I have stayed in 40 Airbnb’s since I ditched my lease 3 years ago.
That number would be higher except for the fact that we spent a year in an apartment in Mexcio City. As we watched Airbnb rates go up by about 30% due to increased tourism by the coveted millennial crowd, I decided to take on the life experience of leasing an apartment in CDMX.
It was a little cheaper over the course of the year, it had great light for shooting video, and we were 10 minutes on bike to gorgeous Chapultepec Park.
Even so, I was happy to let the lease go after a year.
The kitchen was about the size of a ship’s galley, and since we were in an apartment and not on a yacht, the charm of a doll size stove and tiny counter wore off after about a week.
There was a ridiculous, unsafe policy that residents were not given keys to the front door of the building. The doorman had to provide access anytime we wanted to leave or enter the building. I tried not to think about what would happen if there was a fire and “el Poli” (as the doormen are known here) passed out before he had a chance to unlock the front door.
Apart from that, at the end of our lease, we had the chance to house sit and take care of a sweet dog in Todos Santos, Mexico. Free rent, and we were ready for a change of scenery. Vamanos!
While we were in Todos Santos, we went to La Paz about once a week for groceries, maybe a movie, and hang out in a coffee shop with decent wif. Each time we visited, I kept thinking, this town is interesting in a non-glitzy, non-Cabo kind of way.
So, after we finished up in Todos, we decamped to La Paz instead of Cabo.
A brief perusal of rents showed us we can live like ricos for about $900 a month rent, and live just fine for even less.
The other day, weighing options and tradeoffs, I realized we are not super fired up to move just now.
I’ve got some US travel coming up and hurricanes are brewing up along the southern coast of mainland Mexico that could definitely rain on our parade along our route back.
So, long story short, it makes more sense and, just as importantly, sounds more fun, to stay in La Paz for a few months.
A trip to a gorgeous beach and equally sublime swimming hole in the mountains sealed the deal. You’ll be hearing more about what we discover here in La Paz in the upcoming months.
This post covers one of the nicest surprise of all, that has no doubt colored our good impression of the town.
The Airbnb we are in right now is the best one we have stayed in yet, based our slow travel lens of staying more than a couple weeks and working online.
Here is a long term stay tip for Airbnb:
Try to stay at least a month because the discount can be substantial. In fact, even if we aren’t going to be someplace the whole month, I always compare the 30 day rate for the exact number of days, say 25 to 27 days. Often the monthly rate is cheaper.
I'll cover specific reasons why the current AirBnB is the best one we have stayed in so far. This is in the context of the fact that Sergio and I are very different travelers in one key aspect.
I share this perspective because you may have a similar dynamic with your partner.
He is the perfect travel partner in many ways - he is very open to new experiences, new people, and new environments. He has a lot of energy. He has lived outside of his comfort zone most of his life, so to him, change is not scary.
Sergio is more outgoing than I am, his Spanish is obviously better than mine, and his willingness to ask anyone about anything definitely opens up experiences that I could not have source on my own.
In Mexico, there is still a strong tradition of “ask the locals” if you need information. It is not uncommon for me to be on google maps at the same time he is yelling out the car window to someone on the street for directions.
Also, now that he knows sourcing local food is important to me, he makes it Job One to find out which señora has the chickens, who the local pig farmer is (if there is one), is there a local dairy cow, who sells honey, and times and location for the traditional tianguis.
The only major travel-style difference between us is this: His definition of travel necessities and mine are at opposite ends of the backpack.
To him, travel size toiletries include a jumbo shampoo from Costco and 2 spare tubes of toothpaste. We have boxes of kitchen spices and other mystery items that now follow us around.
For our stay in Todos Santos, he packed a big suitcase with a heavy coat and sweaters, which we didn’t need, and he told me later he couldn’t fit the fan in the car, which we definitely could have put to good use.
I’m not sniping at him behind his back, he knows this is a sore point for me and I know he wishes I would relax about how changing locations is beginning to feel like we are moving a small Mexican village. We have talked about this at length.
I’m not saying my perspective is necessarily “right”. Just because it doesn’t bother me to wear the same 4 things all the time, I can see how someone else would see that as boring, especially if that person is an artsy, extroverted, attractive Mexican man.
One of the challenges of slow travel with someone of a collecting mindset is this: it gives them more time to accumulate. This is probably worth its own blog post, and definitely worth a conversation if you are planning on travel with your partner. The compromise we have worked out is we each have our own suitcases and once those are full, no más.
