By Liz Phillips 16 MAY 2016 • 3:47PM
A warm climate and low cost of living are two of the main reasons that Brits are flocking overseas. And tucked away on the shores of Mexico’s largest inland lake is a haven for those looking to enjoy both.
The towns and villages spread alongside Lake Chapala, just 40 minutes from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, are home to up to 40,000 foreigners.
It’s a favourite spot for American and Canadian retirees. Brits are a rarer breed – most of those to be found there were living in America or Canada before.
A tree trunk sculpture by Estela Hidalgo on the main plaza of Ajijic, Chapala
A tree trunk sculpture by Estela Hidalgo on the main plaza of Ajijic, Chapala CREDIT: ALEJANDRO LINARES GARCIA/WIKI COMMONS
The climateis ranked the second best in the world by National Geographic with average temperatures ranging from 86F (30C) in May, the hottest month, to 75F (24C) in winter.
The lake sits about 5,200 feet (1,584 metres) above sea level so there is virtually no humidity and the mountain range surrounding it protects the area from prevailing northerly winds.
The villages and towns are rustic, reminiscent of Greece in the Eighties or the Algarve in Portugal before the golf courses arrived.
Jean and Robert Morris found out about Lake Chapala on the internet and moved there from Milton Keynes seven years ago.
“We came here for four weeks in January 2009 and decided to retire here,” said Mrs Morris, 65, a former nurse.
“It’s such a sociable, friendly place. We could be out every day if we wanted,” added Mr Morris, 68, who’s a keen bridge player.
The only things I miss are friends, family and curry
They rent a house in Ajijic, having decided the property market was too depressed to buy locally. They’re learning Spanish and love the Mexicans.
Robert and Jean Morris in the gardens of the Lake Chapala Society, Ajijic, Mexico
Robert and Jean Morris in the gardens of the Lake Chapala Society, Ajijic
“The only things I miss are friends, family and curry,” said Mrs Morris, who returns to Britain twice a year. “We can live very comfortably here without counting the pennies.”
The retirees are spread along Lakeside, as it’s called, from Chapala in the east to Jocotopec in the west with the village of Ajijic in the middle being the centre of the expat community. This is home to the Lake Chapala Society, a hub for information, clubs and community charity work.
There is also a British Society which meets for lunch once a month.
One-bedroom apartments rent for around US$500 a month, rising to $900 for two-to three-bedroom houses (£350-£625).
There’s a vast choice of properties to buy in the $150,000 to $250,000 range (£105,000-£175,000).
Lakeside’s British consular agent, Ceri Dando, 85, originally from Guildford in Surrey, decided to build a home for him and his late wife Peggy at the exclusive Racquet Club in Ajijic when they retired there 21 years ago from North Carolina.
Mr Dando, a former engineer whose wife died two years ago said: “We liked the climate, cost of living and laid-back culture. Mexicans are very caring and sharing. Many speak English because of the large expat community.”
Cost of living
Most expats estimate they can live on $1,000-2,000 (£700-1400) per month. The Morrises say they spend £1,500 a month in total, including rent.
Briton Helen Gallagher, 65, and her American husband James, 66, live on about £1,100 a month.
“It’s 50 per cent cheaper here than in the States,” said Mrs Gallagher, a former ballet teacher who moved to Chapala a year ago from the Catskills in New York State.
Mexperience.com has a cost of living guide updated annually. The Mexican peso has fallen against the pound and dollar in the last couple of years making it even cheaper.
An important consideration for older people moving abroad is the cost and quality of medical treatment. Apart from private health care, Mexico has two main systems – Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) and Seguro Popular.
With IMSS you pay an annual contribution based on your age: 6,150 pesos (£240) for those aged over 60 up to 6,500 pesos (£260) for those over 80. IMSS can decline coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Seguro Popular, however, is free for over 60s and must cover all patients, regardless of age or pre-existing conditions. But you have to use drugs, doctors and hospitals on their approved list.
Newcomers can apply for a temporary residence visa which is valid for four years, renewed annually. After that time you must apply for a permanent residence visa.
You must show you can support yourself. At the moment you need to prove you have an income of 21,912 pesos (£840) a month for a temporary visa and 36,520 pesos (£1,400) for a permanent visa (see chapalalaw.com).
