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Escape Winter at Christmas Bay

Kathleen Peddicord

The Bahía de Navidad (Christmas Bay) is a beautiful, sweeping, crescent-shaped bay and beach located on the Costa Alegre (Happy Coast) on Mexico's Pacific seaboard. Barra de Navidad, at the southeast end of the bay, shares the beach with its neighbor, Melaque, on the northwest end. These two towns, separated by just a short walk across the beach, are very different. Barra de Navidad is chic, charming, and upscale compared with rustic, laid-back Melaque. However, the two spots have one thing in common: They have been discovered by North American snowbirds who appreciate what, together, this part of Mexico has to offer--tremendous natural beauty, a relaxed beach lifestyle, and a very low cost of living.

The first impression of Melaque is that the town doesn't have much charm other than the beach and beachside restaurants. However, this place grows on you. While at first glance Barra de Navidad appears more chic, more polished, and possibly more appealing, more rustic Melaque has become the more popular of the two beach communities with part- and full-time expats. In addition to its lower cost of living, it offers an authentic Mexican character, great swimming beaches, a wide selection of restaurants, and the best grocery shopping in the area.

If you're a fan of hot weather, you'll love this place. Temperatures, which range from 85 to 90 degrees, might be too warm for full-time living. However, you could spend part of the year up north and escape to this glorious Pacific coastal spot for four or five months each winter. You'd be in good company. The year-round expat population in Melanque numbers about 500. However, November through April, the number of expats in residence increases to nearly 10,000.

Some of these expats live well, with their own cars and houses, gardeners and maids, and Internet and satellite TV, for around $1,800 per month. Others live more modestly, on as little as $1,000. An average budget for a couple looking to live comfortably would be about $1,400 a month, including renting an apartment or house, utilities, home help, entertainment, local travel, and groceries.

Leone Ewoldt, an expat in Melaque, says, "I pay a fraction, probably less than half, for food, transportation, etcetera, here, compared with my costs back home. At a recent party, we expats agreed that food costs are a third or a half here compared with what most of us were spending up north, including some imported goodies at Hawaii, a local store in Melaque."

Virginia Olson, a part-year resident, agrees. "The cost for our basic consumables is 60 percent of what it was in the States. For a good meal at our local restaurant here I would say the cost is half. In Barra right now a family of four can have a beer and a great meal and not spend $10. You can't do that for one person back home." And Charlie Pearson, a beach house resident, says his cost of living is about a third of what it used to be when he lived in high-cost Marin County, California.

The lower cost of living often gives retirees a higher quality of life. "You start to feel like you can do more things, because you're spending less money on things like food and health insurance," says Sharon Fritz, a full-time retiree in Barra de Navidad. "I pay about $300 a year for health insurance and then there's nothing else, no deductible. Gasoline is less than it is in the States, car insurance is less, and homeowner's insurance is less. My property taxes on both of the properties I own here are less than $100 a year."

There's also a slower and simpler pace to life. "The mixture of the sea and the weather makes this a place I really enjoy being, just because of its beauty," says long-time resident retiree Steve Cotton. "The other night I went down to the beach. It had been a month or so since I'd gone down to see a sunset. I had forgotten just how beautiful the ending of the day can be. It brings out the romantic in you. There's just something calming about it. Watching the sunset, I noticed other retirees, like me, sitting on the beach talking with one another, just enjoying the experience of the close of another very nice day."

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas--Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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