Retirees in San Miguel de Allende
Posted: 28 Mar 2011 04:59 PM PDT
I and my family visited the quaint colonial town of San Miguel de Allende over the weekend. The motive: a goodbye party for an old friend who is leaving Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende is barely three hours drive from Mexico City so it is quite convenient for a weekend getaway. I hadn’t been in the town since about 1980 so I didn’t know what to expect. I barely recognized the place.
First off, SMA (as the locals abbreviate it) is a huge destination for U.S. and Canadian retirees. Some estimates I’ve seen say there may be 8,000 foreigners living there. So be prepared to see lots of foreigners walking around.
To our surprise, we also saw plenty of Mexicans on weekend getaways from Guadalajara and Mexico City.
SMA along with Ajijic on Lake Chapala south of Guadalajara are two of the big inland retirement destinations for foreigners in Mexico. Of course, there is a huge stretch of areas along the Baja California Peninsula that are also filled with Americans. For some Americans, I can see why San Miguel would be a perfect combination of good restaurants, colonial flavor, good weather, interesting architecture and artistic scene to make it an attractive place to have a part-time home.
But I must say, the real estate prices were somewhat shocking to me. Most real estate offices post their listings on a visible place to see from the sidewalk. Many homes and apartments were well north of $500,000 and a few were for more than $1 million.
We had an afternoon snack and libation on the rooftop terrace of the new Rosewood San Miguel de Allende hotel, a lovely place with spectacular views of much of the town. From the terrace, you can look down and see the rooftop gardens that many property owners have built on their homes.
For someone unschooled in Mexico, finding reliable information about safety in places like San Miguel de Allende is not easy. From President Felipe Calderon on down, people tell fibs about safety of tourists and retirees.
Some of the worst offenders, I find, are foreigners with heavy economic stakes, either through real estate or business interests, who say the mass media constantly inflate the dangers facing foreigners in Mexico. But first let me return to Calderon, who recently spoke to the AARP (the U.S. retirees association) about whether Americans should be concerned in Mexico:
“They shouldn’t worry. Obviously, there are problems, but these are associated with certain places and to conflicts within criminal elements. Over 2.5 million U.S. citizens live in Mexico—half of them retired—and they live very peacefully. For them, Mexico is a safe country, and we are always very alert to any incidents that may occur.”
“Mexico welcomed over 20 million international tourists last year, 49 million tourists from across the border, 6 million tourists by cruise ships, and there were no real major incidents. I can assure you that Mexico is a peaceful, safe and pleasant country. We have lovely retirement communities: San Miguel de Allende, Chapala, Morelia, Vallarta; we’re very happy with them. Mexico is a great place to live and enjoy, so, come with peace of mind, feel safe. We’re also working to improve the living conditions of our people in Mexico.”
Okay, so Calderon has to be a salesman. He couldn’t be otherwise. But can anyone back up his statement that 2.5 million U.S. citizens live in Mexico, and that half are retirees? Raise your hands please. U.S. government officials on occasion say it might be one million. But I regularly see lower estimates. It is hard to pin down because many foreigners own property here but live only for a few months a year.
The founder of the Mexico Real Estate Coalition, Chris Hill, offered an interesting take in this Q&A with the Houston Chronicle. He says “several hundred thousand” Americans may live in Mexico. This is what Hill says about whether Americans are moving out of Mexico because of drug-related violence:
“There are a few isolated areas in Mexico that are going through some significant problems right now. Mexico is a massive country. The vast majority of the victims of this are the same people who are involved in that illicit drug trade. Otherwise, the Americans and the Canadians who live throughout Mexico would have left. Most of them still have residences back here in the U.S. There has been no exodus.”
The vast majority of U.S. retirees may be untouched by the violence. But it still does occur. Indeed, it doesn’t take much looking on the internet to see that three Americans were murdered in SMA this year. One, 85-year-old Peter C. Mudge, was found with a bag over his head and 15 stab wounds in mid-January. Another, 82-year-old Joseph Henry Feuerborn, was found beaten to death in his home. Click here for obit. Feuerborn was an ex-Marine who’d lived in San Miguel for two decades. Then a younger man known as Andrew, who was in his late 20s or early 30s, was also found dead.
In any case, it’s a good idea to be prudent. And take with a grain of salt what politicians and real estate brokers tell you. Maybe even bloggers!