By: Donald Murray |

Mexico’s exquisite Caribbean Coast from Cancun south to Tulum is known as the Riviera Maya. It’s here that lush jungles provide homes to small monkeys, dragonish iguanas, and millions of colorful tropical birds.

Add to that a rich Mayan influence complete with plentiful ruins, warm tropical waters, crystal-clear underground rivers and lakes, sugar-sand beaches, modern hotels and resorts, and temperatures usually in the 80s F with plentiful sunshine…and it’s easy to understand why this area is the Caribbean’s number one destination and a magnet for savvy investors.

Toss in a strong, viable infrastructure, low crime numbers, and modern hospitals along with a world-class international airport, and this area’s phenomenal success on every front is a foregone conclusion.

The tropical heartbeat of this area is the flourishing city of Playa del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancun International Airport. According to Mexico’s Association of Hotels and Trusts, last year broke all records for the number of visitors to the region with average occupancy rates over 85% and peak periods seeing over 95% occupancy.

Renting properties to vacationers for short-term stays is where solid investment opportunities can be found. Such units typically rent from $150 to $450 per night or more, depending upon the size and location of the property.

One example of a nice condo with excellent rental potential is this splendid two-bedroom, two-bathroom property a short walk from the beach. With access to the community pool and in-building facilities, the monthly maintenance fee of $150 is a real bargain as cable, water, and trash service is included. And all for only $225,000. This 1,100-square-foot condo has “rent me” written all over it. The furnishings and decor are modern and upgraded with a kitchen to match. And, it would be a perfect second home.

With a population now estimated to exceed 100,000 and an annual growth rate of 26% for the past several years, Playa del Carmen has understandably become an investors’ playing field. The local economy is fueled by a steady increase in tourism and Playa (as it is known to the locals) is said to be the fastest growing community in Mexico.

In fact, many believe it may well be the fastest growing city in all of Latin America as those seeking career opportunities move to become a part of this expansive economy. Modern infrastructure including paved roads, good hospitals, a stable power grid, a plentiful and safe supply of water, as well as fast internet connections combine to support the burgeoning growth in the construction and real estate markets.

Here, you can find a modern single-family, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home offered for only $135,000—an opportunity that is not often found. Sitting alongside a well-established development, this beautiful furnished home offers 1,935 square feet of living space. This property would make an excellent second home and could be rented during those times when you are not there, as it is close to the beach and shopping while providing the privacy only available in a single-family home.

Playa del Carmen is a “low-rise” community with building codes limiting construction heights to three stories plus a roof deck. And while you do see some buildings go higher, those developers have paid significant fines and other fees for variances which limits the rampant growth in the area.

Only an hour’s drive separates the communities of Cancun from Playa del Carmen. The cities essentially share the same beach and tropical waters, yet there is a notable difference in the vibe and culture of each. Playa exhibits a quieter, less Disneyesque, and more sophisticated feel when compared to flashier Cancun.

Dozens of artsy sidewalk cafés, cool little bistros, and upscale clothing boutiques and fashionable jewelry stores blend with street performers and galleries to create a unique ambiance. The aroma of fresh-roasted coffee and fresh-from-the-oven croissants ride the offshore breezes drawing pedestrians closer to the source; all of that stretched along a fashionable length of Fifth Avenue which has been closed to vehicle traffic.

You can also find a very nice two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the desirable Playacar development for only $175,000. This unit is absolutely perfect for an investment with its proximity to beaches and the famous Fifth Avenue strip. This is a first-floor unit in a gated community. All furnishings are included. This one is so nice, you may want to keep it for your personal retirement home when the time comes.

There’s no denying that Playa del Carmen is a serious beach town but don’t mistake it for other Mexican beach towns. Playa is special. These days, it’s an upscale community and it appears that image is only growing.


By: Monica Rix Paxson |

Physicians in Mexico do not typically earn six-figure salaries. According to the New York Times, the average physician in Mexico earns the equivalent of about US$25,000 per year. Earnings in Mexico are lower across the entire spectrum of jobs and this is just as true for doctors and other medical professionals. For example, according to World Salaries, professional nurses in Mexico earn just under US$550 per month. But there’s more to it than that.

