After spending 3 months on this popular Indonesian island I have a good grasp of costs to live here. All of these numbers are just for a single retired man. No dog. No wife. No kids. Just me. Here we go with Bali cost of living… The cost to rent on this island, in popular areas, can be absolutely amazing low and can go up as high as “are you kidding me”. For example I booked a few hotel rooms, normally referred to as a “home stay”, for as little as 7 USD per night and this included breakfast!! I Read more…
The town of Puyo sits at the edge of the rainforest known commonly as the Amazon Jungle; in Spanish Selva Amazónica. Most of the rainforest is in Brazil but the far Western edge is in Ecuador and also spans 6 other countries to a small degree. I chose Puyo as a gateway to the jungle. The jungle! Cool!
I arrived here from Banos, taking 2 buses via Ambato. A trip of about 5 hours total. The buses were comfy with a large TV monitor playing a movie, in Spanish and no subtitles. The town itself is nothing spectacular or remarkable except to say the locals were very friendly, even a police officer zipped me to my guest house on the back of his motorbike when I asked him for directions.
The town is full of shops with suggested tours of the rainforest some of which include hiking, zip line, canoeing and climbing. I chose a day tour that included a drive of 1 hour east to an animal sanctuary, then a canoe ride down a river to a village and meet with the shaman of that village and have lunch with him.
Inside the village were about 20 homes/huts all colourful and a garden/crop area. The shaman greeted me and his attire was a little shocking to me, in a funny way. I expected the “spiritual leader” of this village to be wearing a long robe, with beads and maybe a funny hat. Instead, he was dressed in jeans and a very oil stained red t-shirt. It’s interesting how I had romanticised the truth of the matter! The wooden table was filled with food and was hard to see given the very dim light in this large hut. I also had the company of a monkey (or two?) and outside large colourful parrots guarded the entrance to the hut. The food was delicious consisting mainly of freshwater fish and corn.
Both the Amazon Jungle and any rainforest had always been on my bucket list of places to see and here I was breaking bread with a shaman, in the Amazon along with the company of a monkey, or two.
My two tour guides were also my protection from god knows what lays ahead. Before entering into the jungle my face was painted with symbols which would protect me from wild animals. I was told not to touch anything just in case it was poisonous or had had an allergy to it. I can also see how getting lost in the jungle could happen quite easily, the tree canopy is high and so reference points are difficult. I found myself recalling some TV shows featuring Steve Irwin and other intrepid adventurer/survival type guys as a “just in case” scenario. Fortunately I was back in my hotel bed that night.
No matter what time of year it is in Ecuador, the sun rises at 6:25 and sets at about 6:20 PM. The longest day in June and shortest day in December differ by only 6 minutes of daylight. Trips like my trek into the jungle have to be started early in the day for fear of still being in the jungle after dark. No thanks!
After a week in Quito, the capital, I am learning more and more about the geography, distances and transportation. I opted to fly from Quito to Cuenca and arrived early morning; too early. Not even the coffee shops were open. This is always the problem with the least expensive flights: they are also the least attractive timetable-wise.
I told the taxi driver to take me to the “city centre”, my Spanish was improving bit by bit having now lived in Mexico for 15 months so far. My drop off point was a seemingly deserted spot on a road. “THIS, is the hub of Cuenca? Oh dear, not a good start. A building with the words “hosteria” caught my eye and so I went there to ask for directions and to my pleasant surprise this hosteria was a beehive of activity. Turns out that a “hosteria” does not mean “hostel” in this country, translated it means “guest house”. Very confusing.. especially if you were really looking for a ..hostel!
Cuenca is also high in the Andes sitting at 2,550 m (8,370 ft), just like the capital Quito and so the temperature at 7 am on a winter morning was a brisk 7 c. Not a lot of warmth in the air. I was traveling light on this trip with just a backpack, one that I can highly recommend is THIS BACKPACK for such a trip. So I decided to wander around after breakfast to get my first impressions of this old Spanish Colonial town in Ecuador. Windows.. with no metal bars! Lots of them here in Cuenca! In Mexico it is rare to see a glass window with no bars. I think it is partly due to the obvious… anti-theft but also glass in windows is fairly “new” to Mexico since the opening maybe had some wooden shutters but those would close out the light completely.. so bars on the windows! However here in the quiet streets of Cuenca I see many shops and homes with no bars, in fact one store had thousands of dollars worth of power tools on display in this window.. no bars. That was amazing to me, having lived in Mexico where this sort of thing I never saw!
