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Exploring the Local Community
Lake Chapala is nestled in the beautiful Sierra Madre mountains just 40 minutes south of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. At an elevation of approximately 5,000 feet and ringed by mountains, Lakeside has a climate cited by National Geographic as one of the best in the world.
Along with the weather and economic benefits, North Americans are also enraptured by the breathtaking scenery and picturesque towns and villages that hug the shoreline. So it’s no wonder that between 20,000 and, by some estimates, up to 30,000 Americans and Canadians have chosen to call Lake Chapala home. The local expatriate population consists of full-timers who live here year-’round, snowbirds who escape the cold and spend anywhere from one to six months here and, more recently, a growing number of sunbirds from southern US states who come here in the summer months to escape the stifling humidity, sweltering heat and worsening hurricanes.
Whether full- or part-time, most of these North Americans (sometimes called “gringos”) live on the Northshore, within easy access of the Guadalajara International airport as well as the sophisticated shopping and cultural life of Guad, as the locals refer to it. Because of this large concentration of expats, the social life is abundant. There are countless cultural activities, a wide range of art galleries, gift shops and restaurants either within walking distance or just a short drive away.
Ajijic offers its foreign residents the unparalleled experience of life in a quaint Mexican village…with all the services and amenities of a nearby metropolitan city, lovely Guadalajara.
Ajijic’s Foreign Community
A large community of full-time and seasonal foreign residents enjoy life in Ajijic including an estimated 7,000 U.S. citizens and Canadians. There is a very good representation of people from many parts of the world.
Chapala is the largest city on the popular “North Shore” of Lake Chapala. It is the primary municipal seat, and was the first place to become popular as a vacation paradise both for local residents of Guadalajara and expats looking for a better life in Mexico. Chapala is busier than Ajijic, and boasts more commerce as well a larger resident population. With more than 40,000 inhabitants, Chapala stretches from the Riberas del Pilar residential area on the west side to the Chapala Country Club (Vista del Lago) in the east.
San Antonio is one of the smallest villages on the north shore, but its low population is not representative of its great importance. The quaint downtown and adjoining village has both colonial charm and the reputation of being the calmest and friendliest village at Lake Chapala. Home to one of the busiest commercial sectors along the carretera, San Antonio also boasts some of the most exclusive sub-divisions at Lake Chapala. It has three major commercial centers, including Centro Laguna, Plaza Interlago and the Walmart Shopping Center. Furthermore the Chula Vista Country Club & Golf Course are located here. The central location and plethora of shopping and services make this a sure bet for your relocation!
Ajijic is undeniably the most popular village at Lake Chapala for expats. Unfaltering colonial charm, impressive luxury villas, a thriving artist community, awesome lake views and international cuisine draw people from all over the world to this formerly quiet fishing village. With two major commercial areas, downtown catering to restaurants, galleries and artisan shops, while the highway provides first world services, super markets and gas stations, this will likely be your “landing pad” when you first make the jump to Lake Chapala.
San Juan Cosala is arguably the most “rustic” of Lake Chapala’s north shore villages, San Juan Cosala finds itself comfortably nestled on top of thermal mineral hotsprings. While the village is still very much how you would have found it decades ago, there are modern subdivisions dotting the hills providing amazing lake views, great spa opportunities and athletic installations un-rivaled at Lakeside. While more authentic Mexican than the international cuisine in Ajijic, there are no shortage of restaurants including lake-front weekend venues with live music and small hole-in-the-wall typical Mexican diners.
Jocotepec is a window to the rest of Mexico, Jocotepec is the second largest city on Lake Chapala’s popular North Shore. It continues to hold an economic importance beyond tourism, and is a popular destination for farmers looking to export high-quality fruit, berries and tomatoes to discerning North-of-the-border markets. With a quaint colonial square, Jocotepec boasts several commercial areas, a few up-scale housing developments, and several important schools and a cutting-edge hospital.
The large number of active charitable, civic and social groups make it easy to meet people and become a part of Ajijic’s community.
Active social groups in the area include Duplicate and Progressive Bridge Clubs, The Humane Society, several Garden Clubs, Culinary Arts Society, The American Legion, The Writer’s Group, Needle Pushers, Daughters of the American Revolution, Genealogy Club, Computer Club, Chess Club, Lakeside Little Theater, and two Yacht clubs. The list goes on and on as there are more than 40 English language clubs and charitable organizations lakeside.
