Mexico’s climate is so varied that there’s pretty much something for everyone, no matter what your taste. But if it came to a vote on the very best climate in Mexico, Lake Chapala, in central Mexico, might well win out. If you’re looking for a Mexico retirement spot with a mild climate, Lake Chapala is about as perfect as it gets.
No less an arbiter than National Geographic, which has covered more places on earth than most people ever visit, ranks Lake Chapala’s climate second-best in the world. Temperatures here are pretty pleasant all year round, and—even better—with no extreme highs and lows. Highs at mid-summer may reach the mid-80s F; lows during the depths of winter may drop to the high 40s. Most of the year, therefore, temperatures are in the 70s and 80s F. Add in the location—a large lake surrounded by mountains and sitting at about 5,000 feet above sea level—and you have a destination that’s easy on the eyes and gentle on the body.
Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that the Lake Chapala area is home to the largest community of North American expats in the world. As many as 15,000 foreigners, most of them from the U.S. and Canada, choose to live here full or part-time.
Mexico’s climate, and the comforts of home
Most of the expats at Lakeside, as the area is commonly known, live on the lake’s North Shore. There are no large cities here; instead, there is a string of villages with names like Chapala, Ajijic, and San Antonio. Thanks to the large, long-established expat community, you’ll have no shortage of English speakers or of shops selling familiar U.S. and Canadian items. Costco, Home Depot, McDonald’s and Starbuck’s are all here, for instance. (You can even get English-language movies at the local Cineplex.) There are also plenty of social groups to keep expats busy, including a theater, music appreciation, and—at last count—at least 80 special interest clubs through the Lake Chapala Society, offering everything from line dancing to creative writing.
Lake Chapala’s mild climate also makes outdoor activities possible all year long. Golfing, hiking, gardening and more are all available. (And if you want that garden but not the work it involves, you can hire a local gardener to tend it for you at $3 to $4 an hour. Inexpensive hired help is another plus here.)
Housing costs are moderate in Lake Chapala, too. You can find one-bedroom apartments to rent for about $500 a month, and two- to three-bedroom houses starting at about $900. To buy, you can find comfortable properties from about $150,000, and plenty of choices in the $250,000 range.
Getting to Lake Chapala is easy. It’s just half an hour from the international airport in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, where you can get direct flights to the U.S.
If you want more than one destination to choose from, however, here’s my own pick for runner-up: Ensenada, on the coast of Baja California.
Only about an hour from the U.S./Mexico border, Ensenada basically has the same climate as San Diego. Days tend to be warm and sunny, and nights are cool. The Pacific Ocean is right at hand—Ensenada has a lovely little marina, and miles of coastline just outside town. Stay near the water and you’ll find plenty of English-speaking tourists and locals, with dollars accepted as readily as pesos. But go inland half a dozen blocks and you can stroll wholly Mexican neighborhoods and markets.
Like California’s, Ensenada’s climate is fairly dry, without the lush greenery you find in Lake Chapala at certain times of year. Ensenada’s temperatures also vary more than Chapala’s, with greater highs and lows.
But if you prefer the seaside to the lakeside—or you need to be closer to the U.S. than a plane-ride away, Ensenada is a comfortable second choice.
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