Canadian pelicans winter here and retirees flock to the area. Real estate is cheap, medical care good and the weather is unbeatable. The largest lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala is less than an hour’s drive from Guadalajara and we decided to head there for four days rather than schlep four hours to the coast and Sayulita, a beachside/surf community highly recommended by many of my friends. I was accompanying my cousin and her 16-month old twins — to provide childcare — while she covered a UN Climate Change conference in Guadalajara, and this was our little getaway before the conference.

We arrived at our small resort, Hotel Real de Chapala, seemingly popular with Mexican tourists and business groups. Right on the shore of the lake, the large airy rooms, verdant grounds, two pools, tennis courts and outdoor dining area were perfect for us and the kiddos. We needed a few days to get the them adjusted.

The day we arrived there was a “team building group” blindfolded and doing some sort of treasure hunt, which was hard to grok with my rusty Spanish. At first, I thought there might be some kind of hostage thing going on, the whole scene was amusing, in a had to be there kinda way. Most guests were young families from Mexico City and Guadalajara and we soon met other parents and kids, a couple with a newborn — she recovering from postpartum depression — and another little girl who was sweet enough to share some pool toys with the twins.

The view from our room and the pools were calming and the constant sound of birdlife, added to the ambiance. I had read that there were pollution issues, but the bird population seemed varied and robust, a positive sign, I hope.

The small town center of Ajijic (fun to pronounce) was a long walk on cobblestones with a double stroller, or a short taxi ride away. The jacaranda trees were in full bloom, and a constant source of purple charm en route to the town. Popular with the retired set, the town had an arty feel with many small galleries and artisans.

The town square or plaza features a gazebo with iron work depictions of the bird life of the lake. The twins adored this and we spent a long time admiring each bird statue, saying hello to each one multiple times in a circular dance that felt a lot like a slo-mo carousel ride.

With mountains on one side, the lake on the other, the temperature and breezes were pleasant. The best part of our visit included a walk along the malecón, or the esplanade along the waterfront. Families ambled or picnicked, kids rode bikes, balloon vendors sold bubbles, balls and kites, people swam and fished and a rad skateboard park offered entertainment, while pelicans swooped back and forth.

We had two great — very different — meals there, one restaurant traditional and full of locals and expats from the US, Canada, the UK and Venezuela, the other more chic and one of the best meals of the whole trip. The first was on the plaza and recommended by a taxi driver. Chile Verde was perfect for hearty, yummy local fare and fantastic jamaica agua fresca (hibiscus punch). Little Moses loved this drink so much as did I; we shared two giant glass fulls!

Our meal at Ajijic Tango lasted nearly three hours; a feat with twin toddlers. The street was closed off and outdoor tables and umbrellas meant access to street vendors, musicians and passersby. An upscale Argentinian eatery, it is one of the best in the area and I had the most amazing chili lime pulpo (octopus) that was a work of art.

We spent a lot of time at the pool and one day took a day trip to an island to visit ruins of an old prison. Mezcala Island off the coast of the town of Mezcala was remote. Less than an hour drive to a small boat launch, we hired a boat and a guide — well he kind of found us and said we could pay him what we thought he was worth at the end. This sounded like a recipe for disaster, but in the end it was great to have the help with the kids and he really had a lot to tell us about the island and the site. We were the only ones there! The boat ride and guide were each 400 pesos, so about $20, as was the taxi each way.

The boat took us by a squadron (yes that’s the term) of pelicans, and Etia — Moses’ sister — was smitten. I earned my keep hauling her around in a front carrier, all over the island and ruins. I was chuffed that I didn’t twist an ankle!

Back at the hotel, the town had a Walmart, normally something I would most definitely avoid, but it was great to get supplies for the kids and snacks, so we only had to go out for two meals a day.

Like Guadalajara, I had few expectations and was more than pleased with our little getaway. The lake is big enough to feel coastal and the breezy quality of life in the area was so appealing.

I was chatting with my dental hygienist the other day, as she was interested in information about our trip. She is planning a trip with a six-month-old. Her first question was about safety, and I have to say I never once felt tense. When we got off the boat from the island there was a troop of boys that swarmed us, wanting to help us and earn some coins, but we were such an odd target, two women and two babies.

They quickly hopped on their bikes and skedaddled and even the tp vendor at the public restrooms was chatty. He spoke good English and had lived in Fresno. Mezcala was less touristy than Ajijic and this lady with a wheelbarrow full of freshly caught tilapia was hard at work.

If you find yourself in Jalisco and want a slow paced, mellow getaway, Lake Chapala is a different kind of Mexican vacation spot. Ajijic is a sweet, manageable town with just enough to see and do for a few days. Colorful murals, buskers and vendors delight. Definitely try to go on a Saturday when the pedestrian streets are in full swing and the malecón is a hotspot…and do say hello to the pelicans!

Filed Under Family Travel, Fishing, Guadalajara, Markets, Mexico, Restaurants, Traveling with babies


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