One thing about this town that differed from San Miguel de Allende: In SMA you can stroll past most shops, bars and restaurants and scope out the place before you enter. However, because of the temperate climate in Cuenca, most places have closed doors. In a few instances, I opened the door and entered a place looking for a certain vibe only to leave immediately. A little awkward for me.
Just outside the city of Cuenca are the Cajas Mountains (box mountains). Take a day pack with some snacks and water. If you are chilly and damp in the city you will absolutely freeze in the mountains without a jacket and good shoes. The average elevation is 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Take a bus from the city to one of several bus stops alongside the Caja National Park and be sure to get the timetable for the return bus to Cuenca.
I would definitely suggest a trip to Cuenca for a retirement destination.
Whenever I travel l somewhere, no matter how old I was/am, I often asked myself the question “would I like to live here”. An invitation from a friend who once lived in the town of San Miguel de Allende took me to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
Peter did not enjoy SMA as much as I did and his stay in San Miguel lasted only 4 months and so his next choice as a working expat was to Quito. High in the Andes of South America at an altitude of 2,850 m (9,350 ft) it too is a colonial town that once belonged to Spain, I thought the British were bad at forcefully building Empires, but Spain didn’t too badly at raping and pillaging the lands all over the globe. So I decided to leave my Mexican town for 3 weeks in Ecuador.
My flight on COPA airlines (Panamanian Airline) was the best I can remember in decades. Like service used to be, with flight attendants that are actually happy to service you and not just be there “for your safety”. My flight was from Mexico City, Bogota Columbia and then on to Quito. The second leg was only a 1.5-hour flight, but even then a meal and hot beverages were served by very young, enthusiastic and willing flight attendants.
My first impression of this capital was that it was so “European” with a very good mixture of 300-year-old buildings and an ultra-modern skyline. The whole place had a very good vibe. Although Peter did warn me about not going out after dark..which really surprised me. Not wanting to put his idea to the test, I heeded his advice. Some great modern shopping malls (a great social place), fantastic bus system both in town and inter-provincial. Like so many cultures, put that same relaxed man or woman, that earlier that day was sipping on a latte for 2 hours just watching the world go by, behind the wheel of a car and zoooooom. They are so impatient that the horn is used to tell people to get out of their way! Very sad and very odd behaviour.
I was in Quito for a week in June.. the dead of Winter.. but the geography and climate is, to me, very odd in many ways. The city literally lays exactly on the Equator, so why on earth would there be a winter or a summer? Turns out that one the biggest and coldest ocean currents on earth is the Humboldt Current and flows right up the left side of South America bathing the coast of Ecuador with “cool”water. Add to this that the largest jungle, the Amazon, on Earth which lies to the east of Ecuador and the ocean to the west with the Andes squeezed in between gives this country a very odd mix of climate. I was actually on the Equator and I was too cold!! OK I was also at a high altitude, but still, it boggled my mind that the weather could be so cold and damp. Be forewarned, several people have issues with living at altitude. So if you enjoy stuff like breathing and having your heart beat on a regular basic.. then go to Quito for a visit first to see if your body is up to the task at these elevations.
The next city I want to visit in Ecuador is Cuenca, it is supposed to be the cultural capital of Ecuador, just as San Miguel is supposed to be to Mexico.
This article will be a more in-depth look at my life, my “senior living life”, in San Miguel de Allende. I hope you find this real-world information useful.
Today is my birthday and tonight I will be going to the local Gringo bar, Hanks. This pub/restaurant used to be called Harry’s up until 2012 and Bob, the owner has this New Orleans style establishment in about 4 different locations in the USA and 2 in Mexico. The food is moderately priced (for SMA) and the quality is excellent. Try the salmon BLT, wow! That sandwich with a ton of french fries is priced at 140 pesos, about 10 USD. I do not eat here a lot because frankly, $10 for me is too expensive for my tastes and totally not necessary, plus I would put on weight if I were here more than a few times a month. The music is also awesome at Hank’s playing mostly 70’s music along with all the standards. All in all a great place to hang out, good food, music, decor and vibe with both Mexicans (the wealthier ones) and gringos alike. The later, enjoying their gringo senior living life here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende.
