First Day: Exploring Chapala and Ajijic

It was hard to start somewhere and not get caught up in side notes on tourism, Mexican hospitality, food, and the hassles of photography. I’ve therefore decided to dedicate a separate post to each, still in the making. For now, it’s according to days and weeks. Salute!

Ajijic and Art
Ajijic and Art

Guadalajara is surrounded by mountains. Strong, tall, dark, green-forested mountains. And if you drive further out of the city towards the South, you will be able to explore a not-so-hidden gem of the Mexican state Jalisco: Chapala and the smaller town Ajijic. Both towns are located on the sweet rims of Lake Chapala. They are surrounded by the foresty and hilly area of the Mother Mountain (also named Sierra Madre en español).

While Chapala seems to be the commercially thriving and also uglier of the two, Ajijic displays the charm of a hidden village, despite its population of 15,000 citizens. Many tourists actually visit this area. Because of its consistent mild climate (a constant temperature in the 70ies F (25 C) year round, who wouldn’t love this?!), a few Canadians, Americans and perhaps also Europeans have rented or even bought houses in this area to spend their vacations at.

And indeed, while walking down the quaint and painted streets of town, we discovered a souvenir shop owned by an elderly American lady who is an artist at night and a seller of her art during day time. Despite a few English-speaking citizens, not too many Mexican people know English here. So I guess all those Canadians and Americans had to learn Spanish to get by. I believe I heard some harsh accents while rooming through other stores. Which by the way were all small, family-owned, and with tons of Mexican souvenirs or traditional items.

Street paintings
Street paintings

But first we checked out the gorgeous lake, which at that point was a little dried out since it hadn’t rained in a while. After the gorgeous lake and the escapade with a random donkey grassing in a field nearby, we went on to see one of the most colorful streets I have experienced. Every single shade was represented; pretty much anything but black and white. In addition to random street art and paintings found on almost every street corner. It makes out the flair of this town and it is hard to put in words. Yes, it might be touristy, but more of a hidden touristy, if you get what I mean. Not the open blank touristy of the bigger cities. Just imagine touristy mixed with people who live off of owning their business and you have your mental image.

My friend and I were entering a few stores with handmade Mexican clothes. Mexican traditional costumes are very colorful, as is about everything else in Mexico. She tried to convince me that some these pieces would look great on me but I wasn’t too sure after all. What is the sense of buying something and not wearing it after your vacation? “I’d rather just take a picture of it,” was my initial thought, but eventually I caved in and purchased a beautiful Mexican necklace at a market in Guadalajara.

Street dog
Street dog

Not on my first day, though. On this first day we strolled along and were followed by the occasional street dog or two. Yes, you have them in warmer countries, Mexico is not an exception to this rule. At one point we entered a restaurant and the waitress shrieked because of “our” dog. It took some effort and sho-shoing to get him away from us, but in the end he is probably better off in Ajijic than anywhere else.

Since it was the middle of the week, the restaurant did not play any Mariachi. Mariachi is the traditional music from the state of Jalisco, believed to have originated around Guadalajara. Although the noun seems to have French roots, the songs certainly do not. Back in the days (we are talking hundreds of years back), mariachi was used to vow a woman and to get her to marry the singer. Sort of like singing beneath a balcony, I guess, just the Mexican version of it. Anyhow, the music was lacking in flavor but the food made up for it. Fresh seafood and a hefty portion of chili – I couldn’t say no to this!

After the meal we drove around a bit and my friend pointed out a cute market selling huge hammocks, hand-made baskets, brooms, and other fun stuff. We then went on to the “Beverly Hills” of Ajijic, which is basically were the richer people live (in addition to many foreigners). It was here that thin and unhealthy-looking horses were kept so that passerbys could ride around in a circle on them for a small fee. I wasn’t thrilled, neither was my friend, and we went on.

Spa view
Spa view

Since I was with locals, they knew all the cool places. Our next and last stop was up the hill near Chapala towards a spa called Monte Coxala Spa. If I ever were to get a massage in Mexico, this would be the spot! It has fake little Mayan stones all over the territory, artificial hot springs, and a gorgeous panorama overlooking the entire lake and mountains in the distance! We stopped by for a coffee and dessert, tried to wander around the premises, until someone told us we needed to be spa guests, and then left after an hour or so. I believe you actually cannot just enter the security gates without a good reason, but my friend knew a few people who lived in the area, so we were good to go. It is also here that a few (and I am sure expensive) weddings are held just because of the stunning view and the nice reception area.

Restaurant bliss
Restaurant bliss

While wandering around, we happened to run into a naked Mexican dog – the first time I ever saw such a creature. The poor thing was shaking as it seemed scared of us but the owner told us we could pet it and pick it up.

The Mexican dog
The Mexican dog

Ajijic and Chapala – a great first day to start the authentic Mexican adventure.

[For more pictures on Ajijic, go to: This is Mexico: Ajijic and Lake Chapala]

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2 thoughts on “First Day: Exploring Chapala and Ajijic

  1. Oh wow… this is so exciting! I am pumped about reading your posts from your trip. It looks like you got off to a great start. Having an authentic experience and getting away from the touristy traps is most definitely something I strive to do, and I know you to do. Thanks for giving me a chance to visit the real Mexica as seen through your eyes. xo

    • Yes, it was great to hang with my local friends. We tried to avoid a few tourist traps, but unfortunately you are never immune to those. Still, it was a very different perspective to have gained.

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