by David Simmonds
But there’s this one particular harbor
So far but yet so near
Where I see the days as they fade away
And finally disappear
– Jimmy Buffett
I’ve been traveling Mexico most of my life, and have been writing about it for nearly twenty years. And the question I have been asked the most is, by far: “What’s the best place in Mexico?” Of course, the answer is that it all depends on what you like. I can tell you the places that stir my searching soul, but it probably won’t be yours. Although I greatly admire the colonial cities with their fascinating histories, culture and architecture, I inevitably experience serious withdrawals when I am away from the beach for over a week. I like to see the sun set over the sea, not rise. I like green plants better than brown. That’s right…it is the west coast on the Pacific Ocean in the tropics that keeps me coming back. From around semi-tropical Mazatlán, and continuing all the way south and east to the Guatemala border is my preference. I especially like the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima. Many of my best times have been spent riding waves all day and slapping mosquitos all night. That’s just me. But there are some significant negatives at the coast that many people cannot adapt to. The summers are hot, humid, and buggy, with the occasional hurricane lurking off shore, ready to blow your pants off. And many of the small coastal villages have few amenities that many people can’t do without. But you can dine cheaply on fresh fish, there are no brain-bending traffic jams and the ubiquitous swinging hammock is always nearby, beer in hand, for an afternoon siesta. You need to know what you like and what is important to you. Like Jimmy, you need to find that One Particular Harbor.
The first step in finding your spot, the place where you can easily live and adapt to your surroundings, is to do your homework and, above all, be honest with yourself. If you’re a beach person like me, don’t settle for the highlands (bajio) or Monterrey. If you need fine shopping and five-star dining, forget that little dirt-street village where the major entertainment is Saturday night’s cockfight. Consume everything you can about Mexico, talk to people who have traveled the country, go online, and eventually you will start to narrow down a few potential locations for consideration. Moving to a foreign country, or even making a real estate investment for your occasional use, is one of the most important things you will do in your lifetime. It is a big deal and you need to do it right.
After you have identified several possible towns that seem workable, you need to make an extended scouting trip. No words, photos or videos can come close to giving you a realistic view of what a town is really like, day in, day out. You have to personally experience the place, walk the streets, eat the food, absorb the sounds and the scents. Talk to the locals, native and expat, and determine if you like them. They call Mexico the amigo country, but some places are friendlier than others. At many towns in Mexico you will be readily accepted and will make friends easily. But the cultures of the country are very diverse, and the locals in some areas are extremely guarded and private. Those in the tourist towns have learned to cater to the gringo. They have seen how a large influx of gringo dollars has improved their lives over time. But, there are other less-traveled areas where they don’t really care if you are there are not. You will easily recognize the difference.
Check out the little things as well. Are the streets clean? Are the health facilities adequate for you? Is it too noisy (Mexico is not as quiet as many believe)? Are fresh vegetables abundant? Cold beer? Internet? Is the sewer and water system in good shape? Does it feel safe? What does your “gut” tell you? When in doubt, trust your intuition. Talk to anyone you see and ask them how things are. Ask if the drug cartels are visible in the area, and if they are, look elsewhere.
Then once you have decided on the best place for you, spend some time – live a few months in a rental before you buy. If you plan on being a year-round resident, make sure you test drive the rainy season, generally the months from June through mid-October throughout most of the country. Northern Mexico and Baja get little rain any time of the year. I have heard it said that the city with the best climate in the world is Tepic, Nayarit.
Of course, you may already be a seasoned, long-time Mexico traveler and know exactly where you want to live. I have known my spot since the first day I pulled into town. Now, after having seen just about every place in Mexico, that town is still the one.
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.