Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Retirement in San Miguel de Allende? Maybe Jocotepec on Lake Chapala?

Evaluating Two More of Our Eight Favorite Places in Mexico

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel in the Background
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
     For years we traveled around Mexico and never imagined we would consider retiring in San Miguel de Allende. We had the mistaken belief that it had been overrun by foreigners, that the charm of the once small town had been ruined. Some even liken it to Disneyland, just another tourist attraction, painted and enhanced until it is picture-perfect. We wanted to live in real Mexico.
     Then, we visited San Miguel de Allende and fell in love with it like so many North Americans have. Though the town has grown since Tony Cohan described it in his book, “On Mexican Time”, published in 2000, the Spanish colonial architecture of the central town has been well-preserved. The majestic cathedrals, the attractive, colorful centuries-old homes and hotels along narrow cobblestone roads, the beautifully landscaped parks, and the lively festivals are just a few of the things that make this city special. 
     We began to envision ourselves living in San Miguel de Allende. No one was more surprised than we were that we would even think about living in this tourist town. We started listing our “Pros and Cons” of moving to this amazingly gorgeous city.
Part of a Wedding Procession through San Miguel de Allende

Here are some of the things we like about San Miguel de Allende:

1.      We are drawn to the Spanish colonial architecture. We could spend hours each day walking down cobblestone roads exploring the town, fascinated with the old world beauty. This city is even more beautiful than Old Town Mazatlán, another of our favorite historic areas in Mexico.
2.  Plenty of great restaurants to satisfy our desire to dine out four evenings each week. TripAdvisor lists 317 restaurants and we only sampled a small fraction of those in the two weeks we stayed in San Miguel de Allende.
3.  A good bus system. This is a city where it is recommended that you do not drive into centro (downtown) because the streets are very narrow and there is almost no place to park. Centro is a walking area and that works for us. We stayed in the outskirts of town at the Hotel & RV Park San Ramon, caught the bus to centro, and then walked around the historic district. The buses stopped running fairly early so we caught a taxi back to the RV Park after dinner, not an inexpensive ride.
4.      Walking around town was always interesting and good exercise. There is so much to see in San Miguel de Allende that it would take years to explore it all. We walked a different route every day to see as many of the cathedrals and parks as we could during our two week stay and felt like we had barely scratched the surface. The walk around centro, viewing the famous La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel and El Jardin Principal (central plaza and garden) is level and easy walking. When we walked to the Parque Benito Juarez, we found ourselves going up some fairly steep hills, admiring beautifully restored old homes, hotels, and churches along the way. Carrying our Garmin GPS with Mexico software helped us find our way through the winding streets and walkways, parks and plazas, and back to the bus stop. My Fitbit pedometer registered that we easily met our goal of walking 10,000 steps per day while in San Miguel de Allende. To see more photos of our walking tour in San Miguel de Allende, view my blog post at:
5.  The city was clean. The streets were well-swept and free of trash; the air was clear and pollution-free when we were there.
6.      The climate is moderately warm with a low amount of rainfall, only 22 inches per year on average.
7.  San Miguel de Allende has at least one great fitness center and Zumba class! To read more and see photos of the excellent fitness center we discovered, see my blog article, “ZUMBA WITH CESAR ESPINOSA IN SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MX” at:
8.  Grocery and supply shopping is convenient. We shopped at the Mega supermarket and found everything we needed. This store is outside of the congested centro area so we avoided tourist traffic when going to shop there.  The central market downtown had beautiful, fresh produce, so perfectly displayed that we thought it wasn’t real when we first walked past it.
9.   Health care is available in San Miguel de Allende with two general hospitals and various medical clinics.
10.  There are several banks in San Miguel de Allende, making withdrawal of pesos easy and secure.
11.  With a population of about 140,000, San Miguel de Allende is a large enough city that most services we would need are available such as Veterinarians, beauty salons, hardware stores, public library, pharmacies, etc.
12.  There is a large enough number of foreign expats, about 5 percent of the population, that we would be able to meet people from our own country while participating in community activities.
13.   San Miguel de Allende has a reputation for being a safe city. We felt safe walking around the centro during the daytime and after dark, where the streets were well lit and there were plenty of other people strolling around.
14. Many interesting places to visit in the area surrounding San Miguel de Allende. We spent a couple of days exploring the amazingly beautiful city of Guanajuato about 35 miles away. I wanted to visit the El Charco de Ingenio Botanical Garden and Parque Landeta, but we ran short of time.
15.  To read more about “Living, Working and Retirement in San Miguel de Allende”, I suggest this website:

