Situated beneath the southern end of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range and nestled in the Guayangareo Valley, near Lake Cuitzeo, Morelia is a hill town—more than 6,000 feet above sea level. The town, solidly laid-out from the get-go, still slopes gently along with its hills from the original town plan and today’s historical center.
In a way, it’s a walk back through time. Horses are still a mode of travel and vendors still sell freshly-killed chickens and orchids, even dirt from the back of a donkey. Yet, it’s also firmly established in the 21st century, with Internet cafés, even a Wal-Mart supplying the convenience and ease of modern-day life.
The region’s name of Michoacan derives from the Nahuatl terms michin (fish), hua (those who have) and can (place). All together the word means “fishermen’s place.” Not surprising, then, that fish is often the best thing on the menu. Whitefish is a particular favorite. Other local meals include traditional bean soup and chamarro (pork rubbed with chili and cooked in a clay pot).
While the cost of living is certainly lower than the U.S., Jenifer Rose makes a good point when she warned me that life in Mexico is not nearly as cheap as some guides indicate. “It’s just different. There is a huge tendency for enthusiastic expats to act like real estate agents when it comes to reporting living expenses, and they tend to under-report. That said, services—whether it’s medical care or household help— are much less costly here than in the U.S. Electronics are more expensive.”
If you are reading this, you can probably afford a good life in Mexico. It’s a matter of perception. The secret behind “living like a king” is in the quality of life you can command when you move from a country like the States to one like Mexico. When you consider that the average wage in Mexico is 53 pesos (US$4) a day, it’s no big surprise that household help is extremely affordable. (One person told me her 25-year-old maid comes once a week for five to six hours for 180 pesos, US$15.) Frankly, this is what makes “the good life” even better…when you can suddenly afford the luxuries of a maid, gardener, driver, nanny…a full staff…life gets pretty cushiony.
And prices balance out. Paper products, Internet access, gasoline, even some books may be more expensive in Morelia than home, but pharmaceuticals, medical care, utilities, and food, for example, are less expensive. You’ll find good prices at Morelia’s open-air markets, although most of the fruit and vegetables come from the big markets in the nearby town of Zamora, where you’ll find the lowest prices. You can find everything from CDs to clothes— leather for less than US$100—even some food you’ve never seen before. Construction costs are also low: about 5,500 pesos (US$456) per square meter of construction using standard-quality materials.