Child-friendly Things to Do in the Ajijic-Chapala-Jocotepec Area

The Ajijic-Chapala area has the highest concentration of expatriate American/Canadian retirees in the world. So let’s face it: if you’re there with children–you’re probably there to visit grandma. In an area that pretty much bows to the wishes of retirees, what’s there to do with the kids? Get ready for a few pleasant surprises.

6 Best Child-Friendly Things To Do In Ajijic-Chapala-Jocotepec

1. The Malecons

On the most populous north side of Lake Chapala, three towns (Ajijic, Chapala and Jocotepec) have made a great effort to revitalize and maintain the waterfront vistas.

Best Child-Friendly Things To Do in Ajijic, Ajijic, Jocotepec

Our daughter Hadasah is enjoying her new sunhat sitting on a bench in the Chapala malecon.

Jocotepec is most friendly for the youngest of your crew. Although each of the malecon areas have playground equipment, this malecon has the largest play area, built to function as a mini water park. Although the water is seldom on at the park the expansive playground will be a hit for your children. Adjacent to this area, are shaded picnic sites with self-serve barbecue grills. Sample the various flavors of ice cream at the friendly, well-run vendor stalls. These also offer cut fruit and snacks; pizza, tacos, grilled fish and other hot dishes appear on the evenings and weekends. Like the other malecons in the area, Jocotepec comes alive on Sunday afternoons with family fun and lots to eat.

The Ajijic malecon is smaller scale but also has a pleasant concrete walkway suitable for rollerblading or walking. Colorful playgrounds and jungle gyms are convenient to picnic benches and restrooms. You can also take in lovely lakeside view from the benches that line the walkway.

The malecon is very accessible from the square of Ajijic and the colorful downtown art gallery-boutique hotel-restaurant district.

6 Best Child-Friendly Things To Do In Ajijic-Chapala-Jocotepec

The children pet a new colt before taking a horse ride along the lakeside in Ajijic.

In Chapala, the malecon is bustling on the weekends with tourists flocking in from Guadalajara. This is the most active of the three waterfronts, but parking is ample. Teens and older will enjoy horseback rides on the lake’s beaches. Boat rides also originate here, taking visitors for pleasant lakeside views or to explore one of the nearby islands. We visited Alacranes Island, a short boat ride away.

Note: The lake is clean for swimming. The Jocotepec waterfront has more wildlife but tends to be more swampy. The other two have good access for swimming. Be sure to grab your darlings some inner tubes from the many vendors around the malecon.

Best child freindly things to do in Ajijic

Our children playing at Tobolandia

2. Tobolandia

Parents of water-loving tots will want to set a day aside for this water park. Some claim it’s the best water park in Mexico. One visit and you will see why. Toddlers and non-swimming young ones will love splashing among the pirate ships and mermaids. Stronger swimmers and teens will enjoy the multiple fast-running slides. Grills are available for rent for use in shaded picnic areas. At MXP 120 for adults and 60 for all but the smallest children, it is on the upper end of family activities. Concessionaires are limited; bring your own food. Don’t forget the water-resistant sunblock and insect repellent. Tobolandia is our favorite family friendly hang out in Ajijic. I share tips on discounts and more about the water park here.

Best Child-Friendly Things To Do in Ajijic, Ajijic, Jocotepec

Our little ones choose lettuce plants at the organic market.

3. The Ajijic Organic Market

Okay, so going to the market might not be your first pick as a child friendly spot, but seriously, everyone enjoys the variety at this market. Our children enjoy trying the samples and helping fill our market bags. We find that when children participate in healthy shopping, they more readily dive into healthy eating. Health-conscious parents will feel good letting the little ones look at baked goods made with local, quality ingredients, shop for pastured organic eggs or pick up a jar of freshly prepared sauerkraut. Although there are a lot of great markets in town, the organic market is only open Tuesday mornings. As of this post, the organic market is just outside of Ajijic on the way to Jocotepec in the La Huerta Expo Center.

Best Child-Friendly Things To Do in Ajijic, Ajijic, Jocotepec

Jeremiah enjoying chilaquiles, a popular Mexican breakfast consisting of tortilla chips, a red or green sauces topped with cheese. It is often served with chicken, beans or eggs.

Best Child-Friendly Things To Do in Ajijic, Ajijic, Jocotepec

Happy Face waffle at Casa de Waffle in Ajijic.

4. Eating Out, Child Friendly

There are no shortages of great places to eat around the Ajijic-Chapala-Jocotepec lakeside area. We have a few family favorites.

Breakfast: “La Casa de Waffle” is on the west side of Ajijic. For late risers, they are open until 2pm. Your children will love the creative fruit-topped Pooh Bear waffles (served with honey, of course); parents and children will appreciate the small indoor play area. We like sitting outside under the large umbrellas. While the view is nothing to write about, the food is consistently good and served quickly.

Lunch: Open only until 4:30, Monday thru Friday, “Chopsticks” is located near the El Torito Supermarket on the carretera. The friendly owners serve authentic Asian cuisine. Try their veggie potstickers. Top it off with their own homemade lemongrass or coconut ice cream. This is definitely our go-to spot for a nourishing, quick, and economical lunch. The food is so good, we have been known to order take out just to enjoy their specials for supper as well.  See our review here.

