Much of the promotion of Mexico focuses on its many coastal tourist resorts, such as Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, and Cancun. But Mexico has many other interesting areas not often promoted. Towns such as San Miguel d’Allende, Cuernavaca and Ajijic attract thousands of people who want to visit or live full time or part-time in a warm climate in a historically and culturally-rich environment. They want to share in the life of the community, amidst like-minded and interesting people, and with a full social and cultural life. Incidentally they are able to enjoy a lower cost of living than available in Canada!
We focus here on Ajijic, a town of more than 10,000 citizens, at 5,000 feet above sea level in the central Mexican state of Jalisco. Ajijic is a 500-year-old village on the shores of Lake Chapala and rich in its own history and culture. It is a mere 30 minutes south of Guadalajara’s international airport, has a year-round temperate climate, and since the 1950’s has attracted foreigners, mostly retirees, looking for a new lifestyle in the ‘real’ Mexico.
Ajijic has something to offer everyone who wants to come. Homes are readily available to buy or rent: they may be modest to grand, in the village, in gated communities, in the countryside. Ajijic offers cultural activities of all shapes and sizes, Mexican and foreign, – art exhibits, arts and crafts fairs, dance, music from mariachi to classical. Restaurants of enormous diversity and affordability abound (Argentinean, Japanese, Italian, French, Chinese and more). They have bilingual service and offer excellent catering. We even have Greg Coulliard, a famous Toronto chef running a restaurant here! Community events such as arts and crafts fairs, chili cook-off events, rodeos all attract everyone in the community.
Here are a few specific examples that elaborate on what we just said. The Canadian Club in Ajijic, spearheaded fundraising for the first university in our area; the school is now successfully graduating students in engineering and computer science. The Northern Lights Music Festival, held annually for the past nine years in Ajijic, showcases young Canadian professional musicians, and supports classical music education in Mexico. The long established Lakeside Little Theatre produces live stage productions all year long. The local Auditorium hosts concerts all year long, from folkloric dance, to tango, to classical music and on and on. Rock groups come (and can be heard everywhere)! The Lake Chapala Society provides amazing support infrastructure for expatriates living in Ajijic.
If all this does not suffice, you can be as active and learn as much as you wish in the area. You can study Spanish, do photography, play bridge, do gardening, practice yoga, hike, play golf and tennis. If you are unable to be active, you can just sit back and let others look after you! Health care is readily available.
Another reason that Ajijic is so wonderful is that in 40 minutes you can be in the centre of Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara. It’s beautiful fully restored historical centre attracts many visitors. Guadalajarans are very ‘fashion-savvy’, so the city features ultramodern shopping malls with all the finest world retail represented, from Zara to Prada and Cartier. For everyday merchandise Walmart, Home depot, and Costco have stores in Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara is an interior designer’s dream resource for pottery, glass, furniture and metalwork. Guadalajara has outstanding hospitals with bilingual doctors and dentists readily available with the latest of technological support, and the waiting times for service are minimal.
Who are the expatriates who have by now become a large and integral part of the community of Ajijic? And why did they decide to live in Ajijic? Let’s meet some of them and find out!
Take Julie and Chisholm, she a former municipal politician and business person, he a founding partner of a large Canadian law firm. They had been coming to Puerto Vallarta for 18 years, but found it too hot in the summer. They visited friends in Ajijic and found out that it was comfortable year round. To quote Julie, they wanted a place “with an international city near, from which children and grand children could travel with ease, a warm climate (snow was no longer appealing), a rich culture where music, theatre and the arts are part of daily life (a southern Niagara-on-The-Lake if you like!)”… “Ajijic has a climate considered among the best in the world. It is a fishing village which has been enriched by a large expatriate community.” “At the heart to of this village are the special people who are spontaneously warm, hard working, fun loving and kind. They have discovered the art of Fiestas and they know and appreciate the value of caring for one another and our Lady of Guadalupe! Ajijic is a colorful sanctuary, a floral wonder, a place of tropical splendor. Who could not love it?”
Consider Derek, retired investment executive, and his partner Merelyn. They came to Ajijic five years ago. Florida was not for them; they wanted something more venturesome to challenge their minds and Ajijic offered a relaxed laid-back lifestyle compared to other places. They realized they had to learn to slow down from their frenetic Canadian pace, and how to live in a more rural atmosphere.
Merelyn and Derek bought a home from famous Canadian architect John King and his wife, interior designer Norma King. The latter sold the home to design and build another more contemporary one. Norma helped transform Derek and Merelyn’s new home’s interior from her contemporary tastes to more of a Mexican theme in style and the vibrant colours common in Mexico. Everybody won!
Perhaps it’s best to quote Merelyn: “When we retired we looked for a place in the sun, and although we loved our life in Toronto, the winters had become a trial. We explored Florida and then were drawn to inland Mexico and its colonial towns such as San Miguel de Allende. However we found our fantasy house in Ajijic (I had actually seen the house we bought in Architectural digest in Toronto) and realized quickly that there was a depth of community here that we could explore. That plus the proximity to the city of Guadalajara with all it’s cultural richness, its superior medical facilities and an airport, barely 35 minutes drive from our front door was very persuasive.
The almost perfect climate suited our interests in golf and tennis and gardening is a joy. We have been amazed at the variety of people that have retired here, and enjoy the various speaker series that take advantage of the experts that have also chosen this area. Spending time in Mexico has given us an opportunity to learn and appreciate a different culture, very different from our own. Learning Spanish has been rewarding in many aspects. Being able to communicate, albeit not perfectly, has helped immensely in our enjoyment and understanding. When we are here our focus is on trying to understand this country, the history, economics and politics. A special pleasure is to travel within Mexico and on each visit we plan a trip to somewhere new and interesting. Mexico is a beautiful country. Yes it has its troubles at present, but despite that it is a gift to be here.”
