Ajijic – First Impressions

By R.J. Archer

As an American living full-time in southern Baja, it’s always interesting to travel to other popular expat destinations and compare notes. I recently had an opportunity to spend two weeks in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico, and I must say I was very impressed.

Ajijic (pronounced Ah-hee-héek) lies about thirty miles south of Guadalajara, nestled between the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains and Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest fresh-water lake. Ajijic has the latitude of Hawaii and the altitude of Denver resulting in the “best climate in the Americas” with a year-round average temperature of 68oF (19.9oC). This, along with its proximity to Mexico’s second largest metropolitan area and easy access to a busy international airport, has made Ajijic a popular expat retirement community for decades. Today, thousands of full- and part-time foreigners call beautiful Ajijic home.

Ajijic is a 450-year-old typical Mexican pueblo with narrow cobblestone streets, making the village a perfect “walking destination.” Downtown you will find shops, art galleries and a wide selection of restaurants with cuisine from many parts of the world.  Everything from pizza and gourmet burgers to Thai, French, Italian and, of course, Jalisco-style Mexican food can be found in this picturesque community.

When I first arrived I went to the Walmart store on the edge of town to pick up a supply of grocery items but I did the rest of my shopping at neighborhood tortillerias, vegetable stands and “mini-supers”—small, family-run stores that carry most of the daily essentials. Back home in Baja we shop at “big box” grocery stores (including Walmart) but in Ajijic the neighborhood shopping just felt natural and convenient. Except for a ride back from that trip to Walmart, I lived for seventeen days without any need for a car—even though one was available. And I saw so much more of Ajijic by walking!

There are two “must see” places in Ajijic—the central plaza and the Malecón. The plaza is the hub—a block square park in the center of town and adjacent to the church. Like most Mexican towns, the plaza is a multi-use gathering place for all kinds of events and celebrations. I also found a great selection of sidewalk cafes, coffee shops and local businesses around the plaza. But unlike most other inland Mexican towns, Ajijic enjoys a second gathering spot – the Malecón. This well-lit, paved walkway stretches about a half-mile along the lakeshore and I was fortunate enough to be staying at one end of this great people magnet.

One morning, while walking the dog I was caring for, I was greeted by a gardener responsible for maintaining the many gardens along the Malecón. I was surprised when he called the dog by name and even more surprised when he introduced himself – in English - and told me that if there was anything I needed while I was in town to just let him know! But everywhere I went in Ajijic people greeted me – sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, but always with a smile. The pace is slow and the people are friendly and that’s just the way retirement is supposed to be!