Sounds good, right? Actual results vary as extra duffel bags appear out of nowhere, bigger suitcases replace medium sized “maletas” - oh well, its a work in progress.
Obviously, I am a fan of Airbnb. We make new friends, learn about the local community, and save a ton of money over hotel stays. I also rack up airline miles because I use my credit card to pay, something I couldn't do when we were paying a lease. We spend between $700 and $1000 per month with Airbnb. We have spent less, but rarely more.
We eat better and spend less on food because we can cook most of the time at home, even though home changes every couple of months.
Airbnb acquired most of the smaller vacation rental websites over the past few years. I wish they still had some real competition. It would force them to improve their website and core offering. More about that later, too.
With that as a backdrop, here we go:
The current Airbnb we are in is the Best One So Far.
This is why:
Location: we are 2 blocks from the beach boardwalk, restaurants, and coffee shops. Also, La Paz is cheaper than CDMX. For the price of a typical one bedroom Airbnb in Mexico City, we are getting two bedrooms instead of one. We are paying $960 for this unit for 32 nights.
Condition: Newly remodeled, spacious and very clean.
Parking: A garage with a solid door, not just a gate.
Privacy: A freestanding apartment over a garage with lots of natural light. For now, it has no common walls with another unit . From our patio we have a view of rooftops, the ocean beyond, and signs of another unit under construction next door. It apparently not on the fast track, as no one has worked on it since we arrived. Fine by me!
It is very quiet. Much quieter than Todos Santos, which is a fraction of the size of La Paz but overrun with dogs, roosters and big beach trucks with speakers booming out the local top 40 Latin hits.
A nice long island that doubles as a project space or dining table on one end. The 6 burner gas stove is almost bigger than our entire kitchen was in our Mexico City apt. I was rubbing my peepers in disbelief at that one. Gas stoves are very common in Mexico, which is good news for people who like to cook.
New modern full size fridgie.
No dishwasher, but I have yet to see a dishwasher in Mexico, other than the young men in the back of the restaurants, powering through mountains of dishes. Perhaps the luxe rentals include one, I’ve never checked.
Sergio wouldn’t use it anyway, if we had one, he barely tolerates the modern washing machines. He declares they don’t get clothes as clean as the traditional scrub and rinse method his abuela, madre and tias all used.
Again, fine by me, there are only two of us, so the dirty dish burden is pretty light. The tradeoff is Mexicans do not believe in drying dishes. Every Mexican kitchen I’ve ever been in has a mountain of precariously balanced dishes drying in a drying rack. The bigger the family or event, the higher the altitude.
In many kitchens in Mexico, cooking is usually about to happen, happening, or just happened, so this means the dishes in the drying rack are a permanent fixture on the countertop.
As someone who really appreciates vast expanses of clutter free countertops, I have had to choose my battles on that one, and just grab a towel and start drying.
There is a cultural bias in Mexico toward saving and collecting, it is one of the things that makes it such an attractive emerging middle class market for Walmart et al.
As you might guess, Sergio is no exception. We are in an evolving negotiation so we don’t end up with every empty surface hosting an assortment of things that, in my opinion, would be much more comfortable behind the closed door of a cupboard.
To his eternal credit, although he doesn’t understand why you wouldn’t want as many of your belongings as possible out in plain sight all the time, he knows it makes me happy to have things put away, so he does try to do so.
Plenty of dishes and utensils for cooking.
A complete set of pots and pans. 4 knives for food prep, 2 of them are even sharp.
A toaster oven.
A Mr. Coffee coffee maker, but that doesn’t matter as I always BMOFP - bring my own french press.
Full size washer and dryer in a dedicated laundry room, not at the end of the kitchen, outside on a patio, or tucked under the counter in the bathroom. The space has enough room to turn around. This also almost never happens. We don’t use the dryer but it is nice to know its an option if we get several days of rain.
The decor sports a cute non-garish beach theme. There is not just one comfy chair but 2 sofas and a recliner. This is a miracle in Mexico where the seating is often spectacularly uncomfortable.
Big screen TV - we don’t watch TV so this isn’t a big deal to us. We have switched it on to watch soccer once or twice. I need to buy an HDMI cable so we can plug my laptop in and watch Netflix.
2 bedrooms! In this price range in Mexico City, 2 bedrooms would be a rarity.
Each with a big closet. One bedroom is big enough to put my “office” in the corner. Again, this almost never happens.
Plenty of hangers. We can put everything away, including empty suitcases. Can I tell you how happy that makes me?
