The Best Places to Retire in Mexico
These Mexican cities have warm weather and an affordable cost of living.
By Kathleen Peddicord
Mexico is home to more North American expat retirees than any other country in the world. Retirement south of the border couldn’t be more convenient. It’s one of few overseas retirement destinations that you can pack up and move to in your car. Mexico and these cities in particular offer a low cost of living, warm weather and a wide diversity of lifestyle options. Many also feature thriving expat communities.
Here are the 11 best places to retire in Mexico in 2023:
Ajijic, Lake Chapala.
San Miguel de Allende.
San Cristóbal de las Casas.
From relaxing beach towns to cosmopolitan cities, the challenge is deciding where to retire in Mexico. Consider these potential retirement spots in Mexico where you can seek adventure overseas but don't have to give up all the comforts of home.
Situated on Mexico’s Pacific coast and surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains, Puerto Vallarta has long been a favorite destination of retirees and vacationers. The draw for most people is the huge range of outdoor recreation opportunities, especially those that put you on or near the ocean. Whether you are looking for the beach, boating, snorkeling or whale watching, Puerto Vallarta is a premier destination for ocean lovers. Puerto Vallarta is easy to get to and has an international airport. The city has high-quality medical facilities with English-speaking doctors and a vibrant culture with a foodie culinary scene.
Mazatlán, located on Mexico’s Pacific coast, combines the best of beachfront, city and historical living. The area boasts 11 miles of mostly contiguous sandy shores with clean, swimmable waters. The coast is traced by a long boardwalk that’s often busy with people exercising or out for a stroll. Mazatlán has a colonial center that dates back to 1531. Within a classic Spanish colonial grid layout is a vibrant cultural scene with a wealth of boutique shops, cafés, galleries and restaurants. Unlike many Mexican resort towns, Mazatlán is not dominated by expats, giving you the opportunity for a more authentic Mexican lifestyle.
Oaxaca is Mexico’s art and culture capital. The area around the main square is bustling with markets selling colorful handicrafts and food stalls turning out fresh and delicious local treats. Abundant Spanish colonial architecture makes for picturesque snapshots. The city is situated at 5,100 feet above sea level in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range and has a cool climate by Mexico’s standards. Just outside the city are peaks and valleys that provide opportunities for nature lovers to hike, seek out waterfalls and explore Zapotec ruins. Oaxaca is one of the most affordable expat destinations in Mexico, and food, lodging and transport costs are inexpensive.
Durango is not an expat destination, but a large, sophisticated Mexican city with great weather and a high standard of living. Nestled in a valley high in Mexico's western Sierra Madre range, the city's surroundings look like the Old West, and many Hollywood movies have been filmed in the surrounding mountains, valleys and deserts. The city boasts clean, safe streets, good infrastructure, a thriving central market and architecture reminiscent of Europe. The almost complete absence of foreigners means no tourist pricing and a low cost of living. However, you'll find almost no expat community and few English speakers. Spanish lessons should be a priority for anyone planning to relocate to Durango.
Ajijic, Lake Chapala
Ajijic is a full-blown expat town. The Mexican government estimates that nearly 20,000 expats reside full time in the state of Jalisco. The area around Lake Chapala is home to an organized and developed expat retiree community. The Lake Chapala Society reports about 4,000 American and Canadian residents. If you move here, you could set up a lifestyle that isn't dramatically different from the life you left behind in the U.S. You don't have to worry about learning the local language if you don't want to, because this is an entire community of nonlocals. Retiring to Ajijic, you could make a comfortable life for yourself in a place that's beautiful, safe, affordable and also exotic. The cost of living is significantly lower than in most U.S. cities.
Built in the 16th century, Morelia was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. Morelia's beautiful Spanish Renaissance buildings are all colored the region's trademark warm pink, thanks to the locally quarried cantera stone. This is a center of music and home to the oldest music conservatory in the Americas. This picturesque town is the capital of the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Few foreign tourists visit Morelia, but Mexicans are frequent visitors. The few expats and foreign retirees who have discovered Morelia try to keep the secret to themselves. The quality of life available in this city of over 600,000 is special and unique. The average Social Security payment is enough for a comfortable lifestyle in Morelia.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is a longtime favorite retirement destination in Mexico because of its mild highland climate, small-town friendliness and remarkably beautiful colonial town. The historic center is full of delights for visitors and residents, including colorful, bougainvillea-draped Spanish colonial architecture as well as upscale cantinas, coffee houses with sprawling terraces and niche shops. Despite being nestled among hills, the historic center is mostly flat and great for walking. San Miguel de Allende is well situated for exploring central Mexico. It’s a road trip away from Mexico City to the southeast, Guadalajara to the west and Laredo, Texas, to the north.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
Situated in southeastern Mexico near the country’s border with Guatemala is San Cristóbal de las Casas. This is a high-altitude destination perched at more than 7,000 feet that is surrounded by the lush hillsides of Chiapas State. This colonial gem is home to an elegant town center that dates back to 1528. The historical ambiance has been well preserved. The streets are laid out in the typical Spanish colonial grid and feature the names of heroes and historical events. Though San Cristóbal cherishes the past, it’s also home to modern amenities, including shops and restaurants.
Zihuatanejo is a Pacific beach town that stands out for its low cost of living, great beaches and fishing village charm. Every day, fishermen display their catch of tuna, dorado and grouper along the handful of beaches within walking distance of town. The nicest beach in the area is La Ropa, a mile-long stretch of soft sand dotted with palapas. Just off the beach are coral reefs where you can snorkel and catch sight of sea turtles and colorful fish. Zihuatanejo is inexpensive. You can rent an apartment for less than $300 per month or have a meal for well under $20. The area is home to interesting expats from all over the world, including many people who have been here for decades.
Located at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, the highlight of living in Los Cabos is the incredible natural beauty. This is where the desert meets the pristine blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. Waves have carved dramatic rock formations into the cliffs of the Sierra de la Laguna and the Sierra de San Lázaro mountain ranges, where people can practice adventure sports like rock climbing, hiking and horseback and ATV riding. Golf, lounging at beach resorts and taking in the local art and culture are other popular activities in Los Cabos.
Loreto is an up-and-coming locale on the east coast of the Baja California Peninsula. Because it’s off the radar of the average tourist, it’s low-key and tranquil, offering a refreshing change of pace from Mexico’s popular resort towns. Loreto is the first city that the Spanish founded on the Baja Peninsula, so it’s rich in history. It enjoys “Pueblo Mágico” status, a designation given to Mexican towns of outstanding natural or cultural appeal. It also has white sand beaches and crystalline ocean waters, with opportunities to practice water sports and view extraordinary wildlife such as humpback whales.