At the other end of the dining-out scale is street food. Eating a taco from street vendors can be very hit and miss. However I, fortunately, do not have any first-hand information on the bad ones that may/will give you a stomach upset or worse. Word-of-mouth can be a killer for any place of business so how accurate these second-hand accounts are I am not really sure. I go to one street vendor in the evening, for beef tacos and they are just mouth-wateringly fantastic and cost 10 pesos each.
The nightlife for me may mean that I sit on a park bench in front of La Parroquia and watch the families, kids playing soccer, young teen lovers and often a town organized art performance. These performances include music for all tastes, folk dancing, choirs from local schools and more. The plaza is also a huge source of people watching for most people. The Teatro Angela Peralta, in the town centre, has events on a weekly basis and also offers a wide range or live performances and some movies. Speaking of movies, we have 2 movie theatres here in San Miguel de Allende. A short bus ride out of the old city centre takes you to a small shopping mall, which has a large multi-screen modern movie theatre. They offer movies in both Spanish and English dialogue, but some with only English subtitles.
In another article, I describe my USA plated van here as a “boat anchor” and so I got rid of it. Getting around San Miguel is often accomplished on foot now. I live at the extreme east end of the cento area and to walk across town to the west side is about 1.5 km and 20 minutes of walking. Mostly downhill and returning home a 30-minute walk, uphill. This town is not for everyone. The altitude here is about 2,000 meters, so less oxygen available for stuff like breathing. It is also a VERY hilly town and there are not too many occasions that will not take up a rather steep hill. The stroll across town can also be accomplished in a tax for 35 pesos and the 10-minute bus ride to the shopping mall is just 5 pesos.
Many people have accidents when walking in San Miguel de Allende. All the streets are some sort of cobblestone. Very smooth and slippery cobblestone. My feet are big, so my shoe spans at least one stone, those with smaller feet do not and sometimes twist an ankle or worse while navigating the beauty of the street! This town is like many others (all perhaps?) in Mexico; there are lots of obstacles on the sidewalk that, if you are not paying attention, will trip you up. Friends have had their foot/leg trapped and broken down deep holes, fallen through storm drains, and tripped over the myriad of smaller stuff that sticks out the sidewalks. Welcome to Mexico and Third World Country, culture?
Getting around Mexico from San Miguel de Allende is easy without a car. First class buses travel from SMA to all over Mexico and these buses are very comfortable indeed. These buses often having luxurious seating, WiFi and electrical adapter and even a cappuccino machine on the ETN bus line! The cost is around 100 pesos for each hour of the journey. Book online for discounts. If you are over 60 you can use your INAPAM card for a huge 50% discount on the bus fares. The cost of plane fares are on par with those in USA, so not cheap and trains only connect a few cities. Driving a car here is only cost effective when there are 3 or more in the car. The cost of petrol, maintenance, meals along the way and the road tolls add up to a 2 or 3 person break-even cost. Add to that the stress of driving and well, why bother with a car?
Lastly, there are the holidays and processions. Holidays in San Miguel de Allende are amazing festivities of light, colour, and sound. Most of the events are centred around Catholic holidays and tradition. Semana Santa, Easter was the end of March this year, is perhaps the biggest of these celebrations. People from all over Mexico come to this pueblito for the Semana Santa procession and cultural events. The next biggest holiday is the celebration, September 27, of Mexican Independence from the Spanish. The fireworks are not to be missed and this festival last about 5 days!
My life and your life, here in San Miguel de Allende can be as lively or as quiet as you want. A low budget can still be a lively time here because all the cultural events are for the public in the streets and plazas. Plan a visit soon, you will have no regrets.
My story: After I had made my decision to live in Mexico I also decided to sell just about everything I owned. Since my home sold in 2008 for 65% of the purchase price in 2006 (gosh what fond memories those days were) all I had to sell was the rest.
