Retire in Mexico–Guanajuato, Queretaro, or Oaxaca?

This is Dan of Vagabond Buddha.

I recently completed a tour of Mexico. On the tour, we visited the top 20 places Americans retire in Mexico. I am not just an author. I went to these places.

The goal of the tour was to find the best place to retire in Mexico. There are some really amazing places in Mexico, so it is not that easy to pick where to retire.

In fact, I wrote three different blog posts ranking the best places to retire in Mexico. I ranked the best places based upon the personality of the person retiring–we are not all alike.

Best Place to Retire in Mexico for Cultural Explorers
Best Place to Retire in Mexico for Active Adventurers
Best Place to Retire in Mexico for Rural Self-Reliance

Since I am a cultural explorer, I found myself most attracted to the colonial-era cities in the Mountains of Mexico. Towns were built in the mountains during the colonial period. Airconditioning had not been invented yet, so very few large cities developed at sea level during the colonial period. It was just too hot in Mexico.

You see, these Cities like Guanajuato, Queretaro, and Oaxaca were the most interesting to me. They were rich in culture because their city centers were built all the way back in the 1500s. Additionally, all three have rich pre-hispanic culture and their colonial-era centers have been protected and restored.

Why Not Chapala-Ajijic or San Miguel de Allende?

I have received emails from people asking me why San Miguel and Chapala-Ajijic are not in my top three places to live in Mexico.  Many Americans will want to move to those two areas of Mexico because of the high concentration of expats.  The language and cultural differences will be reduced?

I agree that both of these expat heavens are very charming places in Mexico, but they didn’t feel ‘Mexican’ enough for me. I grew up in California in the central valley with many Mexican-American friends. I love the Mexican-American culture in California.  So I can see why many people are drawn to integrated cultures.

But now, I wanted a mostly Mexican experience in Mexico. Whereas, Chapala-Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende felt like Mexican communities with integrating Americans and Canadians.

Places like Guanajuato, Queretaro, and Oaxaca, felt more like Mexican-centric cultures catering to Mexicans. You get more of a Mexican experience than an integration experience. I felt immersed in a new culture rather than visiting a culture that was primarily adapting to me. I felt like I was in Mexico when I was visiting Guanajuato, Queretaro, and Oaxaca.

And a year later, these three still stick out in my mind as my favorites. All three are so charming, they stick out in my memory.

Why did I drop Merida from Top?

If you read my original post for the top places to retire in Mexico for cultural explorers, you know that Merida was my number 1 pick just 6 months ago. So what happened? That can best be explained with the following table of average highs for the day for the year.

City Dec/Jan Feb/Mar Apr/May Jun/Jul Aug/Sep Oct/Nov
Merida 87F/30C 90F/33C 97F/36C 95F/35C 94F/34C 89F/32C
Oaxaca 81F/27C 88F/30C 91F/33C 84F/29C 83F/28C 81F/27C
Guanajuato 72F/22C 77F/26C 86F/30C 82F/27C 80F/26C 72F23C
Queretaro 74F/23C 79F/27C 86F/30C 82F/28C 79F/26C 78F/25C

In a word, Merida will be too hot for much of the year for many people, especially those approaching retirement. Why would Merida be so much hotter than the other three places? Because Merida is at sea level.

We just happened to be in Merida (in October) when the weather was near perfect. I was aware that it would get hotter, but that fact has become more real for me watching temperatures after leaving Merida.  It is 102F today in Merida and only 85F in Oaxaca.

Guanajuato, Oaxaca, and Queretaro are all one mile or more above sea level.  The air is cooler year round. Guanajuato is 6600 feet/2000 meters above sea level. Oaxaca is 5102 feet/1555 meters above sea level. Queretaro is 5970 feet/1820 meters above sea level.

You will have to decide for yourself based upon the above numbers, but Oaxaca just seems closer to my ideal temperatures throughout the year.

Why Guanajuato, Queretaro, and Oaxaca?

It has been almost a year since our Mexico tour. And these three–still–stick out in my mind as favorites. Why do these three remain as my top three after a year? Also, how do I rank these top three and why?

