If you’ve never heard of Lake Chapala it’s probably because it’s a pretty small place. If you have heard of Lake Chapala it’s probably because of the area’s huge retired expat population. What is it really like to living in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico? Does it live up to it’s reputation as one of the best places to retire in Mexico, or is living in the Lake Chapala area overrated? We’ll answer these questions and discuss daily life living in Chapala, Ajijic, and Jocotepec.
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The expat community here is very established and well organized. Many expats are members of The Lake Chapala Society. This is the social hub for those who come to retire from the U.S., Canada, and other countries. The number of activities offered by the Lake Chapala Society is enormous. We took four classes here. One was a class on tortillas, how they are made and what types of dishes use tortillas as the main ingredient. We took another class on making delicious salsa, where we learned how to make 5 types of Mexican salsa. The next class was about aguas frescas, which are different kinds of juices and drinks. Some of these drinks are made from fruit and others made from different types of plants and flowers. And finally a class on Mexican manners so that we could learn how to interact with the local people politely.
The community of Mexican people who live in the Lake Chapala area is amazing. They are some of the friendliest and most patient people we have encountered anywhere in the world. But it’s not just that they’re friendly, its a very gentle friendliness. A very tenderhearted friendliness. We get a feeling of warmth when are interacting with the local people here.
You can find any level of housing that you’re looking for here. On a tight budget? Then you’ll have no trouble finding a basic but comfortable apartment for just a few hundred dollars per month. Did you just win the lottery? Then you’ll have plenty of multi-million dollar mansions to choose from. Our modern apartment in Ajijic was $775 per month including utilities and internet. This was one of the nicest apartments we have had since we became full time travelers. The amenities included a heated swimming pool and a gym. Chapala and Jocotepec tend to have the most housing options for those on a tight budget. Ajijic is the place to live the luxury lifestyle.
The weather here? Practically perfect. It’s not too hot in the summer. It’s not too cold in the winter. There’s very little air conditioning or heating here because you just don’t need it. We were here during the rainy season but almost all the rain was in the middle of the night, with just some occasional daytime rain.
One of the neat things about the markets here is that there is something different each day of the week. The biggest outdoor market is in Chapala on Mondays and you can find anything you need here. You can find clothes, shoes, toys, electronics, cosmetics, hardware, fruits and vegetables. On Tuesdays there’s a market in Western Ajijic that caters a little more toward the expats, but there are local people here too. At this market you’re going to see more homemade products, things like homemade jams, a lot of organic products, homemade baked goods, etc. On Wednesday’s we’ve got the market in central Ajijic. It’s very similar to the Monday market but maybe not quite as big. Then on Thursdays Jocotepec has a small but nice outdoor market with mostly food and clothes. And of course you can always go to Walmart in Ajijic if that’s more your shopping style.
There is no shortage of restaurants here around Lake Chapala. You can find Indian food. And U.S. style BBQ (we loved the Smoke House Restaurant). You can find Asian food. And you can get Five Guys/In-N-Out style burgers. But we prefer the local Mexican food. Our favorite restaurant was Chile Verde in Ajijic’s central plaza. Each day of the week they have a special item on the menu. And they have all the typical Mexican dishes like enchiladas and tacos. A meal with a drink will cost about US$4-6 here.
The health care in the Lake Chapala area is actually quite good. There are several clinics around town, and some hospitals. We had a few medical appointments and were satisfied with both the quality and especially the prices. And if you have something more serious you can head to Guadalajara. Mexico’s second biggest city is just an hour away. Many consider Guadalajara to be Mexico’s top city for health care.
Many of the expats here have decided to have a car, but really it’s quite easy to live here without one. There are buses that run along the main road between Jocotopec and Chapala every 15 or 20 minutes or so. Another way to get around here is with a bicycle. There’s a paved bike path along the main road. Other options for transportation are walking, taxi, motorcyle, ATV, and even by horse. (We never saw expats on a horse but some of the local people use horses to get around).
We feel like living in the Lake Chapala area is very safe. At no time did we feel threatened by any type of crime. But the security situation anywhere in the world can change quickly, so you always want to get the latest information.
Cost Of Living
You can see a breakdown of our monthly spending average living in Ajijic. This adds up to US$1907 per month, not including our transportation to come to Ajijic or some donations that we made. Living in the Lake Chapala area is definitely not ideal if your goal is to live in Mexico as inexpensively as possible. There are many cheaper cities in Mexico.
Is Chapala Overrated?
So back to the original question. Do we think Lake Chapala is overrated? We think it’s over-priced, and maybe just a little overrated for us. But everybody is different. If we were to live here, we would probably make Jocotepec our base. This lovely town on the west side of the lake felt more authentic Mexican to us. But if you’re looking for a place that supplies a lot of support for adapting to life in a foreign country, then Lake Chapala might be the perfect place for you.