Thousands of Canadians have abandoned their former winter snowbird destinations and are now happily living from one to twelve months of each year on the North Shore of Lake Chapala in colorful central Mexico.
What’s caused these once-loyal winter Texans, Arizonians and Floridians to abandon their previous warm haunts and move even farther south? Lake Chapala has a nearly perfect climate, is close to an international airport and expert medical care, has restaurants, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, activities and events to suit every visitor’s dream for the perfect winter escape.
Mexico’s largest natural lake is the focal point of the country’s high central plain. Located less than an hour south of Guadalajara (Mexico’s second-largest city), Lake Chapala is approximately 66 miles long and 11 miles wide, and home to about 5,000 full-time foreign residents and nearly three times that many winter visitors in January, February and March.
Lake Chapala has had its ups and downs. Less than five years ago, the lake reached its lowest level in nearly 50 years. Today, the water level is back to 65% of the basin’s capacity. Once polluted by agricultural run-off and heavy metals from upriver feedlots, farms and factories, University of Guadalajara laboratory tests now show that the water meets United States EPA levels of acceptability.
Lake Chapala is more scenic than recreational. The cool water temperatures combined with the sticky-mud bottom discourage all but the most intrepid swimmers. Most foreigners prefer to swim in local private and public pools or in the variety of pools at a nearby mineral hot springs complex.
Lake Chapala has been a sports fishing destination and a boating mecca, but several hundred local fishermen are out in the lake every morning and then sell the catch from their nets on the village streets. Most foreigners bypass the local carp and catfish. They prefer to purchase the fresh Pacific red snapper, tuna, dorado, swordfish and shrimp that comes from the coast daily to stock local fish markets.