I sold my 1996 Jaguar xj6 (sniff sniff) and bought a mini-van. Yep, flashbacks to when the kids were all less than 10 years old. The mini-van cost me $1,200 and it would serve as a moving truck so to speak and storage place while I looked around for a new home. Looking back the plan was the best for me out of all possible options. Those options were: just like I describe here, have a moving company do everything, have a packing company ship everything or arrive with a suitcase and nothing else from a flight to Mexico.
I also had decided that if I was really going to live in the best place to retire (Mexico) then I should never look back and so a storage locker full of maybe a $1,000 worth of “stuff” that might end up costing twice that over the years was not in my plan for success. I know many people who have stored items for years only to regret this boat anchor of a mess later on in time.
I packed almost everything in cardboard boxes and each box was numbered and contents described for the Mexican Customs (aduana) officials at the border. Clothes were on hangers inside inexpensive plastic garment bags and larger items wrapped in bubble wrap. For security reasons I bought some window tint that blocked out 95% of sunlight and so even with a nose pressed up to the glass the contents was impossible to see. Along with my stuff I knew I must have a detailed list of the items and their worth and aduana (customs) would need to see this. My value shown was about $3,500 and aduana charged me $120 on import duty. How much they charge you will depend on your attitude, the officer’s attitude (that day) and how organised you appear. If memory serves me Mexico allowed me no more than $4,000 of items before I needed to hire the services of a broker to import the items. The broker fee was not cheap at all and you need to decide for yourself that value.
I was living in Tucson and so my border crossing was Nogales. The entry point into Mexico was only just to slow down and I was waived on my way. However about 20 km down the road is the first the car import gate and then the customs check point.
In Mexico no one has a copier on any government office, well not for YOUR use. So arrive at the car import place with 4 copies of Passport, car registration, car title and some cash. The fee for the entry permit is about $30 and another $200 to $400 for a deposit on the vehicle, depending on the cars model year. The deposit is returned to you when you remove the vehicle from Mexico, IE you drive back over the USA border. Your permit is only for a temporary import permission as is good as long as your resident visa is valid and so only for a maximum of 4 years in the case of a residente temporal status by the driver. In 2014 there was a LOT of fuss about residente permanente not being allowed to own a vehicle that was imported via the temporary permit. The details of this mess can not be explained here and so please ask at your Mexican Consul for the latest info, in writing if possible.
Now some would say “don’t stop and take a chance”. Why ask for trouble for a few hundred dollars in fees? At the check point I had a choice, pull over and declare what I had or go thru the gate. The gate opens after you press a button and a random red or green light allows you to pass. Or not. It is most often green and this system is employed at airports and road crossings. A red light could mean trouble if you have more than $300 value in import items and you never declared those things.
Now I am really on my way. Full tank of gas, GPS working fine, cell phone with international plan working, passport with visa, telephone numbers of Mexican Tourist police in my phone just in case. I was also told to only have a few hundred pesos visible in my wallet and stash the rest of my cash inside the van. Would you believe that I forgot exactly where I put all that cash a week later? I digress… The purpose of all this was in the event that police pull me over and try to extort money from me for a traffic violation that never really happened.
During my 1,300 miles journey I was never stopped by the police. I did destroy my vans fuel pump after I drove over the mother of all speed bumps in Guadalajara at about 5 mph. The van stopped and gasoline was pouring out of the vans rear and I was stopping traffic in both directions NOT GOOD!!! Five men came out of nowhere and pushed me safely off the road. The men came up with a plan (amongst themselves since I spoke zero spanish). They pushed my van about 5 blocks, up down and around and into a dirt yard. The mechanic greeted me and within 15 minutes had diagnosed the problem! His helper then got on a motorbike and went to buy a new fuel pump. This all happened around 1pm and by 6pm the mechanic came to my hotel, which I had decided was a good idea to get since I thought I would be staying in this one spot for days, he handed me the keys and asked to be paid $120 for the part and $30 for his labour. Wow, inexpensive, fast and so courteous.
As you can see from the map here my journey was via Mazatlan, a beautiful beach city that I visited in November 2012. I had continued with my Mexican residency application in that immigration office and was informed that I need to complete that process at the same office within 90 days. However BEFORE arriving in Mexico one MUST have a visa resident stamp in your passport. So your first step is to apply at your local Mexican Consul office. This first step of the process can NOT be done inside Mexico.