Oaxaca is My Number 1 Favorite Place to Retire In Mexico Now! (Here is my full report on Oaxaca)

Oaxaca is my number one place for me to retire in Mexico. Here are the reasons why I love it so much:

  1. Weather: Oaxaca is my favorite weather in Mexico.
  2. Indigenous Culture: Oaxaca has a large indigenous population that still lives its culture of food, clothing, music, and art.
  3. Surrounding Mountains: Oaxaca is surrounded by beautiful mountains that are very green and beautiful.
  4. Cost of Living: Oaxaca ($20 to $35 day) has a slightly lower cost of living than Queretaro or Guanajuato.
  5. Markets: The markets were some of the cleanest and most beautiful we have seen in Mexico.
  6. Feeling: I just had a really good feeling about the place and people of Oaxaca. It just felt more like home to me for some reason.

Guanajuato is My Number 2 Favorite Place to Retire In Mexico Now! (Here is my full report on Guanajuato)

  1. University Town: I have always loved university towns and Guanajuato is a university town. It just feels intellectually expansive. The town is teaming with young culturally aware people from all over the world.
  2. Cervantes Festival: The international festival honoring author Miguel Cervantes (Don Quijote) has opened the minds in this town and drawn international sophisticated tourists. Even the Queen of England and the Beatles have attended the festival.
  3. Rolling Hills: The city was built in rolling hills which created a natural network of human only walkable trails around the city which is like a charming European Village.
  4. Historical Wealth: The nearby Valencia silver mine produced two-thirds of the world’s silver for more than 200 years. The great wealth flowing through this town back to Madrid helped build some of the most interesting architecture in Mexico.

Queretaro is My Number 3 Favorite Place to Retire In Mexico Now!  (Here is my full report on Queretaro)

  1. Queretaro is the silicone valley of Mexico.
  2. Queretaro feels more cosmopolitan than any other city in Mexico except Mexico City. But it still has the walkable colonial-era center so it remains just as charming in that regard. It also has the most interesting and diverse nightlife of the three.
  3. Queretaro has the second highest per capita income in Mexico ($20k USD) and also has the second highest wine production in Mexico.
  4. Many international companies in the technical economy have decided to make Queretaro home in Mexico. So there is a large international influence.
  5. Queretaro has a larger economically prosperous population chasing international goods and services so you are likely to feel more connected to the world living here.
  6. Queretaro is larger and slightly more spread out than Guanajuato or Oaxaca (but still walkable) so you are more likely to find a diverse set of interests here.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

  1. Picking where to retire internationally in the world is not that easy.
  2. It seems to be mostly about how you feel when you are there.
  3. The data helps narrow your search, but you have to go see for yourself.
  4. If you decide to tour Mexico to pick your favorite, here is my suggested touring route.
  5. Are you sure you want to settle in one place? I have been traveling the world since 2007. That has been a total blast. ==>Check out my free ebook: Fire Boss Travel World.
  6. Here are my favorite places in the world to visit and live cheap in paradise.
  7. Here is my most recent retire early low cost living world tour.

This is Dan of Vagabond Buddha. Thanks for stopping by. The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?

One thought on “Retire in Mexico–Guanajuato, Queretaro, or Oaxaca?”

  1. Hi Dan!

    Just wanted to run this scenario by you to get your reaction. but first of all…thanks for continuing to publish such great articles!

    In order to retire with my full pension and Social Security. I would have to work another 2.5 years. But I am becoming impatient! I would prefer to retire early. Unfortunately I do not think that by doing so, I would make the minimum income required by the Mexican government in order to qualify for the Pensioner’s Visa. I think that is about $1600.00. I believe that mine would come in just under that…mainly because of a recent divorce. So what I was thinking as an alternative, is to get the extended Tourist Visa….which I think I read can be granted for six months. I would also try to get some additional income working online, then at the end of the six months…leave the country for a visit back to the States to visit family briefly, then return for another six months. That could get cumbersome, but I am just trying to think of creative ways to avoid working another 2.5 years! Another option I have considered is Panama. There the government will grant a Pensioner’s Visa if you can show you have at least $1000.00 a month in your pension income. Any thoughts you might have would be appreciated.

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