Who We Are and Why We Chose Oaxaca
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland, we left the USA in April 2009 to retire early and experience some adventure.
We wanted a different life and to be able to enjoy our retirement years while we were both still healthy. And we wanted to live in a place where our retirement dollars would go further. We have lived in Costa Rica since then, and now we’re dividing our time between Costa Rica and Oaxaca, Mexico.
For Paul, the desire to live overseas started with reading National Geographic magazine when he was a teenager. Like a lot of kids, he was drawn to articles about the Aztecs, the Incas, the Mayas, and Amazonia. Gradually over the years, he became interested in anthropology, history, and how people in Latin America live. And now, in his early 70s, Paul is still fascinated by it all today. He always had a yearning to live some place different, to live a different life. After serving in Vietnam, he attended and graduated from the University of the Americas in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. In the 1970s, Paul visited Oaxaca several times. We met in 2002 and, before then, I (Gloria) had never thought about Latin America. Being from Italian descent, my eyes were always on Europe, not south of the border. We spent our honeymoon in Oaxaca in 2003, and from that point on, I was hooked. The people were so warm and friendly, the culture was like nothing I had ever experienced, and the food was incredible. Since then, we kept going back for extended periods of time.
But why did we choose Oaxaca, and not one of the more popular expat towns like San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, or Ajijic? For us, those other towns were either too gentrified, too hot, too cold, too expensive, or just didn’t offer enough. On the other hand, Oaxaca pulled us back over the years again and again. We just love it. For us, choosing Oaxaca was easy because of the four C’s: culture, cuisine, climate, and cost of living:
The culture in Oaxaca is so amazingly rich. Paul always says when he’s walking down the street, it is as if he were walking in art, as if he were in the picture frame and the frame moves with him as he walks. Being in Oaxaca is witnessing “living history.” Oaxaca has a fascinating indigenous culture going back 4,000 years that is still vibrant and alive today. Since the conquest 500 years ago, very little has changed, especially in the villages. There are about 16 indigenous groups in Oaxaca, the largest being the Zapotecs (about 400,000) and the Mixtecs (about 300,000). Native people are an omnipresent part of the culture and daily living, even in Oaxaca City.
Oaxaca de Juarez is culturally rich in other ways too. They have a symphony orchestra, opera, ballet, and musical and dance productions of many kinds. The biggest cultural event of the year is the Guelaguetza, held during the month of July. The Guelaguetza is a celebration of the seven regions of Oaxaca, with music, dance, colorful costumes, parades, and traditional foods.
Oaxaca has a great music scene with jazz, blues, rock, folk, and funk — you name it, they’ve got it going on. And Oaxaca is home to beautiful fine art and intricate artisan handicrafts, everything from woven wool rugs, table linens and draperies, clothing, fanciful alebrijes, and pottery, to name a few.
If you’re a foodie, you will love Oaxaca. It has gotten a lot of recognition just in the last couple of years both in the United States and around the world, and for good reason. Some of our favorite foods are mole (Oaxaca is often referred to as the Land of Seven Moles), chiles rellenos (poblano chiles stuffed with cheese or a savory meat filling), tacos made fresh as you watch, savory tamales of many varieties, and tlayudas (a large, crispy tortilla typically topped with refried beans, quesillo, tomatoes, avocado, and your choice of grilled meat).
Oaxaca has everything from excellent fine dining restaurants to taco stands, comedors where you can enjoy a 4-course comida corrida for $3-$5 per person to ethnic restaurants, and everything in between. You can take a Oaxacan cooking class, go on a food tour, or visit an outlying village to experience traditional barbacoa. Maybe you will even try some chapulines (grasshoppers) or huitlacoche (dried corn fungus). Oaxaca cuisine has something for everyone!
For us, the climate in Oaxaca is ideal. Other areas of Mexico can get too cold in the winter, necessitating a winter wardrobe, and the coastal areas are too hot year-round for our tastes. Oaxaca sits at 5,100′ elevation and has a semi-arid climate with a big diurnal range in temperatures. Highs are about 80°F ± 10°, with usually sunny days, with lows down to the mid-40s to low 50s. We usually spend the rainy season (June through October) in Oaxaca with about 30 inches total rainfall during this time. It’s a lot less rain than during the same period in Costa Rica. Where we live in the Central Valley, normal rainfall is about 100 inches total during the rainy season.
Cost of Living
We wanted the ability to live for less than we could in the United States without dipping into our savings. We live on about 50% of what we spent in Baltimore. We know expats in Oaxaca who live on about $1,000/month on the low end, and those who live on much more. We typically spend approximately $1,500/month in Oaxaca, including $480/month (9,000 pesos) to rent a furnished bungalow including all utilities, cable television, WiFi, and a gardener. We don’t have a car in Oaxaca as public transportation is terrific — we take taxis, collectivos, moto-taxis, buses, and we walk all over town, losing weight in the process.
What is our retirement philosophy?
Sometimes we tell people that we live the “retire for less lifestyle,” or perhaps we notice that others are also living in a similar way. So what exactly is it?
Conserve, simplify, enjoy. These three words sum up our philosophy. We believe one can:
- Enjoy the simple things in life
- Discard some old beliefs regarding retirement
- Count your cash, get your Social Security, and go where it’s cheaper
- Reinvent yourself and begin a whole new, adventurous phase of your life
- Look at your life differently, embrace the new culture, and try not to be ethnocentric
- Scale down, live within your means, and learn to have fun, fun, fun!
- Conserve energy, go green, and live without air-conditioners, heaters, dehumidifiers, and cars, as much as possible
- Live without debt, reduce expenses, and reduce expectations
- Save money, spend less, use less, and be satisfied with less — less is more!
- Keep your mind sharp —be a lifelong learner
Making these choices doesn’t have to be a bad thing, nor a sacrifice. It’s a good, positive thing. We believe that less can be more and we try to live it. We realize that our way is not the way for everyone. There are as many lifestyles in the world as there are people in it. But if our philosophy resonates with you, then we invite you along for the journey.
We invite you to interact with us!
The goal of this Web site is to introduce you to the idea of retiring in Oaxaca, Mexico, to show it to you through our eyes, and give you a place to ask questions, learn about life here, and find helpful products and services. Whether you have already visited and fallen in love with Oaxaca, or you are just thinking about retiring in a place where your money will go further, this Web site is for you. We hope that you will visit us often and contact us with your questions and thoughts. We would love to help you discover if Oaxaca is right for you as you consider retiring in Mexico.