Right over the mountains from Lake Chapala is Mexico's second largest city, Guadalajara, home to 4.1 million people. (Mexico City, Mexico's largest city, has a population of 19.1 million, the largest in the Western Hemisphere). Checking on Wikipedia, I discovered that it was founded as an old colonial city in 1532, and still retains its historic center with some of the oldest colonial buildings in Latin America. It is also a large commercial, industrial, and cultural center as well as the capital of the state of Jalisco. A number of high tech corporations have built plants in the city as a result of NAFTA, and it is a major banking and economic center for the country. Culturally, it is quickly becoming the cultural center of Mexico. The Guggenheim foundation has approved the construction of the 6th museum in the world in Guadalajara, and it will be the tallest building in Latin America. Guadalajara will also host the 2011 Pan American Games.
For those of us who have chosen to live in the Lake Chapala area, Guadalajara is clearly one of the factors that makes this area so attractive. Miguel Hidalgo International airport, between Guadalajara and Lake Chapala, is about 40 minutes from Ajijic and has many connecting flights to Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and other American hubs daily. Flights from Boston are generally about $500, which makes it easy to return home for visits and for friends and family to visit us in Mexico. It also gives us access to excellent medical care which would not be as available in more remote areas of Mexico. Delcarmen and St. Javier hospitals are two of the finest hospitals in the country with many US-trained and English speaking doctors. I doubt that if it were not for the proximity to Guad (as local residents refer to it), we would have many fewer "northamericanos" living here.
There is also the opportunity for shopping in Guadalajara. Many Americans who live here are very concerned about having many of the products they are used to at home. As a result, many of these folks make regular trips into Guad to shop at Walmart , Sam's Club, Cotsco, and Home Depot, all available there. We have visited Walmart and Sam's Club and have, frankly, not been too impressed. Most of the products are Mexican, for Mexicans, and are easily available here in Ajijic or Chapala. There are some American products which are available, some in large quantities, which draws people there. The cost of some of these American items is cheaper at these stores than in the few stores near Lake Chapala which stock, and mark up, American imported products. As I've mentioned before, we tend to stick to mostly American products and don't mind spending a little extra for rare American products like Peanut Butter here in town. But the big box stores are so popular with some lakeside residents that they schedule bus trips just to Walmart and Sam's club for people who are not wild about driving in themselves.
Two of the most popular shopping districts of Guadalajara are Tlaquepaque and Tonala, the former being very tourist-friendly and more expensive. We drove into Tlaquepaque with a friend one day and had a chance to explore the area. There is a big pedestrian area with lots of shops and restaurants there, and it's fun to walk around, but the prices ARE high. Many of the pottery and glassware for sale is made in Tonala and is available there for much lower prices. We drove into Tonala by ourselves on Saturday and found it much more in our budget. We didn't buy much, but we'll be back, I'm sure.
Driving in Guadalajara is an adventure. Mexicans are mild mannered people, until they get behind the wheel. We have driven in three times so far, and I think I am figuring it out. It's definitely not for the fainthearted. Luckily, reliable bus service is cheap and easily available from Ajijic. We are looking forward to some interesting experiences in Guadalajara!