Mike and Vivien came to Ajijic in 2008, just to visit a lifelong schoolmate friend, and like so many others, fell in love with the area. They find it Mexico an interesting country, always stimulating. There is never enough time to do everything they want to while here
Here is what Vivien said: “upon retiring we did a great deal of travelling, throughout the world. But then we discovered Ajijic. We fell in love immediately with the weather, the Mexican village, the surrounding mountains and the friendliness of the expatriates and Mexicans living here. We purchased a home here and are very happy to be a part of this dynamic, friendly and beautiful place. We feel completely safe. Foreign press reports give a very wrong impression of Mexico. We are delighted with the many activities and cultural events that take place here. We have both became involved in the Northern Lights Music Festival which takes place here every February. We also belong to the Lake Chapala Society, a communal gathering place for expatriates where classes are held to learn Spanish, yoga, line dancing and much more. We belong to a bird watching group. We are just three hours from the Coast and its fine resorts, an added bonus. We meet with our friends and neighbors in the many international restaurants in the village and we do major shopping in Guadalajara, an hour away where there are high-end shopping malls, Costco, Walmart and Home depot. Not much different from being back home, except the sun shines all the time!”
Mike and Vivien also comment on the fact that single people need never be lonely in Ajijic, that everyone is always included, and that Mexicans are so welcoming with a happy atmosphere. It sounds over the top, but it is, they say! Mike and Vivien are very proud of their new Ajijic home, with a beautiful view of Lake Chapala. We photographed them in front of their new swimming pool under construction, because they are proud of that too!
Ron and Maureen came to Ajijic for other reasons! Ron latterly was President of a major manufacturer, and Maureen an executive in production of commercials. To quote them, “We are symbolic
of many Canadians who find themselves living happily in Ajijic for part or all of the year. Ron’s career took us to Belgium and Germany with his firm. It was an outstanding adventure which truly enriched our lives. We experienced so much during our stay in Europe; we found returning to Canada full time something of an adjustment. Through friends, we discovered Ajijic and were delighted with the opportunity to learn and savor all kinds of new experiences. ultimately, we built a fresh, bright home in Ajijic as a place to spend the winters.”
Ron and Maureen fell in love in their first visit with the warmth of the Mexican people. They find Ajijic exotic and intriguing, and particularly enjoy the warm clear air and the sound of the birds singing in the morning. Ron and Maureen enjoy learning Spanish while at the same time being able to function in English.
Maureen comments that Ajijic appeals to expatriates of all income levels; you can buy a home for $100,000 or go wild. everything is possible. Ron comments on the affordable available health care, and that ‘here we grow more.’
Yet again, Roger and Alison, who retired young! Roger’s career was in anesthesia, and Alison was an RN. Alison’s parents had retired to Ajijic in 1983, and through them Alison became passionate about the Mexican people, their rich history, language, culture and architecture. dividing their time between Canada and Mexico, Alison has developed a second career as a photographer, and has published two books featuring the vibrant colours and clever architecture of Mexico.
Roger and Allison are interested in being immersed in the culture and language of Mexico. Annually they take a 3-week immersion course in Spanish, living with a Mexican family. They recognize that as you become more fluent, more doors open to you. They also travel extensively throughout Mexico.
What do these folks appreciate the most about Mexico? In no particular order, the Mexican people are gracious, polite, friendly and gentle (they put family first), the lower cost of living, affordability, the cuisine, the creativity, ease of opportunity for learning, all the amenities one could want are available, no generation gap.
Lorna and Tom are our last example. Their reasons for coming to Mexico reflect all of the above: first they came to Ajijic to visit and travel with old friends, which led to their decision to buy a home in Ajijic in 2004. They chose Ajijic for a winter home for all the reasons above, the climate, the vibrant Mexican culture and history, the chance to meet so many interesting and lively people from other parts of the world. They work on a music festival in the village, garden, walk, exercise and play bridge.
Lorna thinks the following may be ‘too romantic’ but here is what she says. “Mexico is a country of contrasts, high mountains, beautiful plateaus and salt flats, 15th century cathedrals and ultra-modern bridges, an old man plowing his field with a horse and powerful combines harvesting. Mexico is not homogenized. Where else can you buy handicrafts made in Mexico by its indigenous people and not in China? Where else can you hear horses clip clopping down your street and at the same time someone driving an ATV? Where else do you see the local church filled every Sunday and on every saint’s day? Where else can you retire to a lovely old village with cobblestone streets filled with school children in their uniforms on their way to school? Where else can you go in mid-January and see 500 freshwater pelicans from Canada eating fish innards provided by the local fishermen? Where else can you wake up every morning to church bells ringing and roosters crowing, watch the sun rising in an orange ball over the lake outlining the palm trees and mountains, and hear the raucous cry of the kiskadee? Only in Mexico. I rest my case.”
One aspect perhaps not sufficiently touched on in the above recitations is the sensitivity of the expatriate community in Ajijic. All of them understand and appreciate being taken in as part of the Mexican community we chose to live in. They respect that we are guests in the country, and each in their own way tries to ‘get involved’ and return something to the community, where it be through social good works, adding to the cultural life, helping restore public spaces, and on and on. It is a privilege to be able to do so.
If you decide to come to Ajijic, Trudie Nelson would be pleased to show you around. Contact her at trudienelson