Xalapa - A report
Posted by Lee Harrison on Junio 17, 2000
I’ve recently returned from my second trip to Xalapa, and thought I’d share a few thoughts about the area, and my opinion of its suitability as a retirement location.
Xalapa is a big place, with over 600,000 folks in residence. It’s pronounced “ha-LA-pa” (sometimes spelled Jalapa) and serves as the capital of the state of Veracruz, situated about 2 hours drive west of the Veracruz airport. It’s a vibrant, thriving business center, and home to what may be the country’s best anthropological museum, and the University of Veracruz. The university accounts for the large number of young people around, which may explain the city’s youthful, up-to-date, and cosmopolitan feel. I should add here that the city’s youth seem generally well behaved, hard working, and respectful.
The region is also filled with a wide offering of beautiful small towns, many being great places to live or explore. The town of Xalapa sits at about 4300 feet, which provides a very pleasant change in climate when compared to what you left behind at the airport (which is fairly close to the coast and the city of Veracruz).
The town is nestled in the hills, providing great views in all directions as well as a good workout while walking around. Rainfall here occurs mostly in the summer and totals just over 55 inches, providing an almost tropical rainforest look in the countryside, with lots of banana and coffee groves. Xalapa has virtually everything one could want in a city, and then some. The term “Cultural Mecca” is almost as over-used as “Colonial Gem,” but it sure applies here. If you’re one who likes theater, the arts, symphony and museums, this is where to find them.
Despite it’s size, Xalapa seems a pleasant place to live. It’s generally clean and well kept, lacks the graffiti of some cities, and is a great place for walking. There’s a huge market, and virtually nothing that you can’t buy downtown. If you’re a Costco fan however, there’s a brand-new one just outside of downtown, in the Las Animas area. Additionally, you’ll find several gyms and fitness/aerobic centers, lots of Internet connectivity, and good downtown shopping. Traffic is actually not bad for a city of this size.
I drove through el centro during rush hour on two occasions, and didn’t sit anywhere near as long as I’d expected. Having commuted for a while in southeastern Pennsylvania, Xalapa was a pleasant surprise. The water here seems more pure than that encountered on a recent trip to Pátzcuaro; while drinking it is almost certain to make you sick, I’m told the survival rate is considerably higher here. I did however, sample quite a few street offerings of fruit, fruit juices, and other goodies without a problem. Taxis are as plentiful as they are in New York, but will get you anywhere around town for about $1 US Dollar or so. Here, this is a great alternative to driving on your own.
An important part of any Mexican city for me is the zócalo (square). In Xalapa there are plenty to choose from, each with their own personality. The primary (although not the largest or geographically in the center) seems to be Parque Juárez. Saturday night is bustling there, with lots of activity and vendors, and Sunday includes the normal promenade of people out for a stroll. This zócalo is not surrounded by shops and restaurants, like the ones in Pátzcuaro, Puebla, Cholula or Coatepec, but it has a unique lookout, affording a breathtaking view of the surrounding hills and city.
The restaurants are great in both Xalapa, and the surrounding area. A typical example was our first night in town. We stopped in a nice restaurant, with an interior courtyard, great service and live music. After two of us had appetizers, dinner, a bottle of wine, and dessert, I probably over-tipped when we left a total of $300 pesos, about $32 US Dollars at that time. This seemed typical for most of the restaurants downtown, although a great meal can be had for considerably less.
My favorite restaurant in the area was actually in Coatepec, a place called Posada Coatepec. The dining, service, and atmosphere compare favorably with the best of any fine dining establishments that you may be accustomed to in the US. (It’s also a great hotel, with its top-of-the-line suite being a stand-alone building of two stories complete with full living and dining areas, for only $270. They also have fine suites and rooms for much less).
If you’re looking for a sizable expatriate community to settle in to, you won’t find it here; nor will you find the attendant norte americano accoutrements that come with a large expat community. It is estimated that there are around 200 gringos living in town which explains why they’re not exactly on every street corner. (Those of us who look like gringos, however, are pretty hard to miss when you see us.) The same scarcity applies to gringo tourists, which are few and far between. This doesn’t mean, however, that Xalapa is without tourists, as it’s very popular (as is Veracruz) with Mexican tourists, just not with the “black knee socks and white sneaker” crowd.
One Xalapa attraction that you won’t want to miss is Roy Dudley. Let me back up for a minute and say that when I set out to learn a new community in a foreign country, the first thing I try to do is find someone who lives there (preferably English-speaking) to serve as a guide for a day. I’d recommend this approach highly, as you not only learn the area by touring with a resident, but getting a wealth of valuable information about what life is like there, and what it’s like to get things done, bought, or resolved. Well, Roy’s one of these guys. Roy Dudley, who’s a professional photographer in Xalapa, offers a seminar of several days, designed to acquaint you with the city. He seems, however, flexible about accommodating whatever you have in mind, for whatever length of time. Roy, being president of the Rotary Club and a 28-year resident, pretty much knows everybody. On our 12 ½ hour day together, we explored the city, looked at a few houses Roy knew to be for rent, toured Coatepec and Xico, and met ma ny of the area’s small business community, while Roy recorded it all with his digital still camera. As an added bonus, we left with a CD containing hundreds of photos of the day’s events. Roy Dudley can be reached at his studio by calling (28) 17 80 10 or by Email at email@example.com He lives right downtown with his wife of 25 years and their family.
