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, and 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 – the most 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 neighborhood 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 snorkeling, are popular.
Also, neighboring 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 three 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 – the most 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, colorful 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, and Riberas del Pilar, among others, but each neighborhood has its individualistic style. In neighboring 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 now has 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, and 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 centers 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 makes it a sight to behold. PV was originally a quiet fishing village in the 1960s but has expanded rapidly over time.
Local food specialties 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 offers very good value with quieter neighborhood 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.
Want to know more? Read our Living In Puerto Vallarta guide.
4. San Miguel de Allende – the best location for expat artists
Situated 4 hours northwest of Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende is a magnet for artistic personalities.
The colonial center of the 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 Independencia neighborhood, where they can mix with the locals.
Another popular area is the Balcones, which is situated at the top of a steep hill. Regardless of which you pick, all command breathtaking views.
For more information on living in this wonderful city, including the costs, best areas, amenities, and activities, read our Living In San Miguel de Allende guide.
5. Puerto Escondido – the best surfing destination
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 surfers in the 60s discovered it.
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 flavors and seafood.
Ensenada is 63 miles (101 kilometers) south of the Mexico-United States border and is about one hour from 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 neighboring Rosarito have good medical facilities.
Punta Banda and Bajamar are well-known areas for expats.
7. Mazatlán – the Mexican Riviera
Located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, Mazatlán is opposite the southern part of Baja California Sur and is known as the Mexican Riviera.
This popular resort town has a wealth of beaches, a cruise ship terminal, a marina, and a port that cruise ships frequent.
The place is also renowned for the open golf-cart taxis known as ‘pulmonias’, which are a usual form of transport.
Mazatlán’s most prominent features include cliffs, historical buildings, and world-class hotels.
It’s a relatively well-connected town. A car ferry operates weekly from the port to La Paz in Baja California Sur. General Rafael Buelna International Airport provides domestic and international flights to the USA and Canada.
Driving down from the US is also a popular option.
Weatherwise, Mazatlán is considered less humid than other Pacific-facing locations in Mexico, like Puerto Vallarta. It is also less commercialized, which is often a welcomed fact if you are looking for a somewhat calmer location.
To find out more, read our Living In Mazatlán As An Expat guide.
8. Todos Santos – a magical town
Situated in Baja California Sur on the Pacific Ocean, Todos Santos is between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.
It is often described as a tropical paradise where the desert, Sierra Laguna mountains, and sea merge together to afford a truly unique scenery.
Agricultural lands abound with fruit-producing trees such as papaya and mangoes with unspoiled beaches to match.
Todos Santos (all saints) is a designated Pueblo Magico (magic town) where Mexican culture, architecture, tranquillity, and traditions are being purposefully preserved.
This location attracts outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, bird lovers, off-road bikers, walkers and surfers.
Todos Santos is a small town known for art, painting, and jewelry. With its brightly painted buildings and a lot of art galleries, small boutiques, and restaurants, it is attractive to artists of all sorts. There are lots of local groups here, from writing groups to art classes, yoga, and photography.
Local markets and organic farming stalls are plentiful, but large-scale supermarket shopping would involve a trip to Cabo San Lucas, where American-style supermarkets and outlets are in abundance as well as Mexican ones.
The Hotel California is the centerpiece of the town and is often confused with the original song by The Eagles, though there is no association.
There is also a church, theatre, cultural center, museum, and historic buildings.
Most expats, primarily from the US or Canada, live on the outskirts of town where there are many small developments of properties close to the sea or with ocean views.
The climate here is arid and warm, and hardly any rainfall, with a Pacific breeze from time to time, with tropical storms during the summertime.
The local roads might be a disappointment, as they are predominantly dirt roads. However, recently the town has received extra funds from the government to improve roads and infrastructure and build a new highway to connect Todos Santos to La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, so realtors are looking into developing the area to attract expat and local buyers.
9. Cabo San Lucas – the cape at the land’s end
A resort city at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula known as Cabo is a top-class tourist destination and a popular retirement location for expats.
Originally a quiet fishing village, Cabo San Lucas today is one of the main vacation and retirement locations in Mexico.
Los Cabos international airport serves the US, Canada, and Mexico. There’s also an excellent highway, the Transpeninsular Highway which runs from Tijuana, the first border town in Mexico, all the way through Baja California.
The Marina forms the centerpiece of the city, with Playa Grande and Medano Beach on opposite sides.
