The many faces of Mexico

Well, I thought I’d actually talk about Mexico for a change. And how different things are in different parts of the country. If you’re thinking of moving to Mexico – you really have to consider what’s important to you. Make a list. If hot weather and the beach is important – there’s the Pacific Coast with the most popular destinations falling between Mazatlan and Acapulco. If swimming in the ocean is important, watch that carefully. There are many glorious beaches along the Pacific where swimming is suicidal (currents, rip tides, rocks). But there are lots of swimming beaches, too.

Of course, the Baja Peninsula also has lovely beaches – Todos Santos is known for its surfing community. We almost bought a B&B there in 2004-ish, but that’s another story. Cabo, just down the road, is a horse of a different color. I’ve been there a fair number of times. It’s a tourist resort that’s almost a caricature of Mexico. It’s like going to the fair. San Juan del Cabo (half an hour north, where the airport is) is a bit more authentic but not much. You can get to authentic Mexico if you drive north on the Sea of Cortez side though, and you don’t have to go terribly far. But not everyone wants authentic Mexico – some prefer the carnival atmosphere with beach hawkers and $1 margaritas. And that’s not wrong (there is no wrong). It’s pretty there. Which is how it got to be what it is.


Research your potential choices in minute detail. If you can manage it – go to the area you are considering and stay for a month or two on an extended leave or vacation. I do advise it. Strongly. Ask questions of everyone who already lives there. They will bring up things you never thought of.

There’s also Cancun, Tulum, or Isla Mujeres for great beaches –  on the other coast, the Yucatán Peninsula to be more specific. Further inland Yucatán, Merida is another touted colonial city – if somewhat gringo-laden. That’s another thing you have to decide. Do you want to live somewhere with a large gringo population? Life is easier in those communities for new immigrants. You don’t have to understand the language, you’ll find American beer in the supermarkets and restaurants will serve everything from Poutine to Jambalaya and Texas BBQ.


Veracruz is a bustling colonial city further up the coast from the Yucatán, a port town about mid-country. Not a tourist spot like the others but it sounds like a lovely, old city. It was actually founded by Cortez when he landed in 1519. In the 17th century, it attracted pirates – in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it staved off invasions by both France and the US. It’s a geographically critical city for Mexico. On my list to visit.

And then, you have the mountain towns – running the gambit from to San Miguel de Allende to Cuernavaca (other popular mountain towns including Ajijic near Guadalajara and Oaxaca, much further south). There are other mountain towns, of course – these are just a few.


If you choose a mountain town, watch your weather and be sure you’ll be happy in that climate. The altitude is key. San Miguel de Allende, being 6,000+ feet above sea level and a ‘Temperate Desert’ climate, is a good overall 10 degrees F colder than Cuernavaca, at 4,500 feet above sea level and somewhat further south.


Cuernavaca is considered ‘Savannah Tropical mitigated by altitude’ and it makes a substantial difference in flora, fauna and temperature. Find out what the climate is considered to be in your region and don’t believe the BS that tourism boards put out. Remember, averages are just averages. If a newspaper talks about illegal immigrants with an average age of 10 years old crossing the border, that could actually be one 20 year-old mother and her newborn.

Another crucial factor in your decision making process: town or city? Depends again on what’s important. Towns will have less variety and less choice than cities, usually. I won’t compare either to Mexico City – highly unfair. But a town of 100,000 is indeed a lot different than a city of one million. The city has more choice – but more traffic and more people.

It’s the same decision process in any country.  Do you like close-knit community feel? Don’t care if you have a Costco or a dozen supermarkets to choose from? Maybe you belong in a town. Hey, I know, grocery shopping isn’t everyone’s thing. But it’s one of mine and I’m in heaven when Costco is a 10-minute drive. I can go for two items. On the other hand, the drive can turn into half an hour in traffic. And I do go more often (which means spending more money). So it’s all about what you value. One man’s trash and all that.


In some ways, it was less challenging to live day-to-day in a town with a higher gringo population. I wasn’t forced to learn Spanish (so I didn’t, much). There are English menus. There was an English newspaper. And there were always gringos everywhere to ask questions of. In English. In Mexican cities, you won’t find many residents who predominantly speak English. If they exist at all, they don’t come out of their enclaves. And while many of the middle and upper social classes do speak English as well as their native Spanish, very few store clerks and service people speak any English at all.

