DescriptionChapala (chah-PAH-lah) is one of three resort communities (along with Ajijic and Jocotepec) on the northern shore of Lake Chapala. During the early 20th century it was the summer residence of dictator Porfirio Díaz. At that time the town attracted a rich international clientele who spent weekends at lavish estates, enjoying the area's tranquil beauty and delightfully spring-like weather, a bit cooler in summer and warmer in winter than Guadalajara.
Chapala has an established resident population of American and Canadian retirees. Commercial activity is centered along Avenida Madero, which leads to the lake and town pier. The street is lined with shops and small cafes. Near the pier is the main square, a pleasant spot to relax; band serenades are held here on Sunday evenings. Along the lakeshore is Cristiania Park, where vendors gather on the weekend.
The lake itself, some 53 miles long and 18 miles wide, is the largest natural lake in Mexico, surrounded by forested mountains. Mezcala Island can be reached by boat from the Chapala pier. The ruins of a fort and bastion here date from the Mexican War of Independence, when rebels successfully defended the island against the Spanish army and navy from 1812-16. Hunger and sickness finally forced these 1,500 courageous souls to surrender, but their valor prompted the Spaniards to present them with an honor guard and a military pardon.