Americans Stake Claims in a Baja Land Rush
The New York Times | October 26, 2003 | TIM WEINER,
NOPALÓ, Mexico - Slowly but surely, acre by acre, Mexico's Baja Peninsula is becoming an
"For Sale" signs are sprouting all over the 800-mile-long peninsula, offering thousands of
beachfront properties. Americans are snapping them up. They have already created communities
where the dollar is the local currency, English the main language and Americans the new
immigrants transforming an old culture.
"Everything's for sale, every lot you can imagine," said Alfonso Gavito, director of a cultural
institute in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur, a state with 400,000 citizens and some of the
last undeveloped beaches in North America. "It's like 20 years of changes have happened in three
This new land rush, involving billions of dollars, tens of thousands of Americans, and hundreds of
miles of coastline, is gaining speed despite the fact that Mexico's Constitution bars foreigners
from directly owning land by the sea.
Mexico's government wants foreign capital as much as Americans want a house on the beach -
maybe more. So it worked around the Constitution. In 1997, it changed the law to allow foreign
ownership through locally administered land trusts. A Mexican bank acts as trustee, the foreigner
It took about four years before that new system worked smoothly. But now, most often, it does.
One result has been a boom in migration, speculation and permanent vacation. "It's human greed -
it's human nature," said David Halliburton, who owns a hotel outside Cabo San Lucas, on Baja's
southern tip, where uncontrolled growth already strains the social fabric. "The amount of money
coming in here through overzealous developers and buyers is staggering."
Baja is closer by land and air to the United States than it is to the rest of Mexico; state officials
recorded more than 30 million trips by Americans who spent well over $1 billion last year. They say
they have no idea how many Americans are living in Baja today, because a certain number are
illegal immigrants who never register their presence. Anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests
that the number is more than 100,000, probably far more, and growing fast since the Sept. 11
attacks and the souring of the economy in the United States two years ago.
Loreto Morquez labored at a development in Cantamar, on the Pacific coast of Baja. The
development is so new that it does not have finished houses yet.
"Since 2001, we have seen a boom in real estate sales, and the full-time population of Americans is
growing rapidly," said Tony Colleraine, an American in San Felipe, about 160 miles southeast of
San Diego. He said about one-quarter of the town's roughly 30,000 residents were Americans,
many of whom want to "get away from the regulations and rhetoric, and get out of the bull's-eye" in
the United States.
In Rosarito, an hour's drive south of the United States border, about one-quarter of the 55,000
residents are Americans. "An increasing number of Americans are moving here to escape their
government's policies and the costs of living," said Herb Kinsey, a Rosarito resident with roots in
the United States, Canada and Germany. "They find a higher standard of living and a greater
degree of freedom."
At least 600,000 Americans - again, an acknowledged undercount based on government records -
are permanent residents of Mexico. That is by far the largest number of United States citizens
living in any foreign country.
Americans living throughout Baja say their new neighbors include professionals in their 30's and
40's putting down roots, not just retirees in recreational vehicles. In Rosarito, the new home
buyers include lawyers and members of the military who commute across the border to San Diego,
where housing costs are about five times higher. A pleasant house by the Pacific in Rosarito can
cost less than $150,000; property taxes are about $75 a year.
Alfredo López worked on a condominium last week at a development on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.
Slowly but surely, the peninsula is becoming an American colony.
The Americans living in Rosarito set up a municipal office in April. Two members are Ed Jones, an
entertainer, and Rita Gullicson, a teacher. Americans "want to claim Baja as part of the United
States, and they always have," Ms. Gullicson said. Mr. Jones finished her thought, saying, "And
now they are doing it with money."
Baja's future, Mexican officials say, lies in American land investment. The government strongly
promotes foreign direct investment, which is the only reliable source of economic growth in
Here in the empty streets of Nopaló, the future is coming on fast. A totally American town is about
to be built.
The site of a failed government-backed tourist development, Nopaló, which means "place of
vipers," lies just outside the town of Loreto, founded in 1697, population 11,000. American and
Canadian developers plan to build 5,000 new homes for 12,000 fellow citizens.
Their master plan depicts a particularly affluent suburb, with houses selling for up to $2 million
each. The developers plan to break ground in January. They envision a $2 billion investment over
"People will come by the hundreds of thousands" to Baja, said one of the developers, David
Butterfield. "Mexico gives you an opportunity to build something you cannot build in the U.S. or
Canada today. You cannot build great things in America today. Regulations and litigation prevent
There are limits to change in Baja, too. They are set by nature. It rains five inches a year or less in
many parts of the peninsula. A barrel of water here is effectively worth more than a barrel of oil,
and it takes many millions of gallons to sustain a golf course, much less a suburb.
There is no drinking water in Loreto - it is piped in from 16 miles away - and no place for thousands
of construction and service workers to live. Many Mexicans wonder if the new community will truly
be the "sustainable development" its backers promise. "I'm not sure there's anyplace in the
modern world that's sustainable," Mr. Butterfield said. "I hope we're going to create one."
Homero Davis, Loreto's mayor, supports the project, somewhat warily. "The quality of life is a moral
issue here," he said. "The culture is at stake. We don't want to be like Cabo San Lucas," where
hotels and condominiums have swamped what was once a little village.
But that scale of development is precisely what Fonatur, the federal agency that promotes tourism
in Mexico, has in mind for Loreto and the rest of Baja.
