Anyone seriously contemplating retiring in Mexico has heard of Lake Chapala. For decades, expats have flocked here making it one of the best places to retire abroad. We explore what makes this such a retirement haven.
The three primary reasons for retiring in Ajijic Lake Chapala are a wonderous climate, low cost of living and friendly people. In addition, it has decent affordable healthcare and is easy to get to. The greatest drawback is adapting to the Mexican culture and all that entails.
Pros and Cons Of Retiring to Ajijic
Let’s begin with some of the advantages of retiring to Ajijic. According to International Living, approximately 20,000 expats (mostly from the U.S. and Canada) live in the Lake Chapala region.
This consists of the quaint towns of Ajijic and Chapala nestled only a few miles apart on the shores of Lake Chapala. This area, also referred to as Lakeside, is located 31 miles south of Guadalajara.
The Second-Best Climate on The Planet
The Lake Chapala region is widely touted as the 2nd best climate on the planet! First place is reportedly a region in South Africa; at least, according to National Geographic. Certainly not a place I would want to retire to.
Part of the reason for such a perfect climate is the elevation. Lake Chapala, the largest freshwater lake in Mexico is situated 5,056 feet (1,542 meters) above sea level. Never too hot or cold with an average year-round temperature of 72°F (22°C).
The wettest months are between July and September; although, it typically rains during the night. Annually, it receives over 300 days of sunshine.
What Is the Cost of Living in Chapala?
An average couple can live comfortably on less than $2,000 a month in the Lake Chapala area. While there are less expensive places in Mexico, it’s hard to beat the value to live in such a beautiful area.
The table below shows an average retired couple can live for under $2,000 a month. Just as with anywhere else, spending will increase for a more luxurious lifestyle.
If you’re thinking about retiring in Ajijic Lake Chapala, there are plenty of rental options suiting almost every budget. Property ownership is also an option, with reasonable prices and a rising real estate market.
Are The People Friendly in Ajijic?
Ajijic / Chapala are one of the friendliest places on earth. For decades, North Americans have flocked to this area receiving a warm welcome. This has created economic prosperity for the locals and attracted an ever-growing expat community.
In many parts of Mexico, Americans are viewed as “gringos” and tolerated for their money. Not so much here as the locals are friendly and inviting. The expat community has integrated bringing prosperity and an increased living standards to the region.
In fact, this is the largest and most concentrated expat community in all of Mexico. English is widely spoken with expats representing around 20% of the area’s population. This, in turn, has created jobs and a prosperous economy for the locals.
The Lake Chapala Society has created a vibrant community second to none. It includes a theater and auditorium, attracting world-class performances.
With over a hundred organized activities, you’ll strike up friendships and have lots of things to keep you active.
Is Lake Chapala a Safe Place to Live?
Lake Chapala / Ajijic is one of the safest places in Mexico with less crime than many U.S. cities. The expat community consistently reports feeling safe and secure with violent crime almost unheard of. The greatest concerns are petty theft and corruption.
Ajijic and Chapala might be safer than where you currently live. If you’re uncomfortable going for an evening stroll, you’ll be delighted with Lakeside.
Granted, the first thing most of us think about is the high rate of crime throughout Mexico. The press sensationalizes the kidnappings, murders and other violent crimes associated with the drug cartels.
Fortunately, the quiet backwaters of Lakeside remain largely unscathed. According to Numbeo, the safety score for Ajijic is 65.87 making it slightly safer than living in San Diego.
In contrast, Guadalajara, is riddled with a high crime rate and the safety score plummets to 37.94. This includes homicides, assaults, armed robbery and car theft.
Most expats report feeling safe with little risk associated with being out and about. The greater concerns are petty theft and corruption which will be touched upon below.
Does Ajijic Have a Good Healthcare System?
Ajijic / Chapala have a decent and affordable healthcare system. Boasting several first-rate medical clinics capable of handling all non-life-threatening emergencies. Nearby Guadalajara boasts modern hospitals comparable to some of the best in the world.
According to the World Health Organization, the Mexican healthcare system ranks 61st in the world. This is behind the U.S. which comes in 37th. However, healthcare in Mexico is a fraction of the cost.
Public health is provided through IMSS which will set you back around a hundred dollars a month. This is basic coverage and fraught with long wait times. Most expats choose to supplement this with private insurance or pay out of pocket.
The cost of a doctor’s appointment is typically under twenty bucks. Most doctors and staff were trained in the U.S. and are fluent in English. One major difference is the more personalized care and many doctors still make house calls!
The Mexican culture shows high respect for the elderly and infirm. This has led to the opening of assisted-living and nursing home care facilities in Lakeside.
Much like “medical tourism”, this will attract aging seniors due to much lower costs and higher levels of care.
