The Draw to Lake Chapala
There are many draws to Lake Chapala, but the four most significant draws to Lake Chapala are the weather, the large existing expatriate community, cost of living and excellent health care options.
Located in the state of Jalisco, Lake Chapala is located on Mexico’s largest fresh water lake. The lake itself is about 50 miles long and surrounded by the majestic Sierra Madre mountains. The two most heavily populated cities around Lake Chapala are Chapala and Ajijic. At an elevation of 5,000 feet, locals enjoy glorious temperate weather all year round.
In fact, in 1966, National Geographic rated Ajijic the #2 “Perfect Weather” location for it’s year round average temperature of 75 degrees! Today, the weather is still luxurious and invites activities like golf, canoing and kayaking, sailing, hiking , biking, shopping, long walks around the lake and many different social activities.
There are nearly 43,000 people living in Lake Chapala and the two most popular cities around the lake are Chapala and Ajijic. The population of Ajijic is around 15,000 and there are more than 50 ex-pat organizations in the area!
In fact, based in the town of Chapala, the Lake Chapala Society has nearly 4,000 members. This group of expatriates claims to have the largest English book library in Mexico and a huge video/DVD collection. It also has a restaurant, several meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor areas for meetings and many daily activities scheduled. The weekly health fairs have on-site screening for eye exams, diabetes, cancer, etc. It’s a great way to meet people and become part of a larger community.
There is an American Legion Chapter that celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2011 in the Chapala area and they, too, have a full agenda of activities.
- Lake Chapala Society
- The American Legion
- Bridge Club
- German Club
- The Canadian Club
But even with over 20,000 expatriates living here during winter season, the ambiance is still old Mexico. Ajijic village is over 400 years old with historical churches and landmarks.
You can take advantage of the many day trips to villages in the surrounding area and enjoy the local art and culture of a society that is between 1,000-1,500 years old.
If you’re looking for a large, active expatriate community located on the shores of a scenic lake with a beautiful mountain backdrop and perfect weather, you need to visit Lake Chapala.
We should mention that although the lake is beautiful to look at, swimming nor fishing are activities you will find too many people participating in as the lake is in need of a clean up effort. Lake Chapala’s principal source of water is the Lerma River, which starts near Toluca and flows through the states of Michoacán and Guanajuato before entering Jalisco. The water entering Lake Chapala from the Lerma River is highly polluted with heavy metals and other toxic substances as a result of insufficient waste water treatment by the many industries operating near the Lerma River. However, in February 2009, Lake Chapala was declared a RAMSAR site (RAMSAR sites are wetlands of international importance, recognized globally by the Ramsar Convention, which is an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands) and in March 2010, the 13th International Living Lakes Conference was held in Guadalajara and addressed “Lake Management – Challenges in a Changing World – Effective Use of Ramsar Management Plans”.
As stated above, the weather in Ajijic and the entire Lake Chapala area is glorious. Located approximately 5,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains, Lake Chapala has only moderate temperature variations from month to month. However, some of the locals would swear there are four distinct seasons!
Typically, January through March the highs run from 76 – 81 degrees F. and the lows from 47 to 50 F. Very light rains during these months. April through June, the highs run between 83 to 86 degrees F. and the lows from 54 to 61 degrees F. The rains continue light in April and May but increase significantly in June to 6.3 inches on average. July through September, the highs run from 78 to 79 degrees F. and the lows from 59 top 60 degrees F. The rains continue heavy in July at 9.7 inches down to 5.8 inches in September. Finally, October through December, the highs run from 79 in October to 76 in December. The lows run from 55 F. in October to 47 F. in December. The rains taper off from 2.3 inches in October to 0.5 inches in December….don’t expect a white Christmas in Lake Chapala.
Cost of Living
Lake Chapala is one of the more affordable retirement communities in Mexico. The prices have not crept up the way they have in other up-and-coming expat communities. A couple can live very well at Lake Chapala for around $2000 – $2,500.00 per month. Of course, this is an average depending on your lifestyle.
Maids work for about $3.50 per hour. Gardeners $3.50 to $5.00 and plumbers about $5.00 to $7.00 per hour. Electric is still the highest utility and an area you have to watch your usage on. Gas is about $3.50 a gallon, but you can easily get around the lake via golf cart, bicycle or walking. Basic telephone and internet service from Telmex is about $50.00 a month.
House rentals range from about $350.00 to $2,000 per month. This depends on location, size and amenities. Two bedroom / two bathroom homes range from about $600 to $900 dollars per month, plus utilities. In the winter months, homes get booked quickly, so you need to plan in advance if you plan to winter in Lake Chapala.
Average Prices of Real Estate
As stated previously, the two towns that are primarily populated with expatriates are Ajijic and Chapala. These two areas are right next to each other on the lake and real estate can run anywhere from $75,000.00 – $450,000.00.
