On the shores of Lake Chapala, 5,000 feet in the Sierra Madre Mountain range, you’ll find the picture-perfect village of Ajijic (Ah-hee-HEEK). This tiny village in the state of Jalisco explodes with color in its architecture and landscape. There are towering palms, pines, and jacaranda trees, brilliant Birds of Paradise, and a staggering variety of flowering plants. In the distance you’ll hear the clip clop of horse hooves before the riders appear, their dogs trotting along-side. The village gives the impression you’ve stepped back in time. The town feels like the 1950’s but with today’s amenities. This is one reason Ajijic, Jalisco is an expat magnet.
Ajijic is also convenient. Guadalajara International Airport is a 30 minute drive while Guadalajara, Mexico’s third largest city can easily be reached in 45 minutes. This is another draw for the many expats that call Ajijic, Jalisco home.
Lake Chapala: The Magic Starts Here
La Chapala is the largest freshwater lake in Mexico; 49 miles long, 12 miles wide. The lake lies nestled in a mountain valley. Small municipalities with their own characteristics dot the north shore of the lake. These former fishing villages share one characteristic—a divine climate. National Geographic calls it a “near perfect climate.”
With an average temperature of 75 degrees, April and May are the warmest months with the temperature rising to 90 degrees, cooling at night. The rainy season cools the temperature and turns the brown mountains to lush green. The breeze off the lake is very pleasant, reminding me of Southern California.
Ajijic, Jalisco: 487 Years Young
The Spaniards conquered and named Ajijic in 1531 although indigenous people lived in this area prior to the conquest. Their presence is still visible today in the colorful street art, festivals, and markets.
The Walk into Downtown Ajijic: The Village
The residential area of La Floresta houses our hotel. Here, you’ll find wide cobblestone boulevards, spacious sidewalks, and tall shady trees. The well-kept yards are filled with an abundance of colorful shrubs and flowers. The scent of jasmine fills the air.
We pass a spacious, tree lined median, where cowboys tend their horses while waiting for customers. The price is a bargain at $4US an hour. We could ride into town and along the shoreline with a guide. While tempting, we continue our walk.
Massive, colorful, bougainvillea bushes spill over the fences forcing us off the sidewalk. We pass houses painted in colors not usually seen in the US. If you can imagine it, there’s a house that color…fuchsia, lavender, lime green.
Reaching the main street, the lake lies left, the Carretera (highway) right. We turn left with no discussion.
As we walk toward the lake, delicious aromas waft from open restaurant doors. I know the perfect place for lunch, but first the lake.
The Malecon: Lakeside Walkway
The malecon is an important part of Mexican life. Families and couples enjoy a leisurely stroll at all hours. Benches for relaxing and interesting sculptures are scattered along the walkway. We stop to watch skateboarders perform tricks in the local skateboard park. They smile and wave when they see us stop. Walking a bit farther, hunger pangs loudly announce lunch time.
Lunch in Paradise: The Peacock Garden
Ajijic offers every type of cuisine imaginable, from the best Persian food I have tasted (a food truck) to authentic German, and everything in between. With such glorious weather, dining outside suits us.
In the middle of the village on Calle Colon, you’ll find a quiet oasis in The Peacock Garden. From the outside you would never guess a lush Garden of Eden is beyond the small muraled entry. Flowering bushes are everywhere. Banana trees stand guard along the property line. Peacocks roam freely. A large shady tree shields our table from the sun. The setting is perfect, right down to the sound of bubbling water from the stone fountains.
The Peacock Garden has an extensive menu. Enchiladas with rice and a beer for my husband, a Monte Cristo sandwich and white wine for me.
Chatting, we nibble on freshly made tortilla chips with salsa. I regret nibbling when our plates arrive. My sandwich was presented beautifully with sliced papaya on the side. Light, cooked to perfection; both savory and sweet. My husband was surprised at the size of his dish. It was easily enough for two people. I had a bite; it was flavorful with the right amount of heat. We passed on dessert.
The price for lunch including beverages was approximately $15US. A bargain.
Long considered the heart of any Mexican town, you’ll find the plaza used as a meeting place, a spot to sit and people watch, and the site of village festivities. The plaza is stunning and busy. Couples dance to music provided by loudspeakers. Children run up the stairs of the ornate grandstand to get a better look at the hanging chandelier. They laugh and scatter when spotted. Restaurants and small shops flank the picture-perfect plaza.
The Little Church
There are two historic churches in Ajijic. My favorite sits across from the plaza—The Little Church. Made of stone with a stone and iron fence, its age mirrors Ajijic. I ask a gentleman if services are still held there. He replied, “Yes, every Sunday. It is not a fancy church but it is a church with heart.” Simple beauty.
The Wednesday Tianguis
If you are in town on Wednesday, take time to visit the tianguis, the farmer’s market, frequented by both locals and visitors. Located on Calle Revolution, cobblestones were removed and the center of the street was paved, making your shopping experience easier.
If you need fresh fish or chicken, this is your place. A pack of batteries, fresh fruit, a machete—you’ll find it here.
There is fierce competition between the food vendors and the aromas of their creations. Many vendors have tables under trees, allowing you to sit and enjoy your meal.
Markets are family affairs. Children shyly attempted English with us while rearranging displays. My inadequate Spanish was rewarded with smiles and thumbs up.
The tianguis starts between 7-8am, rain or shine, ending in the early afternoon.
Ajijic, Jalisco: A Friendly Village with Heart
The author Clifton Fadiman once said, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” The exception could be Ajijic.
- Mexico Tourism, https://www.visitmexico.com/en
- Hotel Real de Chapala: http:www.realdechapala.com
- On our Site: Take Spanish lessons in Mexico
–All photos by Barb Harmon.