Most doctors in Mexico do not start their professional careers needing to pay-off student debt. Bloomberg reports that the median student debt for a medical student in the USA in 2012 was US$170,000, but for some graduates it will be much higher. This does not include the student debt from undergraduate school, nor interest. Patients in the USA, their employers and insurance companies ultimately pay these student loans. In Mexico, many medical students study at free public universities or in private universities with much lower tuition fees.

Unlike medical practice in the USA, for example, physicians do not typically order additional, frequently expensive and questionably unnecessary medical tests to proactively defend themselves against anticipated lawsuits. Doctors in Mexico do not purchase malpractice insurance (so there is no incentive for patients to sue for malpractice) and thus saving the US$4,000-20,000 in annual malpractice insurance that doctors in the USA typically pay—and which are inevitably reflected in their fees.

Other factors which keep patient fees lower in Mexico include doctors not being driven to generate high-volume, over-booked medical practices by the economic demands of having the latest equipment, the absence of additional staffing to manage insurance companies, complex scheduling, the flow of patients into and out of examining rooms, etc.

Furthermore, in Mexico a physician more typically owns his or her medical practice. There are few HMOs, PPOs or other corporate entities extracting a share of profits.

The attention of physicians in Mexico is more typically focused on the patient with fewer distractions by pharmaceutical representatives and phone calls from pharmacists in the background—and the need to hire people to manage those intrusions. And since the physician has (generally) lower expenses and all the money goes directly to the physician, you, the patient, enjoy lower medical costs.


By: Mexperience

When foreign residents are asked why they moved to Mexico, among the most common reasons they cite is ‘a desire to simplify our lifestyle’.  And when people moved here to accomplish that reflect on their choice, they usually discover that the complexity of their ‘previous life’ was more expensive than they realized.

A by-product of simplicity is the reduction of costs.  You may of course, move to Mexico, live a lavish lifestyle, and spend more than you do in your home country.  However, many people who come here to find a new space also come to know of the attractions and benefits simpler lifestyles provide, and find they are able to live well through living simply in Mexico.

Simple living is concerned with refocusing your priorities and giving attention back to matters related to good health, reviewing your work routines, making new space to share with family and close friends, reducing stress, and reducing ‘clutter’— material and situational: a key principle of simple living is to improve your ‘quality of life’ through being materially simple, but not poor.

In addition to people approaching, or planning for, retirement, we’re receiving an increasing number of inquiries from working-age people, particularly those working independently, who are considering relocating to Mexico as part of a life and work-style change.  Modern communications, and particularly the Internet, makes tele-working a real and viable possibility for increasing numbers of working professionals.

Mexico offers a number of key attractions to working age people thinking of places for relocation. For those thinking about retirement, this country continues to be one of the world’s most popular places for foreign retirees.

Land and property costs continue to be affordable in Mexico and the affordability continues even after your purchase, because ownership costs are lower in Mexico than in the United States, Canada, and western Europe.

While financial considerations are only part of the criteria people consider as they explore relocation, finances remain a cornerstone of the decision-making process.  For working-age people, lower costs can translate into additional income available for retirement or other savings; and for retirees on fixed incomes, Mexico’s lower basic living costs can make your income stretch further.


Donald Murray |

Views don’t come much better than this. Friends back home are wrapping up for the winter. But I’m relaxing on a sun-drenched balcony, taking in the splendor of a vast, blue lake stretching into the distance, framed by imposing green mountains. The sky overhead is perfectly bright, heralding yet another clear, warm day.

Here you can spend it canoeing or kicking back with the many expat friends you’ve made around town. And the stunning lake-view retreat you call home can cost less than $200,000.

This is Lake Chapala…a snowbird’s paradise that is home to a large and welcoming expat community. And that’s not all. In my opinion, Lake Chapala has the best-value real estate you’ll find in any of this country’s expat hubs.

Sitting at an altitude of 5,000 feet in west-central Mexico, Lake Chapala (the country’s largest freshwater lake) boasts one of the best climates in the world. Expect daily temperatures between 75 F and 78 F. Even when it does rain, it does so courteously: normally at night. Those lake views aren’t too shabby, either.

With an amazing network of organized activities geared toward the large expat population, Lake Chapala offers an affordable lakeside lifestyle (figure $1,500 a month all in). No wonder as many as 15,000 or so expats choose to live here full or part-time. The combination of scenic lake views; warm weather; low-cost, convenient living; a flourishing expat community; and great-value real estate is something you won’t find anywhere else in Mexico.

