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What Makes a Mexican Town a Pueblo Magico?  

Jacaranda tree in Ajijic, Mexico
Credit: Judy King

In the autumn of 2020, the Mexican government designated our village of Ajijic as a Pueblo Magico, or Magic Town. Ajijic and Lake Chapala felt magical to us when my wife and I first vacationed here in the mid-1990s, so I was interested in knowing what makes a Mexican town a Pueblo Magico?

After 14 years of retirement living in Ajijic, I now recognize it is more than the village of Ajijic that creates that magical joy for residents and tourists alike. It is each of the villages in unison along the lake’s north shore corridor that creates that “bienvenido” welcome. Ajijic, admittedly, is the heart of Lake Chapala and apparently realized as such by the tourist authority committee when it selected Ajijic for the honor. Each of the villages, from Chapala at the east end to Jocotepec on the west, bring together a particular uniqueness for paradise and a magical lifestyle.

Chapala, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Ajijic and Jocotepec all have recently upgraded their Malecons for family recreation, walking, jogging or simply relaxing to enjoy a sunrise or sunset over the lake. If you enjoy live entertainment, go no further than a favorite neighborhood restaurant for music as you dine. There is a Lakeside Little Theatre in San Antonio Tlayacapan that has provided English language live stage productions for more than 50 years. Recently they added Reader Theater to their agenda.

Over the past decade, other small theater companies have been born. There are live choral and instrumental concerts, too. The Riberas de Chapala Auditorium in the LaFloresta region of Ajijic is currently undergoing renovations and the State of Jalisco has designated it one of the state’s regional cultural centers, which promises to bring even more significant cultural events and patrons to Lake Chapala.

If you hunger for exceptional dining, the north shore corridor of Lake Chapala has something to offer everyone with a wide variety of cuisines. If seafood is your fancy, Restaurante Isla Cozumel on the Chapala Malecon is an option you should not miss. It offers indoor and patio seating with a fabulous view of Lake Chapala while you dine. And if a frozen or on-the-rocks margarita sounds appealing with your meal, get ready for unlimited and complimentary with your entree.

In Upper Ajijic Centro, MinWah has been serving exceptional Asian dishes for the past 26 years. Each Saturday afternoon it features an exceptional buffet. For quality beef, Tango, a restaurant just two blocks off the plaza in Centro Ajijic near the lake, is the place to consider. For a special occasion, consider Scallion’s on the carretera in Ajijic Centro for menu selections with an Italian-touch. Scallions features a casual all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet too. Casa Linda, just a block south of the carretera in West Ajijic, has a wide selection of Mexican and International favorites. For traditional Mexican dining in a casual atmosphere, there is Fonda Dona Lola’s on the carretera in West Ajijic, which offers indoor, but open-air, dining. In San Juan Cosala, two blocks west of the plaza, there is patio dining at Restaurante Viva Mexico, These are just a few of the excellent restaurants to consider at Lake Chapala.

In Ajijic, two blocks south of the plaza, and along the lake shore, is the Lake Chapala Society. In existence since the 1960’s as the social hub for the local expat community, it has become the community center for both Mexicans and expats. LCS houses the largest English language library in Mexico. If eyesight has become limited, there is the Audio Book Library on campus through an agreement with the United States Library of Congress. The LCS Children’s Art Program has existed for over 50 years. Initiated by Neill James as an opportunity to explore and develop the artistic talents of local children, the basic requirement was they attend school and maintain good grades. Today many of the regional artists and muralists are graduates of the program. Students sell prints and greeting cards of their art to the general public. The LCS campus, the original home and gardens of Neill James, was willed upon death to LCS to be a community center. Her gardens are fabulous to stroll through or relax in year-round.

Whether a tourist or resident, if transportation is a concern, fear not. For those with an automobile who prefer to drive, the carretera along the north shore Chapala to Jocotepec corridor was recently resurfaced. The carretera from Chapala to Guadalajara offers access to the Guadalajara International Airport. It also was resurfaced as a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. The Libramiento, or by-pass, that connects Ajijic to the Chapala-Guadalajara carretera provides smooth sailing for drivers.

If you don’t have an automobile, that’s no problem. There are taxi and private transportation services available in Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan and Chapala with reasonable fares. The north shore corridor has public bus transportation that offers a comfortable modern fleet of buses. If you are Interested in travel to Guadalajara without driving and parking once there, there is hourly “Directo” bus service in both directions from the bus station in downtown Guadalajara and bus stations in Ajijic and Chapala.

If you want to travel with comfort beyond Guadalajara to enjoy the scenic landscape of Mexico, there are intercity modern buses with reasonable fares from the Central Bus Terminal in the Guadalajara suburb of Tonala, about an hour north of Lake Chapala.

Guadalajara International Airport offers domestic and international flights by Mexican and international airlines, less than 40 minutes north of Lake Chapala. Those who appreciate walking or a bicycle for exercise or as a mode of transportation, Lake Chapala has the ciclopista (bike path) completed between Chapala and West Ajijic, with plans of an extension to Jocotepec. The ciclopista runs parallel to the carretera with concrete planter boxes as a safety buffer to traffic. The planters have young saplings that in time will provide shade and ground cover plants for beauty. There are energy-efficient street lights, too.

Tourists and residents who enjoy day-trip outings to enjoy the scenery without driving can book tours that are offered each weekday by Charter Club Tours of Ajijic. They travel to historical and delightful places like Mazamitla, thought of as “Little Switzerland,” on the south side of the lake; Tequila, a town an hour northwest of the lake and home to distilleries of Mexico’s famed beverage; Teuchitlan Pyramids, one of Southwest Mexico’s cultural pre-Hispanic sites; and, Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara, noted as an artisan capital of crafts, especially ceramics and silver. You can also take the tour Around the Lake with Carlos and Rosie, who are certified tour guides, bilingual and knowledgeable.

Not far from lakeside, Mazamitla, Tequila and the Jalisco highlands community of Lagos de Moreno, all within an hour’s drive of Ajijic, are also designated Pueblo Magicos.

Now you know what our Pueblo Magico community offers and why we consider Ajijic and Lake Chapala to be the center of the good life in Mexico.

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David Huff
David has lived in Ajijic along the northern shore of Lake Chapala since 2007 with his wife Catherine. From St. Joseph, Missouri, he held both government and private sector jobs before retiring in Mexico. David is an active volunteer with the Lake Chapala Society, Lakeside Little Theatre and with both the Spanish and English congregations of San Andres Church. He and his wife enjoy traveling and have visited 25 of Mexico's 32 states.