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.
This post is to cure myself of a block I was having about how to use the phone in México.
And its not just me. In putting this together, Sergio, who was born and raised here, learned something new about how to make local calls. During the 2015 Telecomm reforms, Mexico made some major changes. The good news is, it is much cheaper and less confusing (believe it or not) than it used to be to use the phone in Mexico.
The bad news is, for first timers, it will take a little getting used to because the syntax for Mexico numbers is different than the US.
Because a big chunk of tourists and expats visit and / or live Mexico City, and this blog is about, yes, Mexico City, I decided to create some simple infographics on how to call to and fro between the USA and CDMX. (By the way, the info for how to dial the US from Mexico also works for Canada.)
If you are here temporarily, using a roaming plan with your US carrier, your phone may think it is a US phone even though you are in Mexico. Check with your carrier before you leave for exact instructions. Verizon and ATT both have very competitive roaming plans set up for Mexico.
If you are staying awhile, consider an ATT plan - I prepaid for a year and it works out to $12 USD per month for the same coverage and data that I was paying $70 to Verizon in the US. (note: I'm not getting anything from either of those companies for mentioning them, just passing along my experience.)
There are some great blog posts about how to use the phone throughout the country of Mexico in general. Big kudos and gracias to SolyMarWeb.com for this excellent post that I used as a reference to create the graphics above. They also include information on dialing 1-800 numbers.
For information on making calls within Mexico (see second table, below) and a review of the 2015 Telecomm reforms, go to this equally great post from Mexperience.com.
Here are the rules, adapted for Mexico City, which has area code 55:
Dialing Summary - Calling To and From Mexico City
Dialing To and From CDMX with a Mexican Phone
(If you are calling a number outside Mexico City with a Mexican phone, simply replace the 55 with the correct area code. )
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