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Is Lake Chapala Mexico Worth Visiting?

  • Joel CZ 
  • 11 min read
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Lake Chapala Mexico is a family destination full of adventure, good weather, service, food, and fun, making it worth visiting.

All of this is in proximity to the nature and culture of the state of Jalisco. Could you ask for anything more?

Today, my goal is to bring you up-to-date info with all the formalities, details, and curiosities you should know before visiting this wonderful lake town.

With more than 1100 square kilometers of surface, this charming town has the largest lake in all of Mexico and is one of the most exploited by the tourism industry.

This lake spans mostly throughout the State of Jalisco. It is also the main source of water supply for all of Guadalajara (the capital of Jalisco and the second-largest city in Mexico).

It currently exerts a great economic influence on Jalisco and Michoacán, agricultural, fishing, and tourism development.

Lake Chapala, Mexico: A cultural jewel of Jalisco

lake chapala
Chapala’s church – Source: sdgejx / shutterstock.com

According to some historians, the first tourist to enjoy Lake Chapala was an American citizen in the 19th century.

From that moment, Chapala entered a transition that would slowly transform it into a tourist town and head of the region.

To this day, this lake is considered a tourist and cultural jewel of Jalisco and is the preferred destination of North American travelers.

Nowadays, Lake Chapala has a fairly high level of visitors.

There are long lines of people waiting daily to get on one of the boats to go to the Isla de Los Alacranes (see below) or to get close to the shores of the lake.

Chapala is a lively town with streets that sparkle and friendly people.

An example of this is the Chapala Carnivals in February, the San Francisco de Asis festivities in October, and the Day of the Dead in November.

Believe me, if you decide to visit the Lake on any of these dates, you will not regret it.

Town history

History takes us back to colonial times when many indigenous tribes inhabited the area around the lake.

Important names such as Fray Antonio Tello and Fray Juan de Amolón are part of the European colonization of Chapala, which was the beginning of what we know of this town today.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Chapala was inhabited by many foreigners who promoted the region as a tourist attraction.

They transformed a fishing village into a group of summer farms, many of which are still preserved today, as in the Cazadores Restaurant, formerly Casa Braniff.

It was not until the railroad system was introduced that access to the town expanded, thus increasing its tourist capacity.

Nowadays, access to the town and the lake is easy and fast from any point in the country.

Its tourist infrastructure is enviable, and the entertainment for visitors is satisfied with the diversity of activities offered by Lake Chapala.

How to get to Lake Chapala?

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The distance between Guadalajara and Lake Chapala is about 57.7 km.

Both locations are relatively close to each other, with several communication routes.

To get here, from anywhere in Mexico, it is recommended to take a flight to Guadalajara International Airport and travel by land to Chapala through the Guadalajara-Chapala or Guadalajara-Jocotepec-Chapala highway.

Thanks to the highway system, you can travel by car via the Guadalajara-Chapala highway, reaching your destination in about 1 hour.

If you don’t have your own car, you can easily use public transportation, as many bus lines depart from Guadalajara to Chapala.

One of them you can board just under the pedestrian bridge in the Plaza del Sol (a well-known shopping mall in Guadalajara).

What are the characteristics of Lake Chapala?

lake chapala
Source: Francisco J Ramos Gallego / shutterstock.com

As I mentioned earlier, this is the longest lake in the Mexican Republic and, as such, it has several characteristics that go with it:

The lake has an average length of 82 km and 19 km.

The surface area of 115 000 square hectares, 86% located in the State of Jalisco, and the other 14% in Michoacán.

Its largest capacity is about 8.1 cubic kilometers, reaching only 1.6 km3 of freshwater in 2003.

Around the lake are located the towns of Chapala, Ajijic, San Juan Cosalá, El Chante, Jocotepec, Ocotlán and La Barca.

In 2009 it was declared a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance).

The climatic conditions are temperate par excellence, with rains in the summer.

It has an average temperature of 19.9ºC, with colder seasons in December and oscillations between 0 and 35ºC.

Its waters are home to more than 40 fish species and 80 different types of birds, both migratory and native to the region.

How deep is Lake Chapala?

The lake has an average depth of 4.5 meters, reaching a maximum of 7 meters.

Swimming is not allowed in Lake Chapala. However, you can do various activities on the lake, such as water skiing, sailing, etc.

You can go to the Aguas Calientes Water Park to ensure you don’t miss the chance to take a dip.

Here you can enjoy a relaxing bath in its hot springs or a fun ride through its slides.

What fish can be found?

lake chapala
Dried Charales – Source: presumetumexico / shutterstock.com

The lake is home to many fish species, which have given rise to the region’s fishing industry.

The predominant species are charales, mojarrita, sardinita, carp, tilapia, popocha, white fish, Lerma catfish, Chapala catfish, and acúmara.