Overlooking San Miguel de Allende and Ignacio Allende Lake

Here are the reasons we ruled out San Miguel de Allende as our retirement home:

1.      Relatively high cost of housing, especially near centro. If we decided to purchase a home in San Miguel de Allende, we could probably only afford a small apartment on our limited budget. A casita (small house) with a garden in walking distance from downtown would be out of our price range.
2.  Relatively high cost of dining out. The elegant, gourmet restaurants were out of our price range on our minimal retirement budget. Even the taco restaurants were more expensive than similar places along the Pacific coast.
3.  We missed being on the Pacific Ocean with the sandy beaches, the salty sea breeze, gently breaking waves, and the water sports we enjoy. We originally thought that the nearby Ignacio Allende Lake would satisfy our need for living near a body of water, but it was too far away from the city. This was probably the biggest reason that we decided against moving to San Miguel de Allende. Maybe a town on Lake Chapala would satisfy our desire to live near water. 
4.      The higher altitude was difficult for me to adjust to, averaging at 6200 feet. I found that I experienced lower energy, headaches, and occasional dizziness. This was especially noticeable when I was taking Zumba class and found I had to slow my pace to keep my heartrate from getting too high.
5.  Winter temperatures are too cool for us, especially in the morning and evening with lows in the 40’s and 50’s Fahrenheit and daytime highs in the low 70’s. The cooler mountain temperatures are perfect for some North Americans, but we find we enjoy the warmer coastal climate.
6.  San Miguel de Allende felt too large and spread out for us. Since we have made the decision to give up owning a car, we want to be able to walk or ride the bus to get around. The Old Town of San Miguel de Allende is walkable, but in order for us to live in this area, the cost of housing would exceed our budget. It was becoming more and more clear to us that we were looking for a smaller Mexican village, not a big city such as San Miguel de Allende.
7.   San Miguel de Allende is not convenient for us to travel to from Medford, Oregon. The closest airport to San Miguel de Allende is in León, Guanajuato, México (BJX-Del Bajío), which would require a long, expensive taxi ride, about two hours from the airport to a home in San Miguel de Allende. Our flight from Medford would be 10 to 11 hours of travel with two layovers. It was longer than we wanted to travel each year when we went to Oregon to visit our family and it was too much to expect of our little wiener dog, Bella.
11 to 12 Hours Travel To San Miguel de Allende
     So, as much as we enjoyed our time in San Miguel de Allende, and even though we could envision living in this colonial city, we ruled it out for our retirement home.  We have met expats who have retired in San Miguel de Allende and love living there. It is just not for everyone. San Miguel de Allende will still be on our Bucket List of places to visit again in the future.

Jocotepec, Jalisco
Zócalo in Jocotepec
     Jocotepec is one of three cities along the shores of Lake Chapala that are popular retirement homes for expats from the United States and Canada. The towns of Chapala and Ajijic have a larger percentage of gringos living there than Jocotepec. We chose to stay in Jocotepec when we were living and traveling in our motorhome, simply because it was the only town on the lake with an RV Park. Roca Azul is more than just an RV Park—it is also a sports park with a wonderful swimming pool, a mineral pool, a tennis court, volleyball courts, an event center, 24 hour security, cabins for rent, and more. With the nearly perfect weather, the view of the lake and surrounding mountains, walking trails, bird watching, close proximity to downtown, and the friendly people, we could see why there were quite a few expats from the U.S. and Canada who live at Roca Azul year around. For more information on Roca Azul, see
The Largest Pool at Roca Azul in Jocotepec 

