Some of my friends were shocked to say the least that I would give up the beautiful caribbean ocean for the central highlands of Mexico or more specifially the Lake Chapala area. We left Oregon in part because we never wanted to see snow again. We moved to Oregon from Hawaii and it was hard getting used to the winters there which seem to get longer every year.
Wev’e been here for more than a year now and let me be clear we love Tulum there is no regrets and this move is somewhat bittersweet for us. Tulum is a nice little town of around 19,000 people about 25 miles south of Playa del Carmen which for us is the big shopping town of around 150,000 or more with all of the big box stores more or less if you really need something.
The food and culture here is great. There is more to do outdoors here than we have time or money to do. There are 7,000 cenotes and countless Mayan ruins to explore and many different jungle tribes or villages to see and then their’s the 2nd longest barrier reef in the world right offshore. Tulum has the best beaches in the world by a mile!
So why are we moving? Basically the weather here is to hot and humid for too many months for us anymore and we don’t want to feel couped up inside with air conditioning which is also very expensive to run here during the long hot summers. We have friends who spend well over a $1,000 per month to cool off their entire house which is just plain nuts to me. I’ll be honest with we didn’t turn on our AC this summer to save money and we sweating like pigs all the time and it sucks!
We have been hearing for some time about the cooler climates of the Lake Chapala area or San Miguel de Allende and finally decided to drove over and take look for ourselves last month.
It is about 1,250 miles from Tulum by car on mostly excellent toll roads that resemble the American freeway system. The drive over was very beautiful for scenery crossing the wetlands of the southern Chiapas then slowing climbing the mountains towards Mexico City and beyond. The roads are excellent and depending upon your driving habits you can easily drive 70-80 mph or more as does the Mexican traffic tend to move at a rapid pace.
We arrived in Ajijic at 7:30 pm and instantly felt the cooler temperatures. The lake sits at 5,000 feet elevation between several mountains or foothills. It is 50 miles long by 26 miles wide and is pretty shallow at around 15-20 feet. There always seems to be a nice breeze floating across the lake.
First thing you notice is that there are no AC units in the houses or rentals, they just open up their windows to increase air flow the fresh air feels nice.
We actually sleep under a blanket for the first time since we moved away form Oregon and it felt great to sleep in a cool room. When I woke up it was a little cool in our rental apartment on the 2nd floor not cold mind you but very refreshing and talking my coffee on the deck outside looking at the lake was a nice change indeed.
Ajijic is a 400-500 year old village that still has mostly cobblestone streets that can be very tight to drive with lots of surprises behinds the walled compounds as the case with most Mexican towns. The area is home to more north American expats that any other place in Mexico, no ones quite sure but their might be as many as 20,000 at high season spread out around the lakeside area’s many towns and villages.
There are 2 english language newspapers and several magazines designed for the expat community with tons of ads for everything you could need to buy or be looking for. It still has a nice small town feel but there are considerbly more services here than I seen anywhere else.
Housing – We started looking at rental houses and were pleasantly surprised, we found quite a good selection ranging from $500 -$1,000 a month for a fully furnished house with locked garages or gates most with a yard and some with pools.
We ended up renting a nice Mexican style 3 bedroom 3 bath fully furnished house with a yard for our lab for $640 a month. Our new yard has a nice Hass avocado tree that was loaded with hundreds of avocados when we were there, so many in fact i can trade them around town or give them away to my new friends.
Utilities here are cheaper as well, most things are propane stoves, ovens, dryer, hot water heaters etc. so this cuts down on CFE bills thats our Mexican electrical company. No AC or heaters needed either a huge plus. It appears that we can expect to pay less than $30 a month for propane and $40-50 for electricity. Shaw satellite TV or Dish Network runs about $60 for full US channels.
Weather – Well its spectacular! National Geographic called Lake Chapala the 2nd best weather in the world after Kenya in Africa which no ones beating a path to live there are they. The weather is calm and comfortable year round with no extremes either way. We were there in rainy season and it was nice with temps in the mid 70′s to low 80′s but the humidity levels made it seem nice by comparison to Tulum. It can drop into the upper 40′s once in a while in winter but always warms up during the daytime. Snowbirds flock here in the winter and many Texans or Arizona folks drop in during the summer to beat the heat.
Food – There are many different farmers markets around the lake weekly and we found the fruits and produce to be cheaper than what we have been paying.
The local fresh seafood was incredible, we lived in Hawaii for 15 years and are accustomed to really fresh caught fish. We found several pescaderas small local seafood markets with wonderful selections of mahi-mahi, sea bass, tuna, red snapper, clams, oysters, scallops and lobsters. The prices were good, we paid about $4 a lb. for some of the best mahi we have ever had. We grilled that and sea bass while we were there for dinner at night. We eat seafood several times a week normally so this will be a major benefit for us in the added quality of our lives. . The Pacific ocean is 3 hours away and they get fresh delivery’s daily and Gulf of mexico fish products also. We really can’t get these items readily in the Tulum markets or they are very expensive.
Airports – Guadalajara is about 30-40 mimutes away by car. The International airport is new and modern with cheap flight to the US or Canada many times a day.
Shopping, Big Box Stores – There are 2 Costco’s and 5 Wal-Marts with several Sam’s Club and all of the other chains stores or fast food resturants if you feel the need to them just a short drive away.
WalMart just opened a new store right off the highway between Ajijic and Chapala. There are many grocery options right around the village or in Chapala so you really don’t need to go to the big city at all.
Healthcare – Their are many local clinics or doctors there and most speak english as as usual it cost a fraction of a visit to the doctor in the US often with no wait or appointments needed. Guadalajara is world famous for it’s medical school and local hospitals which can provide excellant top notch care for even the most intricate procedures or surgery’s.
I am representing several company’s offering medical health care plans for expats which is part of the reason for re-locating also to be closer to our client base. The interent allows me to work from anywhere I have a good wifi signal these days.
Final Analysis – 1. You just can’t beat the weather there, it’s nearly perfect year round.
2. Lower cost of living, rent, food, utilities
3. Cheaper airfares to US
4. Fresh seafood daily
5. 3-4 hours away from Sayulita or San Miguel de Allende or many other places to discover
6. 8-9 hours south of US border if we want to drive north
7. Change is good, we embrace it