The rules change regularly, so it’s best to use a facilitator. Focus on Mexico (focusonmexico.com) has immigration consultants and runs a “crash course on Mexico” covering all aspects of retiring to Lakeside.
Although Mexico has a problem with drug cartels in the major towns, crime in Lakeside is usually petty theft or burglaries. Houses have high walls, solid gates and bars on the windows, but expats don’t seem overly concerned about it.
Driving in Mexico is appalling. The main highways are riddled with potholes and high streets have large speed bumps at regular intervals. The side roads are cobbled and rutted and the pavements are no better.
The water cannot be drunk so you have to use bottled water even to wash your fruit and vegetables.
The sewage system is basic so you can’t flush paper down the toilets. Most of the locals are poor which is reflected in the shops and housing.
On January 15, 1955 a group of foreign residents met to form a society, which all foreign residents of Chapala would be invited to join. The intention of the society was to benefit both the foreign residents and the community of Chapala as a whole.
In 2008 an executive director was hired, and in December 2010, a new constitution framed and adopted at an Extra Ordinary Meeting . In 2011 the governing board grew to 13 members in compliance with the new constitution.
Today, the society has 44 students receiving financial aid. The library has expanded, and the video rental library has its own space. The Patio cafe has become a favorite place for catching up with old friends and acquaintances, and the beautiful grounds are used for quiet time as well as many and varied activities.
Forty-five presidents and thousands of volunteers have brought the LCS to where it is today. Looking back to 1955, when the board decided to continue the society, little did they know that several of their original programs to serve the local community would still be alive and well after 60 years.
The LCS has played an important role in the evolution of the lakeside community by adapting to change. As the LCS prepares for the baby boomer generation, the current Board of Directors has implemented a new Strategic Plan to improve its member and community perception, optimize programs to assure continued relevance, and re-engineer the campus to meet current and future needs.
Ajijic (Spanish pronunciation: [axiˈxik] ( listen)) is a town about 3 miles (4.8 km) from the town of Chapala, part of the municipality also called Chapala, in the State of Jalisco, Mexico. Situated on the north shore of Lake Chapala, surrounded by mountains, Ajijic enjoys a moderate climate year-round. The population is around 15,000.
Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico is a narrow strip of land between the mountains to the north and the Lake Chapala to the South. It is flanked by San Antonio Tlayacapan to the east and San Juan Cosala to the west. It is seven kilometers west of Chapala. Its average annual temperature is 19.9 degrees Centigrade “68°F”. The nature of the area, weather, low cost of living, cheap real estate and the more than 25,000 retired has made of Ajijic the best place of retirement in Mexico.
Ajijic is a truly representative example of the typical Mexican pueblo with its narrow cobblestone streets and central plaza, this 450 year old village is the most popular place for visitors and residents alike. The very colorful buildings along the main street from the highway to the lake and surrounding the plaza are home to a wide variety of shops where you will find jewelry, clothing, art galleries, corner stores, gift shops, and many fine restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisine from many parts of the world.
Ajijic is a village of greenery and flowers. The main plaza is a pleasant, shaded oasis on a hot day. Many streets are tree-lined. Some very old trees have grown to be giants. Bougainvillea cascades over garden walls, shading sidewalks.
Ajijic has numerous active social groups in the area including The Lake Chapala Society, with more than 3,100 members, bridge clubs, garden clubs, the American Legion, and the Lakeside Little Theater, to name a few of the more than 40 active clubs and charitable organizations. A variety of classes, including art, handicrafts, music and, of course, español, are available, as well as sports such as tennis, golf, walking, boating and fishing! The concerts, art galleries, and restaurants will delight your senses. Why Not Give Mexico a Try?
The city of San Miguel Allende sucks all the air out of the room when the conversation turns to expatriate life in Mexico. While San Miguel Allende has been garnering lots of awards for its quality of life and general wonderfulness, the tiny town of Ajijic (pronounced Aah-hee-HEEK) is developing into another expat paradise for citizens from the U.S. and Canada.
