Research and assess Lake Chapala. Ajijic and Jocotepec as a location for living, working or retirement in Mexico
The lakeside towns of Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec are situated about an hour’s drive south of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. These lakeside colonial towns are home to the largest concentration of foreign residents anywhere in Mexico. Attractions of the location include an ideal year-round climate, easy access to Guadalajara’s amenities and international airport, and a long-established populace of foreign residents who organize a wide range of social and cultural events in the locality.
Situated at elevation on the shores of Mexico’s largest lake, Lake Chapala, the towns of Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec are home to the largest concentration of American and Canadian residents anywhere in Mexico. Although the population increases during the winter season, many foreign residents make this their primary year-round home.
Lake Chapala at-a-Glance:
Location Type: Colonial
Population: c.56,000 (2020 Census)
Elevation: 1,525 meters (5,000 feet) above sea-level
Time zone: Lake Chapala and Ajijic are on Mexico’s Central Time zone
Annual temperatures: 55F/13C (Nocturnal low, Winter); 85F/29C (Daytime high, Summer).
See temperatures in Lake Chapala area by month (Google)
Rainy season: The rainy season in the Lake Chapala area runs from late May to October each year.
Hurricanes: Lake Chapala is inland and mostly unaffected by Hurricanes. When hurricanes land on the Pacific coast, inclement weather can be experienced for a few days in the form of overcast skies and additional rainfall.
Local economy: Tourism, foreign resident retirees
Foreign resident prevalence: Very High*
Cost of living: Higher* See the cost of living section of this guide for details.
Lake Chapala on the map:
Discover Lake Chapala on the map (Google Maps)
Local travel guide: Guide to Guadalajara
*Relative to other foreign expat communities in Mexico
Discovering Lake Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec
Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec are small Mexican colonial towns situated on the northern shoreline of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. The area is conveniently situated about an hour’s drive from the southside of Guadalajara —Mexico’s second largest city— and is also close to Guadalajara’s international airport.
The ‘Lake Chapala area’ encompasses the towns of Chapala and nearby towns of Ajijic (about a 20-30 minute drive, depending on traffic) and, further west along the north lakeside, the small town of Jocotepec (about a 45-60 minute drive from Chapala) that has begun to experience a higher influx of foreign residents of late.
The area became popular in the early 20th century when Mexico’s former president Porfirio Diaz vacationed here, and famous writer DH Lawrence wrote his notable work, The Plumed Serpent, while staying in Chapala.
After the revolutionary war, transport connections were improved with a train line (now closed; the old station has been turned into a cultural center) and today the area is made easily accessible by road highways that connect the towns to each other and to the nearby city of Guadalajara. The region’s main airport is conveniently situated 20 miles (about a 30-minute drive) north of the town of Chapala, and offers regular flights to Mexico City and various US cities. Check FlightConnections.com for current routes.
Chapala is a popular weekend get-away destination for Tapatios, as people from Guadalajara are known. The town’s lakeshore district is characterized by it bandstand, scenic pier, and local cafés and restaurants; boat rides depart from here to take tourists to some of the islands on the lake, including Isla de los Alacranes (Scorpion Island) that offers sight-seeing and a place to sit and enjoy a meal. Chapala is the first lakeside town you’ll encounter as you drive south from Guadalajara and the airport and is also where the area’s principal bus station is situated. Chapala becomes particularly busy during the weekends as well as during long holiday weekends.
About a 20-30 minute drive west from Chapala (depends on local traffic) is the picturesque town of Ajijic. This is the best known of all the lakeside towns, and tends to be the one most sought-after by foreign residents considering a move to the area. Its picturesque streets, cobbled alleyways, pleasant plazas, and agreeable treelined boardwalk along the lakeside offer an environment that is quintessentially colonial Mexico coupled with Anglicized stores and restaurants. Combined, these two worlds fuse into an attractive environment that provides the picturesque feel of a traditional colonial Mexican town with the comforts and amenities of an American one.
One of the striking features of the town is the proliferation of street and mural artworks that can be found throughout Ajijic. The presence of this artwork sprang from the 1954 Children’s Art Program at Lake Chapala Society (see community, below, for more information about the LCS). The town also makes efforts to recognize and celebrate writers and artists which you can discover and read about on local historian Tony Burton’s website, Lake Chapala Artists.
“Joco,” as it’s referred to locally, is the western-most lakeside town along the north shore of Lake Chapala. Far fewer foreign residents live here than in neighboring Ajijic and Chapala, although as property prices have soared in established neighborhoods, potential new residents looking for lower-priced homes or rents, as well as those who seek a town near to Ajijic but with less concentration of foreign residents, may consider Jocotepec as a potential alternative. Joco serves as a mid-point between the social and cultural attractions in Ajijic and Chapala and the growing assortment of modern services and stores in southwest Guadalajara, including CostCo, readily accessible from Jocotepec via highways 15 and 80.