In larger population pools, the gringos don’t determine the language. Figure it out, or perish. We are the ones who need to assimilate. In smaller populations, if there are enough gringos to drive the economy, no need to assimilate at all. They’ll speak your language. It’s a no-brainer that if home owners and tourists only speak English – that will create a market for English services. And locals will make it happen. It’s a double edged sword, and it all depends on where you choose to sit.

I’m leaving Mexico City out when I talk about towns and cities. I am labelling populations of 100,000 (ish) as towns, and cities are 500,000+. In between, who knows. Mexico City is a different animal at 22 million. But I’ll be happy to talk about her in an upcoming post. At length.  🙂

If you want to move to Mexico but haven’t decided where yet, here are the things I would advise you to rank in your own +/- columns. Pull out your pen and pad right now.

[fancy_header variation=”green” bgColor=”#green” textColor=”#ffffff”]Your natural surroundings: [/fancy_header]

Do you want to live on the beach? The Pacific? Or the Gulf coast? They are quite different. Or the middle of the country in the mountains? They are all unique. In fact, almost every state in Mexico (and there are 31) has their own culture, their own food and their own celebrations (read: Saints). And varying climates within each of these choices. It’s a lot hotter in Puerto Escondito than it is in Ensenada.

[fancy_header variation=”green” bgColor=”#green” textColor=”#ffffff”]Speaking of climate: [/fancy_header]

What are the true lows in the winter and true highs in the summer? What’s the humidity like? Is it sunny most of the time? Find out by googling, joining yahoo groups in the areas, asking every one you know who has been. And by spending time there yourself, in different seasons if you can.

[fancy_header variation=”green” bgColor=”#green” textColor=”#ffffff”]Extreme climate: [/fancy_header]

Can you tolerate longer periods of rain? Possible flooding? Maybe the Gulf Coast is for you. Not concerned about hurricanes? The Pacific coast could be your Shagri-La. No fear of earthquakes? The mountains beckon. Yeah, I’m being a smart-ass. But everywhere has positives and negatives. The trick is to figure out where both fall on your chart.

[fancy_header variation=”green” bgColor=”#green” textColor=”#ffffff”]Crowd control: [/fancy_header]

Are you a hermit who speaks fluent Spanish? You may be just as happy in a small village somewhere outside the cities and even the towns. And that’s the cheapest place to live in Mexico. And the most ‘real’. Or maybe you prefer a small-town atmosphere (100,000-ish). The cost of living will depend on your choice of Gringo or native Mexican town. If you want a proper city, there are lots to choose from – Guadalajara, Querétaro, Cuernavaca in the mountains – Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Acapulco on the Pacific, with Cancun and Veracruz on the other side. Among others. Do some research based on your own choices of location – village, town or city. Especially if cost is an issue.

[fancy_header variation=”green” bgColor=”#green” textColor=”#ffffff”]Find your tribe: [/fancy_header]

We met some nice people in San Miguel – but didn’t find our tribe. Do some research on the demographics of the towns you’re considering. Most of San Miguel is retired and older. They’re in a different phase of their lives than we are. But moving there was a starting point and it got us to Mexico. And that was what mattered. Still, you’d be wise to check out the local residents as part of your decision making process. Join local email groups. When you’re there visiting, go to book clubs and social newcomers clubs, lectures, whatever you can find happening locally. And look around the room. Closely. Do these look like people you’d like to get to know?

One final note – if you do jump in with both feet, rent, don’t buy. And not just for two months, like we did. We were impulsive and bought without thinking. Thankfully, it was in a town where gringo-style houses are always changing hands. And we got lucky. If you aren’t sure where you want to hang your hat, rent in different places until you feel you are at home. Don’t rush. Haha. Famous last words.

But above all, know that it’s worth it. Mexico is a wonderfully vibrant country with a rich culture. It’s a challenging, interesting and stimulating place to live and we love discovering her many charms. If you ever have any questions about Mexico, I’d be happy to try to answer them for you – contact info is in the right hand menu. In the meantime, if this is your dream – get to it. There’s no time like now. Right?