An affordable Mexican coastal retirement

Top Places to Retire Overseas
Top Places to Retire Overseas

Mexico offers many tempting coastal options for retirement. One of the best is Mazatlán.

Mazatlán lies about nine miles south of the Tropic of Cancer on the Pacific Ocean. It enjoys sunny winters and year-round warm waters that draw visitors from the rest of North America, including from elsewhere in Mexico. But Mazatlán is more than another city by the beach. Founded in 1531, Mazatlán also boasts a historic colonial center, meaning retirees here can enjoy the best of both beach and city lifestyles.

Mazatlán's colonial center, the heart of this city and an important part of its appeal, begins at the beach. Colonial centers in most Spanish-colonial cities are just a few blocks of colonial-style architecture, but the historic district in Mazatlán is large and diverse, offering a range of property styles and prices. The authentic Spanish-colonial setting offers easy access to the beach and provides traditional rather than resort living.

Until recently, this area was best described as seedy and decaying. This is changing quickly. Mazatlán's historic zone is undergoing a renaissance. More of its old structures are being restored month by month, and this neighborhood is increasingly attractive and walkable. Scores of formerly tumbled-down homes have been carefully restored and brightly painted by new owners. The streets are being repaired and sidewalks are being rebuilt and widened by the city.

As Mazatlán's historic heart continues to clean itself up and attract more attention, the city's restaurant scene is blossoming. Hidden away among the now-restored old buildings are fine-dining establishments where chefs work hard to impress. Ground zero for the historic center's renaissance is the square called Plazuela Machado, which is now surrounded by a collection of pleasant outdoor cafés and international restaurants. At the west end of the plaza is Teatro Angela Peralta, the city's most famous theater, which opened its doors in 1874.

About four blocks west of Plazuela Machado is Olas Altas (or "high waves"), the nearest beach to the Centro Histórico. Olas Altas is a crescent-shaped sandy cove about a quarter mile around whose shore is lined with cafés, restaurants and a couple of hotels. Early each morning, the tables at these seaside venues fill with locals and expats who come to enjoy a good cup of coffee and breakfast by the sea. Walk just two blocks north and two blocks east from Plaza Machado, and you're in the middle of a bustling downtown that is authentically Latin American, with hundreds of small shops, banks, businesses, produce markets and parks.

Another thing that makes Mazatlán an interesting lifestyle option is the ability to live among the locals or other expats. Mazatlán is a city of almost a half-million people. When you move here, you can choose to be part of the established American community, speak mostly English and ease your way into Mazatlán aided by people like you who've already made a move. Or you could opt to become part of a Mexican environment, where you'd speak mostly Spanish and immerse yourself in this country's rich culture.

In addition to its historic downtown, Mazatlán offers almost 20 miles of beautiful beaches. The city boasts mile after mile of well-maintained, sandy beaches with warm, swimmable waters. Much of this beachfront is bordered by a wide boardwalk that is normally busy with people strolling, jogging or biking.

Thanks to the diverse community, Mazatlán offers both local shops and Mexican supermarkets, large and small. There is also big-box shopping from Home Depot to Walmart. It's possible to find anything you might be looking for, including items that can be hard to find in most of Latin America.

The favorable exchange rate for Americans makes Mazatlán especially affordable right now. At the current rate of exchange between the U.S. dollar and the Mexico peso, everything from dinners out to a new home is a bargain. The best property buys are often priced in Mexican pesos or Canadian dollars, but many of the properties for sale are bargain priced compared with other beachfront markets around the world.

When considering the purchase of property in Mazatlán, note that desirability is gauged by the distance from Plazuela Machado. Proximity to the beach in this area, while desirable, is secondary. If you're interested in the purchase of a home in the historic zone, also understand that changes to the façade are not possible. The city is strict about preserving the integrity of its historic properties. Any renovation work on these gems is subject to architectural review, and city building inspectors roam the streets looking for violators. Non-original homes in the Old Town don't have this restriction.

Prices are highest in the area around Plazuela Machado, but still very reasonable at today's exchange rate. You could own in a prime area for as little as $150,000. Outside the coveted zone around Plazuela Machado, prices drop sharply. You don't have to go far to find houses going for asking prices around 350,000 or 400,000 Mexican pesos. At the current exchange rate, that's as little as $20,000.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

RELATED: See some of the most popular travel destinations