The next destination on our wish list is the breathtakingly beautiful island of ISLA MUJERES in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) is a small Caribbean island located a few minutes away from Cancún, Quintana Roo, México, was officially appointed as a Pueblo Mágico (Magic Town).
To acquire this title, a place (city, village) must have some peculiarities, a special history, a unique essence, cultural richness, it must possess its own soul, the inherent power of leaving an unforgettable experience in those who walk their colorful roads and enjoy the company of the warm people who live there.
And, Isla Mujeres definitely has all these features. It’s a piece of land surrounded by crystal-clear waters, white-sand beaches, a diversity of sea species living in its barrier reefs, a quaint town with friendly locals, coffee shops, an underwater museum, restaurants that offer a variety of original dishes and, historical sites from the Mayan civilization such as the Ixchel Temple, located near the Acantilado del Amanecer (cliff of the dawn) the easternmost point in México known for being “the first part of the country to be touched by the sun”, where you can peacefully look at the spectacular view of dawn while listening to the calming sound of the waves.
The name of the island comes from a historical episode that took place when Francisco Fernández de Córdoba discovered it in 1517. In prehispanic México, Isla Mujeres was a Mayan sanctuary for the goddess of the moon, fertility, medicine, and happiness: Ixchel. According to the legend, when the Spanish conquerors arrived at the island there were only women inhabiting. These women were priestesses of the sanctuary and Ixchel’s worshippers.
Each year millions of travelers visit the area of Cancún. It is a city where there is always people, noise and parties but, for those who are looking for a more laid-back experience, that want to chill out, forget about their daily routine or in search of adventure through activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving in a less crowded destination, Isla Mujeres is the ideal choice or –as some called it- a hidden treasure.
Arriving to the island is an easy task. A ferry leaves from Cancún every 30 minutes from early morning to 11:00 pm. Likewise, you can take one of the boats leaving from several piers. Prices may vary by stand, so there surely are options for every budget. Furthermore, during the tour you will be overwhelmed by the beautiful view of the skyline.
The island is just 8 kilometers wide so you can easily explore it by foot, walking serenely and taking your time to admire every detail or, if you prefer, you can also rent a golf cart, a motorcycle, a bike or hail a cab.
In the center of Isla Mujeres you can get a meal for a low price at the Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market). This is the place where the locals usually eat so, if you’re willing to meet people, this is a good place to go. Also, in this part of the island there’s a Taller de Artesanías de Mujeres (Women’s Beading Cooperative) where you can find handmade Mexican crafts and jewels such as purses, bracelets, and necklaces, you can even take some classes, if you’re so inclined and, make your own creations, which is a perfect way of spending time with the locals and getting familiar with their traditions.
For those who are more interested in ecotourism and water sports like snorkeling and scuba diving there’s also a considerable number of activities to do. Among them we can find the MUSA (Underwater Art Museum) where you can swim across more than 500 sculptures created by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. You can as well visit El Garrafón Aquatic Park where you’re allowed to swim with the dolphins, drink a cocktail at the beach, take a walk through nature, chill out at a 35-meter panoramic pool or practice some kayaking.
While scuba diving and snorkeling in the crystal waters of the Caribbean, you can take some aquatic pictures of the coral reefs and watch a lot of diverse and colorful sea species.
One of the main attractions of Isla Mujeres is the Whale Shark Fest where the tourists swim with hundreds of whale sharks that every year come and gather around the island between the months of May and September. Whale sharks are known as the giants of the oceans because they’re the largest fish in the world. It’s an amazing animal and the experience –according to those who lived it- is totally worth it. The next annual Whale Shark Fest has been announced and will take place July 20-23, 2017 in Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico, a short trip from Cancun International Airport.
You can hire an official guide to take you there. And, don’t worry about the whale sharks, the local authorities have rules and regulations to keep them safe from harm. In addition, one of the purposes of the festival is to encourage the protection of these endangered species.
Above all, the island is a place to rest and appreciate life. For this reason, the goal of many of its visitors is to spend some time reading a book on the beach, visiting historical ruins at Ixchel Temple, taking long naps on a hammock, drink a few tequilas, or even meditating! There are yoga lessons in the morning and in the evening in local centers and hotels such as Casa Ixchel Hotel or Red Buddha Yoga & Wellness Center.
You can also visit a spa or get a therapeutic massage. And, if you want to taste new food, you can try the popular Tikin Xik grilled fish in Playa Norte, a whole fish marinated with spices.