Best things to do in Lake Chapala

lake chapala
Stroll around the boardwalk – Source: Bob Hilscher / Shutterstock.com

Now, I will provide you with all the information you need to enjoy your stay at Lake Chapala: lodging, food, transportation, and even leisure activities, all below.

On your visit to Lake Chapala, you will find many mountains and aquatic and cultural activities.

Although the lake is not suitable for swimming, this will not prevent you from enjoying its waters, as you can take a boat ride to its islands or have fun with some water skiing lessons.

Since the list of activities can be extensive, I will name the seven best things to do and their surroundings:

  1. Enjoy the Lake views with horseback riding, biking, hiking, or trekking
  2. Visit the Island of the Alacranes (scorpion island, see below)
  3. Take a stroll along Chapala’s Malecon and, if you have the opportunity, enjoy one of the best sunsets you will ever see
  4. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy dried charales (Chapala’s signature dish) in one of the restaurants in the area
  5. Visit the picturesque town of Ajijic and enjoy its art exhibits around the Central Plaza, its restaurants, and water parks
  6. Be sure to visit the local handicraft sales
  7. And finally, take a pleasant stroll through Rancho Los 3 Portillos, the ranch of Vicente Fernandez, where, if you are lucky, you can meet him and even hear him sing

Chapala’s boardwalk (the Malecon)

lake chapala mexico
My lady and I

The Malecon is the perfect spot to enjoy a splendid view of the lake and its sunsets.

Around the boardwalk lie local handicraft stores and restaurants, music in the streets, and a romantic atmosphere that will allow you to breathe peace and tranquility.

In addition, I recommend a walk to the Rinconcito de Amor, a kind of chapel on the lake where you will want to spend hours and hours (As I did with my lady a couple of years ago).

Isla de los Alacranes

lake chapala
Me at the “Mexican Alcatraz” in Mezcala Island

Lake Chapala has two islands: Mezcala Island (the Mexican Alcatraz) and the Isla de los Alacranes.

The latter is so-called because it has a shape similar to that of a scorpion (alacran).

Mezcala Island hosts a Spanish fortress and prison from the 16th century.

That’s why it is known as the Mexican Alcatraz.

The Island of the Alacranes is the most visited of the two and is located in the lake’s center.

You can access it through a 20-minute boat ride.

According to Wixaric beliefs, the island is recognized as the site of the origin of life.

Once there, you can enjoy a good meal in any of its restaurants and visit the chapel of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

The island is also a ceremonial center of the Wixarica (Huichol) culture, a reference in Latin America as one of the most emblematic ceremonial centers of the indigenous culture.

Restaurants

Mexican gastronomy is an intangible heritage of humanity, and what better place than Jalisco to prove it.

Here are the five best restaurants you can find around the lake:

  1. Cazadores Restaurant
  2. Beer Garden Restaurant & Bar
  3. Isla Cozumel Restaurant
  4. Armandos Hideaway Restaurant
  5. And Ajijic Tango, a solid taste of Argentinean cuisine that you can’t miss either (great steaks!)

What are the best hotels near Lake Chapala?

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The hotel infrastructure is excellent around here, so you will have no problem finding lodging that suits your needs and possibilities.

Here are the five best hotels, all close to Lake Chapala:

  1. Villa 1927 Arthotel Boutique
  2. Hotel Chapala Country
  3. Toca Madera Lodging
  4. Plaza Chapala Hotel
  5. HS HOTSSON Smart Chapala

How about cabins?

To rent cabins and any other lodging, we recommend that you use the telephone contacts of your hotel, or you can ask the concierge.

Most of them have their website; if not, I assure you that you can find a contact number in the tourist guides on the Internet.

Is Lake Chapala, Mexico, expensive?

This is a relatively inexpensive destination. You can use public transportation to get there, which does not represent a high cost.

Now, as for lodging and other basic services, you can find a wide variety of prices to suit your budget.

A good option is to hire a tour, which includes a one-day sightseeing tour around Lake Chapala.

These tours usually cost less than 40 US dollars or 813 Mexican pesos per person.

They include transportation to the island, tour guides, lunches, and (if required) transportation to your hotel in Guadalajara.

Lake Chapala Mexico is an endangered ecosystem

Like many natural heritages of the continent and the entire world, Lake Chapala is listed as one of today’s threatened ecosystems.

This is due to the overexploitation of its resources. Also, severe desiccation caused dam constructions around the lake.

However, the desiccation of the Lake is no longer the main problem facing this ecosystem. This is thanks to the category three hurricane Willa in October 2018, which positively impacted the lake as it rained for several days.

Keep in mind that since 1979, the lake has not reached optimum water levels.

From then on, it was threatened by an incessant desiccation process, reaching critical levels in 2003.

After more than 30 years of facing a massive loss of lake surface, hurricane Willa caused Lake Chapala to overflow (strange as it sounds, but this hurricane saved Chapala from dying).

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