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Live & Retire in Mexico
Retire to Lake Chapala?
Best of Mexico: Lake Chapala

Is Mexico Safe?

Dan & Connie Check Out Lake Chapala?

Hi all,

Enjoyed your peoplesguide web site.

My wife and I are planning a trip to Guadalajara, Chapala and Puerto Vallarta this coming weekend. We are going to fly into Guadalajara on Saturday, rent a car and drive to the lake for a day trip. We return to Guadalajara that afternoon and stay at the Fiesta American Hotel for two nights. Then we’ll drive to Puerto Vallarta for 4 nights and back to the Lake Chapala area for two nights, before flying home. 

Questions: Is it safe to drive around down there? Is it true that it is a private toll highwayto Puerto Vallarta? Would we be better taking cabs and traveling on buses? I do speak a little Spanish. We want to see as much of the area as possible. We are both 55 and would like to retire somewhere with a good climate.

Is there anything I might need to know? I will of course load myself up with car insurance -- we are getting a Dollar car rental at the airport. Thanks in advance for your help.

Carl Replies:

Pick up a Guia Roji map or better yet, their road atlas (use this link or buy one in Guadalajara at the airport), and you'll have no problems. A rental car is probably easiest, considering you'll be covering quite a bit of ground.

The drive from Guad to PV is easy and beautiful. Other than a couple of hours of two lane mountain road, it is all tollway in excellent condition. Don't drive at night, otherwise just take it easy, enjoy the scenery and you'll be fine.


Thank you for your response about driving conditions. Please allow me to ask another question about driving. If I am involved in an accident do you know the particular law? I actually mean be hit by someone. Again, we will be buy whatever insurance is necessary. And we would only drive in the day time between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

The last time I drove in Mexico was 1974 to Monterrey. At that time, if you had an accident they could take the car, put you in jail and fine you large amounts of money. I hope things have changed, but do you have any particulars? My mother has my wife worried about renting a car. I'm a very careful driver. Again, thanks for your email.-

Carl again:

The law basically says that if you can't prove that you are able to pay the damages from an accident, you go to jail until you can. This is why a good insurance policy is so important -- the policy is your guarantee of solvency, backed up by the insurance company and their adjustors. So, if you have insurance, you are protected. Rental car companies don't want to lose their cars, much less their customers, so just be sure to get full coverage and you'll be fine.

By the way, for reasons I've never understood, it is almost always cheaper to rent a Mexican car before you arrive -- use a car rental agency in the U.S., or ask your travel agent.

I've been driving here for over 30 years and have never... knock on wood... had an accident. I also drive very carefully.

Dan again:

Carl, thank you so much, I'm already feeling much better.  So you all have been down in that area for 30 years. My goodness.  I was raised in Venezuela from when I was 5 to 14 and Libya from 1963 to 1969. My dad worked for Gulf and Mobil and there are several folks in Chapala who were in Venezuela and Libya.

From 1985 to 1994, my wife and I spent a lot of time in Hawaii, in fact we lived in Honolulu for several months straight. I had contracts with the Navy, but the 13 hour trips back to Texas would kill us (8 in the air and 5 because of time change). My mother lives in San Benito, just south of Harlingen and she has raised some concerns. How about banditos along the highway from Guad to PV and back? Or the possibility of being kidnapped? Again, we are simply day people. I don't drink and we are there to look the area over.

I noticed that there are several bread and breakfast locations in the Chapala area. Do you have any recommendations. We might look at property to buy or rent for next summer.Do you know any realtors that you recommend and their email address would be great.

Also, are our calling cards any good down there to call home with? 

Carl Replys:

Your chances of meeting bandits or being kidnapped are probably much less than your chance of winning the lottery... relax.

I don't have a good handle on B & B or realtor recommendations, so I asked our friend and famous local author, Teresa Kendrick, for advice. Teresa is the author of “Mexico's Lake Chapala and Ajijic: The Insiders Guide to the Northshore for International Travelers.” I suggest you get a copy as soon as possible, especially if you're thinking of moving to the area. Order it here, or from Teresa's website is, or you can buy the book in Ajijic at the supermarkets or at their store, “Mexico Traveler’s Information Center” on the Plaza in Ajijic.

Anyway, Teresa's Kendrick says:

Here’s a sampling of hotels and B & B’s available: For a complete listing refer to my book. (Please note that prices may change without notice. Be sure to ask for the current rate.)

