Upon retiring 13 years ago, we moved to a secluded gated community in Clearwater, Florida. It was nice, but most of the neighbors still worked which meant they were seldom around during the day. Nobody knew anybody. We met a few people at the local country club; however, most of them could only play golf one day per week, or on Saturday because they too had jobs. When we did run into a group of retirees, like over at the local shuffleboard courts, they seemed to be geezers on their way out! We were still young, at least at heart; we wanted to play every day. We finally had the financial ability and free time to do whatever we wanted to do, only needing friends and good weather.
We had been vacationing at our condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, known as PV or Vallarta, since 1984. We knew the climate was perfect from November through May, its seven month “high season”. We had no idea what there was to do other than lay on the beach and drink cervezas, or sip margaritas. We didn't know whether there were other retired Americans/Canadians living there.
In 1997, we sold the condo and purchased a luxurious new villa on the mountainside overlooking Banderas Bay and El Centro, the downtown area of PV. Our plan was to spend six months (May through October) in Clearwater; six months (November through April) in PV. Perhaps that wasn’t fair because the extreme heat in Florida made that summer miserable, especially after having so much fun during the previous six months in Vallarta.
The average daily temperature had been 73°F with no rain. We had met many nice couples who were over fifty. None of them had to go to work the next day!
Other than a couple of golf courses (one that was playable, the other a cow pasture), a few tennis courts, great deep sea fishing, and small charity-related clubs, there wasn't much to do during the day. Nightlife was somewhat better – parties at someone's house, condo, or restaurant almost every night. The North American community was small and open to newcomers. After spending the first year between Florida and Mexico, we decided to sell the Florida house, travel the summer months and spend “high season” in Puerto Vallarta.
Things have changed since we came to Puerto Vallarta ten years ago. The size of the American/Canadian community is difficult to estimate with thousands of new houses and tens of thousands of new condos having been built. The population of our sleepy little Mexican fishing village is roughly 350,000 inhabitants; we guess there are 50,000 Americans and Canadians at any given time during the high season. They don't work. They want to enjoy life and reap the benefits of years of hard work.
There are seven magnificent golf courses; three more in the planning/construction phase. Tennis courts are too many to count. Of course, deep sea fishing is here to stay. There are numerous classes: art, dancing, computer, language… Lots of clubs for: cards, fitness, acting, cars, writing… Another huge group of organizations has to do with charitable activities. You can be as relaxed or as busy as you want. Nightlife borders on being ridiculous during high season with the Malecon, or walkway along the beach, being more active at midnight than at noon! Hundreds of fine restaurants abound. With so much fun available, sometimes we have to decline invitations! Did I mention there is satellite television with 350 channels and high speed internet for your home?
Puerto Vallarta has clean water and food, safe living conditions and modern health care. More important to us is that we have good friends who are here for the same reasons we are: doing what pleases them under ideal weather conditions. They are successful retirees, in good health, they appreciate the climate and they are open to new friendships.
Donde esta el baño? ¿Como esta usted? – sums up the two years of Spanish I took 50 years ago. When we moved to Puerto Vallarta, it was imperative we understand and speak some degree of Spanish. During our first month, we purchased textbooks, manuals, dictionaries, and we hired a tutor. We worked diligently for almost six months, watched Spanish television programs – not much fun, but a small price to pay to live in Paradise!
During the past decade, "new" housing, hospitals, a University of Guadalajara campus, airport, maritime terminal have been built. As tourism increased, so did the locals' requirement for speaking English. Many younger people take English classes; even those who haven’t had a day of classroom English have a good understanding of “Espanglish”.
Virtually all educated Mexicans are fluent in English. In fact, the majority seem to prefer speaking English with Americans and Canadians. Typical music heard are the popular American songs. American magazines, newspapers and books are available throughout the city; ten years ago they were virtually non-existent.
After living here for over ten years and learning a little Spanish, we have to kick back and ask ourselves; what is it that’s so magical about Puerto Vallarta? Why do North Americans keep moving here and few leave? To answer, we compiled the following list of benefits.
Climate – The seven month “high season” from November through May has an average daily temperature of 73 degrees with virtually no rain.
Scenery – Vallarta, located in the foothills of the Sierra Madres on the Banderas Bay, is one of the largest and most beautiful bays in the world. It is in the center of the Mexican Riviera on the Pacific Ocean. Fantastic beaches, rocky cliffs, mountain sides overlooking the bay, tropical flowers and wildlife, are some of the sights that one would expect in Paradise.
Safety – With tourism being the life blood of the economy, North Americans are “off limits” regarding criminal activity. Since guns are strictly prohibited, burglaries, robberies, etc., are unheard of. The primary objective of many youngsters is to provide a pleasant and secure visit so that North Americans experience a pleasant and safe visit – and return soon and often. Fear of a terrorist attack in Puerto Vallarta? Forget it!
Friendly – In 2001, a reader's poll taken by Conde Nast Magazine listed Puerto Vallarta as the friendliest resort destination in the world. The locals treat North Americans with dignity, respect and friendship.
Clean Food and Water – Explosive population growth has caused a complete revamping and expansion of the city infrastructure. This includes the road system, power generation and distribution, and of course, water treatment and distribution systems. The water is pure and safe to drink from the tap. All food products are available in the many new modern supermarkets, equal to the finest in the States. Food for home or restaurant consumption is closely monitored for cleanliness.
Medical care – Two new huge modern hospitals and one smaller modern clinic are fully capable of handling emergencies, as well as complicated surgeries. Modern dental clinics offer crowns, caps, implants, and basic dental practices. Doctors and dentists speak English; many have had some training in the States.
Friends – Every North American is either on vacation or retired. They are open to new friendships; newcomers are welcome. It’s one big party with no looming pressures of the office or the commuter drive in the morning.
Language – Because the economy is based on tourism, it is estimated that 80% of the younger generation now speaks or understands English. Communication is not a problem; no need to learn Spanish.
Travel Time – Although Puerto Vallarta is on the same latitude as Hawaii, it is only two to three hours from most U.S. cities. Even the highways from the U.S. are now modern toll roads. The drive can be made in two days from the border.
Connectivity – With high speed internet service available citywide, internet based telecommunications, and satellite TV, you have the same contact with the world that you would have anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.
Activities – World class deep sea fishing, golf courses with more under construction, tennis courts, water activities, night life galore, too many clubs and organizations to mention. If you have nothing to do, it's your choice.
Cost of Living – Basic staples are about the same as in North America. Housing is roughly half the cost; taxes are a fraction of those in the States. Services are a half to a third of those in the U.S., including medical and dental care because labor rates are lower. Dining, outdoor activities, etc., are in line with those in the States.
Economic Security – The Mexican peso, at approximately 10.8 pesos per the U.S. dollar, has held firm for the past ten years. There are no devaluation concerns at this time; the Mexican economy is booming.
Political Security – The PAN party has governed Mexico since 2000; it will remain in power at least until 2012. It is pro the U.S. and friendly to the North.
Investment – Property values have tripled during the past ten years. They are expected to double again during the next five years. With the healthy economy, the Mexican stock market has also benefited; tripling in the same period. No slow down in growth is expected in the foreseeable future.
We feel better; some say we look younger. The pace of life suits us. Consider Puerto Vallarta as your retirement option.
Jim Scherrer has owned property in Puerto Vallarta for 24 years. He aims to show the recent changes and to dispel misconceptions about living conditions in Mexico. For the full series, go to Puerto Vallarta Real Estate Buyers' Agents and click on articles.