Welcome to the shores of Lake
Chapala, Mexico -- land of sunshine and mild temperatures --
commonly referred to as the "Land of Eternal Spring". Thousands of
retirees from the United States, Canada and many other parts of the world
live here either full- or part-time. Many from "north of the border"
escape the winter doldrums OR the extreme southern heat at various times
of the year.
Communities along the North Shore of Lake Chapala
The mountain range that surrounds
Lake Chapala makes it seem a world away from Guadalajara, offering a
welcome contrast to the bustle of the big city. Buses run every 30
minutes from el Centro (downtown Guadalajara) to Chapala. Historically
there has been a connection from Guadalajara to Ajijic as a weekend
retreat. Affluent families
from Guadalajara and Mexico City have come to play on the shores of Lake
Chapala for well over 100 years.
was granted in 1920 for Norwegian Christian Shejetnan to extend a railroad
line from Atequiza, Jalisco to Chapala. "The train ran daily... an
engine, five red wagons with red velvet seats... carrying passengers
morning and afternoon to and from Chapala and La Capilla, where
connections could be made to Mexico City," says June Nay Summers' in her
book. The train station was built by a civil engineer, Mr. de Alba in the
20s. In 1925 Lake Chapala rose a full meter and flooded the station. The
train operated for only a short time - not only because of the flood, but
because a paved road was built from Guadalajara to Chapala through
Ixtlahuacan, which shortened the driving time to three hours. In 1926
railroad operations ceased. After many years of discussion, the
railway station has now been restored to its former glory. The inauguration celebrations were
held in March 2006 and the railway station now houses a historic museum
and cultural center.
in 1904 President Porfirio Díaz discovered Chapala and used it as a
weekend getaway. As word spread of its popularity, summer homes were built
and the Chapala Yacht Club was inaugurated in 1910. Hotel Nido (now the
site of Chapala City Hall) was built to accommodate Díaz and his
Today, Chapala still attracts
weekenders wanting to escape the bustle of city life in Guadalajara.
Vendors sell refreshments and an assortment of souvenirs.
Near the waterfront ,the historic Braniff
House now operates as Cazadores Restaurant which has a fine reputation not only
for serving fine food but also for providing a look into the past. Braniff
House (named after Alberto Braniff of the famed U.S. airline company) was
built almost completely with materials imported from Europe. Construction
began in 1903 and was completed in 1906.
The house was purchased by the
current restaurant owner's grandfather in the 1970s. Today, restaurateur Gerardo Hernandez Martinez
displays pride in his work and in the building which
houses his fine restaurant. One of the specialties of the house is
Chamorro en mole casero (a hearty pork shank bathed in a classic
Mexican mole sauce).
The main street, Avenida Madero, is
lined with restaurants, shops and cafés. Nearby is the Chapala handicraft market where
you can buy small gifts or adornments for friends and family.
Take a leisurely stroll along
the malecon where you will pass the "fishermen's statue" recently erected
in honor of the long standing tradition of fishing the waters of Lake
Chapala. Although not fished to the extent it was in years gone past, you
will still see fishermen out on the waters on a daily basis catching
"charales" (very similar to smelt). Local vendors sell
them along the street, served with lemon and chili sauce.
you feel like doing a little exploring, hire a "lancha" (boat) to take you to visit Mexcala and Scorpion
Islands. Mexcala is famous for the historic four-year standoff by about 1,000
local men, women and children against the Spanish Royalists.
The restaurants located at the east
end of the Malecon specialize in seafood. One of the local dishes is
called "Molcajete" which is like a fondue filled with chicken, beef,
shrimp or a combination. If you are lucky they'll serve it with hand-made
tortillas! I love to listen to the rhythmic slap of the hands as the women
make the tortillas. Music to the ears!
If you are a sports-enthusiast, walk
down the street to La Cristiania Park where you will find very good tennis
courts. Heading east out of Chapala is the Chapala Country Club, an
excellent golf course. Located on the way to Guadalajara is one of the
finest golf courses in the area--Atlas Golf Course.
Heading West Toward Ajijic
As you drive further west you will
pass a number of small communities before you reach Ajijic.
Riberas del Pilar is located about
mid-point between Chapala and Ajijic. Although overlooked for many years,
there are many new homes being built in the community. You will
find a number of small restaurants and abarrotes (corner shops)
where you can pick up convenience items like milk, bread, some fruits and
A little further down west
you will pass the entrance to Mirasol, another small Lakeside community
which has suddenly taken off in the past couple of years.
On the right-hand side (mountain-side) of the carretera is The Chula Vista Country Club with a very nice
nine-hole golf course set into the mountains.
Chula Vista became a very popular
community with the foreign population back in the 1960s. In fact there was
even a noted National Geographic issue that extolled the virtues of
retiring to the area back in the mid-60s. There are now two areas in the
community -- Chula Vista and Chula Vista Norte.
below Chula Vista is the village of San Antonio Tlayacapan. It looks like
something right out of a story book with its church, town square and
cobblestone streets. Much of the village activity centers around this
beautiful church and the village square. There is a feeling of tranquility
as you sit on one of the benches and take in the beauty
that surrounds you.
