Letter from a Reader: Retire in Baja?


editor’s note: A reader named Sarah wrote us with the subject line “retire to baja.” Of course I passed this on to our resident retirement/baja expert El Codo, who demanded to know more about Sarah’s needs/situation.


I plan to go to Mexico this summer.  I have limited funds so will need inexpensive housing.  Would a long term older hotel be a good choice?  I have  few belongings to bring.  Having a place furnished would needed.  I am 71 and not as able to labor for myself as I was even though I am still very capable and will drive down.  A small house on a ranch would be good too.  Guess I should tell you I am a female, though the name pretty we’ll says that.

El Codo:

Lorena referred your letter to me because if you look over your shoulder that boat you see in the mist is mine. Not exactly the “same boat” but it’s twin as far as I can tell. Anyway, greeting from Baja California Sur.

In order to answer your question intelligently, a person would need to know some facts from you to base a recommendation on.

  • How much of a monthly budget do you have to work with?
  • Do you speak Spanish? Beginner? Intermediate? Fluent?
  • How is your health? If you need special medicines this really can affect things. Same with supplements.
  • How is your tolerance for heat or cold? Can you handle 90F with 70% humidity?
  • Or trips to the bathroom at night when it’s 48F or even chillier?
  • Are you a “people person”?
  • What will you do when there is no TV, no radio, no internet, no books?
  • Is your car in good shape and not something weird like a Saab or Mazda? Some ATM runs can involve a hundred mile drive in really rural locations.
  • Can you walk 300 yards carrying 20 lbs of grocery sacks?
  • Are you vegetarian?

Try and answer point by point and I will do my best to give hints and tips…

-El Codo-

Sarah writes:

Hi El Codo,
I,too, am a cheapskate.  I am one by habit and nature, as well as necessity.  I will have about a thousand a month.  I do not live high on the hog and have experience in remote areas.  They were much colder.  I was in Bush Alaska for some years with Eskimo people the majority.  I have lived in the Valley (South Texas) and in southern Arizona.
My Spanish is maybe intermediate, but I am not flustered to ask and work on it.  I also picked up a program to help me.  Ironically I taught English to Spanish speakers!
My health is overall good. No diabetes, high blood. Pressure, or any other chronic condition other than poly myalgia rheumatica.  It sounds bad, but it is achy muscles.  The doc recommended a warm climate.  Cold seems to make the muscles contract too much.  Actually I am quite healthy. I take no meds and no supplements.
I can handle 90 and humid, but I prefer it a little cooler.  I was looking at the info I could find.  I thought maybe I would like it about half way down the peninsula on the Pacific side.  Cool and windy would be fine with me.  I also don’t need to be right on the beach.  A high, dry pine forest with cool winds and running water would be great.
I believe I would like indoor plumbing, even if not too fancy. I am quite familiar with the old outhouse and Sears catalog (whatever their version of it might be).
I like people, but I also like being alone.  I believe I can balance that.  It is not my greatest concern.  I have had to learn to flex a lot.
Don’t really care about TV, but I do need Internet for various reasons.  I will be writing and maybe working on some art projects.  Books I will have.  I will bring some and will acquire others one way or another.
I am not sure what car I will have.  Considering a Chrysler Grand Caravan.  I have a large dog and will bring my belongings with me.  I have gotten rid of almost everything.
I can carry the groceries, but I was hoping to get a clever guy to build me a small cart and harness.  That dog should earn his dog biscuits.
It is safe to say I am a complete omnivore.  If I can, I love fresh sea food.
I really am not looking to rough it.  Maybe on an occasional weekend or something.
I would like to find a quiet, old-fashioned place with at least the minimum comforts.  If I was 40 or even 50,  the Copper Canyon or high lands of Michoacan would be calling.  Just can’ t do that on a long term basis these days.
I could spend $200 to $300 a month on housing, especially if it is furnished and has wi-fi.  A bedroom, minimal bath, and small sitting room (or bedroom large enough for desk and lounge) would be great.  Three rooms and small bath would be magnificent.  I hate air con.  Fans are just great. High ceilings make it cooler.
If someone had a small house with at least minimal amenities on a ranch I would like that.  I am a country girl.  Don’t care if he plants right by the house.  I like animals, chickens, etcetera.
Maybe that will help you help me.
If you want to know more, just ask.