Besides, there are all kinds of events and celebrations throughout the year, for instance, fishing tournaments, the carnival, the procession of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre and the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
One thing is certain, you will probably become one of the – as a group of foreigners in Facebook call themselves- islaholics, after visiting this delightful island and basking in its carefree vibe. You will be looking forward for your next chance to return and, you’ll cling to the fond memories of your magical stay at Isla Mujeres.
The Easter fair in Salamanca, Guanajuato is a lively affair for children and adults. There is live music every night, and lots of delicious food and treats for the kids. One big benefit is that all of the rides for small children are free as long as you pay the entrance fee.
there are lots of different games for children, and traditional rides like bumper cars, Ferris wheel, and smaller roller coasters that are appropriate for small children. The children are out of school for a few more days, So we've enjoyed this time at the fair. A few nights, we even got a sitter so that we could go listen to the band. They actually have had some very popular musical acts, including the well known Mexican rock band, El Tri.
If you would like to attend, there is still an opportunity for the next two daysto come and enjoy this fun fair with your family. The entrance fee is only 50 pesos, which translates to about three American dollars. A great deal!
Reader Question: I have been looking to several international schools online, their fees are so different then what you mention in your blog.
Manny's Answer: The main problem is that you can't really search online. There is some limited information available online, but I would never advise anyone to pick out their children's school in Mexico without actually visiting the city and going to the schools in person. It's not a decision to be made lightly.
But I can tell you that our eldest son's tuition is currently 2,900 pesos per month, and that includes a private tutor 3 days a week. That is approximately $150 American dollars at the current exchange rate (current exchange rate is 19 pesos per U.S. dollar). I will say that we spent a lot of time researching "on the ground" so to speak, because many of the private schools in Mexico advertise locally and do not have regular webpages. For example, our son's school only has a Facebook page, and even that page is not frequently updated.
People advertise by word of mouth and (sometimes) Facebook, so many of the best schools are not even online. You really have to go to the city in person and research when you get there. We researched many schools, all over Mexico, and although the prices and the quality of the schools seemed to vary wildly, we found several excellent private (bilingual) schools in every major city that we visited.
We have had great luck so far, and we could never have afforded this quality of private education in the US. Our son's private school offers lots of individual attention, the class sizes are small (12-13 students per class, versus 30 in the U.S.). The school even offers robotics and Japanese! Our son struggled with writing, language and math, but he has thrived in Mexico. Even his speech and vocabulary has improved.
For this alone, we should have made our move sooner. We do not regret our decision to expatriate one bit.
Reader Question: We are thinking of crossing into Mexico to purchase prescription medications, no controls, by foot. I do not want to take our new truck over the border. Which crossing do you find the safest foot travel with pharmacies? With all that seems to be going on between our 2 countries right now, do you think it is even safe to go into Mexico?
Manny's Answer: I assume that you want a place close to the Mexican border to purchase medications. We've gone to Mexico to fill prescriptions plenty of times, even before we decided to expatriate.
I also went to doctors several times in Mexico with great results, when I didn't want to spend (LITERALLY) thousands upon thousands of dollars for something routine, like a root canal. Dental work is very cheap down here, like $30 for a full cleaning and even fillings.
You didn't say where you lived, but we did this in southern California. Going into Tijuana to buy prescriptions is a common thing for those who live in So Cal. The Texas border also has many places where you can hop over and get cheap prescriptions.
We never took our car across the border, but there are people who do. We usually parked right near the border, there are plenty of parking lots that cater to medical tourists and shoppers. Then we would just walk across or take a bus. It was easy. Just go during the day, and don't take a purse or wallet that's easy to steal. Keep your ID and your money in a money belt or in your front pocket. Just be smart about it.
We've never had a single problem down here, and saved thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years. Our kids also go to Mexican pediatricians (last office visit was less than $45, including medications). We don't even pay for American insurance anymore.
I saw something amazing last night at our son's school--an actual Christmas play in an elementary school, complete with angels, 3 wise men, and a sniffling, grinning, Saint Joseph blowing his nose throughout the performance.
My wife and I grew up in an era (the late Seventies, to be exact--God, I feel old saying that!) where Christmas plays and Christmas pageants were commonplace. Now they have all but dissapeared from American schools.
In 2015, the year we finally decided to "pull the plug" and permanently expatriate, our eldest son's school had done away with all holiday celebrations--no Christmas trees, no Menorahs or mentions of Hanukkah, no holiday decorations would be allowed.
