Viva Vallarta, An Alternative Retirement Destination
I'm an American guy that retired in 2010, considered many countries as retirement destinations, and finally settled on Thailand. Have obtained a retiree visa and have mainly lived in Chiang Mai, while traveling the region and also visiting the States annually. My requirements were a place with warm weather, reasonable cost of living, low crime, good medical care, good infrastructure, and an interesting culture. For me, Chiang Mai fit the bill and I have enjoyed living there the past few years, though like most of Thailand it is changing and not all for the better.
I read Stick's weekly as well as reader submissions, and note that many expats are becoming dissatisfied with Thailand for various reasons, and looking at alternate retirement destinations.
I've been on a few month visit to the US and recently visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for some relaxation as well as several days of sports fishing. I have been there before, and it's my favorite area in Mexico, and think it would be a pretty good place to retire, or spend part of the year. Here are some of my observations about the Puerto Vallarta area:
Location: it's a city of about 300,000 located on the Pacific coast of Mexico, a few hours from Guadalahara, Mazatlan. Unlike the more well known touristy Cancun, it is an old, traditional city, which though it does receive a lot of visitors, it retains much of its local charm. The airport has many direct flights to several cities in the states and Canada.
The City: the city is surrounded by mountains and is on the Bay of Banderas, one of the largest bays in the world. There are beaches in the main city, and while not as beautiful as the Caribbean beaches, are nice enough. There are many distinct neighborhoods, including the old city and its cobblestone streets and older homes. Then there is the Marina area, with many high rise condos, gated communities and nice hotels and restaurants. Like many Latin cities along the water, there is a long Malecon where locals and tourists gather in the evenings, and there are many restaurants and shops along the way. About 30 minutes north of town is an area called Nuevo Vallarta which has several gated communities and expensive condos targeting wealthy Mexicans and foreigners. The city does not have a subway, but has an extensive and cheap bus service, and plentiful taxis. The roads in town are cobblestone and a bumpy ride, but the highways are good.
Some areas of Mexico have a well deserved reputation for murders, kidnappings etc, which for an expat is a big negative. While it is true that many of the cities along the US border, as well as Mexico City, Acapulco are very dangerous, the expats I spoke to said that Vallarta is a pretty safe city. In general, Mexicans are a very friendly, happy people, at least in my experience.
Weather: PV has a tropical climate, very hot and humid in the summer months, and has a rainy season. The winter months are cooler, but if you are from Europe or North America you would not find it cool. On occasion it does get hit with typhoons from the Pacific but not as often as some other areas.
Cost of Living: based on my limited time there, I would consider Puerto Vallarta to be cheaper than most cities in the US, but certainly more expensive than Chiang Mai. It is probably more comparable to Thailand's islands Phuket and Samui. There seemed to be many houses and condos for rent or purchase with different price ranges. Like everywhere, if you dine in the tourist areas, or western restaurants, you pay more than if you eat in local restaurants.
Expat Population: I spoke with several expats, who indicated that PV has a large expat population, both year round residents as well as those who spend the winters in Mexico, then return to Canada or the US in summertime (snowbirds). My impression is that you can definitely get by in PV not speaking Spanish, though it always helps to speak the local language in any country.
Apparently PV attracts many gay and lesbian visitors and is tolerant of that lifestyle, which isn't my thing but also doesn't bother me.
Mexico does offer a retirement visa to encourage pensioners to relocate there. It has certain financial requirements, and I believe is more generous than the Thai visa.
Health Care: like Thailand, Mexico has good quality, inexpensive healthcare, at least in the bigger cities, and has become a popular "medical tourism" destination.
Activities: due to its location on the Pacific Ocean, you can take advantage of beach activities and watersports. It is also close to jungles and mountains, so hiking, rafting, zip lines, and other off road activities are popular. And the fishing in the Bay of Banderas and Pacific is considered some of the best in the world, and very popular with serious anglers. We went offshore fishing a few days and caught tuna in the 50-75 kilo range, as well as sailfish, dorado. There are also numerous golf courses.
Nightlife: PV does have an active nightlife, though I don't think that it has the pay for sex scene of Tijuana or Thailand. There are a few strip clubs, though they can be quite expensive compared to Thailand. I did not see any 60-year old gringos walking around town with 20-year old girls in PV, and I didn't see any bars full of older white guys and young local girls, though I wasn't searching that scene out.
In conclusion, I found Puerto Vallarta to be a very nice midsized city and a potential place to spend time in retirement. One big plus is it being close to the US, making it easier to visit friends or family than from South-East Asia.