Classes in art, handicrafts, music, computers, and Spanish (both conversational and structured) are available. Tennis, golf, walking, jogging, horseback riding, boating, fishing, mountain biking, Tai Chi, and various exercise groups are available for sports enthusiasts. A variety of passive pleasures are available too, such as concerts, art galleries and museums.
Keeping in touch and being informed about many countries and cultures in the world is easy too, as cable television has many English-language stations, the popular CNN amongst them, and satellite reception gives up to two hundred and fifty channels including those beamed down from the U.S., Mexico and from around the world.
On top of the list of active organizations is the 3,000-plus member Lake Chapala Society (LCS) with its well-stocked library of English-language books, periodicals and videos. The library has 20,000 volumes including reference books. There is a magazine collection and a reading room. Talking books are available from the library in both fiction and nonfiction, obtained from the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The LCS is the only civilian organization outside the U.S. to be honored with such an arrangement. The videotape library has approximately 2,500 VHS video movies. Also available are tape duplication and VHS player repair.
The LCS is the place to meet. The extensive and beautifully landscaped grounds host events such as annual Independence Day celebrations for both the United States and Canada in early July, and an annual fiesta on Mexico’s Independence Day, September 16. LCS publishes an annual directory of members’ names, addresses and phone numbers, which many who reside lakeside find indispensable. The LCS is dedicated to the ideals of community service, good fellowship and good relations with local citizens and authorities. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and staffed almost exclusively by volunteers. Unfortunately, the LCS does not have a phone.
Additionally, the LCS has a children’s library in Spanish with a wide assortment of books and reference materials. They sponsor a scholarship program through this library for selected students in secondaria (junior high) and preparatoria (high school) based on financial need as well as scholastic ability.
Medical equipment available for loan from the LCS includes wheel chairs, crutches, canes, and walkers. Baby furniture for loan includes a crib, a high chair, and walkers.
Free blood pressure checks are normally Monday and Friday from 10 a.m. to Noon. A HAM radio station is located on the grounds, and in emergencies, contact can be made with any place in the world.
Membership is on an annual basis and is open to all.
Ajijic, and the lakeside in general, has a low crime rate. There are few safer places in the world where one can live.
Several clinics are located Lakeside, with the principal ones being Clinica Ajijic at Carretera 33, telephones 766-0662, 766-0500 and for 24 hour emergency, 766-1499; San Andrés Clinic adjacent in La Floresta, 766-1198; and Clinica San Jose de la Ribera at Plaza Maskaras, Hidalgo 79-G, Chapala, telephone/fax 765-4805. Most have bilingual doctors on staff. In emergencies, ambulance service is available from these clinics locally or to large modern medical centers in Guadalajara. Medical air evacuation services are available to the United States as well. The Red Cross, 765-2277, which is located on Calle Gonzales Gallo in Chapala, responds to all traffic accident injuries. The services are at no charge, even if an ambulance has to take you into one of the Guadalajara hospitals or a doctor has to perform surgery. Donations to the Red Cross are always appreciated.
The U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Calle Progreso 175, (3) 825-2700, is open 8 a.m. until Noon, Monday through Friday. Passports can be renewed in one day. Registration of full or part time residents is recommended with the American Citizen Services Unit. Necessary information will be on file in the case of an emergency. It will not be shared with any other agency (like the IRS); the information is strictly confidential. The Federal Benefits Unit handles veterans’ claims, railroad pensions, and social security, both inquiries and benefits.
The Canadian Consulate has an office at the Fiesta Americana Hotel in Guadalajara, (3) 615-6270, (3) 615-6266, and (3) 615-6215. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until Noon.
Of course, all Embassies are located in Mexico City.
In addition to several Catholic churches [San Andrés in Ajijic has an English language mass, 9 a.m. Sunday] there are Sunday services in English at Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church, Calle San Lucas, Riberas del Pilar, 10 a.m.; the nondenominational Little Chapel By The Lake on the highway in Chula Vista, 11 a.m.; New Apostolic Church, Roble 61, Chula Vista, 11 a.m.; El Lago Community Church, Javier Mina 7, Ajijic, 11 a.m.; and the Lakeside Fellowship interdenominational congregation which meets 1:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s.