There are probably dozens of ways to live well in Mexico. Last year I chose a quiet condominium in Mazatlán’s north end. Practically vacant during the summer months, I enjoyed solitary walks and Mexican sunsets under palapas that were only a water taxi trip away from the El Cid Marina, its yachts and its pelicans.
Any aspiring writer would have found it ideal if desiring scenic seclusion. At that end of Mazatán however, I rarely found anyone to chat with during my strolls. A cup of coffee or lunch were a cab ride away. This year, I decided that a little more humanity around me during the day would be welcome during during my breaks.
In Mazatlán, the further south you go on the Malecón (the beach strand), the more activity you find. The noise of the city seems to sift down to the the bottom of the malecón at the southern end then drops into the sea. No doubt one day I will be living in El Centro, the historic area where the Plaza Machado is alive with people and culture.
But for now, I am taking advantage of an offer I couldn’t refuse: a twelfth-floor condo in the Golden Zone, which lies in the between the two districts. I am not embarrassed to admit this that the condo is in a resort hotel. The hotel has both condos for short term rentals and privately owned condos.
Having lived in the Garden District of New Orleans, in Pacific Beach in San Diego, Olde Towne Alexandria across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and most recently two blocks from Union Station in Denver, I have lived in "tourist" areas my whole adult life. Unabashedly tourist, the Zona Dorada is chockablock with tianguis of the type typical in Mexican tourist areas, and loaded with hotels and restaurants both casual and upscale.
These areas are tourist areas for a reason. I don’t feel any less authentic as an expat in Mexico living in a tourist zone here in Mazatlán than I did living in the Garden District, colonial Alexandria, Pacific Beach or LODO. They are neighborhoods people like to vacation, why not live in them instead?
For a little over half of what I pay in rent for a one bedroom apartment in Denver, the 1,500 square-foot condo I’ll be renting is on the corner of the building, which from the twelfth floor offers sweeping views of the ocean and the city at night. Housekeeping is included in the rent.
It amuses me to think about how I used to interpret people’s disparaging remarks about Mazatlán in general and the Golden Zone in particular of being too touristy. I always thought touristy in Mexico mean't overrun by Americans and Canadians, - the last thing I'd want on a foreign vacation. You won't practice much Spanish sitting around the pool with a bunch of expats. Some resorts don't even feel like they're in Mexico, they just feel like hotels in California with even more Mexican staff.
There are probably hundreds of condos just like mine up and down the coast for those willing to brave the heat of the low season and understand how electricity bills work here. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, this life costs half of what life in most large cities costs. The lower cost of housing is where you find a big percentage of the savings you accomplish by living in Mexico.
Perhaps this resort will be over-run by expats in the high season, when approximately 20,000 snowbird hit the city. Once December arrives, the areas offers the charms that snowbirds prefer; balmy weather, lively bars and restaurants, full restaurants and plenty of English-speakers to socialize with.
For now however, the only tourists in my resort are the Mexican Nationals on summer vacation. I was delighted to find the pool area made up of exclusively Mexican families, whom at one time I had forgotten could also be tourists.
What I love most about the condo being in a resort hotel in the summer are the children. Soulful and well-behaved, they run slapping their wet feet into the elevator in dripping bathing suits and water wings, looking up with melting chocolate-colored eyes waiting for their heads to be touched by their attentive parents.
Mazatlán gets a bad rap from people who know Mexico well. “So why did you choose Mazatlán?” seasoned travelers to Mexico always politely ask me. It’s a little annoying because I know full-well what they really want is to tell me is all about the places they think are better.
Part of the reason I chose Mazatlán is that it’s still a working town (tuna, not tourism is its primary industry) as well as an ocean tourist spot. Another part of it’s draw is that with over 400,000 people, Mazatlán is larger than Puerta Vallarta, Cancún, Cabo or any other beach town. Its population size is big enough to support an active cultural scene. You can see excellent ballet, opera or concerts at the Ángela Peralta cultural center along with two-man stage plays in satellite salons.
It’s also big enough to have the big box stores, where expats find the occasional blueberry or shallot. Say what you will about Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs ruining a city’s character. They come in extremely handy. Mexicans think so too, and another reason bigger is better in a Mexican town.
Even by Mexican standards, Mazatlán is a bargain, as pointed out by one of my past dates, a Mexican visiting from Guadalajara. He was surprised by the low prices himself. You can spend a few weeks in Sayulita or Cancún, but for living I haven’t heard of any other place in Mexico having all the advantages of Mazatlán.
Another key advantage is Mazatlán’s proximity to San Diego and the new airport just on the other size of the border in Tijuana. You can take a luxury bus from the airport to Guadalara for about $35 dollars. The six hours goes quickly with the personal televisions, lounge seats and meals the bus companies provide.
The Tijuana airport, located literally on the border, is modern. If being dropped off on the California side, the person giving you a lift can park on the street for free. From the Tijuana-side of the airport you can also fly to hub cities in Mexico and take luxury buses from those cities to other popular expat towns for much less money than flying direct to your destination in Mexico.
By flying through San Diego from Denver, then walking across the bridge to the Tijuana airport and taking a domestic flight from there to Culiacan, Sinaloa onVolaris, then taking a 90 minute luxury bus to Mazatlán, I cut the price of my flights back and forth to Denver by half.
It’s more than saving money that drives the more complicated travel arrangements. I like the organic feel of using domestic transportation once I’m in Mexico.
Settling in, I was surprised by my desire to get my daily work routine and schedule in order. I’m uncomfortable without a plan, or as writer Fran Lebowitz so eloquently put it, "not having an itinerary is like not being able to change your underwear." That means getting connected.
The resort has personnel on staff to help with internet glitches immediately, a real luxury considering what it’s like to stalk computer expertise here. Whether arriving anew to Denver or Mazatlán, either end takes several days to work the technical kinks out anew.
Sometimes what does work surprises me too. When I made calls to the U.S. recently, AT&T congratulated me (and itself) on my success connecting and let me know I had just made a call over the internet, which my plan chose automatically. I never found out how I'd received such a message. It’s never happened since.
Connectivity issues can send you over the edge, not withstanding the view. Your first few days are likely to be spent troubleshooting phone and internet connection problems. “Why does internet connect on the old laptop on the top floor but not to the new laptop downstairs?
Finally, I remembered what a laughable dilemma this is for a person living and working in paradise. Even with the headaches of reintroducing all my technology to a new country, I can't help asking myself, in this age of free international calling, Skype/Zoom, online banking and secure internet, why doesn't everyone do this?
A real estate blog in Puerta Vallarta echos why I prefer having Mexican neighbors.
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About the author:
Hola - I am Kerry Baker and a partner with Ventanas Mexico, which provides resources and insights for potential expats and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online."
See the reviews on Amazon from expats! Interactive links take you to the best free tools on the web, organized by level and skill. Use your laptop or e-reader to study. Create your own unique lessons every day, or use those included in the book. Find the tools you'd never find in a Google search. Don't get bored with the same tool and give up. Use this book to stay motivated. Spanish is important in Mexico
Most recently, I released "If Only I Had a Place," on renting in Mexico. This book provides a fluid system to find the best places and the best prices years after year. Its listing of rental concierges can preview anyplace you're considering before you commit any money. Renting in Mexico longer-term is different. Find out why in this book.