Even apart from the awesome kitchen, THIS is the reason this Airbnb gets the current “Best in Class” award.
I don’t know why so many Airbnb hosts assume their guests don’t have more than a travel size bottle of shampoo and toothbrush to stash during their stay.
Even if you aren’t like my Meximan, who packs a year supply of products for every hygiene or medical contingency, the bathrooms in most Airbnbs are waaay short on storage space.
For us, the predictable result is that within 2 hours of arrival, our bathroom counter look like inventory week at the local Walgreens. Or, more accurately for Mexico, the corner Farmacia during a tres por dos (3 for 2) sale.
Not this time! Hallelujah chorus, this bathroom has deep drawers so we can put all of our toiletries away. ALL OF THEM. This makes me so much happier than it should.
There is a big shower with natural light.
The toilet is low flush. This should be much more common, especially in the US. When I drove to LA and back from SF a few years ago during a drought, there were signs everywhere to conserve water. Sadly, the toilets in every hotel I stayed in, as well as all the restaurants along the way, were still the traditional whooshing waterchugging models.
And there you have it, many of the elements of a perfect Airbnb
The only complaint, and for me this is a biggie, is the internet is not reliable. At all. I thought it would be better in La Paz but it is actually worse than in Todos Santos. In Mexico City we had great internet, it rarely dropped out.
The Mexican government understands the importance of infrastructure, and Baja has received major upgrades to highways and telecom, especially after category 4 hurricane Odile slammed the area in 2014.
For La Paz, there are long term solutions in the works - a project to bury the trunk line from the mainland under the ocean floor will improve service here. Reports say it will be here by February, one can always hope but that seems optimistic even by Mexican standards.
Fiber optic is present in the city, and right now there are streets torn up to install more cables, but most of the residences do not have fiber optic access right now.
For now, the best upgrade is via the Mexican phone carrier TelCel. They have a high speed data package for residential internet. So now I have a massive craving for one of their little white modems.
You would think it would be simply a matter of dropping by the Telcel office and picking one up, right? Well, this is Mexico, so you would be wrong. More about that later.
What are your top 2 - 3 non-negotiables for a longer term stay? If you don’t know, here is a fun exercise I read about a few years ago that can help you figure that out:
Pack what you think you will need and put all the rest of your stuff away in boxes or a separate closet. Then live for a month with just those things. Keep track of what you miss, need more of, or don’t end up using at all. This is like a dry run for the real thing and can make your first long term trip packing experience easier.
Let us know if you try that, and thanks for reading!
PS - If you are interested in viewing this listing on Airbnb, click HERE.
There is a saying that only 6 degrees of acquaintances separate each person on earth - would you believe me if I told you a tiny ex-mining pueblo in Baja shrinks the distance to one of the wealthiest people on the planet to only a couple of degrees?
It’s an interesting example of the distortion in local real estate (and I would imagine, local politics) when a billionaire comes to town.
A couple weeks ago I mentioned we had met Giovanni, an Italian developer in La Paz who collects cars from the 80’s. He has a historic house for sale in Triunfo, a tiny pueblo midway between Todos Santos and La Paz.
He spends every Sunday, even in the low season, at the house showing it to people looking to buy a house, or simply looking to look. Like us.
Triunfo was a mining town back in the day. This part of Baja saw quite a bit of mining and still has some controversial activity. For all the wealth that was extracted, the towns themselves were nothing special, basically just company towns for the workers. The mining legacy includes a couple of streets of old historic buildings and arsenic in the water.
Today Triunfo’s main drag and a street of shops a block over are being restyled for tourism, to catch some of the weekend traffic during the high season coming from Cabo and Todos Santos and La Paz.
We arrive and text Giovanni. He tells us where the house is; very close to the cluster of attractions that include a cafe and bakery Cafe El Triunfo. The cafe is owned by a man from LA who used to have restaurants in Todos Santos and closed shop there as he saw that tiny market become quickly over saturated. Giovanni tells me all this, he claims there are 60 restaurants open in Todos Santos during high season.
Right now the Cafe El Triunfo is pretty much the only game in town here. Giovanni describes it as a gold mine for the owner, I’m not so sure. Its cute and the bread we try from the bakery is delicious, but much of this area is very sleepy most of the year. Perhaps seasonal cash cow would be a better description. Having said that, I’m no expert at local economics, and even if I were, the market here is quite skewed as you will see in a bit.
