Living a Decade in Baja California Sur – Part One
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Discovering La Paz as a wonderful place to call home a decade ago this month Editor Tomas Zyber takes a look at the changes and provides the tips on living in Baja California Sur. With so much to share with our readers we have broken the article up into a four part series.
Five years ago, I began writing a series of article about my first hand experiences of moving to La Paz Baja California Sur and running a business in Mexico. I have traveled the entire peninsula but have lived in the two major cities of La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. You will find this article useful for both cities, but because my home is La Paz you will find it weighed in that direction.
A lot of things have changed over my 10 years here, some for the better, and some in my opinion not. Overall I still applaud my decision to relocate my life to Mexico.
First, I will say it is important to learn the language. You are in their country, learn the language. There are a variety of ways to do this, language schools are perhaps the most rapid way to learn correct espanol. Knowing the language is key in defeating what I call “Mexiphobia”. Socialize with the locals, you will find it educational and a whole lot of fun to experience a culture different from your own.
About Renting in La Paz
Claudia Beltran of BRE Property Management in La Paz provides us this update to renting...
As you might have an idea, the price for a long term rental is depending on the following.
The first matter of course is to find shelter. Ten years ago an apartment rented for about $150 a month and up. After doing a little legwork I found an acceptable level of apartment for $225 a month, including utilities and the landlady did my laundry. Installing an air conditioner was not permitted without further rent negotiation. Today that same very basic apartment rents for $375, no laundry and I’m not certain as to the utilities.
Homes with a small yard can be rented for about $450USD and up. Very nice apartments are also available in marina and ocean view locations. These usually run $1200 and up. If you are a first timer there are a realtors and rental firms that can assist you. This may add a little to the price but their experience in both location and contract assistance can be invaluable.
Baja California Sur has grown tremendously. North Americans living here has grown, but is still relatively insignificant in the totals and seasonally may account for as much as 5-7% of the state population. Since 2005 the population of the state has grown from 512,000 to over 630,000. La Paz remains the largest Baja Sur city, but Los Cabos (the conjunction of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas) has narrowed the gap. In 2005 La Paz had more than 226,000 residents and Los Cabos about 160,000. Unofficial numbers place the population of La Paz around 300,000 and the Los Cabos near 260,000. Loreto, Mulege and Todos Santos are fractional contributors. Complete 2010 census results will be available later this year. Contrary to popular rumor, women do not outnumber men in Baja Sur.
Groceries have never been a bargain in Baja. Although agriculture is one of the economic staples of Baja every other product comes by ferry from the mainland and the rest by truck down Highway 1 from the north. You can cut costs by shopping the markets rather than the supermarkets which import nearly ALL their products, but that requires time.
A few years back the Insider did a semi-scientific price comparison and Baja Sur’s supermarket prices were the second highest of our survey. Only San Diego was more expensive on the basic items like milk, butter, bacon beef and so on. Since most of the major chains are represented in La Paz and Cabo you will find little difference in their prices. With the addition of new chains competition seems to have driven prices down a bit. Below under shopping we review the supermarkets, most of which offer both food, clothing and house wares.
As tourist destination Los Cabos has had a broad spectrum of restaurants for some time, including one of the best sushi restaurants I have ever enjoyed. Fast food, high class, top end and often pricey as any tourist town, some of my favorite ‘bargain eats’ have disappeared from Cabo over the last few years. Running down the wide variety of restaurants in Los Cabos would be another 10 page article.
La Paz 10 years ago had very limited fine cuisine. You could get a reasonable steak taco meal with a beer for about $5. Today it runs $2 to $4 dollars more than that. Quality at the various restaurants was hit and miss depending on the mood of the cook. Today you could dine for a week at true culinary experiences and not complete the circuit. Good sushi however, still alludes La Paz.