     Jocotepec is a very Mexican town with a pretty Zócalo, a traditional central plaza with an ornate gazebo, benches for social gatherings, and well-maintained landscaping. When we dined at one of the restaurants on the perimeter of the Zócalo, we could watch the activity at the two churches, the couples strolling through, and the children playing. We noticed a few gringos in the plaza, people watching like we were, but most of the people in this town are Mexican. This would be a place to immerse ourselves in Mexican life, learning Spanish more quickly since few residents here speak English.
     Jocotepec is an old city, founded in the year 1529. Most of the buildings in centro (the downtown area) were constructed of adobe and many have been resurfaced with stucco and paint to freshen the appearance. Some buildings have old, peeling plaster and paint, revealing the original adobe brick and mortar underneath, giving the town a somewhat worn look. Jocotepec is not a tourist town so it is less polished than San Miguel de Allende, but just as clean. It was obvious to us that the residents here take pride in their town.
Intricate Mural in Centro Depicting Jocotepec's History
Here are some of the things we like about Jocotepec:
     1.      Jocotepec is a very Mexican town, where the people are friendly and relaxed. It is a small city with a population of about 38,000, so it felt more peaceful with less hustle and bustle of a large city such as Mazatlán. We considered living at Roca Azul in our motorhome or maybe a fifth wheel with a bit more space. The property is large, overlooking Lake Chapala and the mountains, with plenty of sports activities to keep us from getting too lazy.
     2.      The mixture of people who lived at and visited Roca Azul was unique and pleasant, unlike any other place we had lived during our travels in Mexico. Our neighbors were friendly and enjoyable. The park is large and spread out with plenty of elbow room for everyone. Two sections of Roca Azul were devoted to expats who live there in motorhomes or fifth wheels most of the year. We stayed in the area with a view of the lake and the lighthouse, where there were more transient campers, both Internationals and Mexicans. Mexican families come from Guadalajara for their vacations and spend weeks living out of their trailers, the kids running, riding bikes, and playing throughout this giant, safe playground. The annual “Combi Reunion” (Mexican name for VW Microbuses) gathered there one week and we had as much fun watching them as they had showing off their specially decorated microbuses, playing musical instruments, and playing soccer. Intermixed in this side of the RV Park were Americans and Canadians, some retired couples, an older woman with her adopted daughter, a single gringo and his dog who looked permanently settled in a medium-sized trailer, and other travelers just stopping by for a night or two on their way to other adventures . All were friendly to us and we received several invitations to come by for a drink and a chat. We practiced our Spanish and the Mexicans practiced their English with us in a conversation that mixed both languages. We found that the smiles, the laughter, and the fun of watching the children play overcame the language barrier. We were very comfortable and content during the two weeks that we stayed at Roca Azul. For more information about Roca Azul, see
One Expat's Home and Yard at Roca Azul in Jocotepec