Getting there (and back home) is always a major consideration. Daily flights connect with most major U.S. cities. For example, Houston has 25 direct flights each day with a flight time of approximately two-and-a-half-hours.
After arriving at Guadalajara International Airport (GDL), it’s about a thirty-minute drive to Lake Chapala. For most visitors, hiring a taxi is the best option which is safe and costs around fifty dollars.
Other options include renting a car or taking the bus which requires transferring through Guadalajara adding many hours of travel time.
Alternatively, for those preferring to drive, it’s just under a thousand miles. This is about a sixteen-hour drive. Currently, the U.S. State Department advises against night-time driving due to safety concerns.
The Cons: No Place Is Perfect
No place is perfect. So, before packing up and moving, it’s highly recommended living there a while. Before retiring in Ajijic Lake Chapala, make sure it’s right for you. Popular advice is to rent a place for three to six months.
Americans and Canadians are allowed to live in Mexico for up to 180 days without a visa.
Mexico is….well Mexico. This is a whole different culture and everything moves slower.
This can be immensely frustrating when trying to get something done. Anything which seems straightforward at home will likely be the ultimate test of patience in Mexico.
For instance, getting a plumber to fix a leaky toilet. If you’re lucky, the repair might be done by the end of the week. Regardless of how frustrating this can be, getting upset accomplishes little other than raising your blood pressure.
To appreciate the Mexican way requires embracing a slower lifestyle. For them, family and friends take priority. Getting things done isn’t at the top of their list.
Petty Crime and Home Burglaries
As previously mentioned, for the most part Lake Chapala is a safe place to live.
Unfortunately, whenever there are disparate incomes, petty crime and theft often become ongoing concerns. Based on where you currently reside, this may or may not be any worse.
Yet, home burglaries have become common place. Too many people report of break ins where the thieves brazenly took their time going through everything they owned. It’s as if they were tipped off and knew exactly how long they had.
There are several ways to minimize the risk of being burglarized:
The other side of the equation is the absence of effective law enforcement. Quite bluntly, other than filing a report little follow up is ever done.
One story I came across was the bitter condemnation of the police after a break-in. Apparently, a policeman even pocketed a ring the thieves had dropped!
Corruption and Less Than Stellar Policing
Corruption is a systemic issue throughout Mexico and Lakeside is no different. Transparency.org ranks Mexico 124th out of 180 countries reflecting how corrupt the country has become.
As often as not, a bribe is expected when pulled over for a traffic violation. Anyone who fails to play along can expect more severe consequences. Especially as these are relatively small communities, this can make you a target.
Corruption rears its ugly head in almost every official dealing. I hate to say it; not “greasing the wheels” will only make life more difficult. Completely wrong on every level, however, a sad reality.
While the rustic cobblestone streets and sidewalks add character, they’re often a safety issue. Tripping or twisting an ankle happens far too frequently. Even a hint of moisture makes them dangerous and can result in falls and injury.
Ironically, walking is one of the best forms of exercise for older adults. Between the traffic and uneven surfaces, one needs to take extra care. The best advice is pay close attention to where you step and wear proper footwear.
Another downside to these cobblestone roads is the wear and tear on vehicles. Wheel alignments, shocks and tires will take a beating. I suppose the silver lining is they keep the speed down.
Dirty and Garbage Ridden
Another cultural difference is cleanliness. Garbage strewn along the streets which never seems to get picked up. If you’re not paying attention, stepping onto a fresh donkey patty is an ever-present risk. Not to mention the dog poop and other nasties.
The lake itself was heavily polluted around 40 years ago with heavy metal, mercury and other toxic contaminates. Although official studies indicate the water quality has improved, this still remains a concern for many.
There’s little recreational development or use of the lake. Water sports and boating aren’t encouraged, in part due to underwater hazards. As an example, miles of abandoned barbed wire fencing are just off the shoreline.
Bugs, Insects and Creepy Crawlies
Another annoyance is the proliferation of bugs, insects and creepy crawlies. There seems to be no getting away from the flies, spiders, ants and cockroaches which are everywhere. In fact, home fumigation is almost mandatory on a regular basis.
Then, during the wetter months, mosquitos can become an issue. Besides being extremely irritating, they also spread disease such as dengue fever and the Zika virus.
The whole bug and insect thing is something many would-be expats don't think about.
Closing Thoughts on Retiring in Ajijic Lake Chapala
While no place is perfect, Lake Chapala might come closest to checking your boxes. The weather's unbeatable, the value undeniable and the people amazing. There’s lots to do with no shortage of activities.
In short, all the makings for a great retirement lifestyle.
The drawbacks can be thought of as annoyances or, maybe, could be a deal breaker for you. This is Mexico after all, a vastly different culture than most of us are used to. After living there for awhile, you’ll either love it or grow to hate it.