Are you one of those people who experience tranquility when surrounded by moderation coupled with stunningly low prices? If so, you’ll find lots to like about the Ajijic / Lake Chapala area in Mexico.
(Short interlude for the geographical and etymological purists among us: Ajijic– pronounced “Ah-hee-heek”– is a little town on the shores of Lake Chapala, about an hour south of Guadalajara, with lots of expat Americans and Canadians. While there are several other towns around the lake where expats live, for sake of simplicity and because Ajijic is the best known, for this article, we’ll just refer to the whole area as Ajijic. Now, back to our discussion.)
Virtually everything about Ajijic is moderate and pleasant. For example:
Ajijic has about the same latitude as Puerto Vallarta or the Western Sahara, so if it were at sea level and all other factors being equal, it would be about as hot. But Ajijic is not at sea level—it’s located in the Mexican Highlands at about a mile elevation (the same as Denver), which lowers the temperature. In addition to this, Ajijic is on Lake Chapala (the largest lake in Mexico), which moderates the temperatures even further. It’s virtually never too hot or too cold in the Ajijic area, with average highs in the 70s and sometimes 80s and lows in the 50s. Even Goldilocks would approve.
Does Ajijic have a rainy season? You bet! For about 4 months, it will rain close to every day, which is why the hills get so green and the waterfalls form during this time of year. However, it rains only a moderate amount, almost always at night and virtually never for more than a few hours. Other than during the rainy season, it rains extremely rarely. Average total yearly rainfall is about 36 inches, about the same as Dallas, Texas.
Ajijic Population, Culture and Language
The largest group of people who live in the Ajijic area are Mexicans; among them locals, those who visit their second homes in the area, and those who come for the day to visit from Guadalajara. However, there are lots of Americans, Canadians, and even a smattering of other residents from Europe and South America. As an American, this nationality potpourri gives you the opportunity for immersion into the Mexican culture of both the rich and poor (which provides you with a chance for greater depth, understanding, and even personal growth), while at the same time, giving you lots of opportunities to interact with people from other cultures, all at the amount you prefer, when you prefer it.
Lots (but not all) the people in Ajijic will speak English in some form or another. The result: if you are still in the very early “Learning Spanish Phase,” you’ll get along just fine. Relative to population, culture and language, Ajijic is like a halfway house for expats, with just the right amount of pressure and incentive to learn and experience something new, at a pace which is almost entirely within your control.
Extent of Ajijic Urbanity
Neither of the two main characters in Green Acres would be completely satisfied with Ajijic. If you’re like the Eva Gabor character and prefer to live in a big city like New York or Chicago, Ajijic will leave you very disappointed. However, if you prefer to live way out in the country like the Eddie Albert character, Ajijic is also not everything you wanted. LIke this and in so many other ways, Ajijic is about in the middle. For example, if you were to add up all the towns along Lake Chapala in the Ajijic area from Chapala to Jocotepec, you would probably find about 120,000 people, with no one town having more than about 20,000. The Ajijic area has two small golf courses, a Walmart, a few large supermarkets, a couple of smaller movie theaters, but that’s about it.
However, less than an hour away from Ajijic is Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. There, you will find several high-end shopping centers complete with enough Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other luxury shopping to invigorate Ms. Gabor. There’s also the Guadalajara international airport, which is less than 45 minutes away from Ajijic, as well as absolutely first rate, large hospitals and healthcare. If you need it, you’ll also find Home Depot and Costco; all this not in Ajijic, but in Guadalajara, close, but not too close.
At the same time, about 40 minutes out of town, you’ll find huge stretches of agricultural land, where little farms intersperse with huge corporate facilities from Dole and others amongst gently rolling, seemingly endless hills, punctuated by tiny villages. Eddie Albert would be thrilled.
In addition to these and other moderate characteristics, Ajijic has a few that aren’t moderate at all. Here are two:
Ajijic’s Natural Beauty
Ajijic exists on a relatively narrow finger of land sandwiched between impressive mountains and a large lake. Those fortunate enough to have a home with some elevation on the mountains are treated daily to spectacular views of the lake and of the volcano on the far shore.
The weather and geography in Ajijic combine in just the right proportions to give Ajijic a lush, tropical feel and vegetation, but without the oppressive heat that normally accompanies such places. While in the dry season the hills are mostly brown, in the rainy season, they spring to life, glistening and with the aroma of fresh rain in the jungle. You can hike all year round in the Ajijic area.
Ajijic’s Cost of Living
Unless you’ve lived in the Ajijic area and been able firsthand to do a rough “apples to apples” comparison to the US, it’s a bit difficult to fully appreciate how inexpensive it is to live in Ajijic. However, here are some examples:
- Property tax for a 2,500 square foot home would run about $150 per year (that’s not a typo; per year).
- A half hour to an hour consultation with a qualified English-speaking physician would run you about $35 or less, out of pocket, with no insurance.
- Does all this make you hungry? Feel like Thai, Chinese, Indian, Italian, American or Mexican food? No problem! Visit one of the dozens upon dozens of fun and varied restaurants in the area for about $6 for a full meal. Buen provecho! (Roughly, a salutation used in Mexico to enjoy your meal, like “bon appetit,” and which easier to do at $6 per person.)
A Warning About Ajijic
Is the Ajijic area perfect for all people and in all circumstances? Of course not, because no such place exists other than in our individual imaginations. There are lots of things wrong with the Ajijic area, and if you’re considering moving there, you need to get a full picture. However, when compared with other areas in the real world, and if you like well-balanced, pleasant, beautiful places with a low cost of living, you may find Ajijic just about right