Some vague mentions of snowmen and candy canes were permitted, but even that was an anemic attempt not to offend the sensibilities of a few screeching parents that want to ruin the holidays for all the kids, come hell or high water.
So there were no more nativity scenes, no more Christmas plays, no more parades. The kids just went home on "Holiday Leave" and that was it.
Now, we didn't leave California because of this--we mainly left because it was impossible to afford our health care, housing, and still have enough money left over to feed ourselves. LIving on the beach was an impossible dream for us there, so we left. It was primarily an economic decision--BUT, now that we our outside California, it has become apparent how much we were missing (not just in terms of money) but of family, community, and parts of our own upbringing that we thought were lost forever.
And now we are here, in Mexico, surrounded by Christmas lights, Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and, yes, even in this predominatnly Christian country, I've even seen a few proud Menorahs!
And nobody gets offended by seeing a nativity, nobody is getting attacked for saying "Merry Christmas" and everyone is happy and glad. And best of all--the kids love it. The magic of Christmas isn't dead. It's still alive everywhere, and you just have to look to find it.
Do you hate the snow? Want to escape to a beachfront paradise that is cheap, beautiful, as well as close to your loved ones?
And you don't have to leave the comforts of home. Baja has modern amenities, modern homes, a Costco, Wal-marts, supermarkets--anything you need is at your fingertips and at half the price.
We just finished our exploratory trip to Baja and LOVED it! We met so many happy expats there, (most of them from California or Texas).
Baja has something for everyone--and has every type of culture and people. We met die-hard liberals and staunch conservatives; and the one thing they had in common was that they loved living in Baja.
Baja really has something for EVERYONE.
Do you love serious sportsfishing? Los Barilles is a sportsfisherman's paradise. We saw several expats weighing enormous blue marlins.
Do you love the crunchy-granola atmosphere of San Francisco? Well, Todos Santos might be the perfect place for you! Todos Santos has yoga studios, lifelong surfers, and artists and artisans everywhere!
Do you love partying and nightlife? Cabo San Lucas is full of clubs, bars, dancing, and fun. Great for young people with lots and lots of crazy energy.
Do you love golf, beautiful beaches, and want to live a calm life surrounded by beauty and other expats? Then San Jose del Cabo might be the perfect choice for you.
We had so many wonderful experiences and met so many great people down in Baja. And living here is affordable, too.
(Here's some questions that people have asked us repeatedly about Baja and Mexico in general)
1. Our family is seriously considering a move to Baja and are weighing our options. We want a family-friendly location and we plan to rent for at least a year. A 3BR/2BA works and if there's a small office in there, too, that would be a nice bonus. We are hoping to find a nice place for $2,000 or less (preferably a detached home). Do you think this is possible?
Manny's Answer: Absolutely, for that price range you can find a single-family home in a very nice neighborhood. You can also find a nice condo on the beach for that price, although it won't be detached, and you'll have neighbors very close to you, (obviously).
The method we used all over Baja was to rent a nice place for a month using Airbnb, and then we took our time and searched for long-term rentals at a nice, unstressful pace. In some places, we just continued to rent using Airbnb and racked up airline miles on our credit card. By the end of the year, we had enough airline miles for free round trip airfare back to the US for our entire family (we personally use the Amex Delta Card for this, the miles never expire). Gotta think outside the box!
The average rent (currently) for a nice 2-bedroom is about $900-$1,500 in an upscale community if that's what you want. It would be fairly easy to get a larger detached home for 2K. You can easily find studios and smaller apartments for less than $500 a month if you want to rent something small and save money while you decide on a permanent home.
Our advice: stay away from Cabo Bello (a planned community in the Corridor). Cabo Bello has serious water problems and residents there frequently go without water for several days. Research any other properties thoroughly before you sign a lease. In some of those areas, the owners are DESPERATE to sell or rent to anyone that will take a property off their hands. You can also rent a hotel for a week or so, but we like having a full kitchen and a laundry room so we rarely do that. And, no matter what you do, do NOT rent or buy anything for long-term until you see it in person.
2. What should we do with our vehicles? How hard is it to get Baja plates for our American cars?
Manny's Answer: I'll give you my opinion on this. As for cars, we didn't bother trying to legalize our used American cars. We bought a used Excursion down here for a couple thousand bucks. In our opinion, used cars are so cheap that it's not even worth it to transfer an American car and deal with the paperwork and the hassle. We sold our newer Avalanche in the US at Carmax they cut us a check the same day and that was it. We used that money to purchase a used car in Mexico with Mexican plates.
