A spectacular backdrop of caramel peaks; a lake foreground of shimmering beauty and winding cobblestone lanes of archaic charm. It sounds like a manipulated film set, or an Alpine horizon, however this is Mexico – and most would say the true character of the multi-faceted Northern Jalisco State. Swathed by the majesty of the Sierre Madre Occidental and Oriental mountain ranges, the diminutive town of Ajijic nestles snugly upon an enclave, along the Northern stretch of Lake Chapala (Lago Capala.) The serenity and moderate climate of Ajijic has lent to it's popularity as a settlement for Mexicans and American expatriates, however it's situ just 35 miles from the bustling Jaliscan capital of Guadalajara has influenced a relatively recent tourism boom.
Ajijic lies within a verdant basin of lush tropical vegetation, however it's altitude at 5046 feet aboves sea level assures that there's a perfect balance of temperate weather, without unbearable humidity. Temperatures within Ajijic rarely exceed 78 Fahrenheit; the air is cooled by mountain breezes and a rainy season commencing in May, and concluding in September. Summer comes early in Ajijic, bringing with it a wealth of plant and animal life around the lake. Lake Chapala suffered severely from over-pollution prior to the Millennium, since it is the main water supply for both Ajijic and Guadalajara. The abundance of water-hyacinth confirmed detrimental levels of industrial fertilizers present, which inevitably began to affect wildlife, however, conservation efforts since 2000 have given Chapala a new lease of life. Bird-watching tours now introduce visitors to new winged species – notably Muscovy Duck, White Pelicans and Little Blue Herons. Nature walks also present the opportunity to discover the elusive Coatimundis, said to inhabit the lake shores, along with civets, possums and rattlesnakes less inclined to shy from walkers.
The remnants of Franciscan colonization of Ajijic in the 15th Century are still apparent today, no matter where you look. The former domed 16th Century monastery, built by the missionaries still survives, but may only be admired from the exterior, since it now forms part of an expansive private residence. Ajijic's San Andres Chapel and adjacent Church still stand in fairytale splendor just off the Plaza, making for a stunning photo opportunity with the Sierra Madre Occidental range falling away spectacularly behind. Tourism may have bought more than a generous slice of modernity to Ajijic, however the town still retains it's quaint old-fashioned appeal. Just as it has done so for one hundred years, the weekly “tanguis” descends upon the central Plaza, sprawling out from the brightly colored gazebo in all directions. Here you can pick up everything from coffee, spices and peppers, to Indian wooden carvings and trinkets. If self-catering isn't for you, Ajijic bears a wealth of traditional restaurants situated along tree-lined Colon (the main street) including Saint Peters Centro, famed for it's oysters Rockefeller.
Situated just 5 miles South of Ajijic, Chapala commands it's own following of return-trippers, due to the breath-taking beauty of tumbling mountain scenery and the scattered antiquities of Spanish and Franciscan settlements. Soaring prices in real estate around Chapala have been influenced by the town's embracing of tourism; creation of a new shoreline facade in 2009 and the ever consistent sub-tropical climate. Mexico's early 20th Century president Porfirio Díaz is largely responsible for the Chapala fascination, having put the lakeside town on the map as a favorite holiday haunt between 1904 and 1909. Due to the issues pertaining to pollution, high-octane water-sports are no longer permitted on the waters of Chapala, however there are a number of boat hire operators serving the town's shore should you fancy a spot of rowing. From January to May, kayaking instruction is also available, as are motorized trips to the diminutive lake islands of Isla de los Alacranes and Riberas.
Served by a regional bus that operates from Guadalajara, historic Chapala is as much good for a day trip, as it is a two-week retreat. Many native Mexicans make the 30-minute journey on a regular basis, just to absorb the authenticity of old Mexico, and sample industrial strength local tequilas, still produced near Madero. It may be small, yet Chapala boasts several of it's own key attractions, such as the Renaissance-built Parish of St. Francis of Assissi; a 16th Century church guarding the tomb of Conquest evangelist Fray Miguel de Bolonia. It's also central to the 10-day October festival, held in honor of the Parish saint – a colorful celebration akin to Mardi Gras. If you're seeking a helping of authentic Mexico, coupled with breath-taking views and a welcoming populace – the gem of Jalisco beckons!