Most gringos tend to start their Mexico relocation research with Guadalajara and Lake Chapala, probably because there are already so many Americans and Canadians living here – 25,000 to be exact — that it’s an easy place to get started. There are plenty of English speakers and plenty of people willing to point you in the right directions, making the whole process just a little less overwhelming. With better weather and a more relaxed feel than Mexico City, sunny Guadalajara and its environs has long been a favorite spot for expats looking for a manageable, pleasant, and safe place to retire. Guadalajara may be smaller than its gigantic sister city to the south, but this city of about 1.5 million still offers a ton of cultural, dining and shopping experiences, not to mention modern, first rate hospitals, attractive golf-courses and a number of exciting outdoor and recreational activities.
Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and a major economic hub, well-known as being a major electronics and manufacturing center. Though it has its share of colonial architecture and attractive plazas, Guadalajara is a modern city, which means there’s still plenty of congestion, pollution and noise – not exactly how most retirees envision their golden years. For this reason, most retirees tend to head to the quaint, traditional towns that border Lake Chapala, only about an hour’s drive away. If you’re visiting the Lake Chapala area as part of a relocation research trip, I strongly encourage you to contact the Lake Chapala society, (www.lakechapalasociety.org), an organization of almost 5,000 members that plan and organize activities, fundraisers and events. The ex-pat group hosts many events throughout the year, and its members can give you a deeper insight into life in and around Lake Chapala. Another excellent resource and forum is the “Living at Lake Chapala” blog (www.mexico-insights.com/Home.aspx), written by and for ex-pat residents of Lake Chapala. This blog should give you a good idea of what life’s like at Lake Chapala.
Despite being home to one of the heaviest concentrations of North Americans in Mexico, Lake Chapala doesn’t feel quite as Americanized as San Miguel de Allende or Cuernavaca. Yes, there are plenty of gated communities and resorts to choose from, but you can just as easily live among the locals in sleepy Jacopec or San Antonio. And this is the beauty of the Lake Chapala area: There are enough Americans and Canadians to give you a sense of support and companionship, but foreigners are dispersed enough that you can really immerse yourself in Mexican culture if you want to. This, on top of the lake itself and the lovely mountains that form the backdrop are some of Lake Chapala’s main attractions.
Of course, no article about Lake Chapala is complete without mentioning Ajijic, a charming, old-world town of 15,000, and a long-time favorite among North Americans for its hillside villas, traditional dwellings and cobbled-stoned streets. It may be becoming a little too “discovered” for its own good, but despite a heavy North American presence, Ajijic still somehow manages to feel like a traditional Mexican village, and it really is the crown jewel of the Lake Chapala area for its cultural and social happenings. You may feel like you’ve stepped back in time 100 years, but there’s still a lot to do here, from golfing, to boating to organized group activities – and a the airport is just half an hour away if you need a vacation from your enviable lifestyle.
You can expect to pay about $600-$1,000 a month for a modest, small home along Lake Chapala, though the sky’s the limit if you’re looking for more luxurious accommodations. As you’d expect, it’s much cheaper to live in Mexican neighborhoods than planned resort communities or gated homes – sometimes more than 50 percent cheaper. In general, however, Lake Chapala still offers a lower cost of living than San Miguel de Allende or most of the popular coastal retirement hotspots.