When most people think of Mexico their thoughts usually go in one of two directions. It’s either a party destination like Cancun or Cabo San Lucas—or a scary place with drugs, crime and beheadings. My experience is much different. After traveling to over a dozen locations in this vast country, I am proof positive that Mexico offers a huge variety of pleasing destinations. But until Thom and I visited Ajijic (pronounced Ah-hee-heek) this summer, we never really considered Mexico as a viable alternative to life in the U.S. Now having spent three weeks in this special community, I’ve discovered the top three reasons why so many people call it home. Whether you are looking to move or not, you might want to compare the benefits of Ajijic to where you live now. We sure are.
First off, with our travel experience as well as our real estate background, we would never suggest that you consider moving anywhere without spending a certain amount of time there beforehand. I think three weeks would be a bare minimum. For example, we have spent weeks in Baja (both Rosarito and further south in Loreto), Ixtapa, San Miguel De Allende, Puebla, and Oaxaca. And while each of these towns has benefits, none fit us for long-term visiting or living. But that’s us. One of these towns might fit your needs perfectly, but the only way to find out is to spend time there.
The second thing we’ve discovered is that you have to stay long enough to get past the “honeymoon phase.” I think we all know what that means when it comes to relationships. That first week and/or ten days is nearly always wonderful in a scenic location. But after you’ve been there a while the reality of day-to-day life starts creeping in. If you still love it after you’ve been there several weeks, then you might have found something “right” for you. (Yes, a big part of Rightsizing is knowing what is important to you and then making choices that support that.)
The third thing to do is to talk to people who are doing what you are considering. I can’t even imagine contemplating a move somewhere without talking to those who live there. I’m talking about both native locals and expats (U.S. Citizens now living in another country). While chances are good you’ll have more in common with the expats (at least to begin with) it is equally important to talk to the locals because they will help you gauge the attitude of those who have lived there for most of their lives and how they really feel about all these “newcomers.” Obviously, you want to feel welcome in any location where you hope to live.
With that in mind, Thom and I spent a great deal of time during our three-week trip talking to people in and around Ajijic about why they moved to this location. And while there are certainly more than three reasons, these are the ones that every single person included in their conversations.
#1 The weather. It’s true. If you Google weather in Ajijic you will discover that it’s considered one of the top two places in the world for the best weather year-round. At 5,100 feet, it not only experiences mild summer temperatures, but it’s proximity to the equator gives it a temperate winter as well.
We first learned of Ajijic when seeking mild summers to offset our extremely hot temperatures in the desert southwest. July and August are considered their “rainy season” so everything is really green and it rained most nights we visited. The hottest month is May when temps reach into the 80s with humidity, but winters are mild with average temps in the low 70s.
#2 The value. True again. We met over a dozen expats who were living in Ajijic because it is far more reasonable financially to live here, in such a beautiful location, than other desirable places in the U.S. For example, we rented an apartment for three weeks (considered a short-term rental, for $400 all-inclusive per week. The space featured a one-bedroom apartment of approximately 1,000 sq. feet, had a full kitchen and bath, a king size bed, weekly maid service, all paper products, bottled water, and a beautiful patio overlooking the mountains and a tiny peek at the lake. We also had use of a solar-heated swimming pool across the street. And best of all, we were about a five-minute walk to the heart of downtown and dozens of restaurants and shops.
Speaking of restaurants. Meals out are very inexpensive. For two delicious continental dinner entrees, with two side salads and two “beverages,” you can eat extremely well for $35. This is at least half what a comparable restaurant in the U.S. would cost. Food at the Farmer’s Market and local Mercado are also quite reasonable.
#3 The People. This is where Ajijic really shines. As I said before, we have traveled to many locations within Mexico (and around the planet) and something about this small-town laid-back community attracts extremely friendly people. About everyone was friendly, chatty and welcoming. And the native locals were also shyly-gracious although slightly reserved as their culture demands.
Before we went we knew one person who lived in Ajijic. A friend named Mark had visited a year before, bought property and moved there in May of this year. After reconnecting, Mark graciously showed us the property where he hopes to build a new home, another property he bought to rehab and resell, and the home he is renting in the meantime. There he is paying $800 a month (yes, a month!) for a two-bedroom, two bath home in a gated community.
A friend on Facebook then introduced us to a couple who had moved to Ajijic a year ago. We met Rick and his husband Larry for lunch and picked their brain about why they moved. Not only did they list the weather, the value and the people as important, they also picked Ajijic because they wanted to make a change in their lives. By moving there and renting a gorgeous contemporary 2-bedroom, 2-bath single-family home for $1,000 a month (plus utilities) they can easily afford to travel around the rest of Mexico and the world whenever they choose
Another couple we met spontaneously at a local TED Talk Discussion Group was Pat and her husband Jeremy. This adventurous couple met in Alaska over 20 years ago and then moved to Massachusetts for a time to be near Pat’s children. When looking to retire they considered their finances and decided to visit Ajijic (where they had friends) to see if it was an option. When a person they met over brunch told them to “Just do it,” they returned home, sold everything they had, and within five months found themselves calling Ajijic home.
