Top 10 Retire Early in Mexico Places: Cultural Explorer
Updated: October 8, 2019: Here are the top 10 places to live or retire early in Mexico for cultural explorers. My favorites are not likely to be the same as yours. You may like different things than me. So I have created 3 separate “Top 10” lists based on personality types–Cultural Explorer, Active Adventure, or Rural Self-Reliance.
We just completed a 5-month tour of the best places to retire in Mexico. We spent around one week in each place. We gathered data as we traveled with the intention of creating this ranking once the tour was complete. Along with ranking them, I have made a short comment about each sticks out in my mind.
Here is the Youtube video for this post:
I have ordered the places we visited during our tour of Mexico based according to the following archetypes.
Location Preference Archetypes:
- Cultural Explorer: These are people that are interested in the history and culture of the world and their surrounding environment. They often want to live near and walk to the cultural center of older cities near temples or churches, museums, restaurants, coffee shops, and fresh food markets. They may also enjoy the following archetypes but are only secondarily interested in them.
- Active Adventurer: These are people that may enjoy cultural exploration also, but are more dominantly focused on exploring nature and or their own personal physical limits and extremes. It would include outdoorsmen, mountain bikers, and white water rafters, snow enthusiasts, scuba divers, windsurfers, and skydivers. In general, they prefer being closer to the mountains, rivers, snow, and or the ocean. They may also enjoy the other archetypes, but do not consider them dominant.
- Rural-Self Reliance: These are people that want some distance between themselves and their nearest neighbors. They often want to grow their own foods and live off the grid. They might be interested in the other archetypes, but it is not their dominant concern
In truth, couples and often even individuals have two or more of these archetypes they would use to order location preferences. Hopefully, these distinctions will help you identify which places to investigate. In that case, you would look for a destination that ranks highly on the two archetype lists that you share as a couple. Then investigate those further.
My dominant archetype is Cultural Exploration. I enjoy extreme sports from time to time, but it is more for the experience than a lifestyle. I even ski from time to time, but it is just when it is convenient. I rarely select where I am going based upon the adventures that are available. I am more likely to select where I am going based upon the cultural experience. I do find myself in rural locations from time to time, but it is more for an isolated experience (waterfalls, wine country, a week in the Amazon jungle, etc.) than a long-term lifestyle and or daily experience.
I intend on continuing to travel the world for half of the year or so. This means that I could leave town during the period of uncomfortable weather. That could change how you would order these places if you are more stationary in nature.
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So the following ordering is based upon my dominant archetype which is “Cultural Exploration.” Here are the Best Places. These are ordered from most to least desirable. You can click each link below to read reports and watch videos about each place on Vagabond Buddha.
Finally, I really love something about all of the cities. So it hurts me pointing out why some might be better than others according to some characteristics. So please forgive me if for discussing the differences in these cities when compared to each other. My intention is not to unnecessarily criticize any city but to save people time in deciding which ones to investigate based upon their personal differences in archetypes. Click the links at the bottom of this post if you would like to see the Top 10 places according to the other archetypes.
Top 5 Places to Retire in Mexico
As a Cultural Explorer, I found it hard to pick the order of these top 5–they are all so good. I recommend you visit all 5 and make up your own mind.
Here are the top five in order:
Oaxaca Mexico Retire Cheap Report: Oaxaca is at about 1500 meters above sea level. This means that it is in the mountains, but not so high that you have to suffer through cold winters. Even in the hottest months, it cools down at night so you can often sleep without AC. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and rich cultural heritage of indigenous people and archeological gems. It is a colonial-era city with all the rich heritage that this implies. There is a great selection of restaurants and nightlife. There is a symphony and many other forms of live entertainment. Many Expats have settled here from all over the world. There are walking streets where cars are never allowed to it has the welcoming feel of many European cities. You can walk around the colonial city center at night without a care in the world. If I wanted to move somewhere in Mexico but wouldn’t have the resources to travel 3-4 months of the year, this is where I would settle. The food sold in the family-style restaurants in the markets is so good and cheap ($2 USD/meal) that I could go days without preparing food at home. The sun is out all the time but it is hardly ever hot enough to notice. This place is lovely.
Querétaro Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is one of the highest per capita incomes in Mexico. There is a huge international commercial presence here. The largest VW automobile plant outside of Germany is located here. The people here seem the most worldly of my top 5 places. The old town colonial center has had a high level of resources and spending to make this a beautiful place. There is a deeper level of cultural experience available here because of large international presence and per capita income chasing with a high level of cultural discretion. At 1800 meters above sea level, this is slightly cooler than Oaxaca so it generally doesn’t get into the 90s F in the summer. If you prefer to have a slightly larger city with more cultural choices and experiences available to you, and you prefer a slightly cooler but not cold environment, this might be more appealing to you than Oaxaca.
Guanajuato Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is a gorgeous colonial-era city spread out among rolling foothills. The city center is well-taken care of and mainly caters to tourists, even more so than Oaxaca and Queretaro. But it is a University town so it also highly influenced by the academic and social openness of a University town. Many of the streets here are too skinny for cars so you can walk for hours without having to fight with automobiles. These walking streets have the added charm of traversing through the many plazas that seem to pop-up every few blocks in Guanajuato. This town also seems to have more than its fair share of blooming flowers hanging from balconies full of flower pots. Guanajuato is at 2000 meters above sea level. So it will be slightly cooler in the winter than any of the above recommendations.
