Beyond Ajijic and San Miguel

You may have noticed that here on HouseSitMexico, listings for Ajijic, Jalisco, and San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato are common.  Both are havens for expats, so it makes sense that many listings from these two cities are on this popular and growing website.  But there are so many other interesting places to explore in México, and these come up on HouseSitMexico too.

My wife and I lived and worked throughout México for more than eleven years, and we’ve been to 26 of the 31 Mexican states, plus the Distrito Federal.  We’re bilingual and bi-cultural as well, so we feel very comfortable traveling and spending time among the locals/nationals.  In fact, our work in México did not require us to meet or socialize with expats, so we generally feel more at home with the Mexican people.

As I write this blog, we are in the final days of an 11-week house/pet-sitting assignment in the colonial mountain town of Álamos, Sonora.  Along with San Miguel de Allende, Álamos is one of the 111 Mexican towns recognized as “Pueblos Mágicos” (magic towns), known for their cultural and historical significance, as well as their beauty and unique geography.  There’s an estimated population of 300 expats in Álamos, including many who live here in their second homes during part of the year, mainly from October to May.  This assignment is in a traditional home with a casita, a vegetable garden, ample areas of tropical and desert plants, and a pool.  There are three dogs and two cats, which are our primary responsibility.  A property manager/housekeeper works here six days a week, and a pool maintenance company comes twice a week to service the pool.  While here, we’ve done sightseeing and some shopping in Navojoa, Playa Huatabampito (107 kilometers away), and the old mining town of La Aduana.  During Semana Santa, we went to the home of some long-time Mexican friends for a family carne asada cookout.  We’ve also socialized a bit within the expat community, including a fund-raiser pork roast, a St. Patrick’s Day corned-beef and cabbage dinner, and an informal Sunday morning breakfast gathering, and have felt very welcome and included even though we’re here for less than three months.

In January, 2017, we completed a 3-1/2 week assignment in a 4-story house near the touristy downtown of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.  It’s a city where we have vacationed for over 20 years, so we were fairly familiar with most of the attractions.  We even knew the nearest supermarket, which was within easy walking distance from the house.  We walked the dog on the malecón twice a day, and also cared for one cat.  A housekeeper came once to week to freshen up the place.  We took a water taxi across Banderas Bay to Yelapa one day.  And several times, we enjoyed the food, music and folkloric dancing at the Fiesta Mexicana held twice a week in Parque Hidalgo, just two blocks from the house.  Thanks to the favorable monetary exchange rate, we were also able to dine at several of the area’s exceptional restaurants.  We also had teeth cleanings at a reputable dental clinic for the equivalent of $19 USD each.  One evening, we enjoyed dinner at the home of a Mexican friend’s mother, where we had been before.  The whole family welcomed us as old friends.  We also attended a film screening with a group of expats, giving us a chance to meet some of the U.S. folks who share our political persuasion and live in Puerto Vallarta for at least part of the year, if not year-round.  Again, we were made to feel right at home.

Last winter, we spent nearly three months caring for a house (no pets) in the small indigenous village of Xul-Ha, located on the shore of Lake Bacalar in the southern tip of the state of Quintana Roo.  A property caretaker kept the grass and weeds mowed and did lots of other handyman jobs.  While we can’t recommend Xul-Ha as a house-sitting destination, we think prospective house-sitters would enjoy the “Pueblo Mágico” of Bacalar, which has a small expat population.  Or the state’s capital city of Chetumal, which is just a short distance from the border with Belize.  In fact, during our assignment in Xul-Ha, we took a couple of days for a boat trip to Ambergris Caye, Belize.  And we rented a car for a weekend stay in Majahual, which is now a cruise ship port on the Caribbean Sea.  The town of Xul-Ha is not a typical destination for U.S. tourists, but we did meet some Canadians who visit there frequently or have homes there.  While the locals were friendly and polite to us, the only people we really got to know were the neighbors next door (who allowed us to use their swimming dock on the lake!) and the folks who worked at the hardware store (where we spent a lot of time buying materials and supplies for various projects at the house-sit).

Every autumn, I do a solo house-sitting gig for a maximum of six weeks while my RN wife continues to work at her two part-time jobs.  In both 2013 and 2014, I completed autumn house/pet-sits in the same home in Cuernavaca, Morelos.  A full-time housekeeper worked 5 days a week, keeping the place clean and organized, and a pool man/gardener came twice a week to mow the grass and maintain the pool.  The colonial-style main house was occupied occasionally by a friend of the homeowners.  I stayed in the casita, which had its own kitchen.  The property was surrounded by a high security wall, as are many of the finer homes in Cuernavaca.  The walls make it more difficult to meet the neighbors.  All the people I met there during my house-sits were Mexican nationals, so I had virtually no contact with expats there.  And since we had lived in Cuernavaca for almost six years prior to my retirement, I had lots of friends with whom to hang out and socialize.

Outside of the major expatriate areas, there aren’t as many English speakers around, so you may need to speak and understand a bit more Spanish.  And the cultural differences may be more noticeable once you get away from the expat enclaves.  But, for adventurous house-sitters, there is definitely life in México beyond Ajijic and San Miguel!