For many people, the colonial cities of Mexico, with their beauty and romance, epitomize the country’s eternal appeal. But the popularity of some colonial cities, and the number of expats they attract, has raised prices. Where do you go if you’re an expat on a budget who wants to settle in a colonial city? Here are a few suggestions.
Cheap-living in the Yucatán Peninsula
If you don’t mind hot weather in summer, the Yucatán Peninsula’s three colonial cities—Mérida, Valladolid and Campeche—can offer scenic low-cost living. And in all three cities you can still buy and renovate a colonial property fairly cheaply.
Mérida, capital of the peninsula, is a major city of about 900,000 people. It has all the big-city amenities like malls for shopping, museums and concert halls and an international airport. The historic colonial center is large. And although several thousand expats live in Mérida—many of them right in the historic center—you can find colonial properties for sale starting below $100,000.
Though Mérida has major supermarkets like Mega Comercial and warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club, it also has traditional Mexican markets. At these markets you can fill a shopping bag full of fresh fruits and vegetables for about $5. And there are plenty of small local restaurants where you can have a filling comida corrida, or lunch special, for just a few dollars.
Campeche, less than two hours south of Mérida, is a picture-perfect colonial city right on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage city, and it’s so well-preserved that it’s used for film sets. From the main square, which is surrounded by pastel-colored colonial buildings, you’re only a five-minute walk to a three-mile-long malecón (boardwalk) that runs along the Gulf of Mexico. Go for a late-afternoon stroll along the malecón and watch the sun set on the Gulf of Mexico—and be sure to take a camera.
Campeche is about a third the size of Mérida, with about 275,000 people. It can feel much smaller, however, as the historic center and nearby historic neighborhoods are compact. Campeche is just being discovered by English-speaking expats, though Europeans have been coming here for years. There are plenty of colonial properties for sale in Campeche starting just below $100,000, though you’ll need to renovate.
To feel that you’ve stepped back in time, check out Valladolid. This city of about 46,000 people sits inland, almost exactly midway between Mérida and Cancún. (In fact, it’s the nearest city to the ruins of Chichén Itzá.)
Valladolid has seven traditional neighborhoods, all colonial, and each with its own little church. In Valladolid you can find colonial properties starting below $100,000 and empty lots for building. Or if you prefer, buy a large tract of land or a ranch on the outskirts of Valladolid, complete with its own cenote—a sinkhole in the limestone shelf that makes a perfect freshwater swimming hole.
Eat out for a few dollars in Colima
This tranquil city is capital of one of Mexico’s smallest states, also called Colima, on the Pacific coast. A city of about 170,000 people, Colima sits in the mountains about an hour’s drive from the coast and the state’s second-largest city, the beach resort of Manzanillo. Colima’s center is colonial but the rest is modern, with gated communities of well-spaced lots and homes.
The city is well-run, with clean streets, efficient local government, universities, and plenty of supermarkets and other amenities. It’s also relatively inexpensive; you’ll find homes from about $150,000, and you can eat out for a few dollars. However, you’ll need to speak some Spanish to settle here; most of the state’s expats live on the beach, in Manzanillo.
Affordable-living in Lake Chapala
Surprisingly, the Lake Chapala area—which has arguably the largest U.S. and Canadian expat community in Mexico—remains affordable. This area doesn’t have the big churches and large colonial structures of the other cities mentioned here. Rather, it has a smaller-scale, traditional Mexican feel to the villages’ narrow streets and main squares.
Most of the traditional buildings have already been converted to shops or residences, so you’ll likely need to rent or buy a modern home here. But you may find it worth the trade-off… Here you’ll find every amenity of home (and many of the same products), yet with Mexican charm and atmosphere on an intimate scale. Condo prices start below $100,000, with villas and homes starting at about $130,000.
And when you miss the grandeur of large-scale colonial buildings, just head to Guadalajara, with its well-restored colonial heart—it’s less than an hour away.
Plus, Mexico’s health care is excellent and affordable. In fact, it costs from a quarter to a half of what you’ll pay in the U.S.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Mexico and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter. Simply sign up for IL’s free daily postcards and we’ll send you a free special report – Why Millions of Americans Are Moving to Mexico.