Donald Murray | InternationalLiving.com
Unless I’m catching an early flight, I never need an alarm clock. The sun rising over the Caribbean is perfectly framed in my oversized bedroom window and delivers its warm, penetrating rays directly onto my face. I merely have to open my eyes for a spectacular view of the languid, aquamarine waters grooming the powder-white sands only yards away. As I finish my first cup of coffee, I peer around gently swaying coconut palms to watch large, pouch-billed Pelicans fold their wings and splash into the gentle surf capturing their bright, wriggling breakfasts.
Even as I reread this, it seems like a dream to me, almost too good to be true. And yet, it is my actual life and the way that every one of my days begins here in Cancún on Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Like most others, I worked hard before retiring. Long days ran together and weekends never guaranteed any rest. I was on the hamster wheel and when the time came to retire, I was more than ready.
We began our retirement on Ecuador’s beautiful northern coast. And while that time provided an incredible adventure and many new friends, it wasn’t quite right for us. After two years, we left Ecuador for the comfortable Caribbean-beach lifestyle of the Riviera Maya.
Beginning in Cancún and running south for about 80 miles to Tulúm, Mexico’s aptly named Riviera Maya is a stunning stretch of beachfront. Its powder-white sand and temperate tropical waters draw some five million annual tourists to the area. The same qualities appreciated by all those tourists are the same attributes that make the Rivera Maya an awesome place to live and retire.
Natural Wonders Everywhere you Look
While my wife, Diane, adores the beach, I’m really not much of a beach guy. First, there’s all that sand that finds its way into…everything and everywhere!
I’m happy to lounge around the pool, jumping in and paddling around from time to time when the tropical sun has convinced me that it’s time to cool off. But I must also say that there is nothing more gorgeous than a sunrise over these spectacular, multi-colored, turquoise-green waters. And in the early summer months, late-night beach walks almost always provide an encounter with a large sea turtle or two, digging deep nests into the sand and burying their eggs. I had no idea that process took several hours, but we’ve personally witnessed it several times. We’ve also participated in the release of baby turtle hatchlings several months later.
We are fortunate to live in a multi-level condo with a full, private roof deck from which we have a nearly 360-degree panorama of the horizon. Each room has a large glass window or sliding glass door providing either a view of the turquoise-green waters of the Caribbean only meters away or the large, Nichupte Lagoon, just across the road.
The ocean view changes minute by minute. Five or six evenings each week, huge colorfully-lighted cruise ships pass a few miles offshore as they depart Cozumel to the south, and daytime parasailers glide silently by. Surfers also enjoy riding the waves when conditions permit.
From time to time, pods of dolphins can be seen moving along the coast as they feed on schools of sardines and there are always birds, many birds; Pelicans and Gulls and Frigate birds, skittering Sandpipers and others. And if you enjoy people-watching, a Caribbean beach with international tourists in swimming attire, simply can’t be beat.
Where the Beach Meets the City
Living on the Riviera Maya doesn’t necessarily mean living on the beach. Every city, town and tiny village along Mexico’s Caribbean coast has areas, off the beach, which can be very nice and are always more affordable than beach frontage. Beaches in Mexico are legally accessible to all, however, direct access to these public beaches can be restricted due to private property on the frontage. Once on the beach, however, you may freely walk the length as far as you wish.
Day to day life on the Riviera Maya can feel, in many ways, like life in the U.S. or Canada. Cancún and Playa del Carmen are modern cities with fully functioning, modern infrastructure. The multi-billion-dollar tourism industry demands that the area supports the large number of hotels and resorts, and includes a large, public transportation system. Buses, vans, and taxis are everywhere, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. And International Airports in Cancún and Cozumel deliver and return the five million annual tourists with remarkable efficiency. Airfare to and from Cancún is cheap, as well.
Never Too Far Away From Home
We joke that Cancún isn’t really Mexico but you can get to Mexico from here in less than an hour. With numerous modern shopping centers, movie theaters, over 1,000 restaurants offering the best in International cuisine, state-of-the-art hospitals, and with many locals speaking some English, making the transition to an expat life on the Riviera Maya is easy. And in less than two hours, you can be back in the U.S. if you wish.
While similar in many ways, the laws and culture in Mexico are quite different than the U.S. and Canada. Mexico has a more formal culture with greetings extended to those you see and pass on a sidewalk. Spanish is the official language and expats will have a much easier time in the transition by learning common phrases and greetings. Locals will gladly assist if you get stuck. Move outside the tourist zones, however and the similarities become harder to find and it’s best to know some Spanish. It’s Mexico, after all. Drive a dozen miles inland and you will be among the descendants of the Yucatan Peninsula’s Mayan culture. Local Maya ancestors exhibit the small stature and sharp facial features of their heritage and they speak not only Spanish, but in the ancient language of their ancestors, Yucatec Mayan.
Roads are modern and paved, and there are large shopping centers with familiar stores such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Costco along with major and familiar restaurant chains, if you’re looking for that sort of thing. To be honest, I enjoy driving away from the tourist areas into the heart of El Centro Cancún , downtown, parking and walking through the local open markets. The smells of freshly baked goods and simmering soups coming from small food stands is almost irresistible. Wandering among the small stalls and shops and buying products from local vendors provides a boost to the local economy at a basic level.
For folks hankering for a tropical, Caribbean feel without sacrificing any of the modern infrastructure and amenities they have grown up with, Mexico’s Riviera Maya will not disappoint. With temperatures usually in the 80s F, plenty of blue sky, over 1,000 restaurants of all types, a rock-solid electrical grid, modern and fast internet connections, a safe water supply, modern hospitals, paved highways, International airports, and world-class shopping, this area simply can’t be beat. And that’s without mentioning the world’s second largest offshore reef with abundant scuba, snorkeling, and fishing access.
When entering Mexico as a tourist from the U.S. or Canada, visas are stamped into your passport upon arrival and are good for 180 days. Longer-term residence visas must be applied for in your home country before leaving, and are issued through Mexican Consulates.