.
The climate is sub-tropical year-round with a rainy season and dry season.
Playa is a small town but offers all the amenities of a large town.
5th Avenue, known as ‘La Quinta’, runs parallel to the beachfront with numerous shopping options and hypermarkets. There are also large shopping malls dotted around different parts of Playa.
There are lots of local community activities to get involved in: environmental weekly beach clean-ups, poker-playing groups and retired meetups ideal for making new friends and finding inside community insight.
Many U.S / Canadian expats have set up real estate businesses, which can be handy if you would like to take advantage of your native language when finding the best properties in Mexico.
There is a rapidly expanding expat community, mainly digital nomad types and retirees. However, it is heavily mixed with European, U.S, and Canadian tourists who stay in the all-inclusive resorts in Playa del Carmen, or day-trip to Tulum or from their Cancun resort.
It is a flat and walkable city, good for keeping fit! December, January and Semana Santa are especially busy periods.
You’ll find high-end rentals, and older style apartments and houses in the main part of town and the outskirts.
Looking for something fancy? The Playacar area is an exclusive neighbourhood with gated communities and higher rents or sale prices.
Anemonas Playacar is a quiet residential area with lower-cost rentals and houses for sale.
The downtown area is popular due to its proximity to the beach and amenities, but the property may be old style and rent is higher.
Attractions such as Xcaret amusement park or scuba diving from Cozumel Island are popular with expats and tourists alike.
There is a lively restaurant scene on the main street lining the beach with restaurants offering world cuisine, as well as nightclubs, bars, and cafes. It is known to be vibrant, energetic, and noisy at the weekend, as there is a mix of locals, tourists, and expats. So, in property terms, downtown Playa may be a noisy option, especially near 12th street.
If you want to get away for the day, island visits to Cozumel, famous for water sports and snorkelling, are popular.
Also, neighbouring Tulum has plenty of attractions.
Playa del Carmen is around 30 minutes away from the main airport of Cancun. An hour’s drive away is Chetumal, the border town to Belize, with a duty-free area. This makes it very easy to jump to Belize for a day or two.
The Riviera Maya Jazz festival in November attracts international artists for 3 days of music on the beach and is great if you’re into this sort of thing.
Transport is plentiful within Playa – taxis, buses and a colectivo (shared car taxi), along with local bus options to other parts of Mexico.
2. Lake Chapala – thriving & popular retirement community and lakeside living
In Jalisco state, you will find Mexico’s largest freshwater lake and the old-world, charming town of Chapala. It has cobbled streets, colourful gardens and lush green mountains, which thrive in its pleasant year-round spring-like climate.
Most expats rent or buy homes in Chula Vista, Ajijic, Riberas del Pilar among others, but each neighbourhood has its individualistic style. In neighbouring Ajijic, there are some gated communities also.
It is home to American and Canadian snowbirds escaping the northern cold winters and so has one of the largest expat communities in the whole of Mexico.
A new state of the art hospital has been built recently, and as a major retirement hub, the town has now assisted living homes.
Lake Chapala is ideal for those who like boating, village living and scenic walking routes for keeping fit and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
A lot of Mexicans have second homes there, and there is a good mix of American, English, South Americans too.
Chapala is a small town with basic amenities, golf courses, and markets. It tends to attract older populations of retired expats. It has a vibrant yet peaceful environment that is the perfect balance between activity and relaxation.
If you want a bit more liveliness, it is only half an hour away from one of Mexico’s largest cities, Guadalajara. Here you’ll find high-end shopping centres with the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton, first-rate hospitals and healthcare, and large home stores such as Home Depot.
Back at Lake Chapala, there are lots of local community clubs and events ranging from theatre to Spanish language classes. It’s known for its close-knit community.
In the late 1940s, the famous American writer Tennessee Williams lived in Chapala to work on his play called “The Poker Night,” which later became “A Streetcar Named Desire.” As Williams explained in “The Catastrophe of Success,” Chapala offered him an ideal environment to be creative.
3. Puerto Vallarta – bursting with natural charm
Puerto Vallarta is a charming town with a city feel. Its beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Madre mountains facing the Pacific Ocean make it a sight to behold. PV was originally a quiet fishing village in the 1960s but has expanded rapidly over time.
Local food specialities include grilled red snapper marinated with roast peppers, garlic, and spices (Huachinango Sarandeado).
There are also cultural ties, such as the actors Anjelica and Danny Huston, who live in remote Las Caletas beach and founded the Puerto Vallarta Film Festival. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed the jungle scenes for Predator in Mismaloya.
The outskirts of town are modern with lots of shopping malls and housing developments, such as the Nuevo Vallarta residential and resort complex.
Rich expats and celebrities have been known to grace the location for decades, and aside from retirees, there is a younger demographic also wishing to set up a home in PV.
The town is accessible by road and the main airport has local and international flights to the US and Europe.
PV is affordable and modern. There are plenty of properties for sale and to rent both in the town and the outskirts.
