Older travelers can find warm welcome in Mexico Winter: Mexico City and other parts of the interior offer diversions for the mind as well as the eye.


Mexico beckons, for many reasons: It's warm in winter, its people are gracious and artistic, it's easy to reach -- four hours by air from most parts of the United States -- and the dollar buys almost 8 pesos, which makes it affordable.

At this time of year, most Americans flock to the Mexican beach resorts, and that's fine. But senior citizens with no yen for para-sailing in Acapulco might find more diversions in Mexico City: museums, theater, ballet, restaurants, shopping, music, art, history.

My first move before heading south was to contact a friend in Mexico City. In Mexico, if you have even a slight acquaintance, you'll get a warm welcome and an indispensable guide.

The Hotel Calinda Geneve (now a Quality Inn) was recommended by a friend as the most Old Mexican of Mexican hotels, and it was -- all Spanish arches and tropical plantings. My room, at $75 a night, breakfast included, was comfortable, and the TV had a good English-speaking channel.

My friend woke me at 8 the first morning to invite me to lunch. After that, we drove around park-lined streets to see the fine homes of Mexico City. The homes of the very rich are barely visible behind high walls, though.

The next day, visiting in Cuernavaca -- an hour's drive from Mexico City over scenic mountain roads -- I discovered what was behind the walls: a Hollywood setting of landscaped pools, fountains, flower beds.

Cuernavaca is a favorite retirement spot because of its "eternal spring" climate -- never too hot or cold.

Back in Mexico City, I indulged my passion for art museums. At the Palace of Fine Arts, I bought a ticket for 150 pesos (about $18) for the Ballet Folklorica, a spectacular two-hour show.

Don't expect many senior discounts. Mexicans respect their elders as adults and expect them to pay the standard adult rate.

However, there are discounts for everyone "once you learn how to shop," says Loujean LaMalfa, publisher of "Living in Mexico," formerly called "Retire in Mexico," a journal for those considering longer stays.

"Mexico can no longer be viewed as a cheap escape," she says. She estimates an American upper-middle-class lifestyle will cost $1,500 to $2,000 a month, including housing costs, gardeners and a maid.

LaMalfa will sponsor two introductory tours this winter: Feb. 5-9 to Lake Chapala near Guadalajara and March 12-17 to La Paz in Baja California. Land costs are $700 to $850, including meals, seminars and meetings with local residents. Peter Dickinson, editor of the Retirement Letter, will be co-host of the March program.

For more information, call (800) 570-6111.

Pub Date: 1/26/97

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