Lying along the lake’s north shore and only a few miles apart, the two small towns of Chapala and Ajijic (a-hee-heek), known collectively as “Lakeside” by the locals, are the area’s main retirement hubs.

The Lakeside area has grown a lot in recent years and shows no signs of slowing. New construction continues as expats keep coming. Ongoing development is gradually closing the distance between the two towns, but Ajijic still has more expats and higher property values. This is because Ajijic has long been a getaway for wealthy city folks from nearby Guadalajara, who are looking for hillside vacation homes overlooking the lake; these are harder to find in Chapala. The larger expat presence in Ajijic has also increased property prices here. But real estate in both communities remains very affordable. In Chapala, expect to pay rent of $500 to $850 a month for a comfortable two-bedroom, two-bath house. Similar properties in Ajijic may cost an additional $100 or more per month.

Prices in the most popular areas in Ajijic have held steady for the past five to eight years, despite the global economic downturn. Less popular (but still attractive) lakeside areas have seen prices fall by perhaps 10% to 20%, and the entire market is in the process of a steady recovery. Factoring in the strong U.S. dollar (the strongest in more than a decade) and weak peso makes this the right time to make a move. If you know where to look, you’ll find centrally located homes in this area for as little as $45,000. For that, you’ll get to live in a sunny and affordable haven as the snows pile up back home.

Buying here makes sense from an investment standpoint, too. The growing number of expats has provided a solid base of buyers and renters that won’t disappear any time soon. Snowbirds fleeing the cold North American winters flock to Lake Chapala, nearly doubling the normal population during those months.

All these expats need a place to live or stay. So if you’re after an investment property, put Lake Chapala on your radar. Resident expats report that you’re almost guaranteed 100% occupancy. Year-round rentals are also in high demand—and not just from expats. Rising home prices in Guadalajara, and the presence of large multinationals in the area, are leading many Mexicans to relocate here. So even if you’re just in the market for personal use, you’ll have buyers and renters aplenty if you move on.

One of the great-value properties to be found here is located in the Villa Nova community just west of Ajijic town center. Here $95,000 buys you a two-bedroom, two-bath house with a backyard and garden area, modern kitchen with wooden cabinetry, modern bathrooms, and a carport with parking for two cars. This home could easily rent for $750 a month, giving you a gross yield of 9.5%.

Rental properties close to the village centers are very popular with snowbirds, as most will not have cars and so have to get around on foot or use public transport. In Chapala, I found a basic home in need of only a little TLC going for just $45,000. This two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom home is right at the heart of town, an easy walk to everything you would need. It has a Mexican colonial kitchen, separate laundry room, and ceiling fans throughout, as well as a railed balcony on the second level. It’s the kind of place I would feel comfortable living in. This would make a great rental property or would also be perfect as a second home if you’re after a snowbird lifestyle. If you were to rent this for a year at $500 a month, you’d generate a handsome gross yield of 13.3%.

Another great investment choice is the San Antonio neighborhood, situated about midway between Chapala and Ajijic. San Antonio straddles the highway, with the southern half near the lake and the other half climbing up the hillside. Choose the lakeside half if you’re after an investment property, as seasonal renters will want to be closer to the bus route. Residents of this area can reach all the shops and eateries they need with a 10-minute walk.

Here, for $99,000, you could buy a modern two-bedroom, two-bath, second-floor condo with a relaxing view of the pool and garden. A light evening breeze ensures you won’t need A/C. This home would make any snowbird happy, and would be wonderful for a full-time residence, too. You could expect an annual gross yield of 9.1% if you were to rent it for $750 a month. The owners say they might even throw in their Nissan vehicle to sweeten the deal.

If you’d rather rent in Ajijic, then a cozy option can be found in the Chula Vista neighborhood. This two-bedroom, two-bath rental has lovely landscaping with shaped shrubbery and a small yard. It has an open feel created by numerous large windows, which let in plenty of light. The house is furnished and comes with a beautiful brick fireplace and a separate laundry room, all for $850 a month.