The local real estate market stretches from Mismaloya, south of Puerto Vallarta, to Punta Mita on the northwest shore.
Many expats live in the state of Nayarit, north of the Ameca River. Bucerias, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and Punta Mita are popular choices in Nayarit.
In Puerto Vallarta, the Colonias in the hotel zone area offer very good value with quieter neighbourhood living and larger houses, many with pools or access to homeowner association pools.
Centro and Zona Romantica are vibrant yet noisy. The most upscale housing areas are south of Zona Romantica, high in the hills and along the beachfront.
There is a long promenade to walk that stretches for miles along the coastline and prestigious cruise ships pass through here such as Carnival, Cunard, and Royal Caribbean cruises.
PV is considered a very safe environment for expats where one never lacks entertainment. You’ll find lots of cultural events from jazz festivals to film festivals.
It can be extremely busy in the high season due to the number of tourists arriving to stay at the all-inclusive resorts and hotels.
4.San Miguel de Allende – a hub for expat artists
Situated 4 hours northwest of Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende is a magnet for artistic personalities.
The colonial centre of town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning that buildings retain their original historical structure. The town is known for its Spanish architecture and colonial charm, which highlights the area’s comparatively recent heritage.
There are a variety of international and local cuisines and opportunities to meet other expats.
The temperate climate is typical of the high Sierra Mountain range; the air is crisp and clean throughout the year. During the coldest months (January and February) it can drop below freezing.
The state capital, Guanajuato, is an hour away. It’s known for its markets and craft markets – particularly the mercados (indoor food markets) sprinkled throughout the city. You’ll also find the Tuesday outdoor farmers’ market and bazaars called a tianguis on the outskirts of town.
There are several hot springs such as La Gruta (the Grotto) that are for a hot soak.
Allende attracts many authors and artists; it hosts the largest writers conference in Latin America – The San Miguel Writers Conference.
Expats tend to live in the historical Centro or Colonia Independencias neighbourhood where they can mix with the locals. Another popular area is Balcones, which is situated at the top of a steep hill. Regardless of which you pick, all command breath-taking views.
5. Puerto Escondido – known as the Mexican pipeline for famous surfing
Known locally as Puerto, it was originally a port in the 1930s for shipping coffee from the mountains of Oaxaca. It was just a sleepy town when it was discovered by surfers in the 60s.
Currently in development is a new highway to shorten travel time between Puerto, Oaxaca, and Mexico City.
Puerto hosts world-renowned surfing competitions and attracts people from all over the world. It’s known for its scenic walkway (Andador Escenico) and wealth of smaller beaches like la Punta and Carrizalilo beach, which can only be accessed by a series of 157 steps!
The main beach is lined with ‘palapa‘ – straw-roofed restaurants – and palm trees.
El Cafecito is a restaurant at the end of Zicatela beach, famous for its coffee and local menu. It’s a popular good meeting place for locals and expats. It also has reliable Wi-Fi, which can be patchy due to the remoteness of Puerto.
Bacocho is a popular expat community, as are Brisa de Zicatela and La Punta on quieter stretches of beach.
There are a variety of options for buying plots of land. In development now is La Barra, where a new village is being planned out with different plots of land, including amenities such as shops and businesses.
Life in Puerto Escondido is simple and enjoyable. It’s a bohemian town that attracts many surfing types, as well as retired surfers or those looking for a simpler way of life.
6. Ensenada, Baja California – a pearl of the Pacific
Known for producing wine, providing water sports and its varied weather, Ensenada is a popular seaside getaway, a port city on a beautiful stretch of the Pacific coast.
It’s famous for its extensive surf spots and resort towns where you’ll find kayaking at Estero beach and surfing at San Miguel beach.
Every winter, grey whales migrate from Alaska to Baja California’s warmer waters.
Wineries are plentiful and celebrated at the Ensenada Vintage Festival in August. The town also hosts a Fish and Seafood Festival in September and a Mushroom Festival in June.
Ensenada is known for its Baja Med Cuisine, a mixture of oriental flavours and seafood.
Ensenada is 63 miles (101 kilometres) south of the Mexico-United States border and is about one hour to San Diego, California, which is an attraction, especially for U.S citizens.
Many expats in this part of Baja California take advantage of nearby healthcare in San Diego, even though Ensenada and neighbouring Rosarito have good medical facilities.
Punta Banda and Bajamar are well-known areas for expats.
The best places to live in Mexico – summary
This list of the best places is not exhaustive and there are many more jewels to be discovered.
Other up and coming destinations for residing are Huatulco, Mexico City, Sayulita, Todos Santos and Mazatlan. Cabo San Lucas is a very popular destination for those choosing to live in Baja California Sur.
Research carefully and, if possible, take a few discovery trips to try different parts of Mexico. Doing so will allow you to compare and make a decent final decision as to where you would like to place your sombrero permanently in this paradise.