A useful place to head at this point would be to CLICK HERE – a website that was run by Rolly Brook, but please come back here.. otherwise I will miss you! Rolly was the defacto place to go to for the latest info on life in Mexico. Unfortunately Rolly passed away February 2015 and so I will search for a site nearly as good and update soon.
With my Residente Temporal in my hand (in the form of a green plastic card) I am now free to continue my journey to San Miguel de Allende. You will need plenty of cash pesos if you are heading anywhere in a “cuota”, a toll road, some as much as 120 pesos per leg. Very few restaurants take credit cards and for security reasons I do not recommend them when travelling. Pay for gas, hotels, food and tolls with cash. ATM’s are easily found and that’s the best way to access cash in Mexico.
After my Guadalajara adventure with the fuel pump the journey was uneventful. Upon arriving in San Miguel de Allende I parked my van in a secure paid parking area for 800 pesos per month and only removed a suitcase of items since I stayed in a small hotel for the first 2 weeks while searching for an apartment to rent. Thats a whole different story to be told later.
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding this article’s topic and I will do my best to answer or find the answer for you. Cheers and welcome to Mexico (soon)!
It is difficult to believe that this is a town in Mexico: San Miguel de Allende. If I had seen just photos alone then I would have guessed Spain or Italy, but certainly not Mexico. First there is no beach here :).. when my family and friends learned that I live in Mexico there first question was “what’s the beach like”. I agree that in my previous thoughts “Mexico” and “beaches” were synonymous. The weather here is not unlike that of Tucson, where I lived from 2007 to 2012.. hot summers and cool winters.. though temps here rarely exceed 32 C and Tucson 40c + is common. Winters here average 8 c at night and about 20 C daytime. Since homes in San Miguel have zero central heating, various methods are employed to stay cozy. Many here use portable propane heaters.. not that attractive to look at, but they get the job done, my home has a nice gas fireplace and I bought with me a heated mattress pad. This was one of the BEST items I brought with me..it covers the whole mattress and has a temperature controller and shuts off automatically after 8 hours. Toasty.
My rent is $550 USD a month. The owner is a gringa.. meaning a woman (as opposed to gringo) from north of the border and she has several of these apartments in town all nicely furnished with everything I need. Many of the household items I bought with me was a waste of space and I would have been better off selling 98% of EVERYTHING before arriving here. For this amount of rent I get a beautiful 1 bedroom, large kitchen, living room with views of Centro and the campo (countryside), a small bathroom (no tub) and a large dining area that I have divided into an eating plus office area. The water, gas, Internet and cable TV is included with the rent I just pay for my electric which so far has been around $20 a month. The last time I paid this sort of rent was in 1984 at the beach in California. A good value here. Meal prices here are not as attractive. Often my meal here can be had for the same money in Tucson. In fact if you move to Mexico because it is COST of living that is the big attraction then you would be wrong. Sure you can live like a Mexican and your costs will be about $300 a month but for a gringo lifestyle.. furnished apartment, 50% of your meals at restaurants beer and wine 4 nights a week, cell phone, a little travel, a concert each month then you will spend what I do.. about $1,700 a month for all of this.
The expat community here is big.. they/ we are everywhere. Canadian and USA being the largest demographic, followed by a few of everyone else. It is interesting how certain places become “expat hangouts”, but this is a fact in every town I have visited in Mexico. Sometimes I find the company of fellow Brits and yanks a welcome sight and at other times, not so much. We have a several theaters here, the biggest being the Angela Peralta and hosts plays and concerts of all sorts. The list of other cultural activities would be a huge article of its own! Several parks, dozens of churches dot the landscape in this prettiest of towns. The focal point of all things social is in the El Jardin, where park benches, mariachi music, warm Mexican families fill this beautiful space. The most prominent architectural building in this town is a masterpiece right in front of this festival of relaxation.. La Parroquia. I describe the style of this beautiful church as “whimsical”, many events are centered on this church including weddings, funerals, Quinceañera and daily mass.
I know that I live in a beautiful place because every Mexican I come across elsewhere in this country, they all will remark how lucky and how beautiful this town is. Lucky me!