Ajijic is in the state of Jalisco on the shores of Lake Chapala, which at 417 square miles is the largest lake in Mexico. Ajijic is about a half-hour drive from Guadalajara’s international airport. This positions the town close enough to the big city benefits of Guadalajara, while still being tucked away from the urban sprawl in a unique natural setting. Imagine a huge lake with fisherman out on the water in pangas (small boats) casting for carp. At the shoreline are snowy egrets doing their own fishing. Someone in Ajijic must have made a concerted effort to protect the town’s trees since the streets are lined with huge specimens, including palm trees mixed in with pines and flowering jacarandas.
The compact town of Ajijic has narrow streets with rough cobblestones. Strolling through the town, there are hints of past hippy glory, such as a Volkswagen Beetle festooned with stuck-on flowers, or a distant sound system playing Creedence or the Stones. Many of the walls of the town are decorated with colorful murals in a range of styles, from figurative to whimsical to abstract.
A note about the cobblestone streets and in some places cobblestone sidewalks: If you plan to do any amount of walking at all, you’ll get a lot more mileage if you wear sturdy footwear and forgo the high heels.
The streets are lined with colorful houses and small boutiques and galleries. Since expats make up about 50% of the population during the winter season, visitors will find a greater variety of shops and restaurants than they would in a typical small Mexican town. For example, there’s the Simply Thai restaurant; Pasta Trenta; Ajijic Tango, featuring Argentinian steaks; and Tabarka Restaurante, serving Basque/Spanish cuisine.
Drop into Ajijic on a Wednesday to experience the weekly tianguis, or farmer’s market. There’s a variety of vendors, with some selling fresh produce, while others hawk household goods, curios and crafts. There’s also a mix of food vendors selling traditional Mexican food at rock-bottom prices. My breakfast of two excellent carne asada tacos and a soft drink cost less than $2.
While sitting on the malecon, I met a friendly Canadian walking his four dogs. When his wife was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome several years ago they were advised to find a sunnier climate. They first tried expatriate life in Panama, but found it too rainy for their liking. They heard about Ajijic and fell in love with the town immediately and made the decision to move down permanently. “We love it here,” he said. “It’s one sunny day after another. When people ask me if it’s safe I tell them, ‘I’ve been attacked by mosquitoes once or twice, but that’s about it.’”
Ruthie and Charles Baker moved to Ajijic eight years ago. They opened their own store, Sweets & Treats Ajijic, filling a much-needed niche. “Most expats aren’t going to cook a whole tray of brownies for themselves,” said Ruthie Baker. “But they love coming in here for a cupcake or some of our custom chocolates.” The Bakers donate the profits from their store to a local orphanage.
In fact, a desire to give back and help out the local Mexican community seems to be prevalent among the expats.
I’d recommend Ajijic as being a great day trip from Guadalajara, with a full day exploring the malecon, shopping and grabbing a meal. Those who want to soak up the town’s unique ambiance and maybe even weigh settling down in Ajijic would be well served by a couple of overnights. The choice of a hotel comes down to what kind of experience a visitor is seeking. If they want to be right in town with easy access to shopping, dining and the malecon, they should choose one of the boutique hotels, such as Estrellita’s B&B Hotel, or Hotel Casa de Abuela. If they want a break from the town at the end of the day, the Hotel Real de Chapala is a good choice. It’s located about a 10-minute walk from town in an upscale residential neighborhood on the shores of the lake. At 85 rooms, the two-story Hotel Real de Chapala is the biggest and most modern hotel in town. While its rooms could use some updating, this drawback is offset by the hotel’s beautiful landscaped grounds, great variety of birds and excellent onsite restaurant.
Some moments during my stay I felt as though I’d stumbled into a retirement home for energetic seniors. While I took in the sun, the malecon was busy with gray-haired gents and ladies either running or powerwalking the length of the strip. In the town square, it seemed like the Coffé Black & White restaurant was a pulse point for people to exchange hellos, hugs and some juicy gossip.
Living in a town like Ajijic could suit some seniors better than settling into a typical stateside retirement home. In addition to a beautiful natural setting that encourages residents to get out and enjoy the day, senior expats living in Ajijic will stay sharp rubbing up against the unfamiliar edges of Mexican culture.
The main pull factors for residential tourists are an amenable climate; reasonable property prices; access to stores, restaurants and high quality medical service; an attractive natural environment; a diversity of social activities; proximity to airports; tax advantages, and relatively inexpensive living costs.
