Thilini Wijesinhe loves to travel. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, this inveterate traveler has been hopping continents for years before finally landing in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán.
“I lived with my father in a city about two hours away from the capital city of Colombo,” Wijesinhe told me, “but he passed away when I was just 22. That’s a key reason why I didn’t want to wait 30 years to start traveling.”
Wijesinhe, who is now 37, holds a master’s degree in financial economics from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and has worked all of her life in the financial industry. She had a unique opportunity to leave her native country for Australia before she turned 30, which set her off on the continent-hopping life she enjoys today.
“I wanted to move when I was younger,” she said, “but it wasn’t until I discovered that Australia had a skilled immigration program for qualified young people that I actually had an opportunity to leave Sri Lanka. The program awarded me permanent residency, so I moved to Sydney. It’s a big city and was quite an adventure for me.”
She lived in Sydney for nearly six years, working for various companies in a variety of financial jobs before meeting her current partner, Hugo, on an online information forum.
“He lived in Arlington, Texas and was also excited to see the world,” she said. “He was going to move to Australia, but I convinced him to take a year off and go traveling while we are young.”
They decided to choose Mexico as a base for their travels because Hugo was a Mexican citizen from San Luis Potosí and it would be easy for her to qualify for a temporary resident visa in Mexico.
“We researched Mexico and it sounded really exciting and beautiful, and we thought it would also be a great base for us to travel to South America and Europe,” she said.
In March of 2019 they moved to the Bay of Banderas, just north of the international airport in Puerto Vallarta, an area called
Las Ceibas. The couple rented a three-bedroom and three-bathroom home with a pool for just 14,000 pesos, or about US$700.
“It was our base when we traveled to South and Central America, and then Europe and Sri Lanka,” she said. “We were planning on staying in Puerto Vallarta, but then we decided a change of scenery might be good for us, so we moved to Mérida a year ago.”
Wijesinhe said they liked Puerto Vallarta and were involved in several charity activities sponsored by expats in the Bay of Banderas area. She also loved the weekly art walks in the city. But she was looking for a less expensive place to live and liked the translucent, calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean better than the more turbulent Pacific Ocean.
“We like the emphasis on indigenous culture in Mérida,” Wijesinhe said. “Although Puerto Vallarta had great art and culture, Mérida is immersed in Maya culture with lots of events and traditions centered on the Maya civilization.”
They made the trip from Puerto Vallarta to Mérida by car, which took them four days, including sightseeing stops. They found the Mexican interstate highway system to be both safe and well-maintained, but noted that the number of tolls required for the cross-country trip were quite expensive, more so than what they had experienced in Europe or other places they have driven.
The couple rented a two-bedroom and two-bathroom apartment in a gated community less than 15-minutes from city-center and only an hour or so away from the main historical sites in Yucatán, like Chichén Itzá.
“Our home in Puerto Vallarta was large and too big for us,” she said, “but our new apartment in Mérida is perfect and is just 10,000 pesos, or about US$500 a month. It’s much cheaper and also includes the cost of our Internet connection and cable TV.”
Although Mérida is quite warm year-round, they have been able to hold their electric bill to about 500 pesos a month, mainly by using the air-conditioner at night for just a few months during the year. She told us that they live well on US$1,500 a month expenses in one of the best places to live in Mexico.
Since arriving in Mérida last December, the couple traveled to Cuba and Belize before the pandemic struck the world last March, effectively shutting down international travel and severally limiting local activities. They did, however, travel to Cancún several months ago, visit a few nearby historical sites and local cenotes, which are natural pits or sinkholes created by the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater.
“We would like to be more involved with local expat-sponsored activities like we were in Puerto Vallarta,” she said, “but everything is pretty much shut down here. We do get out to drive around the city and see a few things, but it’s difficult. Mérida, though, has a very active Facebook group that is worth joining for the information and community provided.”
Language is not a barrier at all for Wijesinhe. She began studying Spanish while living in Sydney, Australia because she liked the language and was interested in learning.
“When I came, though, I was very basic,” she said. “Now that I have lived in Mexico for nearly two years, though, I consider myself between intermediate and advanced. Although my partner’s first language is Spanish, we tend to speak only in English, so my Spanish skills aren’t being used as much, especially since the arrival of the pandemic.”
With one year of living in Mérida under their belts, the couple now feels at home. The local Maya culture and many activities and events are tops on their list of things they love about living in the city, but the wide variety of nearby historical sites, cenotes and the pristine beaches of the Yucatán Peninsula are also big favorites. Pressed to choose the one thing that makes her most happy about living in Mexico, Wijesinhe clearly chooses lifestyle.
“It’s just really chilled out,” she said. “There’s no stress. I’ve spent time in London, New York and Sydney and it’s completely different. Nobody’s running, nobody’s trying to catch the next whatever.”
The couple’s initial plan was to stay in Mérida for a year and then figure out where they wanted to go next, but they found that they liked their new home so much, they changed their plans.
“I liked it so much that I renewed my temporary residency for three more years,” she said. “So, I think I’m going to stay here as long as it works out.”