Lake Chapala: Easy, Fun, and Affordable Mexican Living

When my husband, Rob, and I moved to Lake Chapala, Mexico, the first thing we noticed was how easy it is to be an expat here.

Bordered by the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, two principal cities of Chapala and Ajijic form the area collectively referred to as Lake Chapala. Just an easy 45-minute drive south of Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, the community of Lake Chapala is popular with expats both because of the beautiful surroundings and the convenience of the area.

There are over 8,000 full-time expats in the region. Many of us are learning to speak Spanish, but it’s not essential, especially in the towns. Owning a car is convenient, but the local bus and taxi system is reliable and inexpensive. Expats have been coming here for decades so there is an extensive network of organized social opportunities. Play bridge, like to read, climb mountains, or go kayaking? No problem, there’s already a group here for you to join.

The reasonable cost of living makes this area attractive to retirees. It’s a treat for us to sit outside at one of the coffee shops surrounding the city plaza, enjoying a fancy cold coffee drink and sharing an apple strudel for about $5. There are many great restaurants to choose from and we rarely spend more than $30 for the two of us, including a glass or two of wine. There are supermarkets here, but we often buy food from local vendors and at the weekly street markets at great prices. Street vendors sell large containers of raspberries for less than $2 and a small freshly made spinach and mushroom empanada costs about $1.

We were pleasantly surprised with the variety of housing options available. We chose to rent a home close to the city center in Ajijic, which with all the festivities can be noisy, but we love being just a five-minute walk to the heart of the city. You’ll find gated communities, country houses, condominiums, and traditional colonial Mexican homes. Rent prices run the gamut from under $500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment to several thousand for a luxury home with stunning lake and mountain views.

Something that was important to us when we were deciding where to retire was the ability to volunteer and become active in the local community. Here in Lake Chapala there is no shortage of opportunities to make a real impact. There are organizations that work with children, animals, the disabled, the needy, you name it. And they are always happy to have new volunteers.

Another thing we noticed right away was how much fun it is. From structured entertainment like plays and concerts to the ever-present fundraisers, there is always something to do. Just walking through town can be an adventure. You don’t know what you’ll see…maybe a parade, a mariachi band, or a couple of very talented musicians holding an impromptu performance in the square. When people ask why we like it here, we tell them, “We live in a beautiful, affordable area with kind, friendly people and fabulous weather, where we can be as busy or as relaxed as we want.”

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