Buying In Lake Chapala, Mexico

“Kathleen, we are a couple that reads you articles regularly, and we have been encouraged by them to sell our house here in Canada–which we did. We decided to explore Mexico now and then Ecuador in January. I must say that the sweetness of your low-cost housing articles is not so sweet anymore.

“I have studied the housing market in Lake Chapala, and I am worried. There are literally hundreds of houses for sale, too many for the size of the place. It is eerie. Plus, people are telling me that this lake is under threat to shrink year after year and is only 10 feet deep.

“Here in Mexico we have also visited Manzanillo, and, although it is a beautiful place, I must say that land or a house with any view is expensive–not as I had imagined when I read your articles. A piece of land with a good view, not in town, is about US$150,000 for about 1,000 square feet. I am not talking about beachfront; I am talking about land far from the beach and far from the town but elevated and with a view. Nice houses sell for at least US$300,000, and, if you want one with a great view, you are in the US$450,000 range at least.

“Do I have the wrong agent? Please enlighten me.”

Claude C., Canada


Dear reader, I’m as confused as you are…for we have never written in these dispatches to recommend Manzanillo, Mexico. I was there a few years ago and not impressed. As you report, anything worth buying is over-priced.

Regarding Lake Chapala, one of your fellow readers wrote recently to report on expat life there, the pluses and the minuses.

I’ve not written personally to recommend Lake Chapala, as, again, I’ve been there and found the place not for me…for the reasons you cite, among others. Chapala is home to a big and established expat community, perhaps the biggest in the world. Americans, Canadians, and others have been buying in development after development after development in that little corner of Mexico for about two decades. The result is something more like a U.S. suburb than a town in Mexico. And I’m sure you’re right. Right now, given everything going on in the States and elsewhere, many of those gringo second and retirement homeowners are likely keen to sell.

I’ve written over the years about the troubles with the lake itself at Chapala. When I last visited, maybe four years ago, it was more a very big mud pit than a lake, and the muddy banks stretched out miles from what once had been the shoreline in some places.

I’ve heard reports since that the situation has improved, that the lake is returning, the malecon has been rebuilt, and the area generally is being revitalized. But I haven’t seen any of this for myself.

In fact, we don’t recommend Mexico as a top overseas retirement option based on cost of living. Mexico is a big, diverse country with appealing regions. It is not, though, one of the most affordable foreign retirement options today. Far more affordable are Ecuador (I’m glad to hear you’re going to have a look there, as well), Uruguay, and Nicaragua.

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