Top Things to do in Chapala

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November 29, 2023
9 min read

Chapala, a picturesque town located in the western part of Mexico, is a hidden gem that has captivated travelers with its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. Situated on the banks of the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala, this charming destination offers an idyllic retreat for those seeking tranquility and exploration.

Ready to explore Chapala? Our city travel guide is your ultimate resource for everything you need to know before you go.

Overview of Chapala's Location and Significance in Mexico

Nestled amidst the Sierra de San Juan Cosalá mountains, Chapala boasts a privileged location that provides breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. It is conveniently situated just 50 kilometers south of Guadalajara, making it easily accessible for both domestic and international travelers looking for a quick getaway. One cannot underestimate the significance of Chapala in Mexican history and culture. 1

The town holds great importance as one of Mexico's oldest settlements, dating back to pre-Hispanic times. It’s thought that it had settlements dating back as early as 1300 A.D. Over the years, it has become a beloved destination for artists, writers, and nature enthusiasts alike.

Chapala Malecon or Boardwalk
Chapala Malecon or Boardwalk

Chapala as a Popular Tourist Destination

In recent decades, Chapala has emerged as a popular tourist spot due to its unique blend of natural wonders and cultural charm. The town's rise to fame can be attributed to its mention in various literary works by renowned authors such as D.H. Lawrence and Tennessee Williams.

This quaint lakeside town became an inspiration for many artists with its vibrant sunsets reflecting off the tranquil waters of Lake Chapala. It’s now grown to be a large expat community of Americans and Canadians. At some estimates, the expat population here is near forty thousand.

Today, Chapala continues to attract visitors from all corners of the globe who come seeking respite from bustling city life or an adventure into Mexico's vibrant cultural fabric. With its stunning landscapes, historical sites, and warm hospitality, Chapala promises an unforgettable experience for all who set foot on its shores.

Enjoy Stunning Lake Chapala

When it comes to natural beauty, Lake Chapala takes center stage in Chapala. Prepare to be mesmerized by the sheer grandeur of this vast body of water.

The views are nothing short of breathtaking, with the sparkling blue waters stretching out as far as the eye can see. One of the best ways to fully appreciate the lake's splendor is by taking a boat tour.

Hop aboard a comfortable vessel and set sail across the tranquil waters, immersing yourself in a scene straight out of paradise. As you glide along, you'll have ample opportunities to soak up panoramic views and capture some envy-inducing photos for your social media feed.

For those seeking more adventurous endeavors on Lake Chapala, water activities abound. From kayaking and paddleboarding to jet skiing and fishing excursions, there's something for everyone.

Feel the thrill as you ride on a jet ski, feeling the wind in your hair and adrenaline coursing through your veins. Or if you prefer a more laid-back experience, grab a fishing rod and try your luck at catching some local fish species while enjoying peaceful serenity on the gentle waves.

Isla de Los Alacranes from shores of Chapala
Isla de Los Alacranes from shores of Chapala

Visit Isla de Los Alacranes

When you visit Isla de los Alacranes, also known as Scorpion Island, from Ajijic in Lake Chapala, you'll experience an enchanting adventure that allows you to fully immerse yourself in the breathtaking natural beauty of the lake. This island, located almost in the middle of Lake Chapala, is the perfect destination for a day trip if you're seeking tranquility and picturesque surroundings. 

To start your journey, simply hop on one of the boats at the pier along Chapala Malecon and they will be able to take you across the lake. Don't let the name scare you - there are no scorpions on this island! Instead, it offers a peaceful retreat where you can swim, sunbathe, and have a picnic amidst serene nature. The island's captivating flora and fauna will surely delight birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike, leaving you with unforgettable memories of a tranquil getaway.

Stroll Through Chapala Malecon

When it comes to immersing yourself in the cultural heartbeat of Chapala, there's no better place to start than the picturesque Chapala Malecon. This vibrant promenade stretches along the glittering shores of Lake Chapala, inviting visitors with its delightful blend of art, culture, and gastronomy.

As you take a leisurely stroll along the Malecon, be prepared to be captivated by the diverse range of local artwork and sculptures that adorn its path. The Malecon proudly showcases the artistic talents of both established and emerging Mexican artists.

From colorful murals depicting scenes from local folklore to intricately crafted sculptures that pay homage to Chapala's rich heritage, there is an abundance of visual delights waiting to be discovered. Take your time as you meander through this open-air gallery, allowing each artwork to evoke a sense of wonder and appreciation within you.

