ChapalaAjijicSan Juan CosalaSan Antonio T.Jocotepecixtlahucan


In 1521-22, Franciscan evangelists, sent from Spain by Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to Christianize the natives, baptized Chief Chapalac, and named him "Martin of Chapala," master of the people, owner of the land. In exchange, the Taltica Indian chief destroyed his god, Iztlacateotl.

In 1538, Franciscan Fray Miguel Bolonia founded the city of Chapala. He built a hermitage on Chapala's highest hill, Cerro San Miguel, where he lived until his death. He built another hermitage on the island of Mezcala, where native children were given religious instruction.

In 1548, a church was built of adobe and grass, and named San Francisco after the order of the padres. A hospital was constructed, adjoining the church.

By 1550, Chapala had a population of 825 married persons and 349 children. About this time, a scholar from Spain, studying Indian cultures of the Chapala shores, found that each lakeside community seemed to have its own language. Probably, the lack of transportation (the rough dugout fishing canoes were not capable of crossing the lake) had prevented a common language from developing.  

On September 10, 1864, Chapala became a municipality by decree of the Jalisco State Congress



About 1,000 B.C., roaming Indian tribes drifted into the Lake Chapala basin, a paradise rich with fish, fowl, reeds and mud for shelters, grasses for mats, baskets and clothing. As time passed, some of the wanderers stayed behind, eventually making permanent settlements.



"Grasshoppers Over the Water" - Nahuatl "Very Wet Place" - Coca "Place Where the Pots Abound"- Nahuatl

Founded in 1538, the town probably took its name from Chapalac, one of its earliest Indian chiefs. Or perhaps it came from the Mexican "Chapatla," the "place where pots abound," referring to the primitive Indian practice of appeasing the gods by throwing pots, spotted with blood from earlobes, into Lake Chapala.


Chapala's main street is blooming with trees, plants and flowers, making it a beautiful place to rest. Among the varieties found in the area are pine, evergreen oak, palo dulce, huizache, campanilla, caspire, madrono, saucillo, tepame and chaparral.

Almost every plant will grow in this ideal climate, so home gardens usually have a great variety of trees, plants and flowers. Fruit trees - mango, lemon, tangerine, guayaba, orange, banana, avocado - are very common. Grains, fruits and vegetables, sold in the markets, and even from the sidewalks, are always available.

There are a few small farms in Chapala that grow corn, wheat, peas, chick-pea, and sorghum. A small amount of cotton is produced. In the mountains, and by season, nopal and camote are harvested.


Fauna formerly found in Chapala included dry climate animals such as deer, coyote, skunk, rabbit, squirrel and reptiles. Although most have now disappeared, it is still common to see rabbits and squirrels. Snakes are found only in the mountains. Dangerous insects such as scorpions and spiders are seldom seen.

Because of contamination, the fish population of the Lake has been reduced. Charales, white fish (very rare), carp and bagre are still caught by fishermen and consumed by villagers. Today, most fish sold in restaurants is brought from the ocean or the gulf. Charales, a very common treat around Lakeside, is a very small fish, dried and eaten as a snack.


Chapala is located on the north shore of Lake Chapala, 26 km. (16 mi.) east of the Lake's western end, and 42 km. (25 mi.) south of Guadalajara. It is the oldest, most populated, and the most easterly of a string of villages - Chapala, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Ajijic, San Juan Cosala and Jocopetec - known locally as Lakeside.

Its altitude is 1530 meters (5020 feet). Its average temperature is 19.9 degrees C (68 degrees F).



The four-lane Chapala-Guadalajara highway connects with highways to La Barca, Guanajuato and Michoacan. It also takes you to the Miguel Hidalgo Guadalajara Airport (25 minutes away) which has national and international flights.

From Chapala's central bus station, buses run to and from Guadalajara every half hour. For other destinations, travelers must first go to the Guadalajara bus station, and board another bus.

Near the Chapala bus station you can catch a local bus to Jocotepec or any town along the way.

Chapala has post and telegraph offices, offering all the services of any big city. In Chapala Realty is an UPS courier. Telephone service is very good. Almost every house has a private phone. All around Chapala are public telephones for local and long distance. Internet services are available.



Artisans sell their work at Chapala's Monday tianguis (open air market) and on the malecon (pier) by the Lake. Carved bone and wood, embroidery, typical Mexican dresses and ceramics are the principal products. Prehispanic reproductions are also made locally and sold here. Craftsmen can be commissioned to make furniture of wood, forged iron, and rattan. Chapala is also well known for its candy, made here in a long-established factory. Customers come all the way from Guadalajara to buy it.

Mariachi musicians from Chapala are famous. Groups travel widely to play at parties, and they are hired for most of the fiestas patronales (celebrations for patron saints) in various towns.



Many fiestas are celebrated by the people of Mexico, but two are especially dear to the hearts of Chapala people. Carnaval, in February, starts off with a "bad humor burial," proceeds with "allegorical cars," a procession, music, dance, and then ends with a charreado (rodeo), serenades for the fiesta queen, and a coronation for the Ugly King.

Perhaps the most important event of the year, Chapala's Fiesta Patronal, September 25-October 4, honors Saint Francis of Assisi with nine days of fireworks, games, castillo (bamboo tower for pyrotechnic display), dance, music, typical Mexican food, and drink. The main plaza is packed with people each night, promenading in the paseo, eating, drinking, listening to the mariachis, and waiting for the midnight fireworks.



Chapala has two old hotels with colorful history. The Nido Hotel, founded in the early 1910s, once housed vacationing elite from all parts of Jalisco. The Villa Monte Carlo, built on a small bluff overlooking the Lake, was once a summertime retreat for former president Porfirio Diaz.

Chapala has several banks, several travel bureaus, an investment company, and the oldest real estate firm in the entire area. Downtown is where almost all economic transactions are made, with people coming from all the villages to do business.

It is also the main seat of government for several Lakeside villages. Inside the township's colonial building are housed almost all of the agencies and departments that administer the legal, civic and ecological life of the area.

Chapala boasts several medical clinics, some featuring the latest and most modern diagnostic equipment. The Red Cross clinic and ambulance service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for medical emergencies. Moreover, Lakeside has a few outstanding retirement homes, with round-the-clock medical assistance available.

For sports enthusiasts, Chapala has a yacht club, several good tennis courts, a few beautifully maintained soccer fields and a bullring, as well as fully-equipped health clubs. In recent years, the citizens of Mexico have become much more health conscious, and the town of Chapala reflects this new trend.

Near the lakeshore sits a quaint quay that sports several of the best seafood restaurants in all of Mexico.

The new and the old are harmoniously integrated in Chapala, and it is not unusual to find a modern facility nestled in between two stately residences whose histories go back several hundred years. The past is well preserved, and hints of village history can be found around nearly every corner.

One example is the former home of the novelist, D.H. Lawrence, who resided here in the early 20s, during the time he was writing one of his most celebrated novels, The Plumed Serpent. Today, the house is one of the best bed and breakfast establishments in Mexico.

Another impressive residence (the three-story red house seen at the top of this article) is the former home of the Braniff family. Built around the turn of the century by the scion of the family who later would establish one of the largest airlines in the United States, it is today a fashionable restaurant.