      3.      We felt safe in this town, walking from Roca Azul as well as strolling around centro during the daytime and the evening.
     4.   Jocotepec is a clean place where the residents seem to take pride in their city. They sweep the street and pick up trash in front of their homes and businesses daily.
     5.      The climate is nearly perfect year around, with temperatures ranging from an average maximum of 75°F in January to 88°F in May, and with relatively low humidity most of the year. Rainfall is fairly low, about 29 inches per year with most of it falling during the summer months of June through September. 
     6.      Low cost of housing if we lived at Roca Azul in a fifth wheel or other RV, as many expats do. The annual lease for a site in 2014 was about $4000 U.S. per year (only a little over $330 per month if a year lease was signed) and included all utilities and internet. This was the least expensive home we had found in an area we liked in Mexico! There was plenty of space in each site for gardening and privacy sight screens. Most of the expats had developed their leased site into colorful yards with pink and red flowering bougainvillea, palm trees, and other interesting plants that were new to me. An inexpensive home with a space to garden and enjoy the birds was what we were looking for.
     7.      Health Care is available nearby. The new Jocotepec General Hospital opened in 2015. Several major medical centers are about an hour’s drive away in Guadalajara. English speaking doctors and dentists are available in Ajijic and Chapala, 12 to 18 miles away.
     8.      There is a bus system that runs from the Jocotepec bus depot, along Lake Chapala through Ajijic and to the city of Chapala. We could walk about 1 ½ miles from Roca Azul to the bus station in town, not too far for us, when we wanted to ride the bus to other towns to shop, go to dinner, or see a doctor or dentist.
     9.  I was excited to find lively, fun Zumba classes in Jocotepec that I could walk to, adding to my exercise for the day. This was also a good place to meet other expats who live in town. For more information on these classes, see my blog posts, “Zumba with Daniela in Jocotepec” at: and “Zumba with Maria in Jocotepec” at:
     10.  The Jocotepec city park was a relaxing place to people watch on a Sunday afternoon while enjoying an ice cream cone. The children played in the fountain to cool off or road the kiddy train around the park while the adults relaxed on benches in the shade. Throughout the park were whimsical statues of fish made of colorful tile mosaic, favorite backdrops for photos.
Fountain at Jocotepec City Park
     11.      Fresh Raspberries! The Driscoll Farms raspberry fields surround Roca Azul RV Park, so we were able to buy just-picked, juicy berries at roadside stands for 25 to 50 cents per quart. Delicious and inexpensive! This is the same farm that supplies some of our Oregon grocery stores, but after being shipped that far they cost about ten times as much and sure don’t taste as yummy. Strawberries and blackberries are also grown in Jocotepec. The fresh berry supply alone was almost enough to make us decide to move to Jocotepec!
    12.      Bird watching was excellent at Roca Azul. Sitting in our RV site we watched countless numbers of goldfinches, hummingbirds, orioles, house finches, doves, robins, herons near the lake, and another exotic, bright orange and red beauty that we were unfamiliar with. We were entertained daily by the birds, many of the same species that we watched at our home in Ashland, Oregon plus new ones indigenous to the mountains of Mexico.
     13.      We found a good lavandería and other services we needed in the downtown area, though it was two miles from Roca Azul RV Park to centro. We were able to drive to town with our tow car at the time we were there whenever we needed to haul laundry, groceries and other supplies. Now that we don’t have a car, we would need to ride our bikes or use a taxi service to take our laundry to the lavandería once a week. We didn’t see any golf carts being used in this town so we doubt that they are considered street-legal the way they are in some smaller towns in Mexico. There are several pharmacies in town with good inventory and reasonable prices. Our favorite was Farmacia Guadalajara, but sometimes we had to visit more than one pharmacy to find the medication we needed.
     14.  Shopping for groceries and supplies was somewhat limited in Jocotepec. The Bodega Aurrera was the only supermarket in town when we were there. We liked to shop for produce at the Fruteria de Cuarto downtown, near the main plaza, where the fruit and vegetables are very fresh and inexpensive. We also shopped at meat markets around the plaza where the meat is fresh and less expensive than at the supermarket. We could walk the two miles from Roca Azul to the plaza to shop, and then take a taxi home with our supplies. Ajijic has a popular Wednesday market that we could ride the bus to for weekly produce shopping. If needed, there is a Wal-Mart in Chapala and we could ride the bus there. It is only about 13 miles from the Jocotepec bus station, but probably about an hour bus ride each way down Highway 23, the busy road along Lake Chapala.
     15. We would walk to town to go out for dinner, and then take a taxi home. Or we could walk to the bus station and take a bus to Ajijic or Chapala for dinner at more upscale restaurants. We would get plenty of exercise if we lived at Roca Azul since we don’t have a car. We would have a nice two mile walk down a country road, past the raspberry fields, and into town. Life would be simple and slow.
     16.    The Historic District of Guadalajara is only 40 miles away. One of our “Bucket List” items is to take a walking tour of this area with its numerous parks, plazas, sculptures, Spanish Colonial cathedrals and other famous buildings. We could easily take the bus from Jocotepec to Guadalajara for a weekend of sightseeing and dining out in the big city.