You’ll also want to make it to the pier, also called Rinconcito de Amor, where you can walk out to Lake Chapala. It’s here where the center of the malecon converges. When you make it back, depending on the time of day, you may get to catch a show of indigenous men who scale a 40 meter pole and then swing off of it upside down. It’s truly a sight to see!

Of course, no cultural experience is complete without indulging in some delectable street food. Along the Malecon, you'll find an array of food vendors offering tantalizing treats that will satisfy any craving.

From freshly grilled tacos filled with flavorful meats and zesty salsas to mouthwatering elotes (grilled corn) slathered with creamy mayo and sprinkled with tangy cheese, your taste buds are in for a treat. Grab a snack from one or several vendors and find a cozy spot on one of the nearby benches or tables overlooking the lake—a perfect spot for people-watching while savoring these delicious culinary delights.

Visit San Francisco Church and Plaza

No visit to Chapala would be complete without exploring its historical gems such as the iconic San Francisco Church and Plaza. As you step inside this architectural marvel, prepare yourself for a journey back in time.

The church dates back to the 16th century and is steeped in history, offering a glimpse into the colonial era of Mexico. The San Francisco Church boasts a stunning baroque facade adorned with intricate carvings and statues.

Step inside to discover a serene sanctuary, where ornate altars, religious artifacts, and beautiful stained glass windows create an atmosphere of reverence. Take a moment to admire the majestic organ and appreciate the craftsmanship that went into its creation.

Adjacent to the church lies the lively San Francisco Plaza, where locals and tourists alike gather to socialize, relax, and enjoy the bustling ambiance. You'll often find musicians playing traditional Mexican tunes or vendors selling handicrafts and souvenirs.

Grab a seat on one of the benches under the shade of leafy trees, soak up the lively atmosphere, and perhaps strike up a conversation with friendly locals who are always eager to share stories about Chapala's history. Immersing yourself in these cultural experiences will not only deepen your understanding of Chapala's heritage but also leave you with lasting memories of its vibrant spirit.

Antigua Estacion de Ferrocarril Cultural Center in Chapala
Antigua Estacion de Ferrocarril Cultural Center

Learn at the Antigua Estacion de Ferrocarril Cultural Center

When you visit Antigua Estacion de Ferrocarril, you will be amazed by its historical significance. This old train station has been transformed into a vibrant cultural center, preserving the memories of a bygone era. 

As you step inside, the beautiful architecture will captivate your senses, transporting you back in time. But it's not just the aesthetics that make this place special; it also provides an opportunity to learn about the ancient Huichol tribe and their fascinating pre-Hispanic history. 

So, come and immerse yourself in this rich heritage, as you explore Antigua Estacion de Ferrocarril and discover the stories it holds within its walls.

Indulging in Culinary Delights

Trying traditional Mexican cuisine at local restaurants

Chapala, and Jalisco in general, is paradise for foodies, offering an array of local Mexican dishes that will leave your taste buds craving more. When it comes to trying the local cuisine, you simply cannot miss out on the regional specialties that define the culinary landscape of this charming town. From succulent birria, a slow-cooked meat stew bursting with rich flavors and spices, to hearty pozole, a traditional soup made with hominy and tender meat, there are countless options to satisfy your cravings.

Exploring regional specialties like birria, pozole, or tortas ahogadas

Birria, one of the most beloved dishes in Chapala and throughout Mexico, consists of marinated meat (often goat or beef) slow-cooked until it becomes incredibly tender and juicy. The secret lies in the carefully balanced blend of spices such as cumin, garlic, oregano, and chili peppers.

Served with homemade tortillas and garnished with fresh onion and cilantro, every mouthful is an explosion of flavors that will transport you to culinary heaven. Pozole is another iconic dish you must try during your visit to Chapala.

This hearty soup combines white corn kernels (known as hominy) with tender meat (typically pork or chicken) in a flavorful broth seasoned with herbs and spices. Topped with shredded lettuce, radishes, lime juice, and crunchy tortilla chips called totopos for added texture and freshness; pozole is a comforting dish perfect for any time of year.

If you're seeking something truly unique yet equally delicious in Chapala's culinary scene; do not miss out on trying tortas ahogadas. Literally meaning "drowned sandwiches," these delicacies consist of crusty rolls filled with succulent braised pork or chopped beef, generously soaked in a spicy tomato-based sauce.