Long-established community of foreign residents
The Lake Chapala area, with the main towns of Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec (and smaller enclaves including Riberas del Pilar, La Floresta, San Antonio, and San Juan Cosalá) is the most comprehensively developed of all the popular regions where foreign residents live in Mexico. Like San Miguel de Allende, the unfolding of this locality as a foreign resident enclave happened over many decades, and was brought about through a series of organic events and situations which, together over time, cultivated a community of people with common interests and lifestyle priorities. It is this long-established group of foreign residents who have arrived and become actively involved in the care and development of the communities they live among that has formed the Lake Chapala areas as they have become today.
For potential foreign residents seeking a place to live in Mexico, the lakeside villages offer a ‘turn-key’ lifestyle location that combines the idyllic characteristics of Mexico with familiar tones and behaviors of Anglicized culture, including an immediate community people speaking English as their principal or strong second language.
Perfect year-round climate
One of the biggest attractions for foreign residents living in the Lake Chapala area is the near-perfect climate that this region offers. Situated at over 5,000 feel above sea level and settled alongside a natural lake, the locality offers all of the benefits of living in a mountain climate.
You don’t need to spend money keeping warm in the winter, and unlike living at the beach, you don’t need to spend money on expensive air-conditioning to keep cool during the summer months. The year-round temperate climate provides ideal living conditions for indoor and outdoor activities. You can learn more about the climate and weather in Lake Chapala in the section below.
Strong local community
The Lake Chapala area has what is probably the best organized and most highly developed local community of foreign residents anywhere in Mexico. This has come about through decades of dedication by foreign residents who arrived and took an active interest in the local community and environs.
The lion’s share of the community efforts are spearheaded and coordinated by The Lake Chapala Society, headquartered in Ajijic, with arts and cultural activities led by the Lakeside Little Theatre company.
Residents who come to live in the area tend to become actively involved in social, cultural and altruistic activities, all of which contribute to the growth and strength of the local community spirit that exists here. For newcomers, the Lake Chapala Society provides an immediate connection to local people, activities and events; and for long-term residents the society serves a foundation and focal point for the ongoing development of local community interests.
Unique and not easily compared
There is nowhere else in Mexico like Lake Chapala; other small towns that aspire to become ‘meccas’ for foreign residents (for the investment and energy they bring) talk about ’emulating the model,’ but the truth is that the Lake Chapala area (and Ajijic in particular) evolved over many decades as people attracted to the locale streamed in naturally and made unique contributions —some significant, others quite small but cooperatively important— in ways that cannot be forced or brought about in short time scales for the expediency of creating a new lifestyle destination.
This is not an ideal destination for everyone who wants to forge a new lifestyle in Mexico, and like anywhere else it’s worth taking time to consider your needs and priorities, but towns around Lake Chapala offer a comfortable and agreeable situation, especially for people who want to combine Mexico’s atmosphere and its physical environment (e.g. climate, food, architecture) with the immediate presence of a familiar Anglo culture that has formed over decades right on the doorstep in the form of social, cultural, and educational events and facilities. The lakeside area’s proximity to an international airport is also a big pull for foreign residents with family and/or business ties in the US and Canada.
The cost of living in Mexico is typically lower than it is the USA, Canada and Europe, although precise costs depend upon where you live and your lifestyle choices.
Living or retiring in the Lake Chapala area is more affordable than in the US and Canada and Europe; however, it is among the more expensive places in Mexico to live, in part to due to the steady demand from foreign residents for property and services here, and the fact that some elements of the local economy (especially rents and house prices) are effectively dollarized—see real estate, below, for details.
Prices for everyday goods at local shops, supermarkets, and of course everyday services like telephony and utilities are in line with prices everywhere else in Mexico. The Lake Chapala area is well served with local stores, including a large Wal-Mart, and within an hour’s drive residents have access to a wide range of modern shopping amenities including big stores like CostCo and Sam’s Club that are popular with foreign residents, as well as specialist retailers that stock imported goods which are not easily found in Mexico.
Further insight about living costs in Mexico
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The Lake Chapala area offers a wide range of home options to suit all tastes and budgets; from small rustic casitas to large homes built into the upper levels of the nearby mountainside offering breathtaking views across the lake. Most foreign residents who are attracted to Lake Chapala and can afford it will rent or buy a home in Ajijic proper (and a range of price levels exists within the town itself, depending on the locale and type of property); Chapala is the second most popular locale with foreign residents; and Jocotepec, the western-most town on the north shore, is the location in this area with the least concentration of foreign residents and also the town with lower rental and purchase prices.