Properties with lake views are highly prized but still readily available. For just under $300,000, you could own a magnificent 3,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath house in a gated community in Ajijic, complete with a large open terrace and a wet bar. You’ll have stunning views over the blue expanse of Lake Chapala on one side and serene mountains on the other. If you have set your heart on a permanent relocation to this area, this home would be a perfect option.

Another home with great lake views is located in the Chula Vista North community. This two-bedroom, two-bath home comes with a private garden and a deep Jacuzzi tub.

All told, you’ll have 2,000 square feet of living space with beautiful bóveda ceilings in the open living area. It can be yours for $185,000; it’s been reduced from $192,000, as the owner wants a quick sale. If you’re after a lake-view property for under $200,000 to call home in retirement, look no further.

How to Choose Your Ideal Lakeside Town

So which of these towns, Chapala or Ajijic, is right for you? As the space between the towns fills in with businesses along the two-lane highway, the Lakeside area may become one community in the not-too-distant future.

For now, though, you still have a choice. Spending a bit more for Ajijic properties will put you near many other expats and give you access to a full menu of organized activities, clubs, and volunteer opportunities. Ajijic boasts a beautiful golf course/club, as well as a popular tennis club where world-class professionals can often be found sharpening their games. Civic organizations such as Rotary have a large membership in Ajijic. There is also an active theater group, Spanish clubs, garden clubs, wine tastings, singles’ mixers, and organized bus trips exploring the region. With so much at hand, it’s no surprise that expats in Ajijic have put down deep roots.

Chapala, on the other hand, has more of a traditional Mexican feel and does not yet have such an array of expat clubs and activities. Better real estate bargains can be found as a result. In any case, the short bus ride between the towns makes it easy to enjoy the best of both locations.

With Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, and its international airport less than an hour away, residents of the Lakeside area lack for nothing. If it can’t be found in either Chapala or Ajijic, it can certainly be found in Guadalajara. With the airport so close, heading north of the border to see the family is easy. And, of course, they can always fly south.


By: Rodney Brooks |

Emily Brandon is a retirement columnist with U.S. News & World Report and author of the new book “Pensionless.” I asked her about a wide range of retirement topics.

Your book is called “Pensionless: The 10-step solution for a stress-free retirement.” Is there one (or two) of those steps that you would stress as being at the top of the list? What are they?

One of the most important retirement decisions you will make is when to sign up for Social Security. Your monthly payments change significantly depending on your age when you sign up. Most baby boomers are eligible to claim the full benefit they have earned at age 66. If they sign up earlier their monthly payments are reduced. Those who delay claiming Social Security until age 70 are eligible for bigger monthly payments. Married couples have additional Social Security claiming options. You can coordinate benefits with a spouse to maximize your benefit as a couple or boost the benefits a surviving spouse will receive.

Is there one fact or statistic related to retirement that would surprise most people?

As recently as 1980 39 percent of the private sector labor force had a traditional pension plan, according to Department of Labor data. The proportion of people enjoying this level of retirement security has fallen relentlessly since then to just 15 percent in 2015. Almost all of us are now pensionless. The 401(k) plan has risen as the new predominant form of workplace retirement benefit. In 2015, 61 percent of private industry workers had the option to join a 401(k) plan, but only 43 percent of workers actually saved in the plan. The benefits of 401(k) plans primarily go to people who have the ability to save, the financial literacy to invest successfully, and the savvy to make it through a gauntlet of fees and penalties.

One of your steps is about how to minimize taxes. Why is this important, and why do many people overlook it?

The money you have accumulated in your traditional 401(k) and traditional IRA can’t all be used for retirement because you still owe income tax on it. However, there are several ways to minimize or even avoid taxes as you pull money out of your retirement accounts. For example, taking withdrawals from your retirement accounts before you sign up for Social Security can sometimes help you to stay in a lower tax bracket and pay a lower tax rate on your retirement savings. If you are employed after age 70½ and don’t own 5 percent or more of the company you work for, you can delay 401(k) withdrawals, and the resulting tax bill, until you actually retire. And those who are at least age 70½ can avoid income tax on IRA distributions of up to $100,000 per year that they directly transfer to a qualifying charity.

Why are people so confused by Medicare? And what are the most surprising things retirees discover when they are eligible for Medicare?

