Lake Chapala is simply gorgeous. A mile above sea level, surrounded by high, steep and severe mountains towering up to almost 8,000 feet, the Lake sits in a deep bowl. As noted in an earlier post on the condition of the Lake, the water is shallow, with an average depth of 14 feet.
The Lake is also dotted with islands, some close to shore; others more distant, the Isla del Presidio among them. Several are readily visible from either the Chapala or the Ajijic malecon. Isla del Presidio is not. It, like others, requires travel to observe.
Isla del Presidio is a worthy day trip from Chapala. It’s accessible one of two ways. Either by hiring a boat on the Chapala malecon (about 500 pesos–$20 U.S. per person with a minimum of four) or by driving to the town closest to the Isla, Mezcala.
Driving to Mezcala, although only some 13 miles from Chapala, is an adventure. The quality of the road deteriorates the further away you get from Chapala. Entering Mezcala is deep Mexico, almost a different world from the expat-laden parts of the lakeside. We didn’t encounter anyone in Mezcala that spoke English; we were very glad to have been accompanied by a Mexican friend who is fluent in both languages.
Mezcala has its own beauty and its own malecon where a few boats are moored awaiting travelers who have made the trek to visit the Isla del Presidio.
Our friend negotiated our trip and off we went. It’s about a 20 minute boat ride out to the island.
Isla del Presidio played a significant role in the Mexican War of Independence with embattled forces literally holding the fort on the island. This isn’t a history lesson though and if the history interests you (as it did me), you can read about it here.
The boatman dropped us off at a little inlet close to some ruins in various states of disrepair and a relatively modern structure that appeared to be a visitors’ center unoccupied, un-staffed, forlorn and lonely. We had an hour and a half to explore.
The Island is rugged. By that I mean that the shoreline, where the island meets the water, is stuffed with vegetation and trees and cliffs. It was easy to imagine how it was chosen as a location for a fort.
After a short, steep climb, we arrived at a sloping more open area of the island where the clear ruins of the old military installations dot the landscape. The structures seem to have obviously been built at different times in history; some are close to ruin; others appear to have simply been abandoned and await a hoped-for but highly unlikely resurrection.
There’s a church, of course, a hollow shell now.
And an old-fashioned fort, like in many of the old westerns that so entranced me as a child.
Clearly one problem here though. Food and water. Not enough surface land to grow food to feed an army and drilling for water through what is obviously solid rock and one can understand why the battles fought here ultimately went to the assailants rather than the defenders.
We regretted that we only had an hour and a half. Way too little time for a thorough exploration.
At the requisite time we made our way back to the inlet, knowing that we would return for more adventure.