As International Living’s correspondent (I prefer the term, Tequila Marshal) for Mexico’s Riviera Maya, I’m primarily tasked with reporting on the Peninsula’s stunning Caribbean coast from Cancún, south to Tulum. From our beachfront home in Cancún, I cover this 80-mile stretch of sugar-sand beach, warm, clear turquoise water, gently swaying palm trees, tons of beach bars and seafood restaurants, along with modern infrastructure…all under the umbrella of the Caribbean’s tropical weather. That’s my beat…I know…tough duty, right?
For many, this part of the world represents paradise, and some 5 million annual visitors from across the globe agree. In fact, the Riviera Maya is the Caribbean’s most popular vacation destination, and large numbers of retired expats have also chosen it as their new home.
However, there are several problems with living in paradise. The first and most obvious is selecting the correct version of paradise that’s just right for you. As difficult as it is for me to believe, there are some for whom living in one of the world’s premium, tropical-beach destinations would not be a good fit. Fortunately, Mexico offers several versions of paradise, from which to choose.
Some folks prefer small, walkable villages or mountain retreats where cool, spring-like weather is the norm throughout the year. Others want the historic connection of a colonial city where beautiful Spanish architecture stimulates the senses, and regal, colonial homes may be purchased for renovation. Mexico offers many of those locations, such as Merida or Valladolid on the Yucatán Peninsula. San Miguel de Allende and the Lake Chapala region are also quite popular among retirees, all boasting a low cost of living, solid infrastructure, low crime rates, and ready access to good medical care.
Cancún is a modern city of nearly 1 million people. Several hospitals offer world-class care at prices far less than those north of the border. Over 750 restaurants and a vibrant tourism industry provide a never-ending menu of entertainment, both day and night, with a nearby offshore reef offering opportunities for diving, snorkelling, boating, and superior fishing. And, of course…there’s the beach. White sugary sand, ample sun, and warm, turquoise/green water make it easy to relax and forget about the rest of the world…and your biggest problem is keeping your beer cold.
Cancún, is the gateway to the Riviera Maya. It’s modern international airport and highly efficient public transportation system permits one to arrive and connect via bus to destinations all along the coast, as well as the interior. My wife, Diane, and I love road trips and manage a couple of them each month. We load our backpacks, a cooler of food and drinks, and our Chihuahua (Carmine) into our Jeep and hit the road.
Sometimes, we don’t even determine an exact destination, preferring to explore a new region of the Yucatán Peninsula and find our way as we go. That’s how we found the way-cool fishing village of San Felipe on the Gulf Coast, with its tiny, brightly-colored cottages, and bobbing fleet of small fishing boats. We watched as fishermen unloaded their catch into wheeled carts and peddled their fish to local restaurants along the malecon (waterfront).
We also love the small Maya village of Ek’ Balam, a tiny hamlet of 400 direct Maya descendants situated just outside the ancient Ek’ Balam ruin in the state of Yucatán. Most dwellings in that village are made exactly as their ancestors made them 1,500 years ago, with a stone foundation and vertical stick walls with thatched roof.
The second problem with living in paradise, is dealing with the numbers of friends and family who suddenly want to visit. They didn’t care that much about you when you lived in the land of cold and snow, but all of a sudden, now that you live in an exotic, warm location…for a fraction of what you used to spend north of the border…there they are. Your home in paradise…should probably have a spare bedroom.
The final problem with living in paradise is trying not to brag when telling folks back home about your new life. After all, your cost of living will, most likely, be greatly reduced and your standard of living could very well be improved. You’ll be learning a new language, will be experiencing a new culture, and making new friends, and—to be honest—you may say things about your new country’s free medical care program that makes those back-home question their own choices. And all that, may make friends and family a bit envious.
About six years ago, as Diane and I were planning our escape to a more economical and advantageous lifestyle, we relied heavily on the information provided by International Living and now, after spending our first chapter in a tiny coastal village in Ecuador, we live a great life on a Caribbean beach. Is this our final paradise? Maybe…or maybe not.
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