Lake Chapala Towns


Lake Chapala Towns

For more than 10,000 expatriates, mostly Canadian and American, attracted by a climate described as “eternal spring,” the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, have become a permanent home.

Ringed by mountains, the Lake is 42 kilometers (25 miles) south of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. It lies at 1,525 meters (5,000 feet) and is 85 km. (51 mi.) long, 28 km. (17 mi.) wide. At the Lake’s western end, on its northern shore, and connected by the 26-km. (16 mi.) Chapala-Jocotepec carretera (highway), is a string of villages, each with a flavor of its own. From east to west, they are Chapala, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Ajijic, San Juan Cosala and Jocotepec. It is in this area, called Lakeside, that most expats have chosen to settle.


Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

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.



Ajijic Downtown, Jalisco, Mexico

“The Place Where the Water Springs Forth” In 1522, the Spanish Olid Expedition reached the eastern shores of what is today called Lake Chapala. When it arrived, its leader, Captain Avalos, met with little resistance. A royal grant from the king of Spain gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos, who was a cousin of Hernan Cortez. Soon other cousins arrived, and one of them by the name of Saenz acquired almost all of the land that is now Ajijic.



San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico

In 1523, Spanish Conquistador Captain Alonso de Avalos arrived in Cutzalan. Chief Xitomatl, who now controlled the area from Ajijic to San Luis, surrendered peacefully, and was baptized by Fray Martin de Jesus. He was given the new name of Juan Bautista de Cosala. Saint John then became the patron saint of the village, which was henceforth known as San Juan Cosala.



San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco, Mexico

Long before the Spaniards arrived, the Cazcanes and the Cocas lived in what is now known as San Antonio Tlayacapan, and both were dedicated to agriculture and hunting. In 1523, Cortez sent men to control the area. By 1539, both tribes had surrendered to the Spaniards, who then built monasteries as refuges for the natives. Thus, the first Catholic church in Lakeside was built in this spot by the Franciscans. All that remains today is the tower, preserved in the patio of the primary school, the rest having been destroyed by time. A new church was built, still in use today. San Antonio Tlayacapan is located between Chapala and Ajijic.



Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

Perhaps as early as 100 BC, nomadic bands of Indians passed through the Lake Chapala Valley. Some moved on, others settled on the shore. Jocotepec, once Xuxutepeque, a small fishing village at the western end of the Lake, became a permanent home for the Nahua Indians in 1361. They built a temple to their god, Iztlacateotl, and practiced human sacrifice. The village became a trading and ceremonial site for the surrounding mountain area.



Santa Cruz De La Soledad, Jalisco, Mexico

Santa Cruz de la Soledad is a small town in the municipality Chapala located within the limits of Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco, at an approximate altitude of 1,540 m above sea level. 

The name Santa Cruz was given by the Franciscans who were in contact with the natives living on the lakeside. It was a Catholic custom to assign the name of a saint or Christian symbol to the small villages around the municipality in order to gain control over the parishioners. The name Santa Cruz translates to Holy Cross.



San Luis Soyatlán, Jalisco, Mexico

If you keep driving a little bit farther past Jocotepec, sitting on the south shore of Lake Chapala in the municipality of TUXCUECA, you will find yourself at the small town of San Luis Soyatlán. Its name comes from two languages, a Castilian “San Luis” which refers to the patronage of the saint of the population; Saint Louis of Toulouse, and the other “Soyatlán” which is Nahuatl meaning “place of soyates” (the fiber of soyate is the primary material for Mexican mats and hats).



Founded in the year 1586, located on the shores of Lake Chapala and only 20 minutes away from downtown Jocotepec, you will find a small town called San Cristóbal Zapotitlán. With 1532 meters above sea level and 2119 inhabitants, it is located in the Municipality of Jocotepec (in the State of Jalisco). The predominant climate is semi-dry and semi-warm, with an average annual temperature of 20 ° C, an average maximum of 26 ° C and a minimum average of 13 ° C. Its zip code is 45840 and telephone code is 387.

This town, like several other towns, was founded by indigenous Cocas, who were dedicated to fishing, hunting and farming. Like other villages living by the lake’s shore, they did not see the lake as a limitation to their community, on the contrary, they saw it as a mean of communication and a way of translating from one side of the lake to the other, as well as a mean of exchanging products amongst villages.


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3 thoughts on “Lake Chapala Towns”

  1. Anyone I can communicate with before forking out a couple grand to visit Lake Chapala area? Just about decided this area is better for a 78 yo than Costa Rica. I will need to talk about rental for a period of time to explore the local towns. Health care is another topic but flights to Houston are pretty good. Being single it would be more comfortable to talk with someone knowledgeable about the area first. Thanks much, Mel

    1. Hey, Mel, check out the facebook group Friendly Gringos Ajijic and Chapala – there is a constant flow of good information on there.

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