I first visited Mexico in the early ‘90s because at that time I could not afford to go to Spain. I wanted to meet the characters populating Pedro Almodóvar’s movies and ended up in what was then the poor cousin, Mexico. So much has changed since then. Spain’s economy crashed, Mexico’s graduated to an up and coming emerging market, and I was hooked and fell in love with the country, discovering characters equal to, if not more outlandishly fun than in Almodóvar films. There was no choice but to return and after many times visiting I opted to retire here, but the question was to which of the expat communities. I narrowed it down to San Miguel de Allende or Lake Chapala.
For those without Spanish language skills these communities are ideal. Both have solid medical, assisted living venues, dental, organic food, and positive lifestyle opportunities for a healthy and happy retirement, but where they differ most is in overall lifestyle influenced by size, location, and culture. Both still bear the watchwords of caution while traveling and living in Mexico but once there you will see just how lively, colorful and fun your life can become.
Colonial Arts Scene v Lakeside Casual
San Miguel de Allende is nestled in the Sierra Madres in the central interior about four hours outside Mexico City. It is a colonial city dating from the 16th century. At an elevation of 6,200 feet it is comparable to Santa Fe, New Mexico. For people with blood pressure or diabetic issues this is something to consider, because the elevation does impact your numbers.
The population is approximately 140,000. It is one hour from Queretaro (an industrial urban center and the third largest city in Mexico) and Guanajuato (a university and music town). Much of the architecture from past centuries is intact and there is some hilly walking, particularly in centro (downtown). In the rainy season the flagstones get very slippery and they can be a challenge to negotiate for people with mobility issues, but they dry quickly.
In the past 12 years it has morphed from a reasonably priced and relaxed town into a boutique, bustling watering hole and weekend wedding destination. Still, scratch a little and the arts scene and inexpensive living are under the surface. It is attractive to people with a penchant for the arts, architecture, design, and music, increasingly connected to Mexico City’s arts and design scene by transplanted Mexico City residents.
Lying along Lake Chapala’s north shore and only a few miles apart, the two small towns of Chapala and Ajijic (a-hee-heek), known collectively as “Lakeside” by the locals, are the area’s main retirement hubs.
Lake Chapala is much closer to sea level with an elevation of 4,900 feet. The population, including Ajijic and Chapala, is around 43,000 and is located just over one hour from Guadalajara.