El Codo:

Baja California is unabashed desert. Stark, dry, and beautiful from a lunar landscape point of view. Pine forests pretty much stop in the upper 20% and services in those higher altitudes are zero. WiFi exists where there are folks with money, land line telephones (no Banda Ancha here), etc.

I am halfway down the peninsula on the Pacific side at the moment. No Wi-Fi. I have a friend who owns a large market and I tie into their Wi-Fi daily. At the market.

Food is not cheap out here in the wilds. Figure on 20-40% more expensive than USA discount market prices. For example russet potatoes are around .50 a pound. Chicken is a dollar a pound or more depending on the cut. All the food travels hundreds of miles and tropical fruit from the mainland scoots thousands of miles to get here.

The nearest ATM from where I am is a 150 mile round trip, and if it does not work, up the mileage to a 225 mile round trip.

Suggestions: EL ROSARIO, GUERRERO NEGRO, BAHIA ASUNCION, BAHIA TORTUGAS, PUNTA PRIETA,  LA BOCANA, and southbound on a dirt road to other villages.
Over on the gulf side housing is a lot more expensive – you won’t find a decent place for 200 dollars. Not furnished at all. It’s too popular with gringos.

Housing is not abundant. Gringos illegally rent gringo homes for high prices, but on a whim kick a person out when someone comes along and offers them 50 dollars more a month.

Be prepared to do the Chinese checkers thing from house to house, upgrading as a home is built or becomes available.

Here’s my advice on strategy: Drive south to GUERRERO NEGRO, hole-up at a cheap place like the hotel MGM next to the supermarket LA BALLENA next to the huge aerial orange water tank (tower). They have a weekly rate. Start asking around.  Then migrate to Vizcaino, make a right toward BAHIA TORTUGAS but 50 miles down the road make a left and head to BAHIA ASUNCION, 22 miles. All excellent road. There are a couple of cheap hotels here. You will have passed the dirt road turnoff to LA BOCANA and PUNTA PRIETA. Mind you fifteen dollars a night = 450 dollars a month – you’ll need to find a place fast to stay within your budget.

I’m going to be leaving within the next several months to migrate to TECATE so I can get operated on. If you want, you can have the place I helped to fix up. Probably your dream home. Furnished with large refrigerator, stove, pots, and pans, too much furniture, bed, table, and a ton of appliances. 2500 pesos a month + water and power. The landlandy does my laundry and housekeeping for 600 pesos a month. New small wooden house. Concrete floor, do-it-yourself shower but a great toilet. It’s really not a bad place. Asuncion has a population of around 1,500 and very little crime. One nice market but four others somewhat smaller, a gas station, several water plants. no land line telephones, and no WiFi. The commercial Wi-Fi here is a joke – it does not work for weeks at a time and when it does the baud rate is around 6. About two dozen gringos, but I do not mingle. My friends and family are  Mexican. Once my surgery is done I’m going home to my family in Michoacan.

This July marks 50 years since I first visited Baja and Mexico…

Desde Bahia Asuncion.

El Codo



4 Responses to “Letter from a Reader: Retire in Baja?”

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  1. d.l. says:

    Come on down to Ensenada for a trial run, close to the dark side ( and T.J.’s), temperate, good food and a great base to explore from. A slice of Mexico’s heaven!

  2. Karl says:

    Hello, I’m interested in Living in Cabo San Lucas. What’s the easiest, safest and most convenient way to pay rent and get cash for weekly expenses? I plan on renting a furnished condo for a year as a test trial. Appreciate any advice!


    • Felisa Rogers says:

      Hi Karl! Thanks for reading! Our resident Baja expert may have Cabo specific information, but for now here’s my general advice: for now, use an ATM to get money from your home bank account. To avoid scamming, avoid convenience store ATMs and use the machines attached to actual banks.

  3. Karl says:

    Thank You very much!