Fonatur, which conceived and built mega-resorts like Cancún, envisions marinas for American
yachts, four-star hotels and fancy golf courses ringing the peninsula in a plan called the Escalera
Náutica, or Nautical Ladder, which involves $210 million in public money and hopes for $1.7 billion
in investment from developers.
"The whole premise of the Escalera Náutica is to create a land rush, and I'm not sure that's good
for anybody," said Tim Means, who has lived in La Paz for 35 years and runs a respected
ecotourism outfit called Baja Expeditions.
Baja was isolated from the outside world until the government paved a road through the peninsula
in the 1970's and 80's. The road connected Baja more closely to the United States than to the
Mexican mainland. That connection is deepening as more and more Americans move here. So is a
sense of remoteness, of difference, from the rest of Mexico.
"People on the mainland don't know we exist," said Doris Johnson, the daughter of a Mexican
mother and an American father, who runs a hotel in Mulegé. "They ask, `Do they speak Spanish in
Baja? Do you need a passport to go there?' "
Ms. Johnson wonders what will become of Baja as it becomes more and more of an American
place. "We have our own culture here," she said. "But we don't have much influence over what's
changing our culture."
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|3 Myths About the World's Top Retirement Haven Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007
(From International Living.com and International Living Magazine)
It's high time Mexico earned the title "world's top retirement haven," as published in IL's 2007
Global Retirement Index. (After having lived in Ecuador…and trying to live in Panama and
Nicaragua, I have some experience on which to base that statement.)
But there are a lot of stereotypes that exist about Mexico--mostly among people who get the bulk
of their "headline news" from the U.S. media…or from a friend of a friend of a friend who claims to
know something about Mexico.
Updated, 2011, including the top 25 retirement destinations , including chart of reasons
(health, safety, culture, climate) and rankings here
Mexico has changed a lot in recent years. If you get information from friends who lived here
20…or even five or 10 years ago…you can be sure it is outdated. Much of that outdated
information continues to be posted on Internet websites, so no wonder many people are
misinformed about Mexico.
Even the mainstream media can't keep up--and honestly, it isn't usually in their interest to
promote the positive things about Mexico, especially the benefits of retiring or relocating here.
Misconceptions about Mexico tend to be related to three primary things: perceived government
corruption (especially on the local police level), personal safety, and real estate laws that pertain
to foreigners. Let's talk about those:
When applying for visas and permits, my husband and I have never been asked for a bribe. No
one has ever even hinted that this might pave the way for us. I know it happens, of course, but
not to two small fry like us. If you are a large corporation or a real estate developer, for example,
you may find that greasing certain wheels will get you where you want to go faster and
smoother…and remember, corruption happens everywhere, including the U.S.
As for traffic cops, we've been pulled over four times in five years for traffic violations. Every
time, we were in the wrong. Only once did we offer to settle the violation on the spot…for 200
pesos (about $18) which we happily paid. The other three times we were let go with a warning.
2. Personal safety.
Mexico City is a metropolis of about 26 million people. Guadalajara has about 5 million inhabitants.
If you think crime doesn't happen in these places, think again. One of the most notorious city
crimes is kidnapping. These are usually well-planned and well-executed crimes whereby a
wealthy Mexican is kidnapped and held until family members or friends pay a ransom.
A tourist or expat in Mexico need not fear this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. In Mexico City,
ATM kidnappings can occur. Late at night an unscrupulous taxi drive may force you to withdraw
funds from an ATM machine…and then drive you around until past midnight and make you do it
again. (This is a reason to only use radio or sitio taxis in the cities.) These are technically termed
as "kidnappings" and are a big reason the kidnapping rate in Mexico is higher than some other
countries. I don't know anyone who has been kidnapped.
A couple of situations have been in the news recently about Canadians being victimized in
Mexico. Those cases are unfortunate and require some probing of the facts. But in general, if you
think it is okay to go to Mexico (or anywhere else in the world) and party until you are knee-
walking drunk, or to buy and ingest drugs from someone you meet on the beach, think again. If
you don't live in a high-crime area and you use common sense, your chances of being a crime
victim in Mexico are quite low.
3. Owning real estate.
Please don't write me and tell me foreigners can't own property in Mexico…or that properties can
be confiscated by the government on a whim. Neither are true. There are several ways for
foreigners in Mexico to legally own property here. We've written about these until we are blue in
the face--and we'll continue to do so until we become full-fledged Blue Man Group members, it
seems. Mortgage funding is now available in Mexico through U.S. lenders. Title insurance is
readily available--through U.S.-based title insurance companies. Do you think this would be
possible if it were illegal for foreigners to own property here? I could write pages and pages that
address these issues and more, but if you are interested in learning more Mexico--and why
International Living has named it the best place in the world to retire--
I can suggest a couple of places to do that:
Updated, 2011, including the top 25 retirement destination countries ,
including chart of reasons (health, safety, culture, climate) and rankings here
Sign up for our free Mexico First Alerts service, which keeps you up to date on events in Mexico that could affect your
plans for living here.
We cover political news, Mexican legislation, new real estate developments, changes in visas or benefits for foreigners,
and much more.
In our Mexico Insider monthly on-line publication, our staff in Mexico shares our experiences living and working
here…information that you simply couldn't find anywhere else…and that would be almost impossible to collect on your
own. And for this week only, you can try Mexico Insider for $1.
Suzan Haskins, Latin America Insider, International Living.
Original web copy here: http://www.internationalliving.com/mexico/free/09-11-07-mexico-myths.
Other Articles of interest:
Mexican Housing Booms Despite US Crisis, Sunday January 20, 1:39 pm ET
By Theresa Bradley, Associated Press Writers