The tangy sauce packs a punch and beautifully complements the tender meat and pillowy bread. Don't be afraid to get messy while devouring this local favorite—licking your fingers is part of the experience!

Recommendations for popular eateries serving these dishes

When it comes to experiencing Chapala's culinary delights firsthand; consider paying a visit to La Parroquia, a local institution renowned for its delicious birria. Located in the heart of town, this cozy restaurant has been serving up mouthwatering birria for generations, with their secret recipe passed down through the family. The tender meat, rich flavors, and warm tortillas will transport you to gastronomic bliss.

For those eager to try pozole in all its glory, El Pozole de Lupita is a must-visit. This humble eatery offers a variety of pozole options—red or green broth, pork or chicken—that will leave you craving more.

Prepared with love and attention to detail, their pozole captivates your senses with its comforting aroma and robust flavors. When it comes to tortas ahogadas; Casa Tapatía is the place to be.

This vibrant eatery brings the spirit of Guadalajara's street food scene directly to Chapala. Known for their outstanding drowned sandwiches served with authentic spicy sauce and fresh ingredients; Casa Tapatía is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Tasting local delicacies at Mercado Municipal

No culinary journey in Chapala would be complete without a visit to Mercado Municipal—the bustling local market that epitomizes the town's vibrant culture and gastronomy. As you wander through the market's lively corridors adorned with colorful stalls; you'll find an abundance of fresh produce ranging from succulent fruits and vegetables to aromatic spices that will ignite your senses. Additionally; Mercado Municipal offers an opportunity to sample regional snacks that are not only delicious but also showcase the authentic flavors of Mexico.

Indulge in elote—grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, crumbled cheese, chili powder, lime juice—offering a delightful combination of sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors that create harmony on your palate. To cool off on hot days; treat yourself to nieves—traditional Mexican ice cream—at one of the Mercado's ice cream stands.

With flavors like mango, guava, coconut, and many more; you'll find it hard to resist indulging in these refreshing delights that provide the perfect respite from the Chapala sun. Chapala offers a culinary journey like no other.

From savoring traditional Mexican dishes at local restaurants such as birria, pozole, and tortas ahogadas; to exploring the vibrant Mercado Municipal where you can enjoy fresh produce, aromatic spices, elote, and nieves; your taste buds will be treated to an unforgettable experience that celebrates the rich flavors of the region. So come prepared to feast on these delectable delights and let Chapala's gastronomic wonders enchant your senses.

Exploring Nearby Attractions

Ajijic aerial view
Ajijic aerial view

Taking a day trip to Ajijic Village

Ajijic Village, located just a short distance from Chapala, is a charming and picturesque destination that should not be missed. This quaint town offers a delightful blend of traditional Mexican culture and expat influences.

As you wander through the cobblestone streets, you'll be captivated by the colorful colonial houses adorned with bougainvillea and the vibrant local art galleries. One of the highlights of Ajijic Village is its bustling central plaza, where you can sit under the shade of a tree and watch locals go about their daily lives.

Take some time to explore the local artisan markets in search of unique handicrafts, pottery, and textiles that make for perfect souvenirs or gifts. If you're feeling adventurous, consider renting a kayak or paddleboard to explore Lake Chapala from this side as well.


Chapala offers an abundance of experiences that are sure to enchant any visitor. From immersing yourself in its natural beauty by enjoying Lake Chapala and Parque La Cristinia to indulging in cultural delights like strolling through Chapala Malecon or visiting San Francisco Church and Plaza, there's something for everyone here.

Don't forget about the culinary adventures awaiting you in Chapala either. Whether it's trying traditional Mexican cuisine at local restaurants or exploring the vibrant Mercado Municipal for fresh produce and regional snacks, your taste buds will thank you.

So pack your bags, take a trip to Chapala, and embrace all that this remarkable destination has to offer. From awe-inspiring landscapes to cultural treasures and delicious gastronomy - let yourself be captivated by the magic of this magical city  in Mexico!

You'll probably want to know how to get to this costal town, don't worry we have you covered, check out our latest article on how to get to Chapala from Guadalajara.


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I consider myself a world-travelling nomad and a foodie at heart. Born in Germany and raised in East Tennessee, my passion for exploration has taken me all over the planet - exploring unfamiliar lands and cultures is what truly inspires my soul!
I live outside of Doha and consider myself an inside expert on all things Qatar. I love exploring all the country has to offer and look forward to giving you valuable insights of where I call home!
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