There are English-speaking insurance agents in Cabo who draft special permits for expats who want to bring their American cars down, but we didn't use those services because we discovered it would be approximately the same cost as buying a used car.
There are also regular dealerships like you can find in the US. Nissan, Mazda, Ford, and Toyota all have dealerships in Baja and you can certainly purchase a new car or a used car from a dealer just the way you would purchase one in the US or Canada.
If you want to legalize your American car, be aware that you can only legalize certain years (new American cars cannot be legalized with Mexican plates). This law changes frequently. HOWEVER, you can certainly bring your car down and drive it for approximately 6 months (or 180 days, the length of a tourist visa) while you decide what you want to do. So, you don't have to decide immediately.
You can certainly USE your own American car for a few months while you get settled, that will save you the money on a rental car. But be aware that you might have to drive it back to dump it in the US when the 180 days are over. The problem with having American license plates is that you also become a target for the police. Better to stay under their radar.
That being said, we personally haven't had any issues. Not even theft. Los Cabos is very safe overall.
3. I'm an American and I want to move to Baja and work in the tourist industry there. What is terminology when we go down to stay permanently? Are we obtaining dual citizenship? Or are we just applying for residency?
Manny's Answer: For this scenario, you will be applying to become a legal Mexican RESIDENT. You can't just become a Mexican citizen right off the bat, unless you have a Mexican parent or grandparent. So, you will be applying for the Mexican equivalent of a "green card" in the US.
This will allow you to stay in Mexico indefinitely, work for a Mexican employer, buy property and open a bank account. You won't be able to become a Mexican citizen until you are living in Mexico for at least a few years. Then, you can apply for citizenship and become a dual citizen if you want. You will not be relinquishing your American citizenship unless you want to, and to do that you have to go to a US consulate and formally renounce as well as pay a fee.
4. What should we do about bank accounts?
Manny's Answer: We do not have Mexican bank accounts because of the onerous FATCA reporting requirements, which is a legal requirement for Americans to report foreign bank accounts. Rather than deal with that hassle, we obtained an HSBC bank account. We drove all the way to Oakland CA in order to get it, because HSBC is all over Mexico and since it's a US-based account, we don't have to pay any ATM fees or have any reporting requirements when we withdraw. Santander is another bank in Mexico that also has US branches (several in New York and New Jersey). We also retained our US-based Wells Fargo account and that's how we pay our US bills when we have to.
5. And we want to use our cellphone here as well as internet. What do you recommend?
Manny's Answer: For internet, we always make sure that we rent places that have free wi-fi. Those are easy to find these days, and every hotel has wi-fi. This has not been a problem for us as DSL internet service is now common all over Mexico. However, we also invested in a KeepGO device, which is a mobile 3G hotspot that works all over Mexico as well as other countries. It's metered, so data is expensive, but we use is only when we absolutely need to and it has helped us numerous times when wi-fi was unavailable.
For cellphones, we use Cricket as our cellphone provider. We have a family plan. Two of our family members in America use their phones up there, while we use our two cellphones in Mexico. It's a flat $150 per month for all 4 lines. The phones work in the US as well as Mexico so we always have cellphone service when we come back to the US on business. It works out great and there are no "surprise" fees like there is with AT&T and Verizon. After getting hit with a huge thousand-dollar "foreign roaming" bill with Verizon, we switched to Cricket. No more nasty surprises after that, we always know what our bill will be.
We are not affiliated with any of these companies, we are just letting our readers know what has worked for us. If you find something else that works for you, that's great.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EXPATRIATING TO BAJA?
Thinking about expatriating to Baja California Sur? Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, or San Jose del Cabo caught your fancy? Then consider the beauty of Baja!
This particular book discusses Baja California Sur (BCS).
We cover the following cities:
This book also includes answers to common questions, a reference section for local schools, and several insightful interviews with local residents a well as a Mexican immigration attorney. Learn candid information to help you on your personal expat journey!
Southwest Airlines now offers direct flights to Cancun and the beautiful Mayan Riviera from Los Angeles! We fly back and forth on business to the US a lot, as well as all over Mexico to do research for our Expat Fever book series.
