Several of us can give you extensive information about living in Michoacán and perhaps Hound Dog and a few others can give you some visitor's information on Oaxaca, not sure of anyone here that lived there for any time but I know of a couple recent visitors there.
From the perspective of a Mexico resident NOT from Oaxaca, my take. It is far from everything. That south end of Mexico is rather remote, but it does leave you in reasonable travel distance for visiting those other parts southern Mexico like Chiapas and Veracruz, however the travel out to the popular coastal spots like Puerto Escondido or Huatulco can be a difficult trip. Living in Oaxaca would require some proficiancy in Spanish or a great deal of independence, ingenuity, and patience to overcome the deficiency.
Life there is "folksy" in the sense that there are a lot of indigenous people with deep cultural roots that could be baffling for "western cultural" norms and could somewhat complicate the assimilation process a bit. That is not an impossible hurdle to overcome and a number of foreigners are doing it but something to be factored in. This becomes decidedly more pronounced just a short distance outside the capital city but Puerto Escondido is a popular gringo surfer spot.
A neighbor of mine in Morelia is originally from Puerto Escondido with family there. He tried living in PE recently for almost a year but found the weather almost unbearable so returned to Morelia. He spent his school years in California so is fluent in English but reports many of the foreigners there refuse to speak English preferring to struggle with improving their Spanish.
I presume are asking in regards to living in Oaxaca city which is what I have been addressing, with my limited and heresay knowledge, the weather is generally mild and the food has a good reputation, good restaurants according to many people I've heard from. Oaxaca is an agricultural state with little industry so has a great deal of poverty but the food is fresh and plentiful.
There was a violent uprising in 2006 that caused some loss of tourism and some people to leave there but has been quiet in recent years. The governor elected in 2010 represented a change of ruling political party after 80 years and so is a possibility of some changes for the state as a result of that, which could go either way.
If you have some specific questions now would be a good time to ask. What is your present situation, retired or retiring soon? Do you already live in another part of Mexico and are thinking about relocating or do you have much experience in Mexico as a visitor or very little? I'm not sure I would recommend Oaxaca to someone with little or no Mexico experience as it would be a bold initial step if you don't have some friends or connections there already.
My knowledge of Oaxaca is very superficial with no direct experience there at all so maybe this adds nothing to what you already know. Ask about Morelia/Pátzcuaro area and I could be very specific. Let us know your situation a bit and maybe someone can offer more about what you need to know. Thanks for visiting our site.
We are both retired and lived in Mazatlan full-time for abbout 8 yrs & part-time before that for at least 5 yrs.....we have now been living in the magic pueblo of Comala, Colima for 1.5 yrs. We have come to realize that the humidity here is much the same, maybe a bit less, than MZT,even though it is cooler but would really like to find an area that is drier. I won't claim to be proficient in Spanish but am still taking classes and can get by most of the time. We would be interested in the quality of health care, although neither of us have any health issues at this time. It would also be good to know of any infrastructure problems and what, if anything is being done about them, etc. We have visited Oaxaca before as tourists and will be back in the city at the first of Dec. to check it out more closely. Thanks so much for your input!
We moved to Mexico in 2001 when I was 59 and my wife was 54. We had three very large dogs and loved the climate (which reminded us of Coastal Central California minus the fog) plus the extensive walking trails in the bed of the then receded lake at Ajijic and we are still fond of Ajijic for a number of reasons not the least of which (especially as we get older) is the great medical care we find nearby in Guadalajara. However, the area of Jalisco often referred to as Lakeside began to get on our nerves after a while and in 2004, we started looking at alternative places to have a second home which would provide us with a dramatic, seasonal change from the "Sun City Geezer" mentality that we think pervades much of Lakeside (no offense intended). The places we picked out to consider were initially Oaxaca City, Mérida, San Luis Potosí City, Queretaro City, Cuernavaca and Guadalajara. We also decided to explore the area around Orizaba/Fortin de Las Flores, Veracruz. I´m not sure what happened but we ended up in 2006 buying in the historic center of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas which, based on your narrrative, is not, in my opinion, what you are looking for. In fact, the only city in Chiapas that meets the criterfia you have delineated might be the very pleasant small city of Comitan in the highlands a couple of hours from San Cristóbal but considerably lower in altitude at 4,000 feet more or less. Two things, though; Comitan is close enough to Guatemala that you would need to buy through a trust if buying is your intention and virtually nobody speaks English there or just about anywhere in Chiapas for that matter. Because most of the expats living in San Cristóbal are Spanish speaking Europeans, with very few Americans or Canadians, one might feel very isolated in Chiapas and most of Southern Mexico if one spoke no Spanish. I would guess that Oaxaca City and Mérida are the two cities away from the coast with their larger English speaking expat colonies where one might feel less isolated until having mastered at least some decent Spanish.
Before we bought in San Cristóbal, we looked carefully and extensively at Oaxaca City and Mérida primarily and ruled out those other cities I mentioned - Guadalajara only because we already lived so close to that city. Mérida was ruled out because of the high heat and humidity and both Mérida and Oaxaca were only attractive to us if we could live in the hearts of the historic centers of either town since that was important to us and both cities have some really depressing outlying neighborhoods in our opinions. We were unable to find affordable houses in the historic centers we investigated in these cities.
