After spending a few days in Guadalajara, we drove to Ajijic (Ah-hee-HEEK), forty-five minutes south on Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake.
WHY? Lake Chapala is a retirement mecca and vacation hotspot. At 5,000 feet the climate is temperate year around. The lake is enormous: 420 square miles; distance east to west is 50 miles, max depth, 34 feet.
WHAT WE LEARNED: Friendly; Español is a good idea; Rent is likely reasonable, although houses list for $90K to $1,000,000 USD; For big city amenities, you go to Guadalajara; In Ajijic, embrace Mexican culture immersion. To some, Ajijic is a flavor of “real Mexico”. To others the expat influence is obvious.
We were in the very hilly town of Ajijic for 2 days, not enough time for cultural immersion – just impressions: beautiful mountains; cobblestoned bone jarring narrow streets (driving and walking is a challenge); colorful houses and flora. This blog features three elements: 1) The lake; 2) The village; 3) The houses.
The Lake and Malacon
Lake Chapala is a principal source of fresh water for Guadalajara, but there are serious issues as a result of urban water consumption, compounded by erosion, evaporation and pollution. Not that long ago, the water receded so much that farmers took over the dried lake bed and planted crops. Due to recent robust rainy seasons, the lake is at 80% capacity, but remains threatened. Trees and a defunct playground now stand in water, as evidence of the dry years.
Alongside the lake is the Malacon, an evening gathering place for walking, market, buskers, basketball players, skateboarders, dog walkers, you name it.
The Town Surroundings in “The Heart of Ajijic”
The town plaza, with the mission, is a gathering place for old friends. Near the church is The Wall of The Dead, Muro de los Muerlos, by Efren Gonzales, ceramic skull shaped plaques, each inscribed and dedicated to a person. Installed on the exterior of the primary school, the idea is “to honor ordinary folks.”
The shops that cater to tourists and expats are interspersed with bars, gourmet restaurants, and coffee shops in a small area, but up the street, away from the Malacon is day-to-day, local Ajijic life.
About those cobblestones: The street are hand-made from rounded stones. Not a smooth ride, nor handicap accessible. We walked blocks and blocks in all directions – then drove even more. The streets are narrow, and the only break from the cobblestones is the highway through town which tracks along the lake.
The houses are intermixed and colorful. Local houses, off-beat bohemian style and found alongside vacation and expat homes behind colorful walls, imaginative gates and frescos. Delightful gardens exist behind unassuming walls.
What we missed: The Spas, hiking in the mountains, gourmet restaurants, Tequila…always the tequila. The box stores are here, too…east of town. On the west side of town are the large expat houses, behind gates, up on the hills.