The Lake Chapala area is home to the largest concentration of expats in Mexico by most estimates and probably will continue to hold on to that title thanks to one of lakeside’s biggest boosters, John McWilliams.
The 71-year-old McWilliams moved to Ajijic in 1998 and hasn’t been able to stop talking about it since. With all of that passion for his adopted home, we decided to feature him as our entrepreneur of the month in the article, “Expat Entrepreneurs in Mexico: The Lake Chapala Promoter.”
“My partner and I came to Ajijic in 1996 on vacation for a month and stayed in a little casita my sister had on her property,” McWilliams said. “Like so many people that come here we fell in love with the place. We came back one month later just to make sure it was the place for us, but we didn’t make the move to Mexico until more than a year later.”
McWilliams grew up in Louisiana and lived in Houston for decades before buying a B&B in Galveston and opening an antique store in that city’s historic district. But after three visits to lakeside, McWilliams and his long-time partner Earl French decided to make Mexico their permanent home.
The couple found an old hacienda in Ajijic and restored Hacienda Aldama to its former glory, operating it as a B&B until 2004.
“The B&B market became very competitive,” McWilliams told us, “and we weren’t sure what to do. We got our answer from a frequent guest who had a business introducing people to the area. When he was in town he would stay at our B&B. But, sadly, he became ill and could no longer continue his business. That’s how we got into our current business.”
They called their new business Retiring Lakeside in Mexico, a service to provide aspiring expats who are considering a move to Lake Chapala with a five-day information seminar acquainting them with the local area. They bought a 6,000 square feet home in the Rancho del Oro neighborhood of Ajijic, which is high on the mountainside that overlooks Lake Chapala but just one mile from the central plaza in town.
“We bought a very large house with two spacious guest rooms on the ground floor with en suite baths and a big den in between them,” he said. “It works great because the guests are downstairs in complete privacy and Earl and I share the upstairs, which has a master bedroom, kitchen and living room. Guests can also enjoy the large solar-heated pool on the property.”
The five-day orientation visit, which costs US$950, includes pick-up and drop-off at the Guadalajara airport, a room with a view of the lake, a large breakfast, legal and insurance advice, moving advice, a housing tour with a realtor and a tour of the Lake Chapala area –including grocery stores. Guadalajara is the last stop in the orientation and includes visits to historic sites and shopping areas, including tourist favorite Tlaquepaque.