A Single Woman’s Best Choice For Retiring Overseas
It’s easier to adapt to a new life overseas when you move with a spouse or partner. You can laugh (or cry) together at the inevitable trying times that arise. It’s more of a challenge to move abroad on your own, and it can be even more intimidating for single women than it is for single men. That’s why it’s understandable that some of our most frequently asked questions have to do with the suitability of various destinations for single women moving abroad.
Today, I’d like to offer a specific response and recommendation in this context:
In more than 15 years of scouting the world’s best retirement havens, Álamos, Mexico, is unquestionably the best place I’ve seen for a woman moving abroad on her own.
Álamos is a small colonial town of fewer than 25,000 nestled in an inland valley surrounded on all sides by endless mountains and beautiful, wild countryside. Located in the Mexican state of Sonora, it’s one of the best places to find well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture in the Americas.
Álamos was founded in the late 17th century, after silver was discovered in the area. The huge wealth generated by the mines allowed the residents of Álamos to build dozens of colonial mansions and hundreds of colonial homes throughout the downtown.
The silver eventually ran out, and the silver barons and their crews moved on. Álamos began to decline after Mexican independence from Spain, and when the city was invaded during the Mexican revolution in the 1920s, its population was decimated; most of the old mansions, hotels, and beautiful municipal buildings fell into ruin.
In 1948, Álamos was discovered by William Levant Alcorn, a farmer from Pennsylvania. Alcorn saw the potential and began restoring Álamos one building at a time. Paying just US$50 to US$100 for many of the mansions, he made a fortune promoting Álamos and selling real estate. (In fact, his daughter is still selling real estate here today.)
Álamos was declared a national monument in 2000 by President Zedillo and was named a Pueblo Mágico in 2005. The latter is a designation reserved for towns that offer a “magical” experience, thanks to their beauty, historical significance, and cultural riches.
Today, Álamos has recovered and retained its original 17th-century charm, with stately colonial mansions, cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and passageways, a magnificent church, and a beautiful town square.
After dozens of discussions with women considering moving abroad, I’ve noticed common concerns. Granted, some of these are important to men, too… but Álamos fits the bill better for women than for men, as you’ll see below.
English-speaking expats: The community here has a cohesive and active English-speaking expat community, with many artists, writers, and musicians. Active residents also spend time birdwatching, hiking, and bass fishing. Most expats are from the lower 48, Alaska, and Canada, with a few from Europe.
Walkability: Álamos is a very walkable town. We had a car when we visited, but we only used it to travel to another city. Otherwise, all of the cafes, restaurants, markets, shops, and events were within easy walking distance.
One caveat: Walkable as it may be, the town is hilly. So, if you have difficulty walking, I’d stick to the level parts of the historic center. If you don’t mind some mild exercise, you’ll find some great views from the colonial neighborhoods that surround the historic center.
An active social life: Álamos has maybe two places that qualify as fine dining, one of which has an active and fun bar on the premises. Otherwise, there are a dozen or so down-home restaurants and cafes, offering standard Mexican fare at affordable prices.
If you’re after lots of fine-dining choices and a hot nightlife scene, then Álamos won’t be for you.
But there’s plenty of less-formal social activity in Álamos… far more than I am accustomed to in other overseas venues. We went on a walking tour of the downtown that takes place every Saturday and visits three historic homes… different houses each week. We also went to see a film in a neighbor’s magnificent home, followed by a discussion. The History Association meets every Thursday, and there are frequent events and festivals on the town square. I even gave two presentations to a local group myself… on retiring to Ecuador and Uruguay.
And all this is in addition to lots of dinners held in people’s homes, afternoon and evening cocktail hours, and girls’ nights out.
Personal safety: I won’t say that Álamos is completely crime-free, but it’s safe to walk the streets alone, day and night. I had lots of exposure to the local expat community and never once heard any concern over crime and safety.
A rich cultural experience: Frankly, I expected to find that expats dominated the town, but that is not the case. While the expats add financial support to many local efforts and engage in the community, they don’t dominate the culture.
Álamos is unquestionably a Mexican town, from the piñata store to the coffee roaster and the local mariachis… and especially the tortilla man, who brings warm, fresh-baked tortillas to the neighborhood on his motorbike every morning at 7 o’clock.
Opportunities for volunteering: If you’d like to give something to the community, there are plenty of ways to do so. We noticed frequent fund-raisers supporting the local community… especially the education of local young people. Whether it’s the library, theater, clinic, or elsewhere, there are volunteer opportunities out there if you’re interested.
All that aside, the #1 reason that Álamos is the best place for women on their own is because women are the leaders of the expat community. Plus they stay in touch with each other, hang out together, and support one another when they need it.
Don’t get me wrong—men are welcome here, too. I attended most of these functions (except girls’ night out). And although I was often in the minority as a male, I was a welcome participant. I thoroughly enjoyed Álamos and plan to return.
The “women on their own” are not all necessarily unmarried or unattached. Some of them leave their husbands at home for the winter season, while others come as a couple… in addition to those who really are on their own. Some live here full time, while others come for the North American winter. There are a handful of people in their 30s and 40s, but most female expats here are between 50 and 90; some of the most active community participants are over 80.
On the real estate front, rents here are inexpensive. We stayed in a spacious, well-decorated, well-appointed home, with three balconies boasting 50-mile views, as well as a view of the village below. Completely furnished, we paid US$1,000 per month in the high season, furnished, with all utilities included.
If you’re buying, it’s a buyer’s market. For a complete report on Álamos real estate, take a look at my earlier article in Overseas Property Alert, complete with photos, real estate examples, and contacts.
I’ve been to dozens of expat venues that are suitable for women on their own. But Álamos is far more than “suitable.” Here, women can thrive… and truly belong.
In Álamos, single women don’t have to worry about “fitting in”… indeed, they’re the ones at the core of the community.
Editor, Overseas Property Alert