Getting to Jocotepec
           The nearest airport to Jocotepec is the Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport in Guadalajara, 45 miles from the Roca Azul RV and Sports Park. The taxi ride from the airport would be about an hour and fifteen minutes to Roca Azul if we lived there. (One advantage of living in Chapala is that the airport is only 20 miles away, about a 35 minute drive)
     To fly from Guadalajara to Medford, Oregon to see our family would require about 12 hours one-way, including the time for two layovers. Add on the taxi ride, and this would be too long of a day of travel for us, especially as we get older.
12 Hour Flight to Guadalajara Including 2 Layovers

Here are the reasons we ruled out Jocotepec as our retirement home:
     1.      We missed the Pacific Ocean. After months of living in towns in the Yucatan, along the Gulf Coast, and in the mountains of central Mexico, we were homesick for the waves of the Pacific. We realized that we are happiest where we can boogie-board, Stand Up Paddleboard, and watch the surfers, the pelicans, and the sunsets each evening.
     2.      There are an unusually small number of restaurants in Jocotepec for the size of the city, too few for us. TripAdvisor lists nine and I think we dined at most of them, including the taco stands. We could hop on the bus and go to some very good restaurants in Ajijic and Chapala, and then take a taxi home. But, we really wanted more dinner places within walking distance of our home.
     3.      While Roca Azul was a fun and inexpensive place to live in our motorhome, we were ready to buy a brick and mortar house with a garden. We didn’t research real estate much in Jocotepec because by this time, we knew we wanted to get back to the Pacific Coast of Mexico.
     4.      The high altitude, a little over 5000 feet, was difficult for me to adjust to. I noticed the extra physical exertion needed when I exercised, especially when I attended Zumba class. I found that my heart rate became high pretty quickly so I had to dance with my arms below the level of my heart and do less jumping than the rest of the people in class to keep my heart rate from getting too high. I know my body would eventually adjust to exercise at a higher altitude, but it can take months to adapt. Some expats who live in a mountainous area of Mexico find that as they age, taking walks at this altitude becomes more difficult and they begin to consider moving somewhere at sea level.
     5.      Would we get bored? There were plenty of things to do within Roca Azul with the pools, tennis court, volleyball court, and walking trails. Most of the expats at Roca Azul seemed friendly and eager to get together for social times. I had discovered my favorite fitness class in town, Zumba! We could travel to Ajijic and Chapala for other activities. But we were concerned that we would not have enough to do in Jocotepec outside of the Roca Azul Sports Park.
     6.      The nearest Golf Courses are in Chapala, an hour taxi ride away, private country clubs that were too expensive for beginners like us.
     7.  There were not enough international residents in the town of Jocotepec. We thought that we might begin to feel isolated. Living in the cities of Ajijic or Chapala would be better options for meeting more people from the United States and Canada, but housing there tends to be in gated communities. We aren’t interested in living in a gated community or condominium.
     8.      The travel time from Jocotepec to Oregon to see our family was too long for us and our miniature dachshund, Bella. Bella goes everywhere we do, so this was a high priority!

     In the last two blog posts, I listed our “Pros and Cons” for living in San Carlos, Sonora, Mazatlán, Sinoloa, La Peñita de Jaltemba, Nayarit, and San Pancho (San Francisco), Nayarit. After looking at San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Jocotepec, Jalisco, too, Mazatlán was still our first choice for a place to retire. But, so far, we had only reviewed six of our eight favorite cities in Mexico. We had two more to look at.
     Was it possible that we would be happier in a smaller city on the Pacific Coast, a town where we could walk most everywhere we wanted to go on a typical day? We decided to evaluate two more of our favorite beach towns, Sayulita, Nayarit and La Manzanilla, Jalisco. Look for our final decision for our retirement home in my next blog article.
Bella Digs for Sand Crabs at Sunset in Mazatlan
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