Chapala vs Ajijic: 7 Similarities and Differences

Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico, covering about 417 square miles. It’s a popular day trip from Guadalajara and a hotspot for North American retirees.

But since Lake Chapala is so big, it might get you wondering about the differences between Chapala vs Ajijic, which are Lake Chapala’s two most popular towns.

I’ve explored Chapala and Ajijic multiple times and will share how these destinations are similar and where they diverge.

1. Chapala Is a Larger Town

A Chapala sign with a lake background.

Chapala has a population of over 50,000 people, whereas Ajijic has only about 11,500. 

The difference in population is palpable when visiting both destinations. But if you only visit Chapala, you’ll feel like you’re in a small country town, complete with people wearing cowboy hats and riding horses as transportation.

Don’t worry—you’ll see locals using horses to get around Ajijic too.

But you won’t need a horse unless you want to pay a local to ride theirs. Instead, you’ll be able to explore Chapala and Ajijic on foot since nearly everything of touristic interest is within walking distance. 

Of the two, I ended up walking around Ajijic more even though it’s less populated; searching for beautiful murals on charming cobblestone streets really racks up the miles.

2. Ajijic Is Where the Foreign Tourists Go

When comparing Chapala vs Ajijic, Ajijic has more foreign tourists but fewer people on its boardwalk.

If you’re wondering where the place is to visit in Lake Chapala as a foreigner, it’s Ajijic.

But because of this, not everyone loves Ajijic. It can feel like stepping into a historic town in the United States or Canada, packed with mostly retired gringos eager to give up their harsh winters to Lake Chapala’s spring-like weather year-round.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a tight-knit English-speaking community with access to high-quality health care and a nearby Walmart, Ajijic is your place.

In contrast, Chapala is primarily where local tourism happens. Locals come in droves on the weekends, especially from Guadalajara. 

You can find lots of yummy sweet treats native to the state of Jalisco, local music, and restaurants turning large grassy spaces into a Mecca of plastic tables for eating lunch and dinner beside the lake.

3. Both Sit on Lake Chapala

A pier in Chapala.

That’s right—Chapala and Ajijic both call Lake Chapala home.

They also have their own lakefront boardwalks, although they vary significantly in their vibe and appearance. 

Chapala’s boardwalk is wide and rather desolate during the weekdays, offering visitors the opportunity to explore it with fewer tourists around. But on the weekends, it becomes packed to the brim, with people often resorting to walking through the grass.

Vendors and restaurant owners line the Chapala boardwalk, enticing children with toys and adults with drink specials.

In contrast, Ajijic’s boardwalk is narrower but longer and quieter. 

When you enter the boardwalk from the main Enbarcadero Ajijic entrance, there’s a market to your right where most of the vendors congregate. 

From there, the further you walk along the boardwalk, the quieter it becomes—even on weekends. 

There are also many beautiful grass areas where you can sit beside the lake and enjoy the sounds of nature—a scenario that Chapala doesn’t offer, given that its cement boardwalk butts up to the water.

4. The Driving Time From Guadalajara Is Similar

The downtown historical center of Guadalajara.

Whether you choose to visit Chapala or Ajijic, the amount of time it takes to drive to these destinations from Guadalajara is nearly equal. 

If you’re driving from downtown Guadalajara, it’ll take around 50 to 60 minutes to arrive in Chapala. In contrast, it takes about five extra minutes to get to Ajijic, where you’ll need to veer off onto Highway 119. 

If you wish to drive between Chapala and Ajijic, it’ll take 15 to 20 minutes. The road can sometimes get congested, though, especially as you arrive in Ajijic. 

When comparing Chapala vs Ajijic, it’s more common for people to rent a car in Ajijic and do their touring from there. 

Even though Ajijic and Chapala are the most popular areas in that region, there are other cute towns you can explore via vehicle around the lake.

5. Chapala Offers More Food Options

A plate of rice, chile relleno, and salad.

There are naturally more restaurants in Chapala than Ajijic since it’s a larger town. And according to KeySearch, Chapala restaurants have a surprisingly high search volume, with an average of 2,900 people per month looking up “Chapala menu.”

It appears that this could be for the Chapala Mexican Grill, though, which is a popular restaurant name throughout the United States.

Needless to say, it’s wise to arrive in Chapala hungry to taste the food at one of its fair-style lakefront restaurants.

Ajijic also has great restaurants and cafes in town. Cocinart and Blue Rose Bistro are just a couple of examples.

Unlike in Chapala, where English speakers are hit or miss, you can expect most restaurant staff in Ajijic to speak at least some English.

6. Ajijic Is a Pueblo Magico

When comparing Chapala vs Ajijic, Ajijic has more charm with murals like the fruit one shown here.

Pueblo Magico stands for “Magical Town” and is an initiative led by the Secretariat of Tourism in Mexico.

When comparing Chapala and Ajijic, only Ajijic falls under the Pueblo Magico category.

Whereas Chapala has a slightly more modern and open design, Ajijic is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets. It’s fun to walk through those streets searching for street art that adorns many buildings, garbage cans, and more.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Ajijic’s charm because of its artwork and old-town feel, and it’s easy to see why so many foreigners choose to call it home.

7. Both Have Bus Stations

The bus ticket counter in Chapala, something that Chapala vs Ajijic both have.

If you’re like me and love traveling by bus, you’ll be happy to know that you can take the bus to both Ajijic and Chapala from Guadalajara.