San Antonio is famous for its
traditional posada which is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary's
search for lodging the night of Jesus' birth. Every night for nine nights
(in the Catholic tradition of the novena) a different route is taken
throughout the village. Villagers consider it an honor to be chosen to
participate in these mini-dramas. The procession grows in size as it makes
its way through the village streets. Eventually they end up
at San Antonio Church where a mass is held, followed by a party with
piñatas for the children.
west you will see the entrance to La Floresta which is divided into
two distinct communities: Upper and Lower La Floresta.
Several blocks south of the
carretera is the beautiful Hotel Real de Chapala. The hotel
has 85 rooms, including 5 suites, a heated swimming pool, tennis courts
and conference rooms. Throughout the week, a varied menu is served in the
Enjoy the Sunday Mexican Fiesta in
the lovely gardens overlooking Mount Garcia and Lake Chapala while being
entertained by folk dancers and local mariachis.
Spend the afternoon sitting by the pool, sipping margaritas ...
Many first-time visitors to the area
wonder what all the fuss is about... what's the attraction? Some
locals say it is the water, some say it is the 'vermillion' in the
atmosphere. I think it is the wonderful people who live in this community
that make it a place I want to call home.
the influx of people from various parts of the globe, Ajijic has managed
it's small-town charm with its cobblestone streets, pastel-colored
You are welcome to visit Ajijic's mayor, Ricardo Gonzalez
who believes communication between the two communities is “very
beautiful because each side respects the other.” Foreigners, he says, have
improved the area’s education, environment and health, especially in the
area of nutrition, and have led efforts to clean up the town. “We have
lived here for many generations, so we don’t change too fast, but we are
learning many useful things from them that improve our lives,” he says.
According to the mayor, people don’t feel envy towards the foreigners’
relative wealth, because that money flows into the economy. “We have full
employment, and our salaries are higher than elsewhere in Mexico,” he
The Plaza Principal (or El Jardin)
is beautifully decorated with trees and flowers. A wonderful oasis to
spend a quiet afternoon watching the children play; sitting and
reading a book; striking up a conversation with a passer-by.
Ajijic -- a shopper's paradise! As you walk
down Avenida Colon (which becomes Morelos), you will discover a
variety of stores and boutiques selling everything from designer clothing
to jewelry to traditional arts and crafts.
The stores offer a selection of
handicrafts, household items, fashions and gifts from all over Mexico.
A large part of Ajijic's economy is
based on the tourism industry. As a result, there are many hotels and B&Bs
to choose from to meet any budget. You will be amazed at the wide
variety of cuisines that is offered -- Italian, TexMex, Thai,
Argentinean, Peruvian -- Mexican!
The grandeur of the lake and the
mountains surrounding Ajijic are a source of joy and inspiration.
There are several paths the follow the stations of the cross up to the
little chapel that overlooks the village. As you climb higher you will
encounter ancient burial grounds where religious ceremonies
are held at various times throughout the year. During the rainy season
there are a series of waterfalls that cascade down the mountainside, along
the streets of Ajijic and flow into the lake.
There is a saying that "connection
to nature is a spiritual blessing" and if you ask people why they choose
to live here they will likely respond that is because of the people, the
climate and our beautiful surroundings.
We are blessed to live in a very
artistic community where art, music, dance and theatre are a part of our
daily lives. There is something magical about the area that inspires our
local artists to produce such a plethora of artistic works in a variety of
different mediums. Many people find another side to themselves when they
settle into this community. There is a common thread amongst many who
choose to settle here - an adventurous spirit and a willingness to explore
San Juan Cosalá
Located ten minutes west of Ajijic
is the small village of San Juan Cosalá
home to the area's famous thermal pools. There are a number of
public and private pools where you can relax, spend the day or stay
overnight at the Hotel Balenario.
Open to the
general public is a series of hot thermal pools where once can choose the
temperature that one wants and select a pool based on that choice.
the weekends, one finds many local families, as well as people from
Guadalajara and vacationing foreigners enjoying the hot springs and the
Be sure to visit
Reuben's Grill located on the grounds of the Villas Buenaventura.
And if you are interested in learning everyday useful phrases, drop in on
Saturday morning about 9:00 AM for one of Reuben's Breakfast/
Spanish lessons. You will be sure to come away with at least one
useful phrase that you can use in the coming week.
Jocotopec is located at the extreme
western end of Lake Chapala. Its history traces back to the 1300s when the
Nahua Indians settled there. There was a time in Jocotopec's history when
it was a stagecoach stop on the journey from Mexico City to Guadalajara.
The town of Jocotopec has a rustic
charm and is known in the area for its beautifully woven serapes with
traditional floral patterns.
There is a beautiful, large central
plaza with a central bandstand and several monuments including on that
commemorates the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage. In the past
couple of years, the town planners have built a Community Center which is
well worth the visit. Local artists have their works on display and
the village's cultural and religious festivities are centered around there
as well as the village church--San Francisco.
There is a lot of activity in the
town square on Sunday evenings as the townspeople gather to participate in
the paseo where young ladies, elegantly attired, walk clockwise
while the young men walk counter-clockwise (all under the watchful eyes of
their elders). When a young man passes a young lady whom he fancies he
will pass her a flower. If she accepts, they will continue the stroll
together or sit on one of the benches to have a chat and get better
As you head out of Jocotopec,
further west you can continue your exploration of the area -- one road
leads into Guadalajara. The other will take you to Colima... and further
yet to the coast town of Manzanillo.