The view was literally breathtaking. Mexico’s largest lake, Chapala, was just yards away and if I turned my head slightly, the purplish hues of the Sierra Madre mountains were visible just over my shoulder. It was late in the afternoon and the sky was turning astonishing shades of crimson and pumpkin-orange as the sun began its descent.
I was submerged to my chin, out-of-doors, in a steaming cauldron heated by underground geothermal activity. I rolled an icy beer can across my forehead as I allowed the hot water to perform its magic.
This geothermal spa on the outskirts of Ajijic (Ah-eee-eek) is situated on the shore of the lake; it is family owned, generations old. I didn’t want to leave. I told myself that I had earned this hot-water soak (and cold beer). I had spent a full day exploring available real estate in and around the Lake Chapala area including the small, lakeside community and expat stronghold of Ajijic as well as the town of Chapala a few miles away. In addition to the nearly perfect weather, I found there is much to like about this area, including single-family homes for under $50,000.
Property here is affordable and provides good value for your money. And the cost of living regularly permits couples with only social security income to live a full and active life here; something that over 15,000 expat residents have already discovered. This area is also a terrific location for investors as its popularity with retirees ensures that many will seek long-term rentals. The strong dollar exchange against the peso provides additional value at this time.
The first home I visited in Chapala was in a nice, gated community. For $47,000, this single story home provided two bedrooms, one bathroom, a study and a modern kitchen. The community has a nice pool and monthly fees are only about $25. And while real estate here is great value for resident owners and investors alike, the affordability is only one aspect of the pleasing lifestyle available in this area.
Sitting at about 5,000 feet in west-central Mexico‘s Sierra Madre range, the Lake Chapala area boasts the world’s second-best climate. With year-round temperatures nearly always in the mid-70s F and ”severe clear” as the usual expectation…and with moderate rain falling almost always at night, there is no need for weather forecasters here.
The two small and quaint towns of Ajijic and Chapala comprise the majority of the population around the 48-mile-long lake and both are nested directly on the shore. In the traditional manner, each small town has a delightful central square with a large, picturesque church and charming cobblestone streets radiating outward. While both communities are only a few miles apart and share the same shoreline, Ajijic enjoys greater popularity among expats whose influence is prominent in the area’s economy. Chapala retains a more Mexican feel and is home to fewer expats. With slightly lower property prices, some excellent opportunities can be found in Chapala.
One property I came across was quite an unusual find. This three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom, two-story home was purchased new but never lived in. The owners now need to sell. Arched doorways, granite counters, and beautiful tiles make this home a bargain at $149,000. And when you toss in the dramatic 30-foot domed ceiling in the living room, a huge back terrace, and solid wood doors with separate laundry room and storage area as well as a nice front and backyard, you know you’re getting a luxurious feel for a bargain price.
I spent several days in this area, talking to residents in both Ajijic and Chapala, enjoying a number of local restaurants in both towns and walking through the quaint cobblestone streets. Both communities are equally attractive with a slight investor advantage going to Chapala for its lower prices and recently revitalized central area with new sidewalks and wheelchair ramps. Public bus service regularly runs between both towns so living in either community allows ready access to the other.
If you simply can’t decide between Chapala and Ajijic, you might be quite happy with the San Antonio neighborhood located just off the main highway about mid-way between both communities. For less than $100,000, you could have a lovely two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on the second level with a splendid view of the pool and garden. This fully furnished, 960-square-foot home is on offer for $99,600.
Expats who choose to live in either small town will enjoy the benefits of all those who came before them. The Lake Chapala Society has been organized by expats to provide a central hub for dozens of activities. Everything from Spanish lessons to organized bus tours, shopping trips to the large city of Guadalajara less than an hour away (also where the large international airport is located), organized crafts, games, dances and dancing lessons, and practically anything else you might want can usually be found on the list of activities at the Lake Chapala Society.
This area has been an expat magnet for many years. With its perfect weather, strong expat presence, and affordability, it’s easy to understand why the Lake Chapala area is so popular.
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