Find generous portions of classical Mexican fare at “Sunrise Restaurant” (on the carretera in the San Antonio area).

For a good sandwich, cold or hot, be sure to visit the Scandinavian Panaderia in the Centro Laguna. Peter works hard at making great bread. Try his apple walnut bread with a thick smear of ghee for breakfast.

Supper (or Dinner): For Italian fare, “Pranzo’s” serves good paninis, pizzas and pastas in a casual open air atmosphere.

For more international cuisine with a family-friendly atmosphere, “La Nueva Posada” has been a well-loved Ajijic tradition (and our standby favorite). The outdoor seating option will let your little ones have some fresh air and a chance to chatter with their resident scarlet macaw. We love their fish and chips special on Fridays. This may be our very favorite spot in all of Ajijic. Its classy enough for an anniversary and yet child-friendly enough to make it fun for all.

If you want Indian food, “Jasmine’s” on the square in Ajijic will satisfy your taste for curry. Delicious vegan options are available. The birth family of our daughter Hosanna is from India. We take every opportunity to keep her birth culture alive. We go to Jasmine’s in the afternoon, use our hand to eat and always follow up with a steaming cup of chai.

Note for travelers heading westward toward Jocotepec. Just before San Juan Cosala is a string of seafood restaurants. You will know you’re there with flashing yellow lights, speed bumps and four or five men holding menus directing you toward their parking areas. Recently, a restaurant opened with life-sized fiberglass jungle animals crafted by the owner. He encourages play on and around them; they make a great picture spot.

Donas Donuts. Don't go. If you do, you will want to keep coming back. Consider yourself warned.

Donas Donuts. Don’t go. If you do, you will want to keep coming back. Consider yourself warned.

Snacks: For the best donuts around, go to Donas Donuts. These donuts rival any Tim Horton’s or Dunkin’ Donuts along with a good cup of coffee. On second thought, just skip Donas. Your waistline will thank me. These may be the very best donuts on the planet. Once you visit, yo will want to go again. Take my advice and just stay away.

Things to do in Ajijic

Our children take art classes at the Lake Chapala Society.

5. Create Art

It won’t take you long to realize that Chapala and Ajijic are considered an art capital in Mexico. Visible from the highway just before entering Chapala, a mural by Javier Zaragoza depicts the city’s history–from Pre-Hispanic times to the present. Ajijic is peppered with murals from many local artists. Step in the plaza on any weekend and there will be local art to admire.

Get your children involved by signing them up for the free art classes at the Lake Chapala Society.  The personality of these classes changes often as it is run by volunteers. As with any new class, you will want to go along with your young children for the first few times. When our children attend, I always stay and volunteer.

If you are here longer, ask locals and members of the Ajijic art society about any classes available. Our children have studied weaving, basketry, pottery, wood working and painting in the area.

6 Best Child-Friendly Things To Do In Ajijic-Chapala-Jocotepec

The children learn from a potter at the Adobe studio in Ajijic

6. Farther out in Guadalajara

Since Mexico’s third largest city is only a 45 minute ride/drive away, we’ll include some of the city’s best known child-friendly attractions

The Guadalajara Zoo is a great value on the northwest side of the city. Animals appear content and cared for in well-designed habitats. Tip: Avoid paying extra for the sky ride; you will want an on-the-ground view anyway. Also, rates tend to reduce steeply on the weekends.

Trompo Magico is an excellent children’s museum in the same area as the zoo. Set aside an entire day. Even if you are not fluent in Spanish, the interactive exhibits will delight children of all ages from a toddler friendly fruit/vegetable market to a recording studio. See our review.

Tip On the way back to the Ajijic-Chapala-Jocotepec area, stop at Karne Garibaldi. This restaurant holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the Fastest Restaurant Service. The old fashioned beef soups, piping hot tortillas and unlimited horchata (rice water sweetened with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon) drinks will keep your little back seaters happy on the way back to grandma’s.

Do you or have you had time in the lakeside area with younger children? What would you recommend for families with children?

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Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion
Brent and Stacey-jean Inion, parents of nine (including four children adopted with special needs), 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year and the National Geographic Travelers People's Choice Travelers of the Year. They love to laugh, to read and to explore as a family. The secret to their marital bliss is an early morning cup of freshly brewed coffee before the children awake.

3 Comments

  1. Ieesha says:

    Equine horse therapy facility http://theguadalajarareporter.com/news/news/featured-news/41623-gates-open-at-equine-therapy-ranch
    Looking forward to almost 3yr old taking lessons & our daughter who could benefit from.the therapy portion once a bit older. Kind friendly family. Also offer family horseback rides. Organic eggs, goat milk & icecream available & sold at the Malacom in Chapala :)

    • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Thank you so much for bringing this up Ieesha. You are right. This group is doing absolutely wonderful things for the special needs community in Ajijic and Chapala. Great tips about the eggs and milk, too.

  2. Lisa rumolo says:

    Donas donuts are delicious

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