There are also frequent bus departures between Chapala and Ajijic.

So, on the days when I wanted to visit Chapala and Ajijic as a day trip from Guadalajara, I’d take the bus from Guadalajara to Chapala, then hop on a bus to Ajijic after my Chapala explorations, and from there head back to Guadalajara via the Ajijic bus station.

If you’re interested in learning more about these buses and how to get to the right bus station in Guadalajara, I encourage you to read my posts on taking the bus from Guadalajara to Chapala and the bus from Guadalajara to Ajijic.

So, Which Town Will It Be?

Now that we explored the similarities and differences between Chapala vs Ajijic, which town feels like the best fit for you?

Personally, I think Ajijic and Chapala have unique qualities that make them both worth a visit. And since you can easily visit them in a day by bus or car, I encourage you to do so.

If you have questions about visiting Chapala or Ajijic, leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to help. I’d also love to hear about your experience and takeaways once you visit the Lake Chapala region.

15 thoughts on “Chapala vs Ajijic: 7 Similarities and Differences”

  1. Hi Laura, Thanks for your recent thorough report on Lake Chapala and Ajijic. I love your perspectives and am amazed with your articulate language. You touched upon a little about the local’s English. From your experience, do the locals in Lake Chapala and Ajijic speak English more (avoiding to say “better”) than the locals in cities like Guadalajara, San Mugel de Allende, Oaxaca? I am not trying to get by without speaking Spanish when I arrive in Mexico–it’s actually the opposite. But, my Spanish learning has been going rather slow, so I’m just wondering. Also, Spanish is my forth foreign language to study! Thank you and wishing you continue having a safe, meaningful, and fun trip!

    1. Hi Akiko,

      Gosh, it’s hard to say if the locals speak more English in Chapala and Ajijic, given that it’s subjective based on the people one encounters. But from my experience, I’d say that the percentage of people who speak English in Chapala and Ajijic is at least on par with the touristy areas in Guadalajara. I don’t remember quite as many people speaking English in Oaxaca, and I haven’t been to San Miguel de Allende to offer a comparison. I do remember being impressed by my Chapala taxi driver speaking perfect English.

      That’s fantastic that Spanish is your fourth language! I’m sure the locals will appreciate your effort to learn.

      Wishing you all the best with your trip planning and upcoming travels!

  2. It’s not true about the tourists. Chapala is full of tourists but they are mostly Mexican and from all over the area, not just Guadalajara. And Ajijic has more food options, more better restaurants. You seem to counting all the stalls and Mexican restaurants in Chapala. Parking is also impossible in Chapala so it is difficult to visit their restaurants

  3. Good morning
    I considering possibly moving to the lake Chapala , Ajijic
    Area, but I have two kids age 13,15 and would like information about good schools in the area and
    Difference between public school and private schools
    Also concern about crime, cartels.
    Can you please provide information about my concerns?
    Oscar Garcia

    1. Hi Oscar,

      How exciting that you’re considering a move to the Lake Chapala area!

      Your questions are beyond my scope of knowledge (I wrote a post on safety in Guadalajara, but the Chapala/Ajijic area is safer so the information there isn’t fully applicable). However, I noticed that Facebook has a group called Ajijic and Jocotepec Gringos and Expats Without Agendas. I bet you’ll be able to find people living in that area with first-hand knowledge to help.

      Perhaps someone reading this article with more knowledge of the school systems/cartels in the Lake Chapala area will also be able to shed light on your questions.

    1. Hi Beth,

      How wonderful that you’ll be visiting both Chapala and Ajijic.

      I stayed in Guadalajara, so I don’t have recommendations to offer based on personal experience. However, I’ve heard that La Nueva Posada in Ajijic is a nice boutique option in the tourist center with views of the lake. If you’re okay with being a car ride away from the center, Monte Coxala is a resort that I’ve also heard good things about.

  4. I really appreciate your article comparing the two towns, Laura! I have been living in Guadalajara for a year, and I have yet to visit Laka Chapala, partly because I didn’t have a clear picture of which place to go to and partly because I’m a little lazy. But I’m going this weekend, and thanks to your article, I won’t be in the dark. Gracias un millon! 🙂

  5. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for your article! I was wondering if the prices were higher in Ajijic (restaurants/hotels) because of the expat factor…

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      The prices in Ajijic tend to be a little higher because of all the expats. However, many restaurant/accommodation options are still reasonably priced if you choose more local options.

  6. Love your information! Thank you!
    I live in Henderson, NV and want to retire there in three years. Wonder what it would take to live there as US citizen? Taxes, home costs, etc. Thank you for your information!

    1. Hi Joni,

      How exciting that you’re thinking about retiring in the Lake Chapala area! I recommend reaching out to an immigration lawyer with your questions. A quick Google search should bring up many bilingual lawyers based in Mexico. They’ll be able to give you more accurate information than I can provide about your questions 🙂

  7. Hello Laura, thank you for the informations. I am canadian and I live in Playa del Carmen. I would like to sell and find a place where the climate is great all year and I love nature and mountains. I have a little dog and I love walking.. I love Queretaro but I think Ajijic would be great for me? More than Chapala. Do you have contacts to rent a studio or one bedroom furnished for maybe november that accept little dogs? I found a place on internet but it is 14000 per month.

    1. Hi Louise,

      How exciting that you’re thinking about moving to Ajijic with your dog. It’s smart to rent first. Unfortunately, I don’t have contacts in that area, but I wish you all the best with your endeavors!

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