Whether you want to take a day trip from Guadalajara to Chapala Lake or you’re planning to make the lake your base for explorations, you’re in for a treat—Jalisco’s lake region is stunning.
In fact, Lake Chapala is the biggest lake in Mexico. Sadly, it’s also a shrinking lake due to municipal water use in Guadalajara.
Chapala and Ajijic are the two most popular towns to visit in this region. So, I’ll give you an overview of the kind of accessibility you can expect as a wheelchair user in Lake Chapala.
Note: The information here is based on my observation as a non-wheelchair user. If you have firsthand experience as a wheelchair user in Chapala or Ajijic, I’d love to hear about your time there in the comments section. I appreciate it, and I’m sure that our future readers will too.
Getting to Chapala and Ajijic
The best way to arrive in Chapala and Ajijic is by a private vehicle, given that the buses aren’t wheelchair accessible. You can expect a lot of traffic when trying to get out of Guadalajara (assuming you’re traveling from there).
But once you get out of the city, you’ll have access to an open country highway.
Psst! If you’re curious about the differences between these lakeside destinations, check out my guide on Chapala vs Ajijic.
Wheelchair Accessibility in Chapala:
When traveling from Guadalajara, Chapala is the first town on Lake Chapala that you’ll arrive at. It’s also the most wheelchair accessible.
I recommend making a beeline down the single main road, Priv. Francisco I. Madero, that cuts through town. The highway leads right into it, and it’ll take you to a cul-de-sac on the lake.
Some accessible parking spaces exist in Chapala. However, they’re usually not what you’d expect if you’re used to ADA-complying parking spots, as you might have to battle with no drop-down curbs or crumbling sidewalks.
So, if possible, have someone let you out on the cul-de-sac. From there, you’ll have ample space and comfort to explore the most touristy parts of Chapala.
The Chapala sign is right by this drop-off point, so don’t miss the chance to take a photo of it.
From there, you can swing around to the right where you’ll encounter the quieter end of the lake and some local restaurants.
Alternatively, you can head to the left and explore the longest portion of the boardwalk. Chapala’s boardwalk is flat, wide, and bumps right up to the lake, making it an excellent place to explore by chair.
Once mid-morning comes around, tourists start trickling in (or piling in, if you’re traveling on a weekend).
Vendors also begin setting up their carts. You can roll right up to them and grab an ice cream or some snacks native to the Jalisco region while doing your exploring.
By lunchtime, outdoor restaurants have plastic tables set up in the grass. If it’s dry enough, you’ll be able to grab a table and have a bite to eat.
Chapala’s boardwalk isn’t long, so you can easily explore it one way within 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how many times you stop to take photos and admire the view. Once you arrive at the end, you’ll come across this accessible pier:
If you’re interested in seeing downtown Chapala away from the lake, you can also take a stroll inland down the same road you had arrived from. But this time I recommend wheeling so you can take in the sights and smells better.
There’s a small, gentle incline to arrive at the town from the lake, but the sidewalks are generally wide and well-kept, though you might have to work around some vendors.
That said, the street crossings are mostly cobblestone. And while there are drop-down curbs, they don’t always reach all the way to the ground.
However, exploring the first 1 – 3 blocks away from the lake will give you an excellent feel for life in town if you don’t wish to go further. You’ll also get a chance to see the Plaza de Armas, a wide space where locals gather.
The Plaza de Armas is a popular spot in the evening once the temperature cools off. So, if you happen to visit Chapala at night, I recommend making a stop there.
Wheelchair Accessibility in Ajijic
Of the two towns, Ajijic is more popular for international tourists but less wheelchair accessible. But if you venture there, it was named one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos, so you’ll get to enjoy lots of colorful street art.
I recommend exploring Ajijic’s streets by vehicle, though, given that its sidewalks are narrow with electric poles and other items often blocking the path. Drop-down curbs are also hit-and-miss, and cobblestone is everywhere.
Aside from exploring Ajijic’s cute center by car, the boardwalk is the other must-see sight.
Like Chapala, Ajijic’s boardwalk is wheelchair accessible. It also follows the lake, but it’s set back a bit more with a grassy bank between the path and water.
From my experience visiting the two destinations, Ajijic’s boardwalk felt quieter. Then again, I visited on a Sunday, so I’d imagine Chapala, where many local tourists visit, doesn’t have as many people on weekdays.
Nevertheless, Ajijic has a small market and vendor stands at its main entrance point (which is also the best accessible place to start your boardwalk exploration). This area is called Enbarcadero Ajijic and is by Lago Chapala Adventures.
Once you leave that area, you’ll feel you’re in a more nature-like setting than Chapala’s boardwalk.
Parking is even tricker in Ajijic than Chapala. I didn’t see any accessible parking spaces in downtown Ajijic (please let me know if you find any!).
So, the best place to get off is by Enbarcadero Ajijic. Parking in this area is informal and in an unpaved area but it’s the best “accessible” option I encountered because it’ll get you closest to the Enbarcadero’s ramp.
If you can, have your driver let you out in front of the ramp before they park. From there, you can explore the accessible pier and its vendors before making your way along the boardwalk.
A Volunteer Opportunity in Chapala
If you love animals, consider making a visit to Lucky Dog, an animal shelter run primarily by a group of English-speaking retirees.
The outdoor shelter has an accessible entrance and lots of space for you to spend your time in Chapala cuddling with dogs. You can learn more about volunteering with Lucky Dog here.
Are You Ready to Visit Lake Chapala?
Chapala and Ajijic don’t have ideal facilities to support a long-term stay for wheelchair users. However, you can visit both of these destinations in a day from Guadalajara.
If you have questions about exploring Chapala or Ajijic, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help. Alternatively, I’d love to hear your feedback once you’ve visited Lake Chapala. Your experience with accessibility there will undoubtedly help future readers.
P.S.- If you’re looking for accessible things to do in Guadalajara, check out our Guadalajara accessibility guide.