You need to make a variety of decisions when you sign up for Medicare. You first become eligible for Medicare during the 7-month period that begins three months before your 65th birthday. It’s incredibly important to sign up for Medicare during this initial enrollment period. If you delay your Medicare enrollment you could be charged higher premiums for the rest of your life. Medicare Parts B and D both have late enrollment penalties that could be permanently added to your monthly premiums. If you’re still working after age 65 and receive health insurance through your employer, you need to sign up within 8 months of leaving your job or the group health plan ending to avoid the penalty.

If you can give retirement-age people one piece of advice, what would it be?

Pay close attention to the fees you are being charged on your investments, and consider switching if you can find a similar fund that costs less. One document that everyone should look at is called your 401(k) fee disclosure statement, which your 401(k) plan is required to send you every year. This document will list every fund in your 401(k) plan and how much it costs to invest in it. You can use this statement to calculate how much you are paying, determine what will trigger additional fees, and to shop around for lower cost funds. Minimizing the fees you pay on your investments will give you more money for spending in retirement.



10) Chico

Chico is an appealing retirement destination for younger seniors in search of an active outdoor lifestyle and access to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Located in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley, Chico is a booming community rich in hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, and boating culture as well as artistic integrity. Home to several breweries and offering innovative home development, adults gravitate to Chico for its low crime rates and affordable cost of living in comparison to the greater portions of the Golden State. Chico boasts rainy winters but fairly hot summers, which helps drive the agricultural economy. Like many mountain influenced communities, Chico maintains a low key presence with an otherwise exciting span of businesses and local entertainment influenced by college students and visitors of the California State University, Chico.

9) Redding

In 2011 Redding was considered one of the top sunniest places to retire. Located in northern California near the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and features a stunning landscape of snow capped mountains and gigantic pin trees. Even with its proximity to the mountains, Redding is known for its relatively mild winters and assortment of outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, fishing, boating, biking, and more. Redding sits in the Central Valley, which offers a mountain range spanning across the Oregon border. Redding is a small and quiet community which a large appreciation for nature and local wildlife. The average cost for real estate in Redding is just over $200,000, and nearby attractions include the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, which is complete with twenty acres of discovery opportunity as well as a museum. Retirees can enjoy a relaxing rural environment with a low crime rate and weekly events such as Marketfest.

8) Riverside

With a strong hold on the citrus industry, Riverside is a walkable community with a prevalent agricultural economy. Located in southern California, Riverside is an affordable option for retirees looking to settle down in California without breaking the bank or becoming overwhelmed with the fast paced lifestyle of the bottom parts of the Golden State. Residents can enjoy local festivals celebrating the city’s heritage including the annual spring Orange Blossom Festival as well as the Festival of Lights each winter. Tourist traps such as the World’s Largest Paper Cup, draw quite a crowd for its silly surface value, however it attracts attention to the history of Riverside’s Dixie Cup factory and helps the economy flourish. Riverside is a great option for residents in search of ease of transportation by foot as well as a less crowded centralized location between major destinations such as Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Palm Springs.

7) San Diego

San Diego is one of California’s most beautiful cities and has been attracting retirees from all over the nation since the end of World War II. Chock full of public parks and marine culture, downtown San Diego offers a variety of outdoor activities and attractions for seniors interested in sightseeing and people watching. With a near perfect climate and local economy thriving on fresh seafood, gourmet California cuisine, education from UCSD, and various waterfront attractions, San Diego is the poster city for quality of living and overall prosperity. Despite its high cost of living and busy traffic, the is little to complain about with San Diego. Retirees can appreciate the metro’s low crime rates, access to medical facilities, moderate political positioning, and rich naval history.

6) Rio Vista

Located to the east of San Francisco, Rio Vista is a bay area retirement destination in Solano County that is known for its warm climate and local educational attractions. Over 36% of Rio Vista residents are senior citizens and indulge in everyday outdoor activities such as bass fishing and golfing. Popular destinations include the Rio Vista Museum as well as the Western Railway Museum, which pays tribute to the history of industrialization influence in California by way of train and the immigration of Chinese workers who helped lay the tracks and foundation for rail-based imports and travel. Rio Vista is a quiet community that appeals to retired citizens for its access to health facilities, restaurants, grocery stores, golf courses, as well as its proximity to bustling major cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento.

5) Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is a bi-state hotspot for tourists as well as retirees. Not far from Carson City and Reno, Lake Tahoe rests on the border of California and Nevada, spawning a hotbed for casinos, aquatic lake culture, and ski resorts. South Lake Tahoe in California is considered one of the 99 best places in the country to retire. Aside from the beautiful natural scenery provided by lush green peaks and emerald waters in the summertime, Tahoe makes a tempting case for newly retired citizens in search of a new living quarters with its reasonable average price of real estate at approximately $385,000 and its fairly low population. There are four hospitals within a ten mile radius of South Lake Tahoe, and the El Dorado County air quality is good for the better portion of the year. Retirees can appreciate the area’s low crime rates and changing seasons complete with an active outdoor community.

4) Eureka

Eureka is a central location in the northern California fishing and marine industry and is located on the coast in Humboldt County, just west of the three state parks including Six Rivers National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and Mendocino National Forest. Eureka’s neighborhood architecture is one of the most notable elements of the city, featuring an arrangement of Victorian, Greek, and Colonial Revival homes. This city is fairly isolated, giving it a unique level of cultural authenticity that dates back to the post-war era of the 19th and 20th centuries.The small population of approximately 30,000 residents helps with Eureka’s preservation and protection of forest and wildlife. Favorite local historical attractions include the downtown area as well as the Carson Mansion, which have both secured the city a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

3) San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is a beautiful and hip city influenced by California Spanish missionary history and the foundation of the El Camino Real. The city thrives on local farming and livestock and features popular weekly events like its famous farmers’ market hosted on Thursday nights. San Luis Obispo is located in the valley off the central coast and is a cultural hub featuring an abundance of live music, gourmet food, and local art. Retirees flock to San Luis Obispo for its younger yet mature attitude created by colleges such as California Polytechnic State University, which emphasizes the importance of agriculture and science. There are three hospitals and a regional airport located in San Luis Obispo, however the city is not far from other major California cities such as Monterey and Santa Barbara. The valley gem is surrounded by vineyards and vegetable farms, which attract tourist from hundreds of miles away and bring in a wealth of cultural progression and success.

2) Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a popular retirement city located in Coachella Valley in southern California with a modestly sized yet active community of over 48,000. The resort style oasis attracts visitors of all ages from around the world with its modern architecture, fine dining, stunning golf courses, proximity to Mount Jacinto, and peppered celebrity sightings throughout the city. Much like the rest of southern California, prices in Palm Springs are relatively high in terms of real estate and cost of living, however rapid city development, transportation, abundant sunshine, and recreational activities make it appealing to seniors in search of adventure. the local economy thrives on real estate and medical care as well as a variety of shopping districts and lively entertainment.

1) Laguna Woods

Laguna Woods is a city located in southern California that has been recognized as California’s best rated destination for retired living for over half a century. With over 78% of residents being over the age of 55, Laguna Woods offers an experienced yet lively community of adults who seek to experience an active life together in the California sun. The Orange County community offers an array of outdoor activities horseback riding, fishing, hiking, wildlife observation, golfing, and for those seniors who are young at heart, there is great surfing and boogie boarding! Modern condominiums and plentiful co-ops help create a lifestyle that is based on socializing and community involvement. Seniors can take advantage of an abundance of art classes and clubs to foster their creativity in ares such as jewelry making, painting, sculpting, woodworking, gardening and much more.

California’s white sandy beaches, vastly changing geography, cultural diversity and many attractions offer something wonderful for every age group and demographic. California is a west coast wonder providing an assortment of retirement locations with low crime rates, reasonable living costs, gorgeous real estate, endless entertainment, and rich soil for creating deep new roots as you enjoy life after labor. From San Diego’s swaying palm trees to Eureka’s towering redwoods, here are the 10 best places in California for retirees.

10 Best Places in California for Retirees


By: Archana Ram |

 Six hundred miles south of Napa Valley, just past Tijuana, lies a series of lush, green vineyards that are turning out some of the world’s most exciting New World wines. The main highway is quiet and dusty, and the landscapes are dotted by rock-strewn hillsides and grazing cows.

Turn onto any side road and you’ll start to unearth the many gems of Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s first, burgeoning wine region. There are restaurants with international acclaim, stylish boutique hotels, and sprawling wineries–most with panoramic views—where you’re as likely to mingle with locals as with the winemakers themselves.

