Lake Chapala Malecon: What the US Media Isn't Telling You

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Lake Chapala Malecon: What the US Media Isn’t Telling You

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.

Lake Chapala Malecon 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.

Walkways in Chapala malecon, Lake Chapala

The Chapala malecon has new, handicap accessible walkways overlooking the lake and the mountains.

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. The Chapala Malecon, Lake Chapala

Boat Ride Chapala, Lake Chapala

Brent and the children sharing a boat ride with some friends from the US.

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.

Weavers in Chapala, Lake Chapala

Weavers weaving around the Chapala malecon

Hammock seller, Lake Chapala

Hammock seller

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.

Mariachi Chapala Malecon, Lake Chapala

Strolling Mariachi players.

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.

Horseback riding in Chapala, Lake Chapala

Our eldest children enjoyed a horseback around Chapala city.

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.

Cathedral, Lake Chapala

Chapala Cathedral

A day is not complete at the Chapala malecon until you have sampled the local spicy hot minnows.

Spicy minnows

Spicy minnows

Have you strolled around Chapala’s malecon? We would love to hear your experience in the comments below.
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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.

33 Comments

  1. Katie Troyer says:

    This is a place to visit in the future.

  2. Karen says:

    We spent nearly 4 months here earlier in the year and came back 5 days ago for another couple-months stint. It is certainly an easy place to stay, a totally different picture than what the news portrays about Mexico.

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      It is a lovely spot. So many who think they will just pass through end up staying. After our six month stay in the area it was very hard to pull ourselves away. I hope to be posting more “must-dos” in Chapala soon. Enjoy!

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Enjoy! It’s a great base to go an explore other parts of Mexico as well.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Karen, We are moving to Lakeside 3/2016. Our friends and family are freaking out about safety and all the break-ins and crime you read about. I feel that’s over exaggerated and safer than most places in the states. Thanks for posting.

      • Brent and Stacey-jean Inion says:

        I gave birth in the area and have spent over a year here. We have no concerns for our safety, ever. This is a town full of beauty, art and great community. You will love it here.

      • Karen says:

        I agree with Stacey. We’ve been more than 12 months here Lakeside and feel safe…not 1 problem. We’ve spent most of the last 3 years here in Mexico, and the only thing we’ve had stolen….at Barra de Navidad was underwear! Absolutely true….somebody was desperate enough to steal underwear.

        We’ll probably still be here when you come, Mary. Contact us via acrobaticthoughts.com

        • Rick & Judie says:

          Hello Karen. My wife and I love Mexico, usually go twice a year to PV. Now that we’re pushing 60, we’re thinking of spending winters in Lake Chapalla. Any recommendations of which neighbourhood would the best to look for a 1 week rental while we get our feet wet to the area?
          Thanks, Rick and Judie in Montreal.

  3. peter st. john says:

    Hi,

    Nice piece! We live in Chapala and enjoy the Malecón daily. Regarding the “metered parking” you mentioned…it is not necessary to put money in those meters. They were installed as a scam to make money for a former city politician, and are no longer in service. Enjoy FREE parking, at our Marvelous Malecón!

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      That’s interesting. Good to know. Thanks.

    • Gwen Lechnar says:

      Hi, Peter! So nice to know you’re still there, and still giving people new to the area tips on how to cope. Do you remember the kerfuffle on the whole “recycling” thing some years ago? Thought the new gringos would have a heart attack! That new malecon in Chapala is something, all right. Ditto the one in Ajijic. Miss you. Gwen and Dick

  4. Cindi says:

    My husband and I fell in love with the area back in 2007. We have been working toward our retirement in Ajijic in 2016. We go every winter for our holiday and are more and more sure every time we leave that this will be our future home. A true jewel.

  5. Delores Kauffman says:

    So this is when you meet up with our friends the Overholt family! Looks like a lovely place to visit! Delores

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Delores,
      We had a wonderful visit with the Overholt family in the Chapala/Ajijic area. Our families just clicked right away. A very special time for all.

  6. Hi guys! We spent 6 weeks in Ajijic – a little town next to Chapala – in May-June 2014. It was a good time: beautiful nature and climate, safe environment and fresh bread (I kind of judge a place by their bakeries :))
    Though I did not find it was much to do there and expats who live there are usually retirees with their dogs so for us, parents with young kids, it was not easy to find company with similar interests. San-Miguel-de-Allende, where we went after, fit us better for that purposes.

