Cost of Living in Chapala

A reader asked us about the cost of living in Chapala and housing availability. We suspected that the cost of living question would arise, yet I write this with some trepidation. The cost of living here is dependent on two major variables and boy do they vary.

So let’s unpack the variables. Let’s go with the simpler one first: the relative value of the (for us) U.S. dollar and the Mexican peso. Over the last few years, the peso has been declining in relative value to the dollar, so in that sense the cost of living in Mexico has become increasingly less costly. At present, we are withdrawing from our U.S.-based bank accounts at an exchange rate of between 17 and 18 pesos. Just a few years ago, the exchange rate hovered around 10 pesos to a dollar. So, relatively speaking Mexico has gotten cheaper and cheaper for those with U.S. dollars.

[A parenthetical insert here–locally the prices in pesos are symbolized exactly like both U.S. and Canadian currency. This still knocks us for a loop on occasion. Walking into Walmart, you’ll immediately see laptops and HD tvs, with $ signs on them in the thousands. Not to worry, the prices are in pesos, so yes, you have to do the math to approximate what you’re paying in U.S. or Canadian currency.]

The second variable about the cost of living in Chapala is the most difficult to gauge: lifestyle.

For example, we currently rent an apartment (called a condominium here) for $650 U.S. dollars. This is a little bit on the pricey side in Chapala. Perfectly decent one bedroom apartments can be had for as little as $400. Typically, apartments come with utilities included in the rent, although this is not always so.

In our case, we get electricity, water, trash collection, and internet included with our rent. (We also have a pool just off our back patio….and we are just two blocks from the lake and the malecon.)

Now I am talking cost of living in Chapala specifically here. Once you look in Ajijic you have a different story. Ajijic is generally more upscale and the costs of renting reflect that difference. Yes, you can find rentals in Ajijic on the lower side, yet prices of $800 to $1200 U.S. are more abundant (again here, one to two bedrooms).

From there, you can rent all the way up into the thousands of dollars per month.

As to availability, supply is more limited in the snowbird months of November to April than from May to October. That said, our observation is that it is relatively easy to find rentals at any time. The Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic has a bulletin board with listings as does the local Walmart (it’s on the wall near the shopping carts). Also, just walking around you’ll see For Rent (En Renta) signs on potential dwellings. Also literally just ask around as you explore.

If you have a vehicle you will be paying about the same price for fuel as in the U.S.

Where we observe the biggest differences in the cost of living in Chapala are with food and healthcare.

We’ll explore these in our next post, coming soon.

Living la vida calma, Bob and Bonita


A Musical Paradise Too

If you’re wondering whether you’d have to give up a musical life if you move to Chapala, you can rest assured you’ll find a rich, abundant musical culture here.  Music is everywhere here. Find a musical life in Chapala.

Almost every evening we take a stroll on the malecon. And almost every evening we do, we enjoy roving bands of musicians serenading a couple or a family who have engaged them for a song. Mariachi of course and several other styles of Mexican music. Tubas are really big here for some reason, almost as popular as accordians, which are ubiquitous. Not to be confused at all with the Lawrence Welk style or even the polka styles of Germany and Poland. The Mexican musicians have made it their own.

We enjoy lots of actual concerts here as well. Everything from Mexican pop music to traditional music to standard classical music with a Mexican twist.

Last night we walked up to the old train station in Chapala, a beautifully restored building from some one hundred years ago. It’s now used as a museum/art center. The Orquesta Tipica de Chapala performed a delightful concert which was a true mosh pit of musical styles. Many of the tunes reminded me of the soundtracks of great films from the 1940s and 1950s, such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Almost twenty musicians packed the small stage. Violins, guitars, auto-harp, salterios, congas, upright bass, harp, and a giant marimba. It took four energetic players for the marimba alone.

Check out the video below for a sample of the evening:

Today we’re headed into Guadalajara to hear the Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concert No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.

Next month we head there for a musical festival with David Byrne, Alanis Morissette, and The Killers headlining.

Are we living the musical life in Chapala? Yes, indeed we are.

And here’s another longer selection from Orquesta Tipica de Chapala:

Tips and “Tricks” of Daily Life in Chapala

We’ve learned to keep our ears and eyes wide open here in Chapala. Daily life in Chapala is quite similar to our life in the U.S. in some ways. In others, quite different. Here are some of the seemingly random differences.

Everywhere you go here, you will have Mexicans approach you offering something for sale or for some service, such as washing your car. I stand of awe of these folks. They are doing everything they can to support themselves and their family. However, we can’t buy everything we’re offered. So we compromised and buy what we need or want and simply say, Gracias, no, to the rest. Once we say no, such vendors move on.

