Lake Chapala/Ajijic, Mexico
This group is for those interested in retiring to Lake Chapala and Ajijic, Mexico
Ajijic (Spanish pronunciation: [axiˈxik] (listen)) is a town about 4.8 kilometres (3.0 mi) west from the town of Chapala, part of the municipality (also named Chapala), in the State of Jalisco, Mexico. It is situated on the north shore of Lake Chapala, surrounded by mountains. Ajijic enjoys a moderate climate year-round. The population of Ajijic was 10,509 as of the 2010 census.
1Geography2History3Ajijic today4References5External linksGeographyAerial view of Ajijic’s Malecon and park at sunset
Ajijic is located 1,538 metres (5,046 ft) above sea level in the vast Central Mexican Plateau that is home to the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range.
The Chapala Lake basin has a year-round average temperature of about 19 °C (66 °F). Due to Ajijic’s tropical latitude, the sun is warm year-round; due to its relatively high elevation, it is seldom unpleasantly hot or humid. The rainy season begins in June and lasts until October. The average rainfall is 793 millimetres (31.2 in). Even during the rainy season, precipitation generally occurs during the evening or at night.
December and January are the coolest months, with nighttime lows just above 4 °C (39 °F). May is the hottest month, just before the beginning of the rainy season.
Overall, there is very little temperature variation year round: daytime highs in January are around 24 °C (75 °F); while daytime highs in May range from 27 °C (81 °F) to 32 °C (90 °F).
HistoryChapel in the main plaza
Up until the arrival of the Spanish, the region was occupied by nomadic Indian tribes, probably the Coca people that settled the northern shore. There seem to be many explanations, and meanings for the names Chapala and Ajijic, all of which are Indian place names, probably derived from Nahuatl, the native language of the area.
Ajijic, formerly spelled Axixic, means “place of water” or “place where water bubbles up” in Classical Nahuatl. Don Andres Carlos and Fray Martin founded Ajijic in 1531 because it had a good source of water.:pg 9 It is one of the oldest villages in Western Mexico. By 1833 it is said to have had a population of no more than 2,000.:pg 155
Ajijic has attracted foreign artists and writers since the 1890s. Englishmen Nigel Millet and Peter Lilley settled in Ajijic before World War II and under the pen name of Dane Chandos wrote Village in the Sun (1945, G.P. Putnam’s Sons), about building a house on the edge of the lake in nearby San Antonio Tlayacapan. Using the same pen name, Peter Lilley later teamed up with Anthony Stansfeld (an English academic) to write House in the Sun (1949), which concerns the operation of a small inn in Ajijic (now known as the “Old Posada”). These books were written when the main road from Chapala was unpaved, ice was delivered by bus from Guadalajara, and electricity was just being installed.
Ajijic todayAerial view of Ajijic’s Plaza and kiosk, looking South towards Lake Chapala and Mt GarciaThe cobblestone streets are an enduring cultural tradition that adds charm to the already artistic and ornate town.Colorful painted eggshells, filled with confetti, made by the hands of village children and used to celebrate the most important traditions of Ajijic.Ajijic Kiosk and Plaza
The Ajijic population of about 11,000 excludes the hundreds of visitors from Guadalajara (35 miles (56 km) north) who spend weekends and vacations there. Many retired Americans and Canadians now live in Ajijic. Though there are no official figures, locals estimate that the number of expats living in Ajijic proper is about 2,000 full-time and another 1,000 during the winter months.
Because Ajijic is the central attraction of the very roughly estimated 10,000 to 15,000 expats who live around Lake Chapala and countless thousands of visitors from Guadalajara, Ajijic has numerous art galleries, fashion, curio and consignment shops, craft fairs, real estate and travel agents as well as a wide variety of restaurants and bed and breakfast inns.
“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…The streets are lined with colorful houses and small boutiques and galleries.” The Ajijic Malecon (boardwalk) along the lakefront built after the flood of 2006 provides a place to exercise, skateboard, bike ride, stroll or walk dogs along the edge of Lake Chapala.
The influx of large numbers of expats is a mixed blessing for the local population; some welcome the expats and some find their presence an annoyance. The money brought in by expat residents and visitors has benefited the local Mexican community in terms of local businesses and employment ranging from domestic, gardening, retail, restaurant, personal services and construction workers to professional services like lawyers, doctors, dentists, etc. Property values have increased which benefits Mexican property owners, but makes it very difficult for young Mexican families to find affordable housing. On the other hand, the Mexican community benefits from the over 30 charities supported by ex-pat volunteers and donations, about a dozen of these focused on educating low-income Mexican students from kindergarten through university.
Every Wednesday the Ajijic Tianguis (Farmers Market) attracts locals and expats alike. Several dozen vendors sell a wide range of products: fruits and vegetables, fish, chicken, prepared foods, clothing, jewelry, watches, electronics, arts and crafts, as well as used goods. In addition, there are organic farmer’s markets which tend to attract mostly expats.
Ajijic is a very festive village with many holidays, special events and parades about once a month. Mexico’s National Chili Cook-Off has been held in Ajijic since 1978 and attracts thousands of Mexican and International visitors each February. In addition to the cooking competition and chili eating, it attracts scores of vendors selling a large variety of items including art, crafts, clothing and novelties. Ajijic’s “Chupinaya Carrera de Montana” attracts about 500 males and females from all over Mexico each July for a grueling 13.8 kilometer foot race to the summit of Cerro La Chupinaya (2,400 meters, 7,874 feet) and back to the Ajijic Plaza in about 90 minutes for the best runners/climbers. Hundreds are attracted each September to the unmanned Hot Air Balloon event (Regatta de Globos) where local groups enter their homemade tissue paper balloons some as big as 200 cubic feet.
The biggest local event of the year is the San Andreas Fiesta dedicated to Ajijic’s patron saint. The Fiesta dominates Ajijic’s central plaza and surrounding streets for nine days in late November and attracts the majority of Ajijic residents. The children love the wide array of carnival rides that are set up for the Fiesta, while teens and adults enjoy the party atmosphere, live music and dancing as well as the daily fireworks. Scores of vendors set up stalls selling household goods, clothing, art and craft items, novelties.
Long-term expat residents claim that central Ajijic around the plaza has essentially maintained its original artistic charm, however further out over the past couple of decades more and more vacant lots have been replaced with houses and larger lots with small condos. They note that traffic and parking on the narrow streets is worse especially in the winter when the expat “snowbirds” arrive and on the weekends with visitors from Guadalajara. The outskirts have changed considerably with a tripling of the number of traffic lights, three new mini health centers, a super drugstore, a new shopping mall with casino, multiplex cinema and food court, as well as a Walmart.
The Lake Chapala Society (LCS) on the grounds of the former estate of Neill James in central Ajijic has about 3,000 mostly foreign members. It has a 26,000-volume English library as well as over 50 life long learning and recreational activities for members and numerous services, mainly focused on health care given the age of the mostly retired expat community. It also has many activities and services focused on the Mexican community, including many academic scholarships. The LCS Wilkes Center provides a wide range of English language and other courses and services for Mexican children and adults.
Given the large retired expat community, there are scores of English language activities and services in the Lake Chapala area including a range of medical specialties, religious and spiritual services, little theater groups, language classes, charities and service clubs, bridge clubs, writers and artists groups, book clubs, lectures, seminars, etc. Three English language periodicals serve the area: the weekly “Guadalajara Reporter” and the monthly “Ojo de Lago” and “Conecciones”. In addition, local Spanish language weeklies and major daily newspapers from Guadalajara are available in Ajijic.
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