We walk a block off of the main drag and come to the house, it sits on a corner. We meet and greet and say hello to Giovanni’s mom, a slender pretty older lady with even more Italian flavoring her Spanish than her son has.
They speak Italian with each other. Later, when he is referring to her in a conversation with me, he calls her “Mama”. It’s charming. It makes me want to go to Italy this afternoon and stay for a year.
Given that isn’t an option, we settle for the next best thing, which turns out to be quite a good thing, actually. Giovanni gives us a tour of the house and town. It’s everything you could want from an Italian tour guide. Knowledgeable, opinionated, good backstory and punctuated with lots of hand waving and shoulder shrugs.
It turns out Giovanni is a history buff. He hiked and camped in these old towns and mountains when he was a teenager. He furnished the interior of this house with many antiques that he found or has picked up along the way. He photocopied old photos of the house's original family from local archives and framed them for the hallway.
Our tour starts in the kitchen. Mama, perhaps thinking we are potential buyers, mentions how nice and cool it is in there, compared to outside which is 90 degrees in the sun.
I nod politely, as sweat trickles down my back and I suppress the desire to start panting.
The kitchen is adorable and overstuffed with new appliances crammed into an old layout from before the days of closet-sized refrigerators.
The house plan is a bit odd. One hallway off the kitchen has two rooms on either side. Giovanni has staged both rooms as bedrooms, showing the house as a 2 bedroom with a kitchen and no living area.
The backyard is beautiful, with stone paving, a trellis, native plants, climbing bouganvillea and, unlike the house, features an inviting sitting area.
I feel the pull of Italy once again. I'm hoping that Mama will appear with a jug of cold wine and a cheese tray. Isn't that what Italian mamas do? Alas, my dream scenario does not materialize and we continue with the tour.
At the back we visit an outbuilding he restyled as a bunk house. He mentions it could be a possible rental for the owners of the main house, saying it has been plumbed for a kitchen and bath.
I ask him if he has experimented with AirBnB in any of his other properties.
Si! he did, and No! he doesn’t like it.
We have a friend with a rental house in Cabo who feels the same way - the simplicity of a lease and monthly rent wins out over the extra margin you can make with AirBnB, where you have to spend a lot more time in coordinating logistics and pleasing your customer.
This is one thing some new AirBnB hosts with landlord experience don’t always understand. When you host via AirBnB, your guest is not a tenant. Your guest is a customer.
The traditional tenant / landlord dynamic is rooted in a foundation of haves and have-nots. Not so with AirBnB guests. Your AirBnB guest might be a multi-millionaire couple in town for a festival.
We once stayed in an AirBnB with a rock hard old bed. We were supposed to stay for a month. I asked the host to replace the bed or at least buy a mattress topper. He proposed we split the cost of the new bed.
I pointed out that we would be gone in a month, and that we were his guests, not his tenant, so how did it make sense that I help him buy a new bed for the next guests, and the next?
He didn’t see it that way, and we parted ways amicably after he refunded our payment. I’m pretty sure that house was haunted, anyway, I was glad to leave.
I continue to observe controversy about AirBnB in expensive, tight markets that have a steady flow of tourist traffic. People rail against the company when they should be picketing their city, county and state officials.
AirBnB, like Uber, simply magnifies existing dysfunction in the market. A community neglects affordable housing for decades and suddenly AirBnB is the devil. Hotels serve up boring, undifferentiated, expensive rooms, and then get upset when - surprise! - people would prefer to spend less on homier options.
In Cabo, the taxi drivers continue to protest Uber, while they also continue to extort tourists for $40 and $50 cab rides from the airport, provide substandard service, forbid bus drivers to let tourists ride from the airport, and generally act like a mafia.
Back to Triunfo, where Uber is not even a topic of discussion given that the town population is probably about 12 people.
After our short tour of the 2 bedroom plus a kitchen house, we move out on the town, so to speak.
As we walk out onto the street, I try to buy a beer with lime and salt from a street vendor selling Micheladas - which are beer with lime, salt and clam juice.
I don’t want the clam juice, so they say they don’t have any beer. This is one of those alternate reality moments I often run into in Mexico. There is beer in plain sight but we are all supposed to pretend like that is not the case.
My fried gringa brain does not connect that if I offer to pay full price for the Michelada and just tell them to omit the clam juice, the beer will magically flow, like a miracle spring in the desert.
At any rate, I don’t have time to process because our Italian guide has moved ahead, talking to the air and pointing out this and that.
What emerges from the tour is an interesting fact.