For wine lovers in the know, Mexico is buzzing. Two decades ago, you could count Valle de Guadalupe’s wineries on both hands. By 2012, there were about 50 of them. Now,Baja’s Ruta del Vino boasts more than 100 wineries.

Despite the exponential growth, Valle de Guadalupe still has a low-key feel that’s reminiscent of a pre-commercial, pre-tourism Napa.

“All of the wineries here are family-based,” says Fernando Perez Castro, owner of Valle’s La Lomita and Finca La Carrodilla wineries. “We all live here. When you visit a winery, there’s a great chance you’ll see the owner or winemaker or the son of the owner hanging around.”

Getting there is easy. You can drive two hours south from San Diego or fly to Tijuana. Once you’re in Baja, you can use UberValle to get around; it’s an Uber service that dispatches private drivers to chauffeur you all day long, from Tijuana’s airport to the wineries and to dinner or beyond. It’s a common approach for San Diego- and L.A.-based day trippers and weekend visitors, though well-heeled nationals from Tijuana are also pouring in.

Here’s a guide to the best in food, wine, and hotels. If you want to hit them all, plan to stay for four or five days.

Valle de Guadalupe’s regional climate is similar to those of Bordeaux and Rioja, albeit more arid. So it’s no surprise that well-ripened, jammy blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are among the most popular pours. That said, mono-varietals are the area’s current obsession.

Start with the Nebbiolos from Las Nubes and L.A. Cetto, one of the region’s oldest, most respected wineries. Then head to Finca Carrodilla, the only winery in the region that uses certified organic grapes. Its Cabs and Shirazes are high in demand and best enjoyed in the leafy rooftop garden.

Make your last stop Decantos Vinicola, noted for its modern, minimalist architecture and groundbreaking techniques; it uses gravity, rather than mechanical decanting, to transfer wine from tank to barrel, which helps maintain the integrity of the wines’ aroma, flavor, and color.

These wines aren’t just good by local standards—top sommeliers in the U.S. are also buying in.

“I love pouring a glass of [Mexican] wine and not telling someone where it’s from,” says Greg Majors, who worked as Tom Colicchio’s wine director at Craft in New York before joining San Diego-based Blue Bridge Hospitality. “Then you tell them it’s from Mexico, and their eyes pop.”

Where to Eat

Restaurants are seasonal and fiercely farm-to-table, with some of Mexico’s most noteworthy chefs in the kitchens.

In the case of Deckman’s en el Mogor, Georgia-born chef Drew Deckman—who studied with Paul Bocuse and was executive chef of the Michelin-starred Restaurant Vitus, in Berlin—is front and center at the glorified campsite restaurant, where he grills grass-fed meats and vegetables picked from the property’s on-site garden.

At Corazón de Tierra, the restaurant at the hacienda-style bed and breakfast La Villa Del Valle, chef Diego Hernandez’s tasting menus are made up of such modern Mexican dishes as pig’s trotters dusted with onion ashes. It’s the only Valle restaurant to be featured as one of Latin America’s Best 50 restaurants since that list debuted in 2013.

Where to Sleep

While the roads in Valle may be dusty, the accommodations are anything but. Look to the many design-forward boutique properties for proof.

Bruma, the brainchild of eight childhood friends, is a year-old, 75-acre property that includes a five-bedroom bed and breakfast (dubbed Casa Ocho), a pool, spa, and event space, with a winery and restaurant opening soon. Decked out with beautiful tile work and wood detailing, it feels like a log cabin-turned-art gallery, with design led by famed local architect Alejandro d’Acosta.

Modernity is the guiding principle at Encuentro Guadalupe, which opened in 2012 and offers 20 sustainably built lofts and villas on a rocky hillside. The hotel bar is a hip hangout for well-to-do Tijuanese and hipster SoCal travelers.

Chefs are getting in on the hotel game. Tijuana-bred chef Javier Plascencia, who runs the Valle restaurant Finca Altozano and numerous hotspots throughout Tijuana and San Diego, opened Finca La Divina last year. The six-room bed and breakfast feels more like a glamorous Airbnb, complete with pool and grill; four more bedrooms are to come by the end of 2017.