The waves are tall and the surfers are out in force. Across the dark blue cove, a lone white sailboat sways back and forth. The temperature is in the high 70s F and the air smells strongly of salt and sea.
For Jennifer and Gary Culp, this is the backdrop to their retirement: salty ocean air, cotton candy-pink sunsets, fish tacos, and friendly, fast-paced Spanish. They love every minute of it—though this wasn’t where they expected to end up.
In 2006 Jennifer and Gary—a teacher and former interfaith minister, respectively—were living in the U.S. Gary had retired and was working on personal projects, while Jen was still the director of a local preschool. Then their son called from Mexico where he was visiting Jen’s sister.
He told them about Sayulita, just a 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast. He sent them a video of the colorful little town, telling them that they would absolutely love its vibrant atmosphere and beautiful beaches.
And then he told them that there was a U.S. couple running a bilingual preschool, and they were looking for someone to take it over.
Two days later, Jen retired. They put their house up for sale…and it sold to the very first person who walked through the door. “It felt like serendipity,” says Jen.
And so in late 2006 they moved to Sayulita, sight unseen, knowing they liked Mexico and wanting to help grow the little school before retiring in the sun.
Since then, they’ve both officially retired, though Jen sometimes serves as an educational consultant or substitute teacher at the school. They’ve found a more relaxed way of life—one that keeps them active, lets them work on personal projects, and also leaves time to enjoy the simple pleasures of living in Sayulita. (It’s one of the best-known destinations on the Riviera Nayarit, the corridor of beaches north of Puerto Vallarta.)
In the mornings, Gary slips away to watch the sunrise, meditate, and write, while Jen has her morning coffee and reads.
Sometimes both can be found tending their beautiful jungle garden. “Mornings are not so hot, so that’s the best time to weed, garden, and plant,” says Gary.
Around noon the heat starts to rise, and after lunch you’ll often find Gary taking a nap, or working on his screenplay, or sitting quietly on the beach.
Jen spends many an afternoon reading, doing Zumba with a wonderful group of energetic seniors, and connecting with friends and neighbors. Almost every night, they head to the beach to watch the sunset and marvel as the stars come to life over the ocean.
“We feel so connected to the universe here,” Gary says. “There’s just something about the expanse of the ocean, the reflection of the setting sun, the waves…it’s dramatic and healing.
“Sayulita is youthful—a party town—with entertainment around the plaza. Even the retired people here are so youthful and energetic. We can go have a piece of cake in the evening and spend hours just watching the plaza.”
They both say that it’s a wonderful melting pot of people from all over the world. And nearly everyone speaks English, so the transition was simpler than you’d expect.
“Sayulita has given me fresh inspiration,” says Gary. “I’m a writer. A communicator. A teacher… If I were living in Pennsylvania, I don’t feel like I would have had the same inspirations.
“And your income goes further here,” Gary says. “We don’t pay for oil in the winter. Social Security and renting out a couple of apartments keep us going and pay for our flights back home. We couldn’t live on this income in the States.”