Residential tourism in the Ajijic area has certainly wrought great changes on the landscape. Residential tourists have created a distinct cultural landscape in terms of architectural styles, street architecture and the functions of settlements. Gated communities have been tacked on to the original villages. Subdivisions, two around golf courses, have sprawled up the hillsides. Swimming pools are common. Much of the signage is in English. Even the central plazas have been remodeled to reflect foreign tastes. Traditional village homes have been gentrified, some in an alien “New Mexico” style.
On the plus side, many retirees, as a substitute for the family they left behind, engage in philanthropic activities, with a particular focus on children and the elderly. Retiree expenditures also boost the local economy. Areas benefiting from retirees include medical, legal and personal services, real estate, supermarkets, restaurants, gardening and housecleaning. Employment is boosted, both directly and indirectly, which improves average local living standards.
As more baby-boomers reach retirement age, residential tourism offers many Mexican towns and cities a way of overcoming the seasonality of conventional tourism. Lesser-developed regions have an opportunity to cash in on their cultural and natural heritage and improve their basic infrastructure.
This is an edited excerpt from chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.
The history of the Rotary Club of Ajijic began in September 2001, when founding members visited the Club Rotario Guadalajara A.C. to seek its sponsorship of a new Rotary Club in the Lake Chapala area. The Club Rotario Guadalajara A.C. offered its full support, and by February 2002, the required number of members was reached to charter the club.
In March 2002, the Rotary Club of Ajijic was officially recognized and its officers and members installed, with Enrique Rojas Vargas as its first President.
The Rotary Club of Ajijic is a English-speaking club in Mexico, and has been serving the Lake Chapala area since 2002. Its members are business and professional men and women, many retired, who dedicate their time, expertise, and talents to helping others in their local communities, and internationally through the programs of The Rotary Foundation.
The coolest months of Ajijic weather are December and January with an average high temperature 75 degrees, but has also been known to dip down to 60 degrees at times in the day.
February and March are very pleasant months with an average temperature in the high 70s or low 80s. Blue sky every day and it would be very rare to see a drop of rain.
April starts to heat up with May being the warmest, driest and dustiest month having had literally no rain to speak of for 8 months. The temperature is well into the 80s and can soar into the 90s. Although the sun can be very intense with hardly any clouds in the sky, the air is quite comfortable. You will find at least a 10 degrees change in the temperature just by moving into the shade.
Mid June to Mid October brings the much needed rainy season with an average rainfall of approximately 34 inches. The days usually remain warm and sunny as the majority of rain falls in the evening, throughout the night or early morning. Occasionally being accompanied by some wicked thunder storms with great light shows. In days the mountains become alive with a vivid shade of green. Many say it looks like broccoli. Just when you think the village could not get more colourful, the plants and gardens become even more abundant with fantastic colour and new growth.
November is just another great month being very lush following the rainy season with temperatures much like February.
For the most part, year round, the days are warm and sunny with an average temperature of 75 degrees. Where else can you plan an outdoor party or event in advance and not have to worry to much on how the weather will be when that day arrives. Ajijic weather may be rated #2 in the world, but if you take into consideration the close proximity to Guadalajara International airport, many rate it #1 for a perfect travel destination.
There is good bus service here. There is a bus that runs all the way along the coast from Jocotepec all the way to Chapala. And there’s a bus that goes into Guadalajara. Anybody who wants it can take it. It’s available. We don’t discriminate.
They’ve just upgraded the buses recently and it’s a good very bus service. I would venture to say that the buses are mainly used by the Mexican and local population but there are a lot of expats who don’t want a car. They don’t want the responsibility. They don’t want to drive so they catch the bus.
How convenient the bus is depends on where you live but if you live in the village of Ajijic and you want to go to Jocotepec, you walk out to the highway, get on a bus and it will take you directly to the Jocotepec and vice versa you can come right back with the same bus.
- don’t make gaudy displays of your wealth,
- don’t leave your valuables on display in an unlocked car, and
- don’t hang out at lowlife bars.
- the crime rate is low,
- natives are welcoming to visitors, and
- government makes every effort keep tourists safe in order to enhance their tourist industry.