In Ajijic: Ajijic Bed and Breakfast, Hidalgo 22, Ajijic. $51.50 US per night includes breakfast, email This is a few steps from the plaza and is a very nice place to stay. Reservations can be made with a credit card, making life much easier.

Hacienda Aldama, Aldam 22, Ajijic. Includes breakfast. $50 and up, email

La Nueva Posada, Donato Guerra 9, Ajijic. $600 pesos + tax per person with breakfast for two. Email

Italo Hotel, Guadalupe Victoria 10, Ajijic. $180 pesos single+ tax. 011-52-376-6-2221.

Laguna Bed and Brunch, Zaragoza Oriente 29, Ajijic. $30 US single/double. Email

In Chapala: Nido Hotel, Avenida Madero 202, Chapala. $220 pesos + tax 011 523 765-2116

Teresa’s recommendation for a real estate agent is:

Tony Harries: email

Carl continues:

About Calling cards, if you mean a regular AT&T or MCI card, yes, you can probably use the card but it will cost you an arm and a leg in international charges. We prefer to buy a Mexican phone card -- they are sold everywhere -- and just plug them into a pay phone. Check our website on this.


Carl, I want to thank you again. I feel real comfortable about driving and being down there. I don't have time to get Teresa's book via the internet, mailing etc. So, when we get our rental car on Saturday we will drive to Ajijic and get her book at a supermarket and start looking over the area.  Thanks again for all your help,

Lorena’s Note:

A few days after Dan sent his last email, I was in the Guadalajara Pharmacy when a couple came up to me, asking for directions to the plaza in Ajijic. It was Dan and his wife Connie!

Hi, Lorena

It was great seeing you at the pharmacy the day we arrived in Ajijic. We did make it to the plaza with your directions and visited CABA (Centro Ajjic de Bella Artes). We ate a snack at in the back at El Sanctuario and visited with the owner, Estelle.

We went on to Guadalajara that evening and then on to Puerto Vallarta. We returned to Chapala on Friday, toured that town and went by boat to the island from Chapala. Then on to Ajijic that afternoon. We toured Ajijic and the lakeshore. Met with Estelle again. When to the LCS (Lake Chapala Society) complex and talked with several people there. We looked over the Nuevo Posada Hotel and the Ajijic B&B. Estelle told us to stay at Las Casitas on the highway because it would be cooler and more breezy. She was right.

As you know, it was fiesta time. Starting at 4 a.m. we had the rocket blasts ever thirty minutes. That's the start of my REM sleep. And Connie, my wife has a sleeping disorder anyway.  Bottom line, we missed a lot of sleep.  

We went to the plaza and had breakfast, then looked at a couple of homes for sale. After that we went back over to the LCS. I mentioned the rocket blasts and two elderly women told me, "Well, if you are going to be unhappy here, then don't live here, because you will make everyone else unhappy too. We have celebrations, fiestas and holidays like this all the time".

I told them I can handle a patron saint day, but not the whole month of rocket blasts. Now I know why everyone needs a daily siesta.

All in all, it just didn’t work for us. I guess with the lake being so far down (and just after the rainy season to boot), the taxes being raised and numerous other things, it was just too much. We returned to the airport, a day earlier we were scheduled to leave.

I didn't want to hear more rocket blasts starting at 4 AM. My mother and/or my mother-in-law could never walk on those streets or sidewalks, maybe a little in Chapala but never in Ajijic. The drains were all clogged up in Guadalajara and Tonala during the heavy rains. The water was very dirty on the beaches in Puerto Vallarta. I guess being the end of rainy season and all. We lived in Hawaii off and on for 11 years, so maybe I'm spoiled.

Plus the villages of Suyalita and San Francisco were disappointing. I lived in Venezuela for nine years and the Venezuelans have more pride in their dirt roads, trash collections and general appearance.

I read, write and speak Spanish, that's why I rented a car to really explore. I'm not trying to knock your area because I felt very safe and the children were all very happy and playing. This is really a children's paradise, but I didn't feel comfortable about the health facilities or doctors, I met and visited with.

In a few years we may look at San Miguel de Allende which is about 180 miles northeast of Chapala.

Again, I want to thank you for your help and directing us to Teresa's book and proper road maps and answering all my questions.

Connie and I can look back now over our trip with a lot of laughter, we did have fun, we slowed down, relaxed and had a lot great memories. And as you know memories are what we are all after so when we set in our rolling chairs later in life we can smile back at all our great memories, that is if we keep taking our daily Gingo-Bilboa tablet. 

Connie and I would like to go on your Copper Canyon guided trip in 2001 or 2002.
©1972-2001 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens