Guadalajara, Mexico: Day Trip to Lake Chapala

When visiting Guadalajara in Mexico, a day trip to Lake Chapala can be nice. It’s Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, about an hour from Mexico’s second-largest city, and with its year-round spring-like weather, it attracts an above average number of retirees and expats.

There are several towns to choose from, so with limited time, consider the characteristics that might appeal to you most. We decided to split our time between Chapala (bigger with a local feel) and Ajijic (lots of expats live here).

Chapala

Our morning started with an Uber to the town of Chapala. It is quite easy to get an Uber out of Guadalajara, but keep in mind that you may have a long-ish wait before returning. When in Mexico, try not to get upset about delays or the need to change your plan!

On arrival, there was a cute path by the water and we bought some gummy sharks from a street vendor. The boys were pleased that they knew the word tiberones (shark).

We popped into a cute church. Just like churches in Europe, many small towns in Mexico will have surprisingly beautiful decor.

While we didn’t actually eat in this town, there were nice looking restaurants and a small market.

Most of our time was spent on the path by the water. One thing to know about Lake Chapala is that fish used to be dying from a combination of the pollution and invasive plants. There are claims that the water is cleaner now, but one close-up look at the water, and we were skeptical. While you might see some local children swimming in the water, we felt like it was too risky to allow our children to swim. One of them was quite annoyed and told us we were being overprotective…sigh.

We enjoyed our time there, although if we were to do it again, we probably would have spent more time in Chapala – it did have a more lively feel.

While we were sitting on a bench admiring the view, an expat stopped by and told us that we should head over to Ajijic for lunch and suggested his favorite place with a water view. Since this was next on our itinerary, we decided to ignore the pleasant looking restaurants in Chapala and took his advice!

Getting an Uber was a little harder than expected. Our first Uber was an 18 minute wait, but he cancelled with 3 minutes to go. Same thing for the next Uber. The third Uber was a 9 minute wait and he actually showed up! If there would have been more taxis in town, we may have tried one of those, but Uber feels safer and there is no haggling over the price, so we were glad it worked out.

Ajijic

On arrival to Ajijic, we started to realize that there were probably two reasons that our Uber drivers kept canceling. The first was likely that they were hoping for a better fare back to Guadalajara, but the second is that the roads in Ajijic are really terrible cobblestone roads! I think a gravel road with lots of potholes might be more pleasant. Consider asking for a drop-off point on the highway side of town, rather than the water side.

Later in the day, Jeremy downloaded the Didi app as an alternative to Uber. It is a Chinese alternative that is popular in Mexico. We never did use it, but if you are trying to avoid traditional taxis and public busses, it may be worth considering if you need to find plan B.

Getting out of the Uber, I took a big sigh of relief. This town is about 50% expat, and the cleanliness of the town reflected this. Everything was just a little cuter than Chapala. The boardwalk was nicer, the restaurants were nicer, the shops and market stalls were nicer. Of course, the prices were also a little bit nicer, but sometimes the extra expense is worth it.

We decided to try the restaurant the man in Chapala had recommended. The reviews for La Tango were good, and while we were expecting an Argentinian steakhouse, the menu looked a lot more like Italian food. The boys were thrilled! While not local cuisine, the food really was delicious and the views of the water were nice. When you travel with kids, sometimes you will need a break from truly authentic experiences.

After lunch, we took a walk along the water. The boys hopped down off the wall and were walking on another mini-wall that looked a little like a balance beam, when a long black snake swam by. I had visions of the kids tumbling into the water and needing to visit a Mexican hospital, but everything turned out fine. John was thrilled by the encounter.

We then walked through the town.

There were some nice churches, but what we really liked were the murals.

Some were quite fascinating, particularly one with some nude art on the side of an elementary school building. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

If you are still wondering about the water quality, maybe this mural will help you decide:

There was forecast for late afternoon rain, so we decided to try to get an Uber before the rain started and everyone decided to leave at once.

In case the roads were the reason Uber drivers were avoiding this town, we picked a pickup point by a park fairly close to the highway to minimize the time the driver would have to spend on the cobblestone. Not sure if it was coincidence or luck, but we had a driver pick us up within 10 minutes.

It was a fun day, but by the time we returned to Guadalajara, the boys were quite sick of sitting in a taxi. In any case, if you are looking to escape the city and visit a local lake area, towns along Lake Chapala are a good choice, particularly Ajijic!

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