Forget burned out gas stations, warring drug lords, and American tourists being targeted for crime. Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, is not making the U.S. headlines because it’s clean, safe, and family-friendly.
Chapala’s malecon (a walkway, or boardwalk) lies just forty-five minutes south of Guadalajara. There you will step back into time where seniors meet to walk dogs and little children pedal by on small bikes.
The malecon is the hub of activity for the surrounding residents, prominently made up of Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians.
There are new, well-paved, handicapped-accessible walkways. You will also find a sitting area with shady trees and street lights.
This is the perfect spot for (leashed) dog walking, shopping, or just people watching. Lots of free parking and some metered spots are available. Whether you are a couple taking a stroll, a family with children, or a single backpacker, the Chapala malecon is a safe spot to hang out. It provides a quiet, peaceful respite throughout the week and a bustling gathering spot with happy families and busy children on the weekends.
The pier offers a lovely view of the lake, colorful boats, and an array of native birds to watch. The boats, with seating for twelve, are rented by boat and not per person. A ride across the lake costs 250 pesos (about USD $18.). Although the water is not clear, it is a simple but enjoyable ride nonetheless.
For the children, there is a decent sized, metal school-yard style playground.
Vendors provide lots of choices for street food and handcrafts seven days a week. I love the locally-made elote (corn) ice-cream with a rich, buttery taste. Ladies weave lovely bags and blankets. Cattlemen sell leather items while others offer handmade, hand-embroidered clothing. Rare art can also be found around the malecon.
Going on the weekend will give you a lot of insight into the high value Mexicans place on family. You will see grandmothers peeling vegetables with their grandchildren. Grandfather is rekindling his youth by giving little Ricardo another ride on his back. Fathers, mothers, and extended relatives come carrying picnic lunches. There will be no shortage of strolling Mariachi bands ready to serenade you.
50 pesos (4 USD) will give you a guided half-hour horseback ride by the lake. If you go during the week there are horses across the street for rent as well. If you are a seasoned rider, you can rent a horse and take a ride around to see more of downtown Chapala. A guide will ride along on his horse, but no one physically guides your horse. You will need to dodge traffic. Our oldest two are skilled horsemen. They, together with two horse-loving friends from the States, still talk about the fun they had galloping down the street in Chapala Centro.
Still want to taste more of Chapala? Head across the street to the plaza. You will find many restaurants and lots of shopping available. Make sure to visit the City of Chapala’s stately Cathedral dedicated to San Francisco. The first Franciscan monks were housed here. The cathedral has two steeples that are unequal in height. Apparently, a steeple fell off and when it was being rebuilt, there was not enough money to complete it. So the steeple was completed at a much lower level than the first.
A day is not complete at the Chapala malecon until you have sampled the local spicy hot minnows.