Pat and Jeremy rent a small one-bedroom apartment a couple of blocks from the lake that includes utilities and has a shared swimming pool for $700 a month. Their goal is to live frugally on their Social Security and use their savings (if needed) for medical needs. Pat is 77 years old and she is also considering that at some point she may need to live in Assisted Care. In Ajijic, there are a number of assisted homes with caring and loving staff, as well as available doctors, for approximately $1,500 a month. While they no longer own a car, Jeremy is an avid bicycle rider and uses that for transportation. Did I mention that Lake Chapala has a bike lane connecting the towns? It is also extremely inexpensive to take a bus wherever you want to go.
Other friends we met were Jason and his wife Laura who have been living in Ajijic after driving down from North Carolina (their timing was good!) They rent a 2-bed, 2-bath home with utilities in a nearby community for $750, which works because they are very active in local events. New friends Heidi and Raja also found a large four+-bedroom home in nearby San Juan Cosala with a huge patio with an amazing view and have their two large dogs for only $1,050. Did I mention nearly everyone has dogs?
Besides couples, we met a number of single women living in Ajijic. I think the majority are drawn here by the low cost of living and the amazing support that can be found. Susan Weeks (75) told me the reason she lives here after traveling the world and living in eight different countries is because of the kindness and compassion of the locals. She is active and very involved in the Lake Chapala Society (LCS) which hosts the largest English library in Mexico, dozens of events for members to attend, and heavily invested in social and charities within the community.
Susan’s “bus incident” story explains her decision very well. Susan rented an apartment and had been living in Ajijic for a very short time when she needed to run errands on the local bus. She left her apartment, walked across the street, and waited patiently for the bus to arrive. She felt fine. But when the bus came it was very crowded so she had to stand. And standing there she started feeling woozy and knew something was wrong. Although she was the only English-speaking person on the bus, instantly a spot opened up and she found herself seated. She is convinced everyone around her recognized that she was in distress.
A few minutes later a group of people surrounding her on the bus began yelling at the bus driver to pull over and call an ambulance. And he did! Within minutes, the bus pulled over, and around eight people (men and women) helped her off the bus and found her a place to sit while waiting for the ambulance. Yes, these “strangers” who didn’t speak any English got off the bus with her and waited. When the ambulance arrived the driver and helper asked if she wanted to go to the hospital or home. By this time she felt she just needed to go home to her own bed. They took her there where her neighbors from downstairs helped her to her apartment as well as checked on her for two days. Within forty-eight hours Susan was perfectly fine. Oh, and by the way, there was no charge for the ambulance. She will never forget the kindness shown to her on that day.
We met more people, of course. Women outnumber men almost two-to-one but without a doubt, they are fairly adventurous. We met Molly at the local Sunday morning Open Circle at LCS where a variety of speakers share their knowledge every single week. When I asked Molly, a feisty former nursing educator why she called Ajijic home for the last six years, she repeated what they all said: the weather, the value, and the people. But she was also quick to say that she didn’t want any more people coming because it was becoming much more crowded these days with so many Americans and Canadians now relocating. Molly admitted that it helped that she was in good health despite her nearly 80 years. And she strongly recommended that people visit before making the decision to move permanently.
There’s more but I think you get the idea. I realize that Mexico or living in another country isn’t appealing to a lot of people. But make no mistake, there are thousands who believe it is more desirable to live there than the U.S. As for politics, I think it goes without saying that the vast majority of those who live in Mexico are of the liberal persuasion. And as for the downsides, Mexico is Mexico. There is poverty, and chaos, and corruption. If a person expects everything to be perfectly tidy—the people, the culture, the homes, and life in general—Mexico will not be a good choice.
Are we moving? No, we like where we live for many reasons so we aren’t looking to relocate at this time. But, with that said we are “sunbirds.” Like snowbirds, we are eager to spend time in other locations when our weather is less than optimal. Ajijic is now very high on our list. As always, finding a home and a community that best fits the needs (and the budget) of each individual a very SMART thing to do.
Kathy Gottberg is an author with six published books and hundreds of articles covering dozens of topics in the last 30 years. Along with her books, her passion today is SMART Living 365 where she explores ideas and experiences that help to create a meaningful, sustainable, compassionate and rewarding life for herself and others. Beyond that, she lives with Thom, her best friend and soul mate of 40 years, along with their dog Kloe in La Quinta, CA
To contact Kathy: click here