If you live in Lake Chapala, you want to have international health insurance because the health care in this area is excellent. Private health insurance pays for the private hospitals in case of a medical emergency. Mexico’s Social Security System (IMSS) is free at the point of delivery for Mexicans as well as foreign nationals with a Residente Permanente status. Foreigners living in Mexico without full immigration residency status can purchase the IMSS health insurance for about $300.00 US a year. However, IMSS only pays for public health care which is a bit different than what you are use to in the U.S. or Canada. For more information on IMSS: Click Here
Lake Chapala itself has 3 hospital clinics, 4 ambulatory service providers and 6 pharmacies available locally. On top of this, Lake Chapala is one of the few areas in Mexico that has assisted living complexes for about half the cost as in the U.S.
Guadalajara, the neighboring city to Lake Chapala and the 2nd largest city in Mexico, is about 45 minutes away and has excellent private hospitals. Here is a a partial list of hospitals in Guadalajara put out by the Red Cross in 2013.
Click to see all: Guadalajara Hospitals
Guadalajara International Airport (GDL), lies just a 20 miles north of Lake Chapala and Ajijic. Many major U.S. cities have direct non-stop flights to Guadalajara Airport. Airlines that are currently flying into Guadalajara are:
Just outside the terminal you will spot a small white building near the line-up of taxis at the curb. This is the ticket booth for all taxi travel from GDL. There is a poster on the wall that states the predetermined price to different locations. Currently the fare to Ajijic or Chapala is about $200.00 pesos. You can choose a larger vehicle for $300.00 pesos.
There are several full service banks in Lake Chapala including Banca Santander–Serfin, Banamex, HSBC and Bancomer at Lakeside. Scotiabank is available in Guadalajara with an ATM at lakeside. Chapala has four banks, Ajijic one, and Jocotepec one. ATM machines are every where that dispense pesos and dollars.
There are 10 veterinarians in Lake Chapala to choose from, and most of them speak English or have assistants that do. Ask for a referral from a local neighbor to choose.
Lake Chapala does have an animal shelter. Not every city in Mexico does, so they are generally very privately funded. Anita’s Animal Shelter is located in San Juan Cosala but she does make it to Ajijic almost weekly. Anita sells books, clothing and homemade bread to help pay for the animals she cares for in the shelter. The number to reach Anita is 01 (387) 761 0500.
There is a post office in Lake Chapala, Correos de México Ajijic, but mail delivery is VERY sketchy. If you live here, you want to go paperless as much as humanly possible and pay your U.S. bills online. UPS and Fed Ex do deliver here but it’s very expensive to have anything shipped from the U.S. or Canada.
To receive packages, members of the Lake Chapala Society can have packages delivered there, or, there is a Mail Boxes ect. in Lakeside. It is now called iShop, but they received packages from UPS, Fed Ex, and USPS. Here is the address:
Mail Boxes Etc. # MX0071
CARRETERA CHAPALA-JOCOTEPEC #206, COLONIA San Antonio Tlayacapan
CP 45900 San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco , Mexico
English Speaking Churches
With so many U.S. and Canadian citizens living in the Lake Chapala area, there are many English speaking churches. Here is a list of some of them:
Abundant Life Assembly of God
Pastor Gene Perrault
Telephone Number: 387-766-5615 or 766-3173
English Service: 10 a.m.
Center for Spiritual Living Celebration
Based on the teachings of Ernest Holmes
Nicolas Bravo #17.
Rev. Tim Telephone 766-0930
Rev. Tim Schubert and Rev. June Spencer
Meetings: Tuesday 10:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. or Friday 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m
Visioning for life meeting 10:30a.m. – 12. Noon
Church of the Holy Spirit
Alvaro Obregon #119 Chapala
Sunday Service 10:00 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Services in English and Spanish
Meeting at 10:00 a.m.
Riberis del Pilar
Bishop Wyvell Telephone: 376-766-1532 or 765-7067
Lake Chapala Baptist Church
Ribaris del Pilar
Bob Hendrick, Pastor Telephone: 765-2925
Mid-week 9:30 a.m.
Worship: Sunday 8:30 a.m. English service
Sunday 9:45 a.m. English Bible Study
Lake Chapala-Ajijic Jewish Congregation
Sta. Margarita #113 Riberas del Pilar
Weekly Sabbath evening, morning services and Torah study
Temple president: Elliott Gould
Lake Chapala Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Sta. Margarita #113 Riberas del Pilar (at the Jewish Center)
Call Trudy Crippen at 766-5507 or e-mail: email@example.com
Bilingual charismatic church
Javier Mina #49 Ajijic
Prayer meetings: 10:15 a.m.
Sunday Service: 11:00 a.m.
Lakeside Presbyterian Church
Hidalgo #231A Carr. Chapala/Joco. Ribaris del Pilar
Pastor Ross Arnold Telephone 376-766-1238
Norm Pifer at 376-766-0616
Bible Study: Friday 10:00 a.m.