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Polina,

      I agree Ajijic is a great tow. You must have found Peter’s Penderia. His sourdough loaves are amazing. Sorry you did not find many families to connect with. They are there, but it takes a little hunting. You are right though it is more of a retiree village. We liked that aspect as there were lots of grandparent types who poured into our children’s lives. Thanks for the tip about, San-Miguel-de-Allende. That is a place we have never visited but only hear great things about. Have fun.

    • We’ve spent a lot of time in the Chapala/Ajijic area, Polina, and have yet to connect with very many expat families, too. But the kids have enough socializing amongst themselves and get along great with older people who become their friends, too, so we appreciate that. We are also hopeful another unschooling family with 4dc will be arriving in the next few months. Maybe we can attract more and more families with young kids to the area?!! For many families, the higher costs of SMA keep some of us from living there.

      • Stacey-jean Inion says:

        Thanks Karen, I had not heard that SMA was a costly spot. Of course, there must be some bargains around. How awesome that another unschooling family will be moving to the area. We found connections at the Lakeside Chapala free art classes on Saturdays and also visiting area churches. Mostly though, our children took a lot of classes within the community and learned a lot from the older community. Like you, we have so many children that we have a strong built-in friend connection.

      • Sara says:

        Thankyou for an amazing post! This has helped us to decide where we want to base ourselves.

  7. chapala21 says:

    Chapala is pretty quiet except on holidays and weekends when residents of Guadalajara come in droves to enjoy the grand views and family friendly atmosphere.

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Yes, the noise and traffic definitely pick up during those times. A part of what makes it fun. Also a good reason to visit the Lago on the weekdays.

  8. Leticia says:

    The Lake Chapala area is great, sure, and I remember it was even better before so many people moved here. Now we have lots of cars on the narrow streets that were never planned for this many people, everything is more expensive and big stores come and make the local people run out of business. In 10 years we won’t go out and see a cow, a horse, lots of trees and charming country scenes, they will be gone, replaced by lots and lots of houses, cars and people.

    • Stacey-jean Inion says:

      Change is always hard. We have seen changes even in the two years we have been here. I can’t imagine how much change you have seen. We like the rural feel of Jocotepec for all of the above reasons.

  9. Rosalva says:

    Mexico is a beautiful country and unfortunately you only hear the bad news about it. Thank you so
    Much for sharing this.

  10. neilOWS says:

    Hello Everyone.
    Is anyone able to help a Brit who loves to swim regularly in the sea, lakes, reservoirs etc. i.e. is an avid Open Water Swimmer… 3-10km per dip depending on energy levels (I also enjoy cycling and a gentle jog). Came across Lake Chapala while training in the Med’ Sea (Costa del Sol, Spain) and it sounds beautiful. Unfortunately this summer the Med’s west coast has been plagued by mauve stingers/las medusas… I’ve got some impressive photos of my swollen cheeks (face) and various other parts of the exposed body (even when wearing a wetsuit). Okay, enough whining… is anyone sufficiently knowledgeable about the current condition of the lake? Not just on its level and water quality, that I understand have significantly improved over many years (?), but whether there are any nasty beasties (flora or fauna) of which I ought to be aware. Needless to say, I always wear a bright yellow swim cap with a bright orange safety float trailing behind me to help kayakers etc., see me. Are there any specific areas set aside so that serious swimmers such as triathletes, ironman can train? Any triathlon clubs nearby? I’m 59. Any help and guidance as to where I might be able to find the facts, would certainly be appreciated. Maybe see you in October?
    Kind Regards, Neil

  11. I couldn’t be more excited about moving to Ajijic in March for several months or longer! American early retiree here who has spent 6 months in Northern Thailand exploring Asia. I’m looking forward to spending more time in a country I love and to be close to the U.S. as needed and other countries (Cuba!) that I’ve wanted to visit forever. Hope to meet new friends and keep up the good info and conversation.

  12. R. Paul Brier says:

    July 26th the 11th anniversary of my living here – never a regret.

  13. Phil White says:

    I am visiting Ajijic in early December with the hope of meeting others who have retired there and learning more about living in the Lake Chapala area. I have read so many nice things about the area and have decided that I will return next year for three months, during my winter season in New York State if I enjoy this visit.

    Can anyone tell me how to meet up with others who are retired and enjoying Lake Chapala? Any initial contact information would be very helpful and appreciated

    Thanks.

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