San Miguel de Allende Mexico Retire Cheap Report: Americans have been settling here since the end of WWII. This is also one of the most visited non-beach cities by Americans. For that reason, you are likely to make American and Canadian Expat friends here faster than any of the other places I have ranked in the top 5. This is also a favorite vacation destination for many Europeans and other people on Holiday. The town center might be called a Disneyland for adults. Given its foreign tourism history and expats, it has more diversity in International restaurants than almost any town of this small size. At 1900 meters above sea level, it remains relatively cool in the summer as compared to sea level in this part of Mexico.
Merida Mexico Retire Cheap Report: Merida has a colonial-era city center and is only 40 minutes from the beach by city bus. You can live within 5 to 10 blocks from the charming colonial-era city center for a reasonable cost of living. Typical of colonial-era cities in Mexico, you can live in the city center and everything you need is walkable. The internet is great and there are many international food choices. There are major archeological sites not far away, hundreds of cenotes, and the Riviera Maya just a few hours away. It gets too hot for many people for 4-6 months of the year, but I would just travel to other parts of the world during that period. If you want to stay put year-round, without commuting for hot weather, I would recommend my first choice–Oaxaca.
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That concludes the top 1-5 places in Mexico for cultural explorers. Here are the top 6-10 places for cultural explorers.
Top 10 Places to Retire in Mexico for Cultural Explorers
Mexico City Retire Cheap Report: This is one of the best places in Mexico for cultural experiences. The problem for me is that the diversity of cultural experiences is a bit spread out. So it isn’t as charming from the walkability perspective. However, if you love Urban living and are willing to take an Uber a few times per week to experience everything this place has to offer, it would easily move into the top 5 for you. If you are considering retiring here, take a look at the neighborhood called Roma Norte. It reminds me of East Village in NYC but half price. Mexico City is at around 2000 meters above sea level, so it might be too cool for you in winter. But you can get cheap flights to the warm beach from Mexico City.
Puerto Vallarta Mexico Retire Cheap Report: Physically this is very beautiful. Plus, despite being at sea level, the Pacific breeze is sometimes able to keep the temperature reasonable during the summer. Culturally it is not as interesting as the colonial era cities mentioned in the top 5–it is just too young to have the history. Plus, the economy is mainly tourism which is more of a party scene than most people will prefer for their everyday life. But if you are love being near the ocean, and you don’t like the humidity of the Mexican Carribean, this would be an amazing choice for you.
San Cristobal Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in Mexico providing a beautiful natural environment around the city. It was just a bit too cool for me given its elevation and weather patterns.
Chapala-Ajijic Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This felt a bit too rural for me. If you are a rural self-reliant type, this will be one you want to check out. Or, if you feel you would be more comfortable having a higher concentration of English as a first language (Expats) around you, to help you integrate into your new life, this would be natural for you. Ajijic is a lovely place filled with Americans and Canadians. It just felt a bit small for me. Not as much going on culturally as I would prefer. If you are older, there is a huge Expat population here and there are assisted living places you could move into as that day approaches and still be near your Expat friends. For many people, these services will be paramount as they approach their twilight years.
Puebla Mexico Retire Cheap Reports: This is a large culturally rich city with one of the most beautiful colonial-era old towns in Mexico.
The following are the 11-20 best places to retire for cultural explorers.
Top 20 Places to Retire in Mexico for Cultural Explorers
Morelia Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is a large culturally rich city with one of the most beautiful colonial-era old towns in Mexico.
Tulum Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is great for a month or two, but I would get bored culturally if I tried to stay longer. This is a lovely tourist destination with beaches, nightlife, snorkeling, sailing, and scuba diving. Not much for cultural exploration.
Playa del Carmen Mexico Retire Cheap Report: Great restaurants and nightlife here, and even scuba diving, but a little limited culturally.
Campeche Mexico Retire Cheap Paradise: Great photos, loved the castle walls but didn’t feel international enough for my taste. Also, many people would think this is a bit too warm much of the year.
Cuernavaca Mexico Retire Cheap Report: The old town colonial city center feels a bit small or limited. The gentrification seems to be more in the suburbs rather than in the neighborhoods directly surrounding the old town. Because things are not centralized, it feels more like a car culture than a walking culture.
Taxco Mexico Retire Early Low Cost of Living: Great for a few days. Doesn’t have the cultural depth most cultural explorers need. Lovely city center.
Tepoztlan Mexico Retire Early Low Cost of Living: This would be great for hippie types with a rural self-reliance twist. By the way, “hippie” has a positive connotation for me. I would consider this more if it also had a deeper cultural exploration available, which I did not see.
Patzcuaro Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is a smaller town with a lovely colonial old town center. The town was a bit small or rural for my taste.
Guadalajara Mexico Retire Cheap in Paradise: This felt more like an automobile lovers’ place to me. But many people love their cars and will never give them up. The old town colonial area didn’t seem to be as lived-in at night as more walkable old towns above.
Isla Mujeres Mexico Retire Cheap Report: This is a lovely tourist destination of beaches, nightlife, snorkeling, sailing, and scuba diving. Not much for cultural exploration.
This completes our list of Top Places to Retire in Mexico based upon the Cultural Explorer Archetype.
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This is Dan of Vagabond Buddha. Thank you for stopping by. The world is your home. What time will you be home for dinner?