Best For All Budgets

In part two of our Snowbird special, we explore winter living in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Turks and Caicos

From the malecón (seaside boardwalk) of Mazatlán to the laid-back towns of the Yucatán, from the trendy beaches of Puerto Vallarta to the art markets of San Miguel de Allende, Canadian snowbirds love the colour, food, climate, history, art and beaches of Mexico. And if that’s not enough, there’s an overflowing abundance of great deals on long stays, not to mention that the strength of the Canadian dollar allows buyers to get a condo in some areas for a little more than a closet in Vancouver! Walmart and Costco are becoming ubiquitous, bank machines proliferate and Spanish classes are filled to overflowing. But what about violence? While we hear a lot about the carnage caused by drug wars, these are mostly confined to border cities and neighbourhoods not frequented by travellers.

Places you’ll love
â–  Puerto Vallarta
AARP named PV one of the world’s best places to retire abroad, and it’s not
just because of its climate or natural beauty. Its cobblestone streets are rife with excellent shopping, world-class restaurants and apartment rentals for almost every budget. Modern condos and a large Canadian expat community can be found in Nuevo Vallarta, which comes complete with a modern shopping mall. Nearby villages offer even more traditional charms and are home to an increasing number of snowbirds willing to live off-grid. Just south of town is Mismaloya where they filmed The Night of the Iguana, so timeless in appearance that you almost expect to see Richard Burton stumbling out of the local bar. Nearby Sayulita is a lively little seaside retreat as popular with surfer dudes as it is with snowbirds, some of whom are now one and the same. PV is well served by Canadian air carriers.
Average prices
House (single family): $320,000

â–  San Miguel de Allende
A temperate climate, lower crime rate
and a passion for the arts attracts snow-
birds to San Miguel de Allende, a colonial city in the highlands of central Mexico. Pastel homes crowd cobblestone streets rich with art galleries and gourmet restaurants; this is the place to retire for those who have always felt a need to get in touch with their inner artist – art schools abound. The pulse of life never stops in the central zÓcalo where roving mariachi bands compete with folklorico dancers for tourist attention in the shadow of the Parish of San Miguel with its neo-Gothic and much-photographed facade designed by an amateur architect and bricklayer named Zeferino Gutierrez. Here, visitors will find Mercado de Artesanias, quite possibly one of the finest art markets in Mexico, rich with traditional and modern works made from tin, blown glass and papier mâché. San Miguel has gotten a little pricier in recent years, but you can still buy a small mansion for the price of a fixer-upper in Toronto.
Average prices
House (single family): $100,000

■ Yucatán Gulf Coast
Modest accommodation prices, fresh seafood straight from the ocean and a laid-back lifestyle characterize the quaint fishing villages of the Yucatán, also renowned as one of the richest archeological regions in Meso-America with its wealth of Mayan ruins, including Chichen Itza and Tulum by the sea. Snowbirds consistently rate this area safe, convenient and fun; as of this writing, beachfront condos were listing for about US$100,000.
Average prices
House (single family): $90,000

â–  La Paz
On the Baja California peninsula, near
the Sea of Cortez and all its marine treasures (it’s also less than a two-hour flight from Los Angeles, making it easy for connecting Canadians), is the city of La Paz (literally “the Peace”). Here, the residents
pride themselves on the safety of their town, and Jacques Cousteau wanna-
bes flock to its marine biology university from all over the world. The
nearby Costa Baja Resort and Spa and the new Costa Baja residences, which
are extremely popular with snowbirds, offer a marina and immediate access to some of the world’s best fishing and snorkelling and features a members-only beach club, 24-hour onsite security and shopping; it suits golf, sailing and diving enthusiasts alike. —Ian MacNeill


Living Solo in Mexico

Margo McCutcheon goes against the standardized snowbird template of a retired couple hitting the road. “Well, I’m a single woman living alone in Mexico,” says McCutcheon, 55, a retired librarian from Gabriola Island off the coast of B.C.
Ironically, McCutcheon says she had no intention of taking up the snowbird lifestyle when she first visited Mexico 10 years ago. She had a few extra weeks holiday to burn one summer and after stumbling on a literary oddity called Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide by Don Adams (recommended reading, by the way), she decided to visit Ajijic on the shores of Lake Chapala. She loved it so much she started snowbirding in earnest and,
in 2010, took the real estate plunge,
buying a two-bedroom house with a
pool and “an amazing garden” for US$250,000.
“I sit around with my friends and what we talk about – when we aren’t talking about pensions and health care, we’re so boring – is how lucky we are to be here,” she says. “It’s just a lovely, lovely way to live.”
The region has an old-world feel to it, but all the modern amenities, including Internet, Skype and satellite TV. Food prices are so low she gets sticker-shock in the grocery stores when she comes home to Canada, and there’s a large expat community that, along with the Mexican friends she’s been able to make, have made Mexico seem more and more like home every year. Crime is no concern, outside of the ordinary cautions. “I can walk home at night, but I do lock my door.”
Although she hasn’t had need to access medical facilities, she says her friends tell her of first-rate care in modern hospitals delivered by professional doctors and nurses.
And then there’s the social life. After hitting the deck running when she first got to Lake Chapala, she’s had to scale back in recent years to stave off exhaustion – there’s just so much to do. In addition to all the yoga and Spanish classes, the line dancing and camera clubs, the computer workshops and book clubs, there’s more than enough to fill a season.
Part of her social life revolves around her association with the Canadian Club, a lively group of expats that gets together regularly for fun, education, and companionship, parties and informal get-togethers that often bring in special guest speakers.
For those interested in testing the waters, McCutcheon recommends spend-
ing a season renting before buying. “People tend to turn up their noses at renting, but it’s a good way to explore whether it’s right for you, and there are many different neighbourhoods, each with its own feel.”
Good-quality fully furnished rental properties, she says, can be had for anywhere from US$500 to $1,000 a month.  —IM

Snowbirds need to know
• Canadian visitors to Mexico do not need a visa. Tourist visits are restricted to 180 days. Applicants must prove sufficient income or investments (a home) to support themselves while in Mexico and have no criminal record • Medical care, especially in areas catering to foreign visitors, has improved exponentially in recent years. Modern equipment and well-trained medical staff are now the norm • The Canadian embassy is located in Mexico City. A Consulate General of Canada is located in Monterrey and a Consulate of Canada in Guadalajara. Consular agencies are located in Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Mazatlán, Oaxaca, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta