Lake Chapala

by Donald Stordahl
in Blog
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Lake Chapala, the largest natural lake in Mexico, is home to the world's largest English-Speaking community of expatriates, many of them originally from the U.S. or Canada. We hope to provide comprehensive information to support our community, as well as the many English-Speaking tourists who visit the region every year.

A number of factors attract foreigners to the area: excellent climate, natural beauty, reasonable cost of living, and friend people. All of the components for a comfortable life are available here, or within a short drive.

Arguably the principal attraction to Lake Chapala is its semitropical climate, rated among the best in the world. At about 5,000 feet about sea level, with an average temperature of 75° Fahrenheit, the sun shines almost every day. Even when the colling rains come (June to September), it almost always rains during the late-night or pre-dawn hours, with the sunshine returning during the day.

Average Temperatures: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
    High Centigrade  23.9° 25.5° 27.2° 29.4° 30.0° 28.3° 26.1° 26.1° 25.5° 25.5° 25.0° 23.9°
    Low Centigrade  7.8° 8.9° 9.4° 12.2° 14.4° 16.1° 15.5° 15.5° 15.0° 12.7° 9.4° 8.3°
    High Fahrenheit  75° 78° 81° 85° 86° 83° 79° 79° 78° 78° 77° 75°
    Low Fahrenheit  46° 48° 49° 54° 58° 61° 60° 60° 59° 55° 49° 47°
Precipitation in Inches:  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
   0.5 0.2 0.2 0.3 1.0 6.3 9.7 7.6 5.8 2.3 0.4 0.5
Average Humidity: Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  51% 49% 45% 27% 33% 52% 73% 80% 84% 73% 63% 60%

Fireplaces are common, although mostly for ambiance. So moderate is the temperature that air conditioning and heating units are rarely seen.

Mexicans and foreigners alike enjoy the area's colonial architecture, reasonable priced hand-crafted goods, and both traditional Mexican or international cuisine.

Unlike many areas of Mexico, a number of amenities are readily available here due to the large foreign community in residence. International ethnic restaurants, steak houses, and imported goods of all varieties can be found. Two to five-star hotels, spas, touring companies, and scores of English-speaking organizations serve the year-around residents, the snowbirds (northerners who winter here) and tourists.

Over the past years, the Jalisco State government has invested greatly in improvements to populated areas, such as the renovation of the old train depot, parks, bike lanes, and the Chapala and Ajijic boardwalks (Malecóns).

Many of the small pueblos along the lakeshore offer diversion, and an endless selection of art, clothing , handcrafted furniture, jewelry, decorative items and more.

History & Culture

Two islands are found in Lake Chapala. One of these, Scorpion Island, is a sacred site for indigenous Mexicans. The other, Mezcala Island, is a national monument and the site of a glorious episode in Mexican history.

In the early 1800's, from their stronghold on the island, a very determined band of 1,000 Mexican insurgents - grossly outnumbered and with little or no arms and supplies - held off the powerful Spanish army and navy for four years. Eventually defeated by typhoid and dysentery rather than force of arms, the freedom fighters' brave resistance is said to have inspired Mexico's independence in 1821, ending 300 years of colonial rule.

Just before the start of the 20th century, tourists discovered the sleepy little fishing village of Chapala and a small building boom began. D.H. Lawrence wrote his novel The Plumed Serpent while living in Chapala. The novel is set on Sayula Lake, although the description is clearly that of Chapala's town and lake.

Condition of the Lake

In the early 1990's, with the construction of numerous dams and an increasing demand for water for industry and farming, a tug-of-war over rights to Lake Chapala and its water supply began. As a result, the lake level dropped to a critical stage and received worldwide attention.

In 2003, Lake Chapala was accepted as a full member of the Global Nature Fund's Living Lakes program, which works to protect and preserve endangered lakes of the world, such as Lake Chapala.

Unusually abundant rainy seasons in recent years, combined with upstream dams being filled and thus forced to release excess water, have restore the lake level, bringing a flood of tourists back to the area.

In early 2009, Lake Chapala was added to the international list of important wetlands by the Ramsar Treaty. Enlistees of the Ramsar Convention agree to conserve and protect natural wetland areas which provide waterfowl habitat, such as Lake Chapala. The move is expected to check environmental degradation of the country's largest lake and its vast watershed, which spells a bright outlook for the area and its tourism industry.

As of 2010, Lake Chapala's water level has remained high and quality has improved significantly due to new water treatment plants. The lake has been approved for recreational use since 2008.

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