The town of the eternal spring
It seems like an unassuming, fairly typical, small Mexican town (with a population of 10,000 plus).
A 45-minute drive south of Guadalajara, its unique climate at 1,538 metres above sea level and nestled on the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the country, Ajijic has become a permanent home or annual snowbird sanctuary for hundreds of Canadians.
This exodus has been going on since the mid-1950s — with winter-weary Canadians and Americans looking for a low-cost retirement haven or seasonal home. Annual residential tax is so low that it barely warrants a mention if you’re the buying type, but there are many fully-furnished rentals also to be had.
What is the appeal of Ajijic with the varied pronunciation? (I’d heard it called AH-hee-heek and ah-HEE-heek, but no one seems to mind the variation.)
With the Sierra Madre mountain range behind you and white pelicans diving into Lake Chapala before you — and a peaceful malecon (boardwalk) along the lake, there’s a sense of magic here.
Cobblestone streets lie parallel and perpendicular to the main roads, which are viewed as quaint by some and hazardous by others. Seeing full-size cars and trucks manoeuvre these streets is a lesson in patience and I was surprised not to hear a constant blaring of the vehicles’ horns. The pace of life is slow, but not comatose — the blend of Canadians and Americans and local Mexicans inspires even a tagline on a gift shop coffee mug: “Ex-Pats without Borders.”
This ex-pat community has given back a great deal to the local town; art expos, theatre presentations and proceeds from other cultural activities benefit local schools and disability organizations. Ex-pat home and business owners are expected to hire Mexicans in their employ, so it can be a win-win for everyone.
It clearly isn’t a place for all, of course. If you are mindful of barking dogs overnight, ‘rockets’ and other incendiary devices (not necessarily fireworks) going off in the evenings for no apparent reason and the incredibly narrow sidewalks making walking single-file a common practice, you may not be a fan of Ajijic.
But, putting all that aside: if you love trying out restaurants at half the price (and less) of what you’d pay at home, if you love living within and learning about the fascinating Mexican culture and Spanish language, if you’re truly sick and tired of yet another winter in the ‘great white north’ and don’t want to roast to death (but still see the sun every day), maybe you should consider Ajijic or one of its small town neighbours on the shores of Lake Chapala.
Incidentally, the town of Chapala itself (15 minutes by taxi from Ajijic) has a markedly different feel. English is not as widely spoken and this community had its lakefront remodelled for the 2011 Pan American Games for the water skiing events. I found it captivating and its walkability factor got a bit of a higher score from this writer, compared with Ajijic.
Bruce Bishop has been involved in the travel and tourism industry since 1994 as a freelance writer, editor, author and publicist. He is currently an independent travel consultant/agent based in Halifax and can be reached via Bishop Trips.