Now, it happens that over the past few years we have visited Oaxaca City and other parts of Oaxaca on several occasions, especially since we moved part of the year to the fairly nearby Chiapas Highlands which, with several excellent new autopistas between San Cristóbal and Oaxaca City either recently opened or soon to open, is now a pretty fast drive easily accomplished in the better part of a day. In fact, all of Southern Mexico is now served by mostly excellent new autopistas which makes getting around down here a dream in comparison to the way it was when we moved here in 2006. That´s one reason we bought in San Cristóbal since we are highlands people who like to visit the coasts in the winter but would not live on any of the coasts down here all year round because of the excessive heat and humidity in the summer, fall and spring. From San Cristóbal we can easily choose to visit the Pacific, Gulf or Caribbean coasts of Mexico from our central location. As for coastal access from Oaxaca City, the autopista from there to Puerto Escondido which has either recently opened or will soon open, will make access to the Pacific from Oaxaca City easy and fast. I must say, that the toll roads have improved so much down here over the past couple of years that acces to the Gulf and Caribbean will no longer require the arduous drive required not long ago. In fact, with the opening of the new Arco Norte toll road from Puebla to Atlacomulco, Edo., the drive from Oaxaca City to our other home on Lake Chapala is now over all very good toll roads (bypassing completely the once dreaded Mexico City) until just before one gets to Chapala. This is now a much faster and easier drive than in the past and should take about 12 hours more or less. We´ll know for sure on the timing of that drive when we return to Lake Chapala via Oaxaca City shortly and we will report here on our experience doing that.
Enough rambling. Of all the cities I mentioned above, Oaxaca City would probably be the one we would choose over the others had we not moved to Chiapas instead. That city certainly has a great historic center and has some distinct cultural advantages even though we think most restaurants there are greatly overrated. However, it´s a bit chaotic and noisy in most parts of town in our experience and the traffic is hectic and congested with an abundance of exceptionally rude and undisciplined drivers. And, when I say the drivers are bad in Oaxaca City, keep in mind that we live six months every year in Chiapas where rude, dangerous and inept kamikaze style crazed driving is commonplace. In fact, they call the two perifericos in the capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez the "other cemeteries".
Good luck in your search for the perfect place. If you find it let the rest of us know. I´ve been seeking that place ever since, like Chuck Berry, I took that Midnight Flyer out of Birmingham heading for the Promised Land in 1967. Never did find Nanette Funicello in Santa Monica. Still looking for that perfect town with or without Nanette at this point..
Considering your background and time in Mexico it seems apparent you know what you would be getting into. I think after having lived in Mazatlán as long as you have you would be well acclimatized to the coastal weather but, yes, I agree about the humidity and that is a factor that keeps me in the central highlands where the air is drier and climate more moderate.
Spending some time in Oaxaca city in December should give you an idea if the cold season is tolerable, though mid-January is likely the coldest. Of course cold here is nothing like those in the US face annually in most areas. I believe Oaxaca city is very similar to the climate here in Morelia which has a cold season with very nippy nights and morning at times but is generally sunny and warm throughout the day.
Most of our homes do not have heating but those cold mornings we bake a lot of biscuits for breakfast and let the oven take the edge off until the sunny day is fully underway. As for Morelia, it rarely if ever hits freezing overnight so is tolerable at 7am even if a sweater or coat is recommended. I believe the same can be said for Oaxaca and for your benefit I just added a Oaxaca weather badge so you can keep an eye on their current weather on your visits here.
I am biased and favorable to living in Morelia/Pátzcuaro area. One reason I recommend looking into this area is that it is not just a lone city but a large area of many communities that are friendly to foreigners. We do not have a commanding presence here but there are many who are spread around Morelia and the Pátzcuaro lake communities and beyond. City to rural environments there is something suitable for most everyone. The autopista makes for quick and easy access to all points - depending on where you would settle you can figure roughly 3-4 hours to the beaches, to Mexico City, or Guadalajara.
Morelia is a sizeable city with all the conveniences and activities close by, has an extensive public transportation system that makes it unnecessary for owning a vehicle. Morelia is also a main transportation center with airport and for several large bus lines leaving out to major cities a the outlying communities - buses leave for Pátzcuaro every ten minutes from 5am to 8pm and about every half hour for Mexico City and Guadalajara. There are direct flights to Los Angeles, Texas, Tijuana, and other locations.
Pátzcuaro is a large town with several supermarkets and other conveniences, and close by are a number of artisan villages, rural ranchos, and a number of picturesque towns of historical and archeological interest. There is a lot of color and tradition throughout the entire area. One may choose a living environment that best suits them and have a number of places to visit for an afternoon drive or a day trip. I believe we are somewhat unique in that regard.
Michoacán is another agricultural state with little large industry, has an economy similar to Oaxaca, and is a fairly low-cost area. The climate is mild throughout the area, some parts somewhat rainy at times and Morelia generally drier, three Pueblo Magicos within this larger community - Pátzcuaro, Cuitzeo, and Santa Clara del Cobre, another is near the butterfly reserve some two-and-a-half hours drive or so away.
That's my take. I see Dawg has come along with more Oaxaca info for you.