A few years ago, Christy Walton, John Walton’s (of the Walmart family Waltons) widow, one of the richest women in the world, started buying property in Triunfo as well as quite a bit of land in the mountains near here. What is it like to be able to buy a whole mountain, let alone two or three?
Her people are scaling up on a sustainable tourism resort nearby as well. A quick google of water issues shows that she has negotiated rights to water in the region as well. This, of course, is essential to running a resort in the desert and also makes long term business sense, too.
Some members of the Getty family own a house here and in La Paz as well. If this blog were my full time gig, I’d have a lot more factoids for you.
Giovanni, like his Papa before him, has been in real estate in the area his whole life. He acquired the house we just toured years ago. I think he had another small house or building in the area that he sold awhile back, too.
Today, he alludes to the challenges sourcing smaller deals when everyone around the table knows that a new buyer with limitless cash is investing in the area, and has bought several buildings in town as well.
We finish our circular tour of a couple of blocks and arrive back in front of the house. We say goodbye to Giovanni, and Mama, who had stayed behind.
I purposely didn’t look up the selling price of the house because I wanted to guess after I had seen it, the town, and learned some of the backstory.
One of the benefits of being in a place for awhile is the shine wears off and you see beyond the mirage sold to short term visitors who are escaping a stressful home base in the US. My rose-colored view of Todos is less rosy now, having spent two low seasons here staying in the local’s barrio.
Quick tip that I used to think was obvious but now I’m not so sure:
Everyone in real estate here has a story of the hapless American who lost it all. There is a lot of info out there about local conditions that can help people avoid a bad experience.
For one thing, many tourist small towns have local listserv on the internet and often a local print newspaper targeted at English speakers. You should definitely start reading those sources if you are interested in buying property here.
One recent article in the Gringo Gazette (real name, I am not making that up) profiled a development company that is clearly on the ropes. This is public knowledge to the expat locals, but the company is still selling land lots in a new development near here.
I visited Ajijic and Lake Chapala, the oldest and biggest expat community (Americans and Canadians) in Mexico a couple years ago. I saw (and stayed in) concrete homes with barren small lots on unpaved streets, selling for $200K - $300K in the gringo side of town.
Anywhere near town center was even higher. To me the prices seemed quite high given the drug violence in surrounding towns and the fact that the only way out, really, is one easily blocked road that goes to GDL and the airport.
There seems to be an unspoken expat belief that their money also buys a value bubble that settles over the property.
This is sort of is true in areas like Cabo where the entire infrastructure is tuned to a different standard and so the bubble is bigger.
It is less understandable in Todos Santos where gringos with a bucket of money buy houses that back up to lots full of trash on streets ruled by barking dogs. Or clusters of beach homes so far out of town you can't walk to anything other than the beach.
Having said all that, there is no upside for those who only blog about the risks, i.e. yours truly at the moment. The upside is in the action, right?
Like our American friends who live in Baja and have 3 rentals. They lost a lot of money, no, not in Mexican real estate, but in the 2008 stock market crash in the good ol' USA.
This was just as they were getting ready to retire, so they had to figure out a way to get some cash flow going. Three houses in Mexico (plus the one they live in) sounds to me like way too many toilets to keep flushing, but they are energetic, positive and smart even as they are approaching 70.
The diversification means their overall cap rate is 7% even with one tenant who is not paying full rent and hasn’t for months. They talked to their attorney about eviction, she said it would take a year to go through the process and once you serve notice, tenants will quit paying rent and there is nothing you can do until it is resolved.
Her advice was to slow walk repairs. I’ve seen the house, it’s too bad because it’s a sweet house with a beautiful small pool area. It must be hard for them to watch it deteriorate. But if they keep up with repairs, the current people may never leave.
Suddenly, AirBnB seems more attractive once again. At least with AirBnB, if you have a vampire guest, they will be leaving soon, if not, they have no legal recourse if you hire your large primo from La Neza to go forcibly evict them.
If you have a vampire renter, they get their hooks into a lease and hang around as long as possible. To get them out you have to pay an attorney (one source paid $110 an hour) and navigate the Mexican courts.
On the way back to the car, we stop at the C store to buy a Corona, with no clam juice, to share in our air conditioned car. I tell Sergio OK, my guess is that the house is about $250,000. His eyes get wide. I googled the listing (oh the wonders of google).
I’m nowhere even close.
The asking price is $349,000.
Sergio said, wow, I could live on that the rest of my life.
And with that, we toast to Giovanni’s future and head back to Todos Santos.
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