A decade ago it was still possible to find a $10 peso beer (about a buck). That quickly jumped to $15 and today you are doing well to find a bar or restaurant serving Mexican beers for under $25 pesos. Imported hard alcohols and wines are taxed and a mixed drink consumer will often find himself financially pushed back to beers. The exception being Argentinean and Chilean wines, which are except from the tax.
Puerto Paraiso, the harbor-side mall in Cabo was just being completed on my arrival. Today it is a busy center-piece to downtown. Since then the mall has been expanded twice. Sophisticated items are available from makeup and lingerie to Harley Davison’s.
The major grocery store in Cabo a decade ago was Aramburos in El Centro. Today Los Cabos has at least 5 major groceries.
In La Paz a decade ago there was the choice of Aramburo’s Market, established in the 1930’s and the two supermarkets operated by CCC. Soon after two Leys stores opened, selling both food items and some clothing. The Soriana mall opened 7 years ago and offered a US style grocery, but with a limited number of familiar US brands and household items. A Cineplex in the mall replaced the single screen theater down town and is also part of the mall facility. The true departments store Dorian’s has now been replaced by Sears both downtown and in the mall location. La Perla’s history as a department store went back over a century. But a couple of years ago a careless welder ended that dynasty and the store burned to the ground. Today the resurrected La Perla is a footnote.
For a few years ago Los Cabos offered a wider variety of groceries, but by the end of 2011 La Paz will offer 9 major groceries including the new Chedraui stores, replacing the old CCC’s. These massive and newly remodeled stores are comparative to any US grocery and carry a wide variety of American brands. Two of the new groceries are Wal-Mart companies. The Mega Store Mall under construction now may dwarf Chedraui’s. Two of these new facilities could be classified as 'malls'
The opening of Wal-Mart offered a new level of quality in the non food items offered by these combinations stores. Although Wal-Mart is near the bottom rung of the department store quality ladder in the US it offered a step up from other combo stores. As a whole, I believe North Americans will find the quality of non-food items disappointing at the Baja combo stores. Just as an example, I purchased three pairs of shorts from Sorianas. The zipper in all three functioned once. returning products to these stores is not similar to the Nordstroms policy of 'no questions asked'.
Both Cabo and La Paz boast a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Sears and Home Depot. Unlike a decade ago you can find almost any product you seek. I will admit it has taken some of the fun out of seeking special items. I have been unable to locate electric carving knives, heating pads and small portable electric heaters.
In Baja Sur auto transportation has grown tremendously. More people own cars, and newer cars than I could have imagined in years past. New Hummers, Yukon’s and Cadillac SUV can be seen driving the roadways but the Ford Lobo is probably the top seller. Volkswagon in made in Mexico and a very popular brand in La Paz. With this growth traffic has increased as well, although it still pales in comparison to my days in San Diego and L.A.
The four lane highway from La Paz to Todos Santos is complete and trims 10 to 15 minutes off the drive, particularly if you were stuck behind a semi in the old days. The road quality is very good and nearly all the arroyos that closed the highway during storms have been bridged. This road is scheduled for completion all the way to Cabo San Lucas by 2012. I think they may beat that deadline.
The “rolling stop signs” still baffle rookies, but once you get the hang of it you see how much better it works. It is not based on how important you THINK you are, as in Southern California, but rather precisely on who arrived at the intersection first. You are required to pay attention or other drivers will become annoyed and toot at you.
In past years you could drive as a gringo with expired plates, it has always been illegal but today you are probably more likely to get pulled over for bad gringo plates as you would be for bad Mexican plates.
Auto insurance remains very affordable. If you are driving an US plated car you can buy Mexican Auto Insurance very reasonably for the entire year. Unfortunately, many states such as California cancel your registration if the insurance company informs them you canceled your US policy. This forces you to carry two policies, a Mexican to cover you in Mexico and a stateside policy to keep your registration active. In the event of an accident you must be carrying a valid registration. If your state has recalled your US registration they could legitimately decline your claim on your Mexican insurance.
In Part 2 of Living in Baja California Sur we will take a look at the serious concern of medical facilities and immigration.