Lake Chapala, Mexico

Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest lake, and the surrounding area is also home to the largest concentration of expats in the world. Located in west-central Mexico, about an hour south of Guadalajara, the Lake Chapala region sustains approximately 20,000 expats, most from the U.S. and Canada, and the vast majority are retired. That number roughly doubles during the cold Canadian winter months, when thousands more migrate to the area for about six months each year.

Two quaint towns, Chapala and Ajijic (ah-hee-heek) support most of the expat population, with Ajijic holding the edge when it comes to numbers. Both communities are nestled along the lake’s shoreline and separated by only a few miles.

Lake Chapala itself is actually a volcanic crater lake or caldera. Geothermal activity still provides plenty of steam and hot water which has been accessed by a large, commercial bath and spa located on the shore between the two communities. Numbers of pools of hot water, naturally heated by the geothermal activity, provide for natural relaxation against a stunning outdoor backdrop of mountains on one side and Lake Chapala on the other.

The enormous appeal of this area is easy to understand. In addition to the overall affordability, the area also boasts the second-best climate on the planet; daily temperatures are almost always 75 F to 78 F, under bright blue sky and sunshine. Rain, when it happens, is usually at night. The areas elevation, at about 5,000 feet above sea level, assists with the stability of the climate.

Although separated by only a few miles, there are some notable differences between the towns of Chapala and Ajijic. While both towns share a charming town square, a walkable central area with small shops and great restaurants, Ajijic has a much larger population of English speaking expats than Chapala. Chapala has a more “Mexican” feel with fewer organized expat activities. As a result, homes are a bit cheaper in Chapala than Ajijic, as are rental prices.

Although the area does offer affordable housing, it also has a nice mix of magnificent homes with award-winning architectural designs. Those interested in something a bit more upscale will have no problem finding spectacular homes set on one of the local hillsides, with a breathtaking, panoramic view. This area has been providing weekend and summer retreats for the wealthy of Guadalajara for generations and there are always a number of those homes on the market for far less than a comparable home north of the border.

There are ample restaurants as well as modern theaters, garden clubs, Spanish classes, art exhibits, book clubs, dancing classes, chess clubs, and practically any kind of activity you might want, nearly all based in Ajijic. A gorgeous tennis club and golf course in Ajijic offer top-notch recreation as well.

Medical care is handled by local clinics and the cost is reasonable. For serious issues, you can access several large hospitals in Guadalajara, about an hour north. Every day shopping is easily handled with local markets and, if you like, Walmart. And if you simply can’t find what you need in Chapala or Ajijic, and want to access world class shopping, Guadalajara can provide that, as well.

Bus service runs between Ajijic and Chapala about every 30 minutes so it’s easy to get the best of both worlds, regardless of where you live.

The Lake Chapala Society, a non-profit organization, is the hub of activity for expats. Through their efforts, you can access bus tours, wine tastings, lectures, lessons, card tournaments, fitness classes, yoga, line dancing, cooking classes, and an almost unlimited number of other activities.

Life in the Lake Chapala area can be as active or as laidback as you wish. A full and active lifestyle can be had for around $1,500 per month, all in.