My overall opinion of the Ajijic and Chapala area: a month is about all I would want to stay – at this point in my life.
My husband Tedly thinks I’d like this area more once I’m ready to stop traveling so much, and settle down. He’s probably right. For now, I’d rather move on. There’s more I want to see and discover, and Lake Chapala is beautiful, but it has no salt. I love beaches and the ocean.
We spent a month in an Ajijic neighborhood called Riberas del Pilar, which is just east of Walmart by a mile heading towards Chapala. (The Walmart here is the best-stocked Walmart I’ve ever seen in Mexico. I’m sure 10,000 expat retirees drives some of that.)
There are many reviews about Ajijic for retirees, so I won’t get into the high points that are found on so many other blogs and websites. Instead, I’ll share some of what I’ve experienced through the eyes of an “early retiree” that I have not read other places.
On background, we are early retired on a budget. We often stay about a month in different locations and we don’t have a car.
First, biking in this area can be dangerous. There is one main road that is paved, and almost all other roads are cobblestones. My husband and I had a few mishaps that I’ve written about in a previous entry here. I didn’t see too many older retirees biking around town in Ajijic or Chapala. Most drive cars as their main transportation method.
Next, waiting for the local buses in the evenings is a total drag. I don’t bike at night on unlit roads, so we rely on buses or cabs – whatever comes by first. There are almost no cabs on a Sunday night, and buses don’t run often. When a bus does come by at night, it’s usually packed. Same thing with rush hour.
Despite the crowds on these buses, everyone is polite and patient. A few times, middle-aged Mexican men were sweet and gave me their seats (or tried to but I declined). We appreciate that. Whenever we lucked out with seats, my husband always offers his seat to a Mexican woman if the bus becomes standing-room-only on our ride.
Sometimes the buses are so full, people enter through the back door, and then pass their fare up to the driver in a human relay. Again, patient and polite. It’s a we’re-all-in-this-together mentality.
There aren’t too many older American and Canadian retirees using public transportation on a regular basis. Over the last month, we’ve been on countless buses between Chapala, Ajijic and Jocopetec. Almost always, we are the only gringos on the bus. And except for one time – I might have been the youngest gringa I ever saw on the buses.
That brings me to the age gap here. It got to be a silly joke between me and Tedly. Whenever we saw an expat younger than us – we made a point to point it out. “There’s a young person!” I’m 45. He’s 53. If we saw people in their 30s half a dozen times in the last month, that’s a lot. Not that they aren’t here – but – it seemed the younger people were here only to visit parents or grandparents. And, not that this matters in the least. Age is just a number. I only point this out in case there are other “early retirees” thinking of scoping out this place for longer than a month. We simply never connected with other expats our age or younger (again – not to say they aren’t here).
Also, the one time we went to check out the Lake Chapala Society, the woman at the information desk looked skepitcal when we told her we retired early. She was nice enough, but my intuition told me she didn’t entirely trust us. It was an odd feeling.
All of that said, I have been blessed to meet some wonderful people whose time and friendship meant a lot to me. There is a wonderful expat community on Lake Chapala, and our stay was better because of it.
You can find just about everything here – from the Walmart I mentioned to the health care system featuring private dentists and doctors that’s extensively written about on other people’s blogs and websites.
There is even a proud gay community here. A few buildings in the center of downtown Ajijic are painted pretty rainbow colors. In this neighborhood, there also is a sex shop – Wilde’s Dildoria. Because after all, retirees aren’t dead yet, right?
For social events, the Lake Chapala Society seemed to have everything: from a singles message board and board games to day trips and coffee groups.
Side note for ladies. I had a good haircut experience with Paty’s Estetica in downtown Ajijic (Galeana #6, 376-766-1505). I asked her to lop off four inches, and that’s exactly what she did. She came recommended by another expat retiree, and I will now forward that recommendation.
There are so many expats here, and the real estate market in Ajijic and Chapala is booming. Homes are for sale all along the lake region and can run anywhere from a more modest price of $60,000 USD for something simple and basic, to a million or more for a beautiful villa with a view. We went to an open house just to see what quarter of a million would buy. It was a great home (no view) – but we don’t want to settle down, just yet. Even rents are what I’d consider pretty high for Mexico. You’ll pay around $1,000 USD a month for a two-bedroom and you’ll have to sign a “long term” lease. Cleveland, Ohio is cheaper. So this area of Mexico is not as much of a bargain as some other spots. It’s the large community of retirees that’s driving up demand.
Overall, we had a great, quiet experience here in Ajijic. I would come back. This was a relaxed month of not too much activity, by our own choosing. I can’t say I’ve been inspired to write anything much here. But that’s just me.
Now I’m ready for a few weeks in a more lively place. We’re off to Puerta Vallarta next, to stay three weeks in Old Town during the city’s wonderful Virgen de Guadeloupe festival – my husband’s favorite time of year in Vallarta.
Below are various pictures of Ajijic, and then Chapala. I think I liked Chapala more – it had a more authentic Mexican vibe.