The marina has a variety of hotels, Home Depot, and Costco. There are a variety of attractions, from shopping malls to water sports, golf courses, fishing, snorkeling, and whale watching, so there is something for everyone.
Properties on offer range from exclusive gated developments to condominiums and townhouses with access to amenities such as a pool, spa, and secluded beach. You can also find reasonably priced townhouses within a designated urbanization or land plots for sale to style your own dream home.
The place is frequently visited by A-listers such as Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney, and others who vacation here or have second homes in the area.
There are some exclusive expat communities here, such as Pedregal, a hilly area with views of the Pacific Ocean, seafood eateries, and local farmers’ markets.
Other popular areas in the Cabo Corridor include Cabo Bello, Club La Costa, Laguna Vista, and Alegranza, which have a variety of properties for sale and rent at reasonable prices.
Alegranza is a hilltop area within walking distance of town.
Campestre, set in the rolling foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains with views of the Sea of Cortez with its own golf course, has a variety of condominium options to suit all tastes and budgets.
It is important to note that some parts of Cabo San Lucas are hilly, which may not be suitable for retiring expats.
10. Manzanillo – a quiet port city
Situated between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo lies on the Pacific coast in the Mexican state of Colima.
It is around a 2-hour drive to Colima city. An authentic place divided into two principal areas – a resort bay on the Santiago peninsula and the commercial downtown area. Despite being a busy port, Manzanillo retains a tranquil and laid-back atmosphere with an authentic Mexican feel about it.
The place has a tropical sub-climate with the rainy season from May to October, with some tropical storms and hurricanes possible. There are many beaches and countless opportunities for walking, water sports and a round of golf.
An airport offers flights to Mexico City and some US and Canadian cities
Manzanillo is a good option if you are looking for a more affordable and less expat-saturated location.
The town has shops and amenities; there’s a Walmart as well as local supermarkets and tiendas (shops) here. Residents tend to drive to the state capital, Colima city, when the need arises for larger stores and services. Another option is a 4-hour drive to Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s largest cities.
Puerto Vallarta is easily accessible via the coastal scenic highway two hundred that runs down as far as Salina Cruz in Oaxaca state.
Popular areas for expats are the Las Brisas area which faces the ocean with a real ‘Colonia’ feel, and the Santiago peninsula, which includes the well-known La Punta and Las Hada residential areas. Club Santiago and the Juluapan peninsula are also worth considering.
The general feel of Manzanillo is that it is less Americanised and commercialized, which adds to the real Mexican experience. There are lots of local clubs and associations for expats, such as the local rotary club as well as local community groups.
11. Troncones – a tropical retreat
Troncones is located around twenty miles northwest of Zihuatanejo, in Guerrero state, and nestled between the Sierra Madre mountains. It is about 40 minutes from the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo international airport.
The place is known for surfing breaks at Troncones Point, seafood, beachfront accommodations, family-friendly activities, and tranquil and relaxing vibes where you can enjoy a humid tropical climate year-round.
This area has an allure for expats seeking an uncrowded tropical paradise with nature, and beaches abound with the mountainous backdrop and relaxed way of life.
Troncones sits on ‘ejido’ or farming land, and the population has grown due to tourism and the influx of North Americans making their homes here. This destination is an opposing contrast to Ixtapa, which has a lot of high-rise hotels and development.
Visually the beaches are pristine, with secluded coves dotted here and there. Eco-architects have embraced the environment and are building new developments with this focus in mind.
Strict ecological regulations limit building and land use, homes on the beach are earth-toned to blend in with the surrounding nature, and there are no high-rise condominium buildings, as is the case in other locations in Mexico.
For a larger place to visit, there is the bustling city of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa, with large shopping malls which are around half an hour away.
Living here, you can enjoy a peaceful walk on the beach without meeting crowds of people, so it is very possible to have a yoga class on the beach or just some tranquil time in the hammock reading in a secluded part of the beach.
Three miles of clean, uncrowded beaches and clear waters – all at your disposal. What not to like?
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, as well as various locations on the Yucatan peninsula. What is known as the Tourist Corridor that runs between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo 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.
You might find useful:
- How To Avoid Pitfalls When Renting Or Buying Property In Mexico: how to safely rent or buy a home in Mexico
- Living In Mexico – The Expats’ Essential Guide: a detailed relocation guide to Mexico: residency and paperwork, where to live, the costs, the pros and cons and how to settle down
- Didn’t find what you were looking for or need further advice? Comment with your question below and we will do our best to help.