Sunday Service 10:00 a.m.
Little Chapel by the Lake
Little Chapel by the Lake, A.R.
Carretera Chapala-Jocotepec No. 10,
Fracc. Chula Vista, Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico
Pastor: Larry Andrew
San Andres Catholic Church
Parroquia and M.Castellanos, Ajijic
English Mass: Sunday at 9:00 a.m.
Fr. Alfredo Arrecia
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church
San Lucas #19 Riberas del Pilar
Holy Eucharist: Sundays at 10:00 a.m.
Church telephone number: 765-3926
Open daily from 9 a.m.-12:00
Lake Chapala Crime Rate
The crime rate in Lake Chapala is very low . According to Department of State Travel Warnings :
“Jalisco: Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, and Lake Chapala are major cities/travel destinations in Jalisco – Defer non-essential travel to areas of the state that borders the state of Michoacán and Zacatecas. The security situation along the Michoacán and Zacatecas borders continues to be unstable and gun battles between criminal groups and authorities occur. Concerns include roadblocks placed by individuals posing as police or military personnel and recent gun battles between rival TCOs involving automatic weapons. You should exercise caution in rural areas and when using secondary highways, particularly along the northern border of the state. Except for the areas of the state that border Michoacán, there is no advisory in effect for daytime travel within major population centers or major highways in the state of Jalisco. Intercity travel at night is not recommended. There is no recommendation against travel to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. There is also no recommendation against travel on principal highways in Jalisco between Guadalajara including the portions that cross into the southern portions of the state of Nayarit. “
Getting to Lake Chapala
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and flights to Guadalajara International Airport (GDL) are literally arriving around the clock. GDL is 20 miles north of Lake Chapala and Ajijic. Just outside the terminal you will spot a small white building near the line-up of taxis at the curb. This is the ticket booth for all taxi travel from GDL. There is a poster on the wall that states the predetermined price to different locations. Currently the fare to Ajijic or Chapala is about $200.00 pesos. You can choose a larger vehicle for around $300.00 pesos.
Driving and Border Crossings
Make sure you have gathered up all of your necessary documents before bringing your car to Mexico. Make sure that you have your Mexican auto insurance before you cross the border. The most simple, and quickest way to purchase auto insurance is on-line as it will be one less thing to do at the border.
With any border crossing you use, and the Laredo border crossing is recommended, it is better to get an early start and cross in the morning hours. This is just in case you have any hiccups, you will have the day to sort it out and still get to a destination with a decent hotel for the night. Never drive at night.
Keep your car import, immigration papers and any product declarations you may have made at the border, and get on Cuota road to Monterrey. You will also want to have about $1000.00 pesos in toll fair. Some Pemex gas stations accept credit cards, but not all of them do, so you will also want pesos for gas. The first toll you will come to is Cuota road to Saltillo, headed south to Monterey, and it has a $200.00 peso toll. Keep left and exit to Matehuala. When leaving Matehuala, stay right to Lagos de Moreno and Guadalajara. You are on you way!
Re-locating your pet to Mexico is one more thing to prepare for. Driving into Mexico with your pet is much more simple than flying in with your pet as airlines have very strict guidelines you must adhere to as well as black out dates.
For More Information on bringing your pet to Mexico: Click Here
Call Your Bank
Call your bank and credit card companies to notify them of your plans to travel or move to Mexico. It is not necessary to carry a lot of cash, and not recommended, as banks and ATM’s are prevalent in Lake Chapala. Most merchants and restaurants accept U.S. credit cards, however, to avoid a block on your debit or credit card, notify them of your travel plans. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere, but you will get a better exchange rate if you use pesos. All ATM machines can dispense pesos and some dispense dollars.
Calling Lake Chapala
The prefix in Lake Chapala is 376:
Calling from the US or Canada:
Dialing to a Mexican land-line phone:
Dial 011-52 and the ten digit number (011-52-376-766-1234)
Dialing to a Mexican cell phone:
Dial 011-52 and the ten digit number (011-52-376-766-1234)
Calling from Mexico to a US or Canadian phone:
Dial 001 and the ten digit number (001-303-650-1234)
Land-Line Phone Calls Within Mexico:
- Land-line to local land-line: Dial the seven digit number (766-1234)
- Land-line to long distance land-line: Dial 01 and the ten digit number ( 01-376-766-1234)
- Land-line to local cell phone: Dial 044 and the ten digit number (044-376-766-1234)
- Land-line to long distance cell phone: Dial 045 and the ten digit number (045-376-766-1234)
Cell-Phone Calls Within Mexico:
- Cell phone to local or long distance land-line: Dial the ten digit number (376-766-1234)
- Cell phone to local or long distance cell phone: Dial the ten digit number (376-766-1234 or 045-376-766-1234)