Is La Paz the Place for You?

I think the most common question I am asked by either Mexicans or expats is why we chose La Paz out of all the potential places to retire.

My husband and I had been talking about moving someplace tropical for a number of years. Our first choice was Maui but once we added up the costs we scratched that one off the list as a definite “NO!”. Then we cruised every region of the Caribbean and fell in love with Grand Cayman Island. Beautiful, clean, English speaking . . . check, check, check. But all those boxes were quickly unchecked when we looked at the cost of living and travel distance. It’s not exactly on every airline’s direct flight route and with our extended family and friends living primarily in the Vancouver, BC area it could be a major stumbling block. Coupled with stories about difficulties with local manpower, the lure of the island lost its appeal.

That’s when we started looking into Mexico. We had visited the Mayan Riviera, Cozumel, Mazatlan and Puerta Vallarta but none were cities that we could picture ourselves living in. On a “volunteer” vacation near Ensenada I asked the director of the orphanage which Mexican towns he would consider as potential retirement spots for expats. On his short list was a city I’d never heard of: La Paz. As fate would have it, I was browsing through a travel magazine on the flight home and there was a feature article on La Paz. We took it as a sign and one year later we came to visit in person.

The Top 5 Reasons Why We Chose La Paz

#1 - Climate
Our first visit here was in the month of February. It probably wasn’t that hot but we thought it was perfect. Now I know why our host said we were nuts to go Hobie sailing. To him the water was way too cold but we enjoyed every venture into the beautiful bay waters. We did hear people talk about hot summers but didn’t see it as a deterrent. Looking back I think it was kind of like infatuation. You meet someone who makes you feel good and says all the right things and you forget to ask about their health and financial position. Before you know it you’re in love and none of that matters anymore. That’s kind of how it was with La Paz. I mean how hot can it get?? LOL A better question would be, How hot for how long?

So much of the appeal of living in a warm climate is being able to enjoy outdoor living. No more drooling over Outdoor Living magazines as I envied people in warmer climates. We are able to live without air conditioning for most of the year and indoor heating is a vague memory. La Paz averages over 300 days of sunshine annually with very little rain or cloudy weather. That was like finding water in the desert for a parched soul from Vancouver!

But before all of you who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder start packing away your SAD lights and beat a path to La Paz, read on.

After four summers here I can admit that it does get unbearably hot from July to mid October. You become an expert at shade slinking and avoid the sun like a vampire. Honestly, if we didn’t have a pool I don’t think I could live here full-time. The winds tend to die down in the summer and humidity can rise after a rare rainfall but it’s nothing like in the southern US or tropical climates. You adapt and spend more time indoors or in the water. I do my gardening and dog walking before the sun crests the mountains or around sunset. If I really have to be outside of the house during the day I jump into the pool with my clothes on and do my tasks dripping wet. Don’t knock it - it works!!

The rest of the year is glorious and sometimes even a little too cool for those who have climatized. When I say cool I mean 20℃ (70˚F). That’s a summer day in Vancouver!! As my husband loves to boast to our friends in the North, it’s great living in a climate where weather is not a factor in your everyday life. Ahem, except from July to October.

#2 - Size Matters
Prior to moving to Mexico we had been living on acreage in a suburb outside of Vancouver. We lived close enough to a city center to be able to rush into Costco to satisfy an oversized Kosher hot dog craving but far enough away to enjoy the tranquility of the country. That’s part of why we chose to live in El Centenario, 12 minutes outside of La Paz. The hillside view lots are spacious and you’re not likely to have noisy neighbors blaring music until 4 a.m. (That’s because most of us are retired and Baja Midnight strikes at around 9 p.m.) LOL However, if your neighbors are Mexican, then all bets are off! You’re better off to get some ear plugs or join the party.

For us, La Paz has the right amount of modernization and infrastructure. You can find almost everything here and what you can’t find you can probably get online through Amazon, Mercado Libre or another Internet avenue right here in Mexico.

La Paz is small enough to drive from one end to the other in about 10 minutes, provided you know your way around the many one-way streets. There are some typical big box stores like Walmart, Sam’s Club and Home Depot and franchises like McDonald’s, Burger King, Carls Jr., and Dairy Queen but after a while, why bother? There are so many more Mexican options that are cheaper and tastier that you’ll only head there if you have a hankering for something that tastes like home (I mean, your former home).

#3 - Getting Here
A real plus for us is that you can drive here! It may be a 5-day road trip but, hey, we could bring our own cars here along with all our precious stuff. And by stuff I mean all my husband’s tools and toys!

Sadly, La Paz lost its international airport status years ago so you have to fly through another major city like Tijuana, Guadalajara or Mexico City to fly into the La Paz airport. We prefer to fly into San Juan del Cabo just outside of Cabo San Lucas and take the shuttle from there. There are plenty of direct flights to most major North American cities from there too.

#4 - Viva Mexico!
Most expats who settle in La Paz do so because they love the climate and feel of the city. La Paz has this great Baja vibe that sets it apart from tourist heavy destinations like Cabo San Lucas or Cancun. Although tourism is a big part of the industry here in La Paz, it attracts both Mexicans and foreigners and maintains a distinctly Mexican flavor.

Be prepared to be surrounded by Spanish-speaking people. It’s not like Cabo where so much of the industry is geared to foreign tourists and English is widely spoken. For us this was a plus and not a minus. We wanted to feel like we were really in Mexico and not live in an expat bubble.

