If you’re looking for a Mexican lifestyle with all the comforts of the U.S., look no farther than Lake Chapala, in central Mexico. And if you can’t afford—or don’t want—to buy a home, no worries. Like everything else, rent in Lake Chapala is affordable.
Lake Chapala has been a “destination” for expats—mostly from the U.S.—for nearly 50 years. They were first drawn here by the tranquil setting—a string of villages along the shore of Mexico’s largest lake—and by the superb climate. Temperatures here are spring-like most of the year. (This not only means pleasant weather; it cuts down on heating and air conditioning bills.)
This area is still tranquil, with an easy-going, low-stress culture, and with that spring-like weather. But today it offers much more than that… In Ajijic, arguably the most picturesque town on Lake Chapala’s north shore, there’s a theater and a music appreciation society. There’s also the Lake Chapala Society, a local organization that houses a large English-language library, a café, landscaped grounds, and a community bulletin board (more on that later).
Lifestyle in Lake Chapala
Looking for activities and someone to do them with? There are dozens of interest groups here, for everything from line dancing to gardening to freelance writing. If you’re athletically minded, this area has tennis courts and golf courses. Hiking and water sports like swimming are also available much of the year.
Lakeside—as Lake Chapala, specifically the north shore, is called—is also a good option if you don’t speak Spanish. In addition to the thousands of expats, most locals speak some English. You can watch films in English (with Spanish subtitles) at three cinemas along the lake. And supermarkets, such as Super Lake, import U.S. products—so you can satisfy that occasional longing for U.S. goodies.
The towns along the lake—Ajijic, Chapala, San Juan Cosala and the others—are fairly small. If you hanker for big-city life, Guadalajara—Mexico’s second-largest city—is less than an hour away. Guadalajara offers cultural activities (including an annual mariachi festival in September), shopping, and an international airport with direct flights back to the U.S.
Overall, life in the Lake Chapala area remains very affordable, especially considering all the amenities available.
You can have a meal in many sit-down restaurants on the north shore for $10 to $15 per person. And the cuisines available are international—Japanese, Thai, Italian, Argentine (steaks, of course), and U.S. as well as Mexican. Eating out saves you the after-dinner clean-up…but you can hire a maid here for $3 to $5 an hour. (And some will also cook for you.)
Rentals in Lake Chapala
Many expats choose to rent rather than buy; there are rental properties available for both short- and long-term stays. Rentals run from $400 to $4,000 a month, depending on a property’s size, features and location. The greater Ajijic area is probably the most expensive, with the town of Chapala running second and Jocotepec third. The lake’s south side is much less expensive…but amenities (and fellow expats) are few.
Since this area is so well known, you can find many rentals just by doing an Internet search on Lake Chapala. However, two rental agencies that local area expats rely on are Chapala Property Management and Concierge and Sarah Cole Rental & Property Management. When I checked recently, rents started at about $600 a month for a one- or two-bedroom home.
Finally, if you’re in the area, check the community bulletin board at the Lake Chapala Society for rentals offered by local area expats. You just might find a smoking deal.
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