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July 14, 2021, 4:58 p.m. EDT

The 12 best destinations to retire on Mexico’s Caribbean coast

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By International Living

The eastern coast of Mexico, along the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula, borders the warm, turquoise-green Caribbean Sea. There is a particularly well-known stretch that runs from Cancun down to Tulum and includes the popular destinations of Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Tulum. This well-known stretch is branded the Riviera Maya and its famous sugar sand beaches are the most popular vacation destination in the Caribbean basin.

South of the Riviera Maya is a mostly undeveloped stretch of stunning, isolated beach called the Costa Maya. The Costa Maya is for those who enjoy the outdoor lifestyle…fishermen, divers, and those who love warm weather, palm trees, and silky sand.

Whether it’s the Riviera Maya or the Costa Maya, you’ll find postcard-worthy beaches here that can be enjoyed by retirees for a fraction of the price of living in the U.S. or Canada. If you’re looking for a place to sink your toes into the sand, swim in the ocean, and admire a stunning tropical sunset in peace, then Mexico’s Caribbean coast is perfect for you.

Read on to discover the best destinations to retire on Mexico’s Caribbean coast…


Akumal is a small town, best known for the migrating sea turtles that visit every year to lay eggs along the shore. It’s a beach lover’s paradise, perfect for anyone who enjoys relaxing with their toes in the sand and an adult beverage in their hand. There is also a significant expat community.

This small village has five gorgeous white-sand beaches, liberally studded with majestic coconut palms and bathed by the warm, turquoise-green waters of the Caribbean Sea. Akumal’s temperature averages in the 80s F, with the hottest summer days climbing into the mid-90s F: perfect for a beachside or poolside cool-off with an ice-cold drink.

Until the last few years, Akumal, about an hour south of Playa del Carmen, was often a day trip for a small number of vacationers in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. These days, for better or worse, Akumal is no longer just a day trip but is emerging as a primary destination. In fact, sizeable real estate developments (one with its own championship golf course) have sprouted, encouraging investors and expat residents to make long-term commitments to the area.


For decades, while most tourists stayed farther north in Cancún and Playa del Carmen, Tulúm was a backpackers’ haven. The atmosphere in Tulúm was low-key, the tourists young and casual, and the town filled with inexpensive, palapa-style hotels and restaurants.

How times have changed. Today Tulúm has gone upscale. Many of the bohemian types who gave Playa its vibe have moved south to Tulúm, opening restaurants, shops, and boutique hotels. Today you can still find stands selling tacos and beans…but you can also indulge in gourmet meals, yoga sessions, and spa treatments.

Expats have discovered Tulum and have been moving down, in increasing numbers, for the past decade. Thousands of snowbirds have also claimed Tulum as their winter nesting place as they escape the cold weather up north.

With a tropical climate—temperatures averaging in the 80s F—Tulúm offers a Caribbean lifestyle without the need to travel to and from an island. Residents enjoy warm, turquoise Caribbean waters, a sparkling, perfect beach, and an offshore reef which provides plentiful opportunities for fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.

Prices have risen accordingly (although there are still bargains to be found). Mexico’s government is positioning Tulúm as a high-end, exclusive destination…but the ambience is still inviting and low-key.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen lies about midway between the all-inclusive resort hub of Cancún and the up-and-coming, low-key, and still somewhat bohemian destination of Tulum. It’s a happy medium between those two extremes and a favorite for those seeking to live an active retirement in an atmosphere that is sophisticated yet laidback at the same time. Casual dress and relaxed attitudes are the keys to living in Playa del Carmen.

The heart of Playa del Carmen is the famous Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue. It’s a miles-long pedestrian avenue lined with shops, boutiques, bars, cafés, and restaurants of every cuisine imaginable, from high-end to budget. It’s frequented by tourists in big numbers. But Quinta Avenida is also a favorite among expats for shopping and dining. Happy hours, group dinners, as well as parties at private homes, are the main social activities. The place has energy. Among those living in Playa del Carmen is a wide variety of nationalities. Americans and Canadians are the biggest groups, with significant numbers of Italians, French, and Argentinians.

Retiring in Playa del Carmen is attractive for many reasons. There is warm weather year-round, which makes it especially nice in winter. At that time, December to April, the city also plays host to snowbirds, winter residents who escape the cold part of the year by the beach.


It’s impossible to talk about the Riviera Maya without mentioning Cancún. It’s the place that started it all. What was once a little sandy island became a focal point for tourism and exploded into a huge, world-class resort. It’s the region’s economic driver and has brought prosperity up and down the coast.

With dozens of sprawling, all-inclusive resorts standing watch over miles of sparkling sugar-sand beaches, swaying palms, and the warm, turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea, along with a vibrant nightlife, Cancun could easily define the ideal tropical retreat. With temperatures anchored in the mid-80s F for most of the year (some summer days breach 90 F), and plentiful sunshine, a casual lifestyle, and amazing food, what’s not to like?

Cancun is served by a modern, bustling international airport. Its location on the Yucatan Peninsula offers flights back to the States in less than two hours. And for those hesitating to make a move south of the border, Cancun eases you into the expat life as English is a common second language, thanks to the active tourist trade.


Cozumel is a perfect blend of laidback island life with tons of activities to enjoy. Here you can have as relaxed or active a retirement as you want. You can park yourself on a perfect stretch of white-sand beach for the day, listening to the waves as you read the latest best-seller, or don a snorkel to explore the Chinchorro Reef, the world’s second-largest reef system, just offshore. Clear waters make it easy to see (and photograph) sea turtles, rays, and colorful clownfish. You can even make arrangements to swim with giant whale sharks.

Lying only 12 miles offshore from Playa del Carmen, about an hour south of Cancún, Cozumel is about 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. But this small space has a lot packed into it. With over 300 restaurants, delicious meals of all varieties are easy to find.

The bulk of Cozumel’s population calls the city of San Miguel home. There is a busy malecón (seaside boardwalk), or main road, running along the shoreline near the ferry terminal and cruise ship docks. Arriving by boat, you’ll find a vast array of tourist-oriented shops, restaurants, and bars. A few blocks inland will put you into local neighborhoods, where small houses and apartments line the streets and groups of uniformed children walk to and from school. Raise your eyes and you’ll note luxury condo buildings along the horizon, offering all the contemporary amenities.

Puerto Morelos

As you head south from Cancún, past the mega-resorts, including the massive Mayan Palace, the first town of any substantial size is Puerto Morelos. Just 18 miles south of Cancún, Puerto Morelos still retains some of its small-town, fishing-village charm. For those looking for an “in-between” spot that’s on the tourist map but not overrun, this might be a place to take a closer look. (Some people say Puerto Morelos is like Playa del Carmen in the early days.)

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