An affordable coastal retirement in Puerto Vallarta

Today's strong dollar has created many tempting opportunities to purchase property around the world, including in Mexico. The dollar's buying power south of the border has increased significantly since 2008, so it feels like property in Mexico is on sale.

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Even in those expat areas where real estate trades in dollars, other expenses have become a bargain. Taxes, restoration costs, furniture, upkeep, clothing and car repairs now cost less for U.S. dollar holders than they did just a short time ago. This means that retirees now have more room in their budget for things like eating out and entertainment, even in Mexico's top cities where these kinds of indulgences used to be expensive.

[See: 10 Ways to Reduce Your Housing Costs in Retirement.]

Mexico's famous beach resort, Puerto Vallarta, offers beautiful beaches, an iconic boardwalk and excellent fine dining and entertainment. This Mexican beach community is a top choice for a second home in the sun or full-time retirement. It's also one of the best markets for a vacation rental property to provide extra income and cash flow.

Coastal Mexico is one of the easiest and most accessible options for escaping harsh winter weather, and one of the most appealing spots on Mexico's long Pacific coast is Puerto Vallarta. The climate in Puerto Vallarta is magnificent during the North American winter, with warm, dry days and cool nights. The average high in January is just over 83 degrees and the average low is 62 degrees. Ocean temperatures are warm all year.

The city of Puerto Vallarta is centered on Banderas Bay, with the greater PV area extending for miles in both directions. The city proper includes Centro and what's popularly called the Romantic Zone, divided by the Cuale River. Centro is on the north side of the river, and it's the heart of Puerto Vallarta. It has preserved its original cobblestone streets and buildings and has maintained the appearance of old Mexico. Centro offers everything you need within easy walking distance. Here you find plenty of shops, cafés, fine and casual restaurants, markets and some of the city's best nightlife. The long and beautiful El Malecón begins here and is the hub of seafront life.

El Cerro is also on the north side of the river, just inland from Centro. It's located where the terrain begins to rise into the surrounding hills. And, while not as polished or well-maintained as Centro, El Cerro still preserves the appearance of old Mexico. Here some areas are in beautiful condition, while others are run down. This is a place to shop for a good property deal if you're interested in investing in a place of your own.

[Read: 10 Top Retirement Lifestyles in Mexico.]

Gringo gulch is another (unofficial) area inland of Centro. As the name suggests, this neighborhood is popular with Anglo expats from the United States and Canada. This is the original American sector in PV, from the days of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. This is a convenient area, located along the north bank of the Cuale River just east of Centro. You can easily walk to Centro, although the walk back up the hill could be more of a challenge.

The Romantic Zone might not feel that way to everyone, unless your idea of "romantic" includes hordes of tourists and cruise passengers, crowded beaches, souvenir shops and plenty of places where you can buy a Puerto Vallarta T-shirt. But the Romantic Zone also includes some of PV's best restaurants and cafés, nightlife and elegant beachfront dining. The south side of the river also includes the old-fashioned neighborhood of Emiliano Zapata and the upscale Alta Vista.

Both Centro and the Romantic Zone (and associated neighborhoods) are convenient to PV's international airport, which is just a few minutes away and offers excellent international service. You have many good living options outside the original Puerto Vallarta, both to the north and south. However, PV itself is the most popular expat neighborhood. If you're interested in a rental property, PV is likely to have the greatest liquidity, the strongest short-term rental market and the best price performance over time.

[See: 10 Places to Retire on a Social Security Budget.]

In the Romantic Zone you could buy a one-bedroom, one-bath condo of about 700 square feet in an excellent location in a beachfront complex, right in the center of everything, for $299,000, including all furnishings and fittings. This would make a great rental investment. Outside the Romantic Zone housing costs less. You could own a one-bedroom apartment in Centro, for example, for as little as $150,000.

Puerto Vallarta is known to be a gay-friendly city. In PV's Romantic Zone, you see same-sex couples, both male and female, of all ages and nationalities. Savvy entrepreneurs, marketers and property investors have adapted to address and serve this important, often upscale market segment at every opportunity. If you're considering investing in a rental property here, this is something to keep in mind.

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

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