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The Best Place to Live in Mexico 0

By Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher


Summary: The best place to live in Mexico might be Ajijic in Lake Chapala or San Miguel de Allende. Each town has a lot to offer expats.

This is the story of two towns in Mexico's colonial highlands.

One is a sleepy village on the north shore of Mexico's largest lake. Life moves slowly here and its rhythms are measured by the chiming of church bells and the laughter of children walking to school. Its views are dominated by the wide, placid expanse of Lake Chapala, once endangered, but now lapping again at the piers and pilings of shoreline buildings. On the town square, tiny carnivals set up kiddy rides and people lunch at sidewalk restaurants on cold beer and fresh fish tacos. Walking the cobblestone streets are people from all over the world, mingling with the locals and drinking in the relaxing, dreamy atmosphere.

The other is nestled in the cradle of Mexican independence, the high plain northwest of Mexico City called the Bajio. Its vistas look out on the surrounding Sierra Madres, majestic mountain ranges that ring the place like distant fortress walls. The town square is guarded by a sugar-cake church called La Parroquia, designed they say by a self-taught Indian artisan from postcards he'd seen of French cathedrals. The Spanish colonial buildings and narrow cobbled streets seem locked in another, more cultured time, which in fact they are by law. But inside the meticulously preserved facades, modern culture and sensibility hums like electricity. Jazz can be heard coming from clubs in the evenings, the smell of exotic cuisine waft from restaurant windows, and artists from dozens of countries strive to capture the highland sunlight that fills the town like honey.

You've probably guessed by now. One town is Ajijic, the quiet haven sought out by expatriates for its ease of living and beautiful surroundings. The other is San Miguel de Allende, a perennial favorite with globe-trotters for very much the same reasons. These two towns share the essential elements that make colonial highland towns such wonderful places for expats like us to spend some or all of our time--foremost being the weather, which is positively idyllic and spring-like year-round in both places.

However, these two premier spots for enjoying La Vida Mexico have distinctly different "feels" for anyone who visits them. Folks in Ajijic shun San Miguel's bustle and modern energy. They see the three world-class golf courses going in around San Miguel as a minus, not as plus.

On the other hand, folks from San Miguel are quickly bored by Ajijic's laid-back lifestyle and fishing village appearance. They view Ajijic's lack of nightlife and colonial charm, not as relaxing advantages, but as deficits.

Is one town better than the other? Talk about a completely subjective choice. And as we spend more time exploring each place, we constantly feel blessed that we have the choice at all. So many countries offer one topography, one advantage, one way of life for expats. Here in Mexico, we have choices within choices. Which of the West Coast beaches is best? What area of the Mexican Caribbean has the greatest potential? And which colonial highland town is tops on the list?

That depends completely on what you're looking for, and that's why you must come and see for yourself. We love them both, and lucky for us, it's only a four-hour drive between. Best of both worlds? We have it.

Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher
For International Living in Mexico

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About the Author

AS International Living MexicoInternational Living's: Mexico: The Owner's Manual

International Living's Mexico: Owner's Manual is your guide to buying in Mexico. Mexico is one of the world's last great ground-floor retirement opportunities. Here, you can afford a maid, a gardener, a cook... Plus, you can still buy breathtaking beachfront property for as little as $40,000. But not for long...

Click here for more details or to order Mexico: Owner's Manual.

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Comments about this Article

Aug 12, 2010 22:08

The authors do a good job of capturing the difference between these two colonial retirement havens. They resist stating which they prefer saying each is equal in its own way. Which town is best depends on your needs and perspective. I respect their view, but have trouble maintaining their impartial analysis. So, I’ll expand on some of their points and give you my opinion on which Gringo Village is best. “Gringo Village” was a term I picked up from a US Customs Agent as I was returning from a visit to Torreon, Mexico some years ago. He wanted to know if Torreon had one. I told him no. Since then I sometimes find it convenient to think of Mexico in this way. A Mexican city with a Gringo Village has a significant foreign population (not all gringos) resident primarily, in winter months most of whom do not speak Spanish well, if at all, along with housing prices primarily stated in dollars. This isn’t exact, but those are the major two points. We have visited San Miguel with the intent to live there, but ended up buying in Ajijic. Lower housing prices and the proximity of Ajijic to Patricia’s family in Guadalajara were the telling factors. We agree San Miguel has more energy and better nightlife. Some bars in Ajijic may be closed by 10:30 pm on a Saturday night. They are just getting started at that hour in San Miguel. In part, we attribute this difference to a “younger” crowd. We have no science to back this up; it’s just our impression from a three week’s stay there. Also, San Miguel seems to have tourists that come and go. Ajijic has older people that come to roost for the duration of a gringo winter or more. To give you the flavor, the Ajijic gringo club sponsors sessions on preparing to die, dealing with difficult adult children, doing a Mexican will, etc. There is no bar or any parties at the club. It is a beautiful place, but lacks joie de vivre. San Miguel has a more expensive feel to it. It reminds me a bit of my home town, Santa Fe, New Mexico. As I grew up, my father used to say, Santa Fe is arrogant, pompous and expensive. This is seemed to be driven by Santa Fe’s belief it was a center of the arts and a tourist Mecca. Santa Fe is still the same and I can see its elements in the make-up of San Miguel’s character. If we were to revisit our choice today it would be different notwithstanding San Miguel’s higher costs. We would choose San Miguel’s sophistication and more upbeat atmosphere. That is, if we were seeking a Gringo Village. But that is another story.

Jun 19, 2011 20:06

I was in San Miguel a couple of years ago (2008) for two months and liked the upbeat pace. There is a great community of expats who live there permanently. As for prices in San Miguel versus Chapala, from the real estate ads I have seen, there isn't a whole lot of difference anymore (2011). Nice comfortable houses in Los Frailes (a predominantly Mexican upperclass area), a few minutes outside San Miguel, can easily be bought for prices that are competitive with what I have seen in the ads for the Lakeside area. No lake view but... OK, if you want to be in the center of San Miguel, it will cost you. However, it can be pretty noisy there during festivals with fireworks, etc, so the center is not my first choice anyway. Some expats in Mexico who don't live in SMA have trashed the expat community there for whatever reason. I actually think they seem to blend in quite well. I would like to go back to stay for a few months but when it comes to living anywhere permanently, I am holding onto my house in Europe, where I have built up a lot of equity over the years and where prices are remaining quite stable. I wouldn't want to sink my money into any place where the real estate prices appear to be directly related to the influx of expats, primarily Americans and Canadians, coming into the area. Expensive and a bit risky, especially nowadays. Renting for a few months is easier. After that I can head off to a few months someplace else.

Sep 27, 2011 12:04

I´ve lived in other areas of Mexico, i.e., Oaxaca and the Yucatan and have been living lakeside for 17 yrs. now. Since I´m a Mexican citizen, I prefer to relocate to another area of Mexico, altho I´ve traveled thruout C.A. and recently spent 2 mos. in Ecuador. I ´chase the weather´and this part of Mexico seems to have the best. I live on the west side of Ajijic where we call ourselves The Westenders....BTW, if anyone is interested, my house is currently for saleñ only so I can do more exploring, downsizing. If you´re looking for an area with expats and many things to keep you occupied, you´re looking at the Lake Chapala area.

First Published: Aug 09, 2004

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