Principal areas (neighborhoods) around Lake Chapala
These are the principal areas where foreign residents typically buy or rent homes in the Lake Chapala area:
- Chapala itself — most foreign residents have homes situated in the hillsides above the pier and downtown lakeshore area; neighborhoods include Lourdes, San Miguel, Tepehua, La Purisima, La Parota, and Nuevo Chapala;
- as you travel west from Chapala, you’ll find Riberas del Pilar and San Antonio—popular small town/neighborhoods nestled between Chapala and Ajijic; and
- Ajijic — the most sought-after and the most expensive of all the lakeside towns; it’s where the Lake Chapala Society is headquartered and is the focal point for all the social, cultural and educational activities of the area; it’s also the most crowded and with the highest concentration of foreign residents;
- west from Ajijic along the north shore is San Juan Cosalá, an increasingly popular conurbation in the locality that’s attracting significant interest from foreign residents as well being a focal point for property developers; then
- further west are the small conurbations Jaltepec and Chantepec; before you reach
- the westernmost town on the north shore, Jocotepec, that is also the gateway to the highway connecting Lake Chapala with the (growing) southwest side of Guadalajara, including the shops and amenities near Santa Anita.
Ajijic remains the most popular and most sought after of all the lakeside towns; this is driven by its picturesque streets and plazas, its role as the focal point for social and cultural activities, and its ample assortment of attractive accommodations; it is however the most expensive of all the lakeside towns for property rentals and purchase. Chapala, Ribera del Pila, San Antonio and San Juan Cosalá are the next most popular (and expensive) areas; as you travel further west along the north shore of the lake, you’ll find lower prices in the conurbations of Jaltepec and Chantepec, and in the town of Jocotepec.
Small properties can be purchased from around US$100,000. Property rentals in Ajijic and Chapala tend to be quoted in US dollars and start at around US$400 per month for a small studio; 2 bedroom homes can rent from US$800 per month. Lower rents (and rents in Mexican pesos) can be sought in more traditional neighborhoods and in conurbations outside of Ajijic and Chapala proper. Our Mexico Cost of Living guide contains chapters on property prices as well as links to portal sites where you can browse properties for rent and for sale.
Learn more about real estate in Mexico
Mexperience offers lots of local insight about property in Mexico:
- Download our free guide to Real Estate in Mexico from the Mexico eBooks Library here on Mexperience
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In addition to Mexico’s state sponsored healthcare provided via the country’s national health service IMSS, good quality healthcare services offered through private clinics with US-standard healthcare services exist in the Lake Chapala area.
Hospitals/Clinics: The area offers two local private hospitals, both situated between Chapala and Ajijic, which offer “tier 4” facilities (almost all services) with lab work and care provided lakeside and no need to travel to Guadalajara for treatments. You will need to be insured or pay out of pocket to use these. See the insurance options article link, below, for details about coverage choices.
Doctors: Lake Chapala is well served by doctors on call, many of whom speak Spanish and English. They can refer you to local (public and private) clinics, specialists and hospitals.
Dentists: There are plenty of dentists to choose from; ask locally for a recommendation.
Opticians: There are several optometrists available offering eye tests, treatments and some also offer laser surgery. Ask locally for details.
The city of Guadalajara (about an hour’s drive away) offers additional medical services and healthcare specialists if these are needed.
Learn more about healthcare in Mexico
You may find these resources on Mexperience helpful:
- Health and medical insurance options in Mexico
- Health and well-being in Mexico
- Travel health in Mexico
As we mentioned earlier in the guide (see above), Lake Chapala offers a near perfect year-round climate to live in, and it’s this temperate climate that is one of the top attractions to people considering a move here, and as well encouraging those already living here to stay.
The towns along the north shore of Lake Chapala enjoy year-round temperate climates. In the fall and winter months, daytime high temperatures average around 75F (23C) and nighttime lows average around 42F (6C). In the spring and summer months, daytime high temperatures average around 85F (29C) and nighttime lows average around 55F (13C). The rain season runs from around mid-May to mid-October each year, sometimes spilling into November.
Further insights about weather and climate:
- Lake Chapala monthly temperatures and rainfall (Google)
- Seasons in Mexico
- Climate and weather in Mexico
Connect to practical information and gain insights about living and lifestyle in nearby Guadalajara, Mexico
Lake Chapala articles and guides
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Lake Chapala airport
The Lake Chapala towns are served by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla international airport (GDL) situated about 20 miles (50 minute road trip) north from the downtown pier area of Chapala.
Check FlightConnections.com for current routes.
Lake Chapala map
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