Learning Spanish was a top priority for me because I didn’t want to feel like I was being held hostage by my inability to communicate. I now have a “functional” knowledge of the language and can manage in most situations. At least I think I do. Still, sometimes, I am caught off guard and say stupid things and people look at me in total confusion. Like when I told the guy at AutoZone that my car was a 2080 model year instead of 2008!! His double-take alerted me that something wasn’t right and I managed a quick recovery.  Laughing at my mistake, I informed him it was a car of the future. LOL. He laughed too so all was good in the end.

In general I have found Mexican people to be more friendly to strangers. There are social customs of how people are greeted and addressed that remind me a lot of my trips to Europe but in a warmer way. To us as newcomers it seemed so familiar compared to our cool, casual interactions. Back in Canada you could walk into a place filled with family and friends and you could just kind of wave goodbye or hello to the group and call it good. Not here!

I attended a weekly all-Mexican ladies group during my first year here and discovered that it was expected that you would warmly greet each person in the group with a kiss on the cheek and a kind of half-hug combo. So if there were 15 women . . . well you can do the math! Lots of greeting going on and a repeat at the end. At first I felt awkward and almost embarrassed that these women would embrace me like this. I wasn’t always sure if I was being too familiar too soon but in that particular group it was expected.

#5 - Money Talks
In my early days here in Baja California I met a long-time expat at the Cabo airport who informed me with great authority and just a tinge of bitterness that “there is no more cheap living in Mexico”. He was remembering days long gone when you could get a place on the beach for next to nothing and sip margaritas at the local cantina for pennies a glass. Somehow, I felt cheated. Like I had arrived too late and missed out on a half-price sale at my favorite store. But over time I realized that it can still be more cost effective to live here, even in southern Baja where things are more expensive than many other areas of Mexico due to the location. It’s like living on an island where everything costs more to transport.

But even on the Baja you can get a lot more for a “loonie” than in Canada. (For all of you Americans a “loonie” is Canadian for a buck. And for all the rest of the foreigners a buck is a dollar.) It all comes down to how you choose to live.

In La Paz you can rent a modest, furnished, one bedroom apartment for $4000 - $6000/mo. However, if you rent accommodations in a place that caters to expats you’re probably going to pay $5000 - $8000 pesos more depending on what features you want. If you can’t see yourself living without a dishwasher or a garage, etc., you will definitely pay more.

Same goes for food. A stop at a tasty taco stand runs from $60 - $100 pesos for two tacos and a drink. A typical dine in restaurant will usually cost around $120 - $200 for an entree and non-alcoholic drink. Or you could go all out and lay down $2000 or more for a 3-course, fine dining experience with alcohol. (All prices per person with tip.)

Groceries that are locally grown or produced in Mexico are always cheaper and often less than half of what you would pay up north. There are seasons where you can pay pennies per kilo for many fruits and vegetables. Granted, they’re not always Grade A but you can shop around and find what’s good. After a recent trip back to Canada I determined to stop griping when the tomato prices here are sky high ($18 pesos a pound) or the broccoli stem is as flexible as a hula dancer. Across the board, all non-imported groceries are cheaper here including meats. Mexican produced alcohol like tequila, Kahlua, rum and beer are all cheap by comparison.

Some things that are always more expensive are imported foods like good cheeses and fine chocolates, housewares, technology gadgets and even clothing or shoes. Lots of expats opt to purchase these on trips up north. On the Southern Baja cars can also set you back considerably more.

Undeniably your biggest ticket item is going to be housing. If you want to purchase a home in the La Paz area, you can buy a brand new, compact 2 bedroom house with all the basics on a small lot for anywhere from $75,000 to $110,000 USD. Or you can buy a new, spacious, custom built home with more bells and whistles from $200,000 to $500,000+ depending on your options and location. Comparable houses and condos are going to be more expensive in the Cabo San Lucas and East Cape areas.

I can’t speak for anyone else but here is a breakdown of our basic annual or monthly costs to maintain our 2 bedroom/2 bath home (debt free).

Annual fideicomiso (trust) for our property in 2019  $510 USD
Property Taxes 2019 $6500 minus $1926 discount for early payment = $4574 pesos ($235 USD)
Monthly water (currently unmetered) $106 pesos ($5.50 USD)
Average monthly electricity (using A/C moderately during summer) $900 pesos ($47 USD) after significant government subsidy
Fibre Optic Internet monthly $660 pesos ($34 USD)
Propane Gas annually $4000 pesos ($205 USD)
Cell phone monthly - includes unlimited calling & texting in Mexico, Canada and the US, various other free social media options within Mexico and 1 GB of data $250 pesos ($13 USD)

It’s all a matter of mindset. It is possible to live “simpler” and enjoy a comfortable life without dining only on rice and beans washed down with water . . . but you have to adapt. Depending on where you came from, it could cost you as much or potentially even more to live in Baja California. It’s really up to you.

Experience It for Yourself
While you could take my word that La Paz is a great place to live, you should come and visit this little corner of paradise before deciding if it’s right for you. For temporary stays the city offers hotels and hostels at each end of the price spectrum and there is really only one “resort”. No all inclusives here! (Yet.) Houses, condos and B&Bs abound and are frequently available for short and longterm stays. Property management companies and various online rental sites like Airbnb or VRBO are good options but you should also check local listings like Vivanuncios.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and live here either permanently or as a snowbird, contact Team Olivia at Vista Properties to look into housing options that are right for you. See our page on Buying Property here in Mexico to better understand the process here in Mexico.

Written by Baja Linda for Team Olivia - Vista Properties