On the subject of rentals, we saw several interesting properties. The first was a 3 bedroom, 2 ½ bath home on a large property of about 10 acres in the nearby town of San Antonio. It was in fine condition, with nice appliances, beautiful varnished woodwork, and had a nice deck with a view of the stream that runs through the property. The asking price was $600 per month. Another property for “less money” was a beautiful small house, with two bedrooms, two baths, separate servants’ house, on what looked like about 20 acres, just downstream from the waterfall where “Romancing the Stone” was filmed, within walking distance of Xico. One for “pro bably a little over $600” was a gorgeous 2500 square foot home on a dead-end street in Xico. The large dining room could be completely opened to the interior courtyard, and the entire house was beautifully finished and in a nice neighborhood. Roy showed us each of these homes, and (I’m sure) could dig up more on request. We asked for this particular price range, but found the paper to contain lots of rentals for $200 or less. There are lots of homes for sale in the area, and since my last visit two years ago, there’s been quite an increase in those listed by realtors. Again, while these homes are “high end”, there are a plethora of homes in the paper for under $100k, with many under $30k.
On impulse our last day in town, we answered an ad in the paper for a home for sale. In a stroke of unbelievable luck, the call was answered by Gabriela Guzmán, of the Ler ú Bienes Raíces agency. Despite having called her from the breakfast table at 8:30, she was ready in 30 minutes with a full lineup of 8 homes to v iew in our price range and desired locations. Gabriela is a wonderful, warm person, who speaks excellent English, and has a real handle on the market in the area. I’ll look forward to seeing her again or perhaps having her as a neighbor. She lives in Xalapa with her husband and teenage children. Sra. Guzmán can be reached at (28) 12 22 60 or by Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To give you an idea of this market, we looked at a 5 bedroom, 5 ½ bath home, with a nice jardin in the back, another towards the front, and 3 other “mini” courtyards. It had huge rooms throughout, a large well-equipped kitchen and a 4-car garage. It was in the upscale neighborhood of Las Animas, and fronted on the small lake there. The asking price for this one was about $250,000 USD. In another bracket was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath seemingly new home, also in Las Animas. It included a small back yard, and was $85,000.
The most unique was a property in the countryside between Coatepec and Xalapa named Las Hojas (the leaves). This place is a contemporary artist’s dream, with the house, roof, windows, and doors all formed in the shape of different leaves. The walls and roof were rounded with the roof shaped like a giant leaf. Thirty- inch diameter tree trunks hold up twin lofts that serve as the bedrooms. The living areas, bedroom lofts, dining room and kitchen all open up to the large, environmentally enclosed courtyard. They’re asking under $100k for this one.
One of my favorites was a home that had 3 small bedrooms and two baths. The house needed some work, and the appliances all needed to be updated, but the property was my favorite. The gated property sat on what appeared to be an acre of ground, fronting on a large, rushing creek. The land resembled rainforest, with lush landscaping, including bananas and coffee plants. The 3-foot diameter trees on the property provided excellent shade. This one was about $75,000.
In general, the Xalapa area is a great place to live to be a part of a thriving, energetic community, with all the cultural and artistic amenities you could want. If you consider Xalapa, expect higher than average rainfall, and a greener than average landscape. Be sure your Spanish is up to snuff, and that you don’t need the presence of a large (or even small) expat community. Lee Harrison
Xalapa Tourisim Web Site: www.xalapa.net
Posted by Jeff Pearson on Junio 18, 2000
I've been thinking of visiting the state of Veracruz on my next trip south. Your description of Xalapa has just about cinched it for me!
Posted by jennifer rose on Junio 17, 2000
And a most excellent post it is!
Posted by Barry on Junio 18, 2000
Anyone know where I can get more detailed info on year-round climate? Am very sensitive to extreme heat and, should I want to consider area for retirement, would want to avoid costs of heating and A/C.
Posted by Lee Harrison on Junio 19, 2000
For year-round climate info, both temperature and rainfall, I use the site below. (Use the spelling "jalapa." I can tell you that the average summertime temperature in Xalapa is significantly less than that of Philadelphia, but nonetheless, if you like air conditioning, you'll probably miss it in Xalapa. Not that I'm a good judge, however, being one of the few people in Vermont with an air conditioner. World Climate Info: www.worldclimate.com
Posted by David McL on Junio 18, 2000
If you type Xalapa in the Mexico Connect search, you will find a number of articles that will help to answer our questions! David