You will find some folks simply looking for a handout. Your choice. The social safety network is not as well developed here as in the U.S. so folks are trying to make their way as best they can.

And speaking of working hard, at the big-box stores in Chapala, such as Soriana (grocery and variety) and Walmart de Mexico, you’ll have your purchases bagged by what to us appear to be store employees. But they are not. Upon more than a casual glance, the baggers have not store employee ID’s. They are, in fact, volunteers. So slip them a little change in pesos for their service. That’s their only compensation.

Another big difference is that despite the traffic on the main drag on this, the north side of Lake Chapala, the cities of Chapala and Ajijic and other enclaves that border the lake, are heavily pedestrian. And the pedestrians here more often than not simply walk as they need. Yes, there are crosswalks and lights at some key locations. For the most part, however, pedestrians go where they wish. When we driving, we can find this quite frustrating. However, when we are walking, which, in truth, is most of the time, we very much appreciate it.

Rules of the Road–Driving in Mexico Part 1

Driving in Mexico holds an adventure all its own. While we have relatively limited driving experience here, we have accumulated some observations that we believe can be helpful to those who follow. We certainly wish we had had some warning of the differences between driving here and driving in the U.S.

We were reminded of this yesterday when we mounted our first expedition to attend the Met at the Movies series at Teatro Diana in Guadalajara. Coming out of Chapala, it’s a straight shot up a divided four (and sometimes six) lane highway past the airport and in Guadalajara Centro.

We rely on Google for directions here. And yesterday, Google routed us off that main highway, saying that there was a major accident causing at least a half-hour delay to our destination. So we followed directions to skirt the accident. It worked by taking us into an industrial area of the city. Lots of turns and lots of……….speed bumps.

Yes, speed bumps. You can find yourself cruising along a Mexican road, could be one of the excellent toll roads, could be a crowded city street, when, bam, you hit a speed bump.

Here in Chapala, we’re used to them. We know where they are and we slow to a crawl to cross them. It’s just become a habit. Yet, when we venture outside Chapala, it’s easy to forget that speed bumps are not unique to our chosen city. They are a feature of driving in Mexico.

And yesterday, we were not so nicely reminded of this in making that detour in Guadalajara.

Some of them are indeed just bumps. Others are, if not speed mountains, at least hills. You really know it when you hit on cruising along at 40 or 5o mph. Gut-rattling to be sure.

Now, some of them are marked by the universal yellow warning sign. Others may be foreshadowed by a warning painted on the pavement if you are paying attention. Others simply appear. No warning.

Experience has taught us it carefully watch the traffic ahead of and around us. Especially the semi’s. In the U.S. if we were driving on a divided four-lane and saw a semi slowing (braking), we’d take a careful assessment of conditions and merrily pass, assuming safe conditions.

In Mexico, we have learned the hard way that the semi driver knows the route and is likely alerting us to the dreaded speed bump.

In the U.S., the few speed bumps one encounters are usually painted bright yellow.

Not so here. Indistinguishable from the road. Rarely painted. And when painted, a relatively dark grey.

So, be careful out there driving in Mexico.

And speed-bumps are just one difference. In future posts, I’ll let you know about others we have experienced.

Dogs of Chapala

When I attended college, back in the 70s, our campus featured many of what we called “quad dogs”. We students never quite knew where they came from, or, when they disappeared, they went. Were they strays? Simply “wild” dogs? Escapees from the local animal shelter? No one knew or, really, seemed to care.

All we knew was they were harmless and happy and they lent a certain panache to the campus. Friendly faces all.

Likewise, here in Chapala.

If you’re not a fan of dogs, or at least simply tolerant of them, Chapala isn’t the place for you.

They’re everywhere. Roaming the streets and the mercado. The first time I went to one of the butchers at the mercado I must admit I was taken aback by the furry friends standing and milling about among the human patrons. They weren’t trying to steal any meat and they always seem to politely defer to humans. Yet there they were. And to this day I can count of seeing dogs at the carniceria.

Often we’ll see dogs sprawled out on the sidewalk or by the side of the street, lounging or catching a few zzz’s before strolling along down the street.

We’ve never encountered a dog fight; despite their numbers, los perros (“the dogs” in Spanish) play and romp together. In ones and twos or threes. We have yet to see a pack roaming around either.

Now add in all the domesticated dogs, the dogs leashed by humans or guarding houses or behind the walls of the streets. What totals out is a very dog-friendly environment.

In fact, the only times we’ve encountered noisy dogs are those guarding a territory. The dogs that roam the streets are remarkably quiet and docile.

In Chapala, it’s live and let live. Dogs and humans. We love it.