We can attest that it is almost always easier and cheaper to fly Southwest. We try to use them whenever we can (American Airlines and AeroMexico have both left us stranded in Ciudad Mexico TWICE!, never with Southwest!). The only other airline we use is Delta, because they have never left us stranded anywhere, although they are a bit pricier than Southwest.
Now if we could only get Southwest to offer a direct flight from Las Vegas, we would be in heaven! If you're planning a trip to Cancun, you can also get a $1,500 resort credit if you book through the Southwest Website.
Hi, my wife and 2 sons are thinking about relocating to the Playa de Carmen area . Can you recommend and know costs of a private school for 3rd and 7th grader ? Will it be hard to find a 3 bedroom, pool home in that area , costs? What have you found for a good resource to find long term home rentals?
Thanks for any info,
Regarding Playa Del Carmen, my best advice is to do a short-term rental at first. There are lots of scammers who prey on expats online, so I only recommend renting long-term if you can see the property in PERSON first. This is especially important in downtown Playa, because there are bars and clubs that make noise all night. While this might be fine for some people, we have a family and we need our sleep!
The strategy that we have used all over Mexico with great success is to rent using Airbnb first, (use a credit card, not a debit card, so you have purchase protection and can reverse the charges if there are problems with the unit.). The best option is to rent a 2-bedroom condo with a full kitchen and a laundry room, nice 2 bedrooms are relatively easy to find on Airbnb and most of the time you can get a nice discount for renting the entire month. Then go with your family, and search for your "forever" home in person, at a leisurely, unstressful pace. Once you find a neighborhood that you like, I suggest renting for at least a year before purchasing property in the area.
You can find long-term rentals in person, or use a rental agent from a reputable real estate company like Remax Mexico. We've had some luck using Vivanuncios, that is a Mexican classified site similar to Craigslist, but I wouldn't rent anything using these methods sight-unseen.
And who knows? Once you are living there full time, you might like Isla Mujeres or Tulum more. The entire region of Quintana Roo is beautiful beyond belief, especially once you leave the tourist zones you may have a difficult time deciding which part of this paradise you like more.
Now, for private schools, we have found that they are excellent in Mexico, and extremely affordable compared to US or Canadian private schools. This is true even for children who have special educational needs.
Our eldest is currently in a prestigious bilingual private school for about $250 USD a month, after an initial fee of about $600 (remember the peso is at an unbelieveable exchange rate of 21 right now so that price won't last--but you can expect to pay about $400 per month approximately, assuming the peso settles down at some point and goes back to about 10-12).
That price included materials and books. The class sizes are small and they have a modern computer lab. They even offer a robotics class! This has been a wonderful experience for us, after not being able to afford private schools in the US and pulling our children out of an awful, underfunded public school.
There are lots of private schools in the Mayan Riviera to choose from (literally dozens). I suggest visiting a few and checking their class sizes, as well as how many teachers they have that speak both English and Spanish.
Be free! Expatriate!
Today, we received an email from a reader who is looking for a nice furnished rental in Guanajuato.
Reader Question: Hi - do you have any good sources for finding inexpensive rental apartments in Mexico, especially in the colonial areas such as Guanajuato or Queretaro? I'm looking for something for a few months, for a single person (me). Thank you!
Answer: We are currently in Guanajuato exploring the San Miguel de Allende region, and we found our apartment on Airbnb. That's the best option if you only plan to stay a few months. Airbnb allows you to pay with a credit card, which gives you purchase protection, and it's the best way to get a place to stay in Mexico that ISN'T a hotel.
Use a credit card, not a debit card to reserve, that way you can reverse the charges if there's a problem. Stay away from Craigslist there are tons of scammers that prey on Americans and Canadians looking for places to stay.
That's my advice. The peso is at 20 (glorious!) so we are currently paying about $700 for a fully furnished 3-bedroom home in a gated, secure community with all utilities paid as well as internet (which is 100% required for us so we can work). It's luxurious and quiet with 24-hour security, (and we would never be able to afford something like this for anywhere NEAR this price in California).
If you are a single person, there are plenty of furnished rooms that are an option, too, for much less (like, say $300 a month). Celaya, Leon, and San Miguel de Allede are all full of expats and have plenty of modern amenities will make your stay enjoyable.
The only hassle I've had so far is difficulty finding my favorite brand of medicated shampoo. Things like that you should bring with you.
Just a middle-class dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
Please note that on this blog we don't automatically get an email if you leave a comment. So please contact us directly via Facebook or our contact form here.