By Jen Phillips April | International Living
Larisa and Tom Gerace traded the cold and snow of Lakewood, Colorado for the tropical warmth of Akumal on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico in 2016. For 20 years they’d visited the white-sand beaches of the Riviera Maya on vacation, and as retirement loomed, it seemed a natural fit to move there permanently.
But where? They’d been up and down the coastline over the years and finally settled on the beachside town of Akumal, which means “Place of the Turtle” in Mayan. Located about 90 minutes south of Cancún airport, it’s easily accessible to the U.S. and Canada, yet feels more remote than nearby bustling Playa del Carmen.
And since they’d been to Mexico plenty of times on vacation over the years, life now feels like a permanent vacation for them.
In the mornings, Larisa likes to walk their German Shepherd or take a bike ride, while Tom plays a round of golf on the Robert Trent Jones course that’s part of their luxury development.
As Larisa says, “We were both surprised by how busy we are. There’s never any shortage of activities and it’s easy to meet new people, both Mexicans and expats. We’re never lonely.”
She enjoys snorkeling in Akumal Bay, where you can see sea turtles, stingrays, and colorful fish. Evenings find the pair enjoying a delicious, home-cooked meal while listening to the birdsong from their private rooftop in the jungle.
Larisa also loves cooking and takes a monthly cooking class that specializes in traditional Maya foods. “I love working with the chilies.” She shops like a local too. “I enjoy going to the farmers’ market. I can load up on fresh fruits and veggies for around $10. They have a butcher there too and for around $27, I can fill my freezer with locally sourced chicken, beef, and pork.”
Their two-bedroom condo has a well-appointed kitchen where she enjoys making Chicken Tinga and other Maya delicacies while looking out over the jungle. It’s not unusual to see spider monkeys swing through the trees, and iguanas sunning themselves on rocks.
Average temperatures hover between 75 F and 82 F, so the pleasures of the white-sand beach beckon year-round and there’s always an ocean breeze along the coast. Larisa even volunteers with a dolphin project in nearby Puerto Adventuras, and if it’s history they’re after, they’re just a short distance away from the famed Maya ruins of Tulum and Coba.
When Tom retired from the local power company back in Colorado, he and Larisa considered keeping their house there and being part-time residents in both places…but the more they thought about it, the more they decided to go all-in in Mexico.
They’re glad they did.
“I love the people. This is a beautiful culture and I enjoy learning about their traditions. I also love the ocean and the jungle,” Larisa says.
She has some words of advice for anyone who’s considering moving abroad: “Relax and learn how the culture works. Don’t try to force your expectations on the local area. Things move at a slower pace here. It’s about building relationships, and if you appreciate that, you’ll be fine.